5 Days in Istanbul- The perfect itinerary!
Updated: Nov 16, 2019
Majestic seagulls flying above the mosques and palaces, overlooking the Bosphorus, felt like stepping into Disney's Aladdin, locals savoring a cup of Turkish tea and smoking nargile whilst playing backgammon was a sight to behold, Simit carts lined up on the colorful Istiklal street, with plethora of local street musicians performing for gratuities of multitude of pedestrians who are their principle audience, a place that honors it's cats, this city is a little bit of sugar, a dash of spice, and everything nice!
Istanbul, a place so beautiful, that it hurts!
Straddling two continents, where a part of Istanbul lies in Europe and the other part lies in Asia, Istanbul harmonizes old and new, east and west! It's fascinating to see the two contrasting cultures co-exist so perfectly.
A 31-km-long waterway, the Bosphorus strait separates the two parts! The Bosphorus Bridge, across the Bosphorus, connects Europe to Asia admirably.
Imagine, we take flights to get to a different continent, but the locals here casually cross the bridge, and tada, they are in a different continent altogether!
So, here's our day-by-day itinerary for all of you who are visiting Istanbul, anytime soon!
Getting around Istanbul- Istanbul Kart
Walking is the best way to see all the tourist attractions for end number of reasons that you guys already know, so no point rambling on about them ;)
If not, then you can also use public transports mainly tramways, metros, ferries, buses, taxis (don't get hustled while taking a taxi ride).
If you plan on using public transportation (except taxis) multiple times during your stay in Istanbul, it's totally worth getting a prepaid and rechargeable Istanbul Kart which is the exact same size as regular credit card (so fits perfectly in your wallet). You can easily get your hands on these cards at major transit stops such as airport, bus, ferry and metro stations (look for the phrase Akbil Dolum Noktasi).
We would advise you to get the Istanbul kart from the airport where the cost of the kart is the cheapest- 6 TL. The cost at other stops starts from 10 TL. You can then top it up with the amount of your choice.
The biggest advantage to getting an Istanbul kart as opposed to buying a ticket every time you use public transportation is that if you are travelling in a group of 4-5 people, one Istanbul kart would just be sufficient for everyone!
Sultanahmet vs Taksim- Where to Stay?
It totally depends on your reasons for coming to Istanbul!
Sultanahmet, which is the ancient heart of Istanbul, is closer to top attractions that are located within walking distance from most of the hotels in Sultanahmet. So, if you don't wanna take public transportation, or take long walks exploring the major sights, then consider staying in Sultanahmet, but the only downside is that the neighborhood turns pretty dead once the sun sets. The streets are almost empty after it starts to get dark and the bars in this area shut really early too!
Taksim, on the other hand, is the epicenter of nightlife where everything exciting happens after dark, and this is why you will see most of the tourists and locals flock here! It's where heart of the city beats. It's truly an experience to meet and share stories with locals! It's basically open 24 hours a day, seven days a week!
Where did we put up, you ask? TAKSIM..!
And here's why we preferred staying there-
You are bound to spend the entire day in Sultanahmet, since it is where all the tourist attractions are, so it's anyway better to spend the night somewhere else, to break the monotony (also, considering how dry it gets after dark). Plus, we wanted to make the most of the nightlife after all the walking we did all day, and somehow the idea of staying closer to a place we are partying, gives us a peace of mind!
So, if you ask us, there's honestly no straightforward answer to this. It purely depends on your personal preferences and what excites you! But, hey, do let us know which part of Istanbul you stayed in!
Visa for Indians
Indian passport holders who have valid visa or residence permit from Schengen, US, UK, and Ireland are eligible for Turkish e-visa. Indians without the valid visas or residence permits of these countries will, however, need to apply for sticker visa, with the single entry visa fee being Rs 4300.
In case you haven't received your e-visa before arriving in Turkey, you can visit the interactive kiosks placed in Turkish airport. A tourist valid visa is valid for 60 days from the date of your arrival in the country.
Take it easy and absorb the culture!
Istanbul was the last leg of our trip and we decided to spend a minimum of 5 days here to really come to grips with it's fascinating conurbation and immerse ourselves in it's unparalleled cultural heritage!
Since we had an early morning flight from Antalya, we reached Istanbul pretty early in the morning! We then headed straight to our hotel, situated in Taksim. It was a 5 min walk from the very touristy Taksim square and Istiklal street.
Did we take a small nap? No, we didn't! Sid and i, being the most inquisitive kids ever, headed out to explore the neighborhood on foot! And, oh, boy! We see a cobblestone street, flooded with wave after wave of people walking in either direction, as if some 'powerful people magnets' were installed at every corner on this street. Yes, it's the very famous Istiklal Street we are talking about! We visited this street at the oddest hours, but this didn't seem to change! It seemed like some European city high street, but with the old world charm of Istanbul!
Believe us or not, we could walk the same stretch time and again, and still find something so captivating about it. Walking amidst this colorful myriad of Istiklal street musicians, fancy rooftop bars, pubs, cafes, libraries, art galleries, restaurants, malls, and chocolateries can never get you bored. There's always so much to see, be it the vendors selling Simits, or the oldest red tramway passing by, that takes you back in time!
So, spend the first day strolling the lively Istiklal street and Taksim square, and trust me, it still wont be enough!
Visit the Galata Tower offering a 360 degree view of this beautiful city followed by the Bosphorus cruise tour!
Start your day early to reach the Galata Tower which is one of the most iconic visuals overlooking the beautiful city of Istanbul. The entry into the tower starts from 9 am. So, try reaching a little early to save yourself a long line and beat the crowd. As you make your way to the top, you will come across some of the most elite restaurants offering a fantastic panorama of Istanbul. The view from the top is absolutely breathtaking and peaceful at the same time. You can even pay this tower a visit in the evening right before it starts to get dark for a different feel altogether! The tower is beautifully lit up at night and looks even more magical!
