Istanbul - All Aboard The Orient Express

Istanbul - All Aboard The Orient Express
Photo by Engin Yapici / Unsplash

Guest Post by Dôgan

Istanbul, straddling Europe and Asia across the Bosphorus Strait, is a city of immense historical and cultural significance. Once known as Byzantium and later Constantinople, it has been the capital of three great empires: the Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman. With a history spanning over 2,600 years, Istanbul is a melting pot of cultures, religions, and traditions, making it one of the most fascinating cities in the world.

Must-Visit Places

Hagia Sophia

This architectural marvel has served as a cathedral, mosque, and now a museum. Its magnificent dome and stunning mosaics are a testament to its historical significance. Buy Tickets

blue and brown concrete building
Photo by Raimond Klavins / Unsplash

Topkapi Palace

The opulent palace of the Ottoman sultans offers a glimpse into royal life with its lavish rooms, harem, and stunning views of the Bosphorus. Buy Tickets

a group of people walking outside of a castle with Topkapı Palace in the background
Photo by Haroon Ameer / Unsplash

Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque)

Known for its six minarets and beautiful blue tiles, this active mosque is a masterpiece of Ottoman architecture. Free Entry

gray scale photo of dome building
Photo by Alev Takil / Unsplash

Basilica Cistern

An underground wonder, this ancient cistern features hundreds of marble columns and a mystical ambiance. Buy Tickets

brown wooden hallway with light
Photo by Raimond Klavins / Unsplash

Grand Bazaar

One of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, it’s a bustling hub for shopping, offering everything from spices to jewellery. Free Entry

assorted figurine lot
Photo by Christian Burri / Unsplash

Galata Tower

Climb to the top of this medieval stone tower for panoramic views of the city and the Bosphorus. Buy Tickets

brown concrete building under blue sky during daytime
Photo by Mehmet Bozgedik / Unsplash

Dolmabahce Palace

This grandiose palace on the Bosphorus showcases the lavish lifestyle of the Ottoman sultans. Buy Tickets

gold and white cathedral interior
Photo by Ahmet Demiroğlu / Unsplash


  • Bosporus Cruise: Take a boat tour to see the city from the water, passing under bridges and alongside historic sites. Book a Cruise
  • Turkish Bath (Hammam): Experience a traditional Turkish bath at historic hammams like Cagaloglu or Suleymaniye. Book a Hammam
  • Taste Turkish Cuisine: Don’t miss trying local dishes such as kebabs, mezzes, baklava, and Turkish tea at local eateries and street food stalls.
  • Attend a Whirling Dervishes Show: Witness the mesmerizing Sufi spiritual practice of whirling dervishes at venues like Hodjapasha Cultural Center. Buy Tickets
Dervish dancers on floor
Photo by Hulki Okan Tabak / Unsplash

Getting Around

  • Public Transport: Istanbul’s public transport system includes trams, buses, metro, and ferries. An Istanbulkart is sufficient for convenient travel across all modes.
  • Walking: Many of Istanbul’s key attractions are within walking distance of each other in the Sultanahmet district.
  • Bosphorus Ferries: Regular ferries are a scenic way to travel between the European and Asian sides of the city.

Hidden Gems and Local Hangouts

  • Balat and Fener: These historic neighbourhoods are known for their colourful houses, antique shops, and cozy cafés.
  • Kadikoy Market: On the Asian side, this vibrant market area offers a more local shopping and dining experience away from the tourist crowds.
  • Princes' Islands: A short ferry ride from the city, these islands are a tranquil escape from the hustle and bustle. Büyükada is the largest and most popular, where you can enjoy horse-drawn carriage rides and rent bicycles.
  • Yildiz Park: A lush, expansive park perfect for a peaceful escape, with beautiful gardens and scenic views of the Bosphorus.
  • Ortakoy: This lively neighbourhood is famous for its picturesque mosque by the Bosphorus, street food stalls selling kumpir (stuffed baked potatoes), and bustling nightlife.
  • Emirgan Park: Especially beautiful during the Tulip Festival in April, this park is a favourite among locals for picnics and leisurely strolls.
  • Moda: Located in Kadikoy, this trendy area is known for its seaside promenade, hip cafes, and relaxed atmosphere.
  • Süleymaniye Mosque: While the Blue Mosque gets most of the attention, the Süleymaniye Mosque is a quieter, equally majestic place of worship. It offers stunning views over the Golden Horn and a peaceful courtyard.
brown concrete dome temple during nighttime
Photo by Abdelmalek Bensetti / Unsplash
body of water near mountain during daytime
Photo by Görkem Geçim / Unsplash

Tips and Tricks for a Local Experience

  • Avoid Tourist Traps: Steer clear of overpriced restaurants in tourist-heavy areas. Instead, dine where the locals go, often found in side streets and less touristy neighbourhoods.
  • Haggle in Bazaars: Bargaining is expected in markets like the Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar. Don’t be afraid to negotiate for a better price.
  • Respect Local Customs: When visiting mosques, dress modestly, remove your shoes, and be respectful of prayer times.
  • Use Public Transport: It’s often faster and cheaper than taxis, especially during rush hour when traffic can be heavy.

Best Times to Visit

  • Spring (April to June): The weather is mild and pleasant, with temperatures ranging from 15-25°C (59-77°F). Ideal for sightseeing and outdoor activities.
  • Winter (December to February): Mild winters with temperatures around 5-10°C (41-50°F). It’s quieter, making it a good time to explore the city without the crowds.

Istanbul is a city that promises an unforgettable experience with its rich history, vibrant culture, and stunning landscapes. By exploring both its famous sites and hidden gems, you’ll get to know the true essence of this enchanting city.

In the next post, we will cover the my absolute favourites for places to eat at while in Istanbul.

Until then, Güle güle!

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