Istanbul Must Sees
November 25, 2004 12:26 AM   Subscribe

So I decided to be extremely corny and bring my American sister to Turkey for Thanksgiving (har har). We leave for Istanbul tonight and stay for about 3 days in Sultanahmet near the Blue Mosque. Any fantastic suggestions or must-sees? Thanks!
posted by lazywhinerkid to Travel & Transportation around Istanbul, Turkey (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
boat ride up the Bosphorous, from Eminonu ferry stop (near Sultanahmet, onen or two tram stops). Might be pretty cold.

There's a great view from the Galata Tower, too, if you go over the Horn - and it's a cool walk from the Galata bridge to the Tower. Ortakoy is nice, if you're there on a Sunday, when the beautiful young things come out to buy art and drink beer/ tea by the bridge on the European side. Great view of the bridge, too.

Topkapi palace is a must-see, and Dolmabahce palace is kind of fun if you need indoor activity. The cisterns are an interesting diversion for an hour in the Sultanahmet vicinity.

And don't forget the covered market, but make sure your bargaining powers are strong! I found the Turkish baths to be over-priced and touristy and the only place in the world where I've ever been sexually harassed by other men.
posted by Pericles at 1:19 AM on November 25, 2004

Eyup is a major moslem site - it gets a slightly different tourist crowd to the sultanhamet stuff. You can then walk up through the cemetary to Pierre Loti's cafe which has a fantastic view looking down along the golden horn. To get to Eyup catch a ferry from the stop, er, just up the horn from the bridge (wandering around the ferry stops saying "Eyup" worked for us). You could also catch a ferry to asia - the commuter boat to Hydarpasa will do - have a coffee and then come back. It is quite easy in Istanbul to stay on the European side. There's nothing wrong with that of course, but if you're that close to another continent you might as well visit it.

Other than that i'll echo the recommendation for the Cisterns. And don't forget Ayia Sofia - much more impressive than the Blue Mosque (in my opinion).
posted by handee at 3:34 AM on November 25, 2004

Wait until your feet are sore and you need a break (which will happen remarkably quickly), break all the rules and head to the top of the Ceylan Inter-Continental Hotel, formerly the Sheraton. It's a hideous tower block in an unexciting part of town. It's snooty and expensive. So why go? The view man, the view. It's an incredible and unforgettable sight. Best to go as the sun sets, sip a cocktail and hear the canned muezzins strike up from the hundreds of mosques. You will never want to leave. I can't think of an experience like it anywhere else,.
posted by grahamwell at 4:24 AM on November 25, 2004

2nd Topkapi, don't miss the harem.
3rd the cisterns.
Check out the Egyptian Bazaar, chock full of spices and sweets.
posted by signal at 5:16 AM on November 25, 2004

I really enjoyed touring the cisterns. When I was there which was almost a decade ago, there was a fun little hostel in that area that had a really neat rooftop cafe that was great for getting a cup of coffee or breakfast and sitting by the window overlooking the Bosphorus. The Orient Hostel, worth just stopping in for the view. I also really really enjoyed going to one of the Turkish baths but I got there after a 22 hour train ride, so YMMV. They are pricey and people will try to rub you in places that may surprise you. They're also segregated by gender, so maybe not the best place for you and your sis to go for together time. Be careful about the weather when you take a ferry to Asia. We did that and the seas were rough enough that they cancelled the next few ferries and we just barely crowded everyone on the last ferry back. Totally fun wild ride, but maybe not for the faint of heart.
posted by jessamyn at 7:11 AM on November 25, 2004

Topkapi, the Basilica Cistern, Hagia Sophia (aka Ayasofya -- it was the largest dome built until the Renaissance, and it's a fantastic space.) Take the tram up Istiklal Caddesi from Tunel to Taksim Square. Walk back down Istiklal. Go to the Covered Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar. Eat lunch at Pendeli in the Spice Bazaar (aka the Egyptian Bazaar.) (go up the stairs at the short end of the L-shaped Spice Bazaar.) If you see a guy with a big metal canister on his back, ask him "Sahlep?" and if he nods, buy some -- it's a hot drink made from an orchid root and is yummy. Walk around the Eminonu waterfront, check out the fish and other assorted things for sale.

Go to the mosaic museum behind the Blue Mosque -- also don't miss the museum of Turkish Antiquities, right near the Hippodrome.

