We knew one day wouldn’t be enough to see Istanbul properly, so we got up early to cover as much ground as possible.
Our first stop was Topikapi Palace (tickets cost 30TL per person). This is an impressive palace where you get a good understanding of the life of sultans. The Harem is amazing (tickets cost an extra 15TL), with room after room decorated with intricate patterns from floor to ceiling. You need a few hours to go through everything.
This is also a great place to get views over the Bosphorus.
We then walked to Hagia Sophia, a monumental display of both Christian and Muslim faith. Tickets cost 30TL. Right across is the famous Blue Mosque. There are set times for tourists to visit, so we only managed to see it from the outside.
In the afternoon we visited the Grand Bazaar. This is a great place to buy presents: there are lots of options for ceramic tiles, lamps, jewellery and much more.
Prices were really cheap, and you can get discounts by bargaining a bit. This was a much more manageable experience than the souks in Marrakesh – most things had prices on them and shopkeepers were friendly but not pushy.
This was all we had time for in one day – I will definitely come back for more!
Turkish food is great for vegetarians. There are lots of meze options (stuffed vine leaves, hummus, salads, etc) and many places offered some kind of vegetable stew as a main dish. The local pizza (pide) was really yummy.
In Istanbul there are lots of little cafes where you can choose a selection of small dishes from a buffet. These are a good and cheap alternative for lunch. Baklavas, ice cream and Turkish delights shops are everywhere, with impressive displays of delicious sweets.
HOW TO DO IT:
- Go: Turkish Airlines have the cheapest flights from London. The flight takes a little under 4h. There are two airports in Istanbul – we used Sabiha Gokcen which was on the Asian side of the city and a bit tricky to get to, so Ataturk airport would be a better alternative.
- Stay: We stayed at Basileus Hotel in Sultanahmet. This was a good hotel but there are plenty of options around. Sultanahmet is definitely the best area to stay, as you are within walking distance from many local highlights. It’s also near tram and metro stops.