It's the best way to see how the city mushrooms across it's European and Asian sides, hands down. The whole vibe in the evening in Galata is something else. Be it quaint cafes surrounding the colorfully lit tower, or watching the locals whirl to the tunes of gifted musicians around the tower, standing erect. It's totally sight worthy!
TIMINGS- 9 am to 7 pm.
ENTRY- 35 TL per person.
FACT FILE- Make sure to carry cash since the credit cards are not accepted at the entrance.
Bosphorus Cruise Tour-
The Bosphorus is one of the most geopolitically significant water body in the world, for it separates Europe from Asia, and links the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara. It is what truly defines Istanbul. Do take a one or two hour cruise to have a great view of amazing architecture, mosques, palaces, forts, and summer homes on both sides, and of course the Galata bridge! It is a must-visit for all you history buffs out there.
There are city-run public Bosphorus cruises as well as intimate private Bosphorus cruises available. Often cruises set out in the afternoon or evening, depending on which option you choose.
The various departure points for the boat cruises are Eminonu, Kabatas, Kadokoy, and Bebek, all of which are easily accessible by bus or taxi.
All you have to do is check where your departure point is before you set sail, and make sure you arrive at least 15 mins before the departure time!
We highly recommend taking one, to not only get a brilliant view of the mesmerizing skyline of the city, but also to wash away all your worries whilst watching the calm water in silence!
Visit the Historic Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque) and Hagia Sophia-
What may be the most beautiful building in one of the most architecturally rich cities in the world, the Blue Mosque is regarded as the pinnacle of the Ottoman's civilization.
Picturesque on the interior and exterior, and set in intricate arabesques ans iznik tiles, it towers over the Old City in all of it's grandeur
Named after the traditional blue iznik tiles that were used in it's decoration, the Blue Mosque totally lives up to it's hype!
1) Plan your visit in the morning to avoid the crowd.
2) Avoid visiting the mosque at pray time as the mosque closes for 90 mins at each pray time. Pray happens 5 times a day, with the first one at the sunrise and the last one at nightfall!
3) Ignore people who offer you to enter the mosque without queue up, or by selling a ticket.
4) Women need to cover their head, shoulders and knees. Head coverings are available at the mosque entrance for free, which are to be returned to the duty staff at the exit.
5) Be thoughtful and avoid flash photography inside the mosque.
First built as a Greek orthodox christian patriarchal Cathedral, later an Ottoman imperial Mosque, and now a Museum, it has undergone a major renovation in recent years that brings out the best of the Byzanite mosaics and architecture inside.
That, my friend is, Hagia Sophia, in a nutshell!
Being one of the most iconic buildings in the world, the Hagia Sophia has been astounding visitors with it's revolutionary design since 537 AD.
TIMINGS- 9 am to 5 pm.
ENTRY- 72 TL per person.
Visit the colorful Topkapi Palace, and later, get lost in a maze at the Grand Bazaar-
With a lovely setting overlooking the Bosphorus and Sea of Marmara, Topkapi Palace was the royal residence for about 400 years until the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1920s.
It used to be the political center of the Ottoman Empire. It was built on top of a hill in a small peninsula, dominating the Golden Horn, the Sea of Marmara, and the Bosphorus. The palace was open to the public as a museum by Ataturk. It contains many sections and you would need a good half day to tour it properly!
Past the first gate, the Imperial Gate, you will be in the Courtyard of the Regiments from where you can visit the Imperial Mint, the Archaeological Museum, and the Hagia Irene Church.
Two guard towers dominate the second gate, the Gate of Salutation. You will then have an access to the second courtyard of the palace and see the palace's kitchen. Across the courtyard, there is the Council Chamber, the Treasury of Divan, and the Harem.
The Gate of Felicity is the third gate that leads to yet another courtyard containing interesting exhibits such as the 86 carat Spoon Maker's Diamond, the Topkapi Dagger. There is also a holy section which include a tooth and hair of Prophet Mohammed.
After the third courtyard, various passages lead to the fourth gate, and the last courtyard of the palace, the Private Garden of the Sultan.
TIMINGS- 9 am to 6 pm.
ENTRY- 60 TL per person. An extra ticket is needed for Harem, which costs 42 TL.
Welcome, my friend! How are you today?, is what comes to our mind when we think of the Grand Bazaar, for this is something you will hear from every shopkeeper as you walk around the Bazaar!
We really feel that no trip to Istanbul would be complete without experiencing the ancient bustling marketplaces of Grand Bazaar in the old city. Housing over 4000 shops, for more than five centuries, merchants and craftsmen have showcased their best fares here, in an enchanting labyrinth full of shimmering sights and captivating smells. To be honest, prices here have been slightly increased due to the famous history of the place. So, don't forget to use your haggling skills, if you want to find some pretty good deals for your souvenir shopping! We ended up buying the famous Baklava and Turkish delights from here! And yes, we haggled (a lot) ;)
TIMINGS- 9 am to 7 pm.
Visit the famous Umbrella Street in Karakoy!
Down below the Beyoglu district, and just in front of the old town, is the Hoca Tahsin Street in Karakoy neighborhood, which is yet another instagrammable spot in Istanbul. Extremely attractive narrow alleyways, full of gastronomic options, quaint cafes, bold and appealing graffiti work, and the little pops of umbrella color, will make you reach for your camera! For some reasons, these myriad of bright colors always seemed Instagram-ready, giving an impression of being in an open-air gallery!