Istanbul is a wonderful city. Have fun!
posted by Vidiot at 7:22 AM on November 25, 2004

I agree with everyone's advice thus far, particularly the cisterns - an oasis of calm in the sometimes overwhelming city. I also found the Blue Guide to be indispensable for self-guided tours. It's particularly helpful for it's abundance of information about architectural detail in the city's various mosques (Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque are just the beginning...)
posted by fingers_of_fire at 1:29 PM on November 25, 2004

I was very impressed with the Open Road Turkey guidebook. (Sadly, not all of theirs are as good.) I agree with fingers_of_fire; the Blue Guides are very good, especially with architecture and history.

I also forgot to recommend the Suleymaniye mosque. It's magnificent -- by Sinan -- and more interesting than the Blue Mosque. (but still poke your head inside the Blue Mosque.)
posted by Vidiot at 2:08 PM on November 25, 2004

Don't forget to tell us what you actually did get up to!
posted by Pericles at 1:01 AM on November 26, 2004

What everybody else said, and don't miss the Kariye Camii (scroll down for description) -- it's the most important remaining Byzantine church after Hagia Sophia, with some of the most amazing religious art I've ever seen. It's in the western part of the Old City, so you can see the walls while you're out there.

Definitely practice your bargaining skills (they bargain for everything, including intercity bus tickets) -- offer 20% less than the asking price and see where it goes from there. And you might want to practice a fake foreign language to speak when the carpet touts start pestering you; they're the most annoying aspect of the city.

And yeah, do report back!
posted by languagehat at 8:11 AM on November 26, 2004

Oooh, languagehat, I'd never heard of the Kariye Camii before. Now I want to go back to Istanbul for the third time.
posted by Vidiot at 12:31 PM on November 26, 2004

You're probably back home by now, but on your next trip, you must hit the Rustempasha Camii, now on my list of favorite mosques. It's near the Spice Bazaar. And "sh" is written with a cedilia-s.

Aya Sofya is my favorite building in the world. Though this fall it had been museum-ified more than in years past. And the Grand Bazaar is a must, but try to slip down a back alley or two. If you see a set of steps up to the roof, go on up. There are lots of interesting places behind the ordinary shops.

And advice: when in the area between Aya Sofya and the Blue Mosque, do not stop walking! If you stop, you'll get accosted by a "tour guide."
posted by booth at 2:29 PM on November 28, 2004

And I'm with languagehat on the "tour guides." I actually talked with one for quite a while, knowing that they were going to try to sell me a carpet. But, as luck would have it, I wanted to buy one, and I wound up with a carpet that I really like.

But the other ones -- after I'd already bought my carpet and didn't want postcards, ballpoint pens, et cetera, I fended off by acting confused, mumbling in a few different languages, and finally switching to Pig Latin.
posted by Vidiot at 5:44 PM on November 28, 2004

Response by poster: Hi everyone -- thanks for all the suggestions! We had a really good time over the weekend in Istanbul. Our Thanksgiving dinner was provided by Turkish Airlines which was a bit unfortunate, but we made up for it by eating lots and lots once there!

I was actually pleasantly surprised at the relatively chill nature of most of the touts there. I was expecting a more Marrakech-like experience being dragged into shops, etc. (that said, Marrakech has chilled out considerably in that respect in the past couple years) but constantly smiling, never getting angry and answering "Iceland" to the question "So where are you from?" generally meant they let us be. (I tried replying "Holland" - where I'm currently based, "England" - where I live, and "the States" - where I'm from, but "Iceland" - where I've stopped at the airport once - worked best to get them to go away!

So let's see -- we stayed at the Hotel Ibrahim Pasha which was fine and had a really incredible view over the Blue Mosque but overall was meh. Can't say anything great about it, but can't say anything that bad about it either. At the insistence of a good Turkish friend of mine, we took a ferry from Eminonu to Uskudar smoked cigarettes, ate a simit (nummy Turkish bagely thingy) and fed the seagulls. Highly recommended for anyone visiting. Did all the "must-see!'s like Topkapi Palace, Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, etc. The Grand Bazaar was cool as well and actually a lot newer than I expected. Man, there's nothing like a North African / Middle Eastern market -- I love closing my eyes and just taking in the sounds and smells.

Anywho, thanks again for all the suggestions. I brought back simits for everyone as a thank you but unfortunately have eaten them all. Next time!
posted by lazywhinerkid at 1:05 PM on November 29, 2004 [1 favorite]

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