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May 12, 2010 7:02 AM   Subscribe

My SO and I are planning on taking about 9 days for a vacation and would like to spend about 3 days in London and 4 in Istanbul (plus travel time to and from New York).

Is this enough time for both cities? We are both frequent travellers and the flight durations and time changes do not faze us. Our primary concern is spending enough time in each locale.

What are the must see locations within the two cities? We like historical or architectural during the day, cultural (food and drink) at night.

Additionally, are there any great day trips we must take that would add a day to either location? We are planning on going the first week of August or so (depending on ticket prices).
posted by 2bucksplus to Travel & Transportation (16 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: My earlier answer to a similar question covers some London stuff, I would particularly recommend Greenwich given your interests. If you're into historical and architectural you should add The Tower of London and St Paul's Cathedral and Tate Modern to your list; if you're pushed, you can do these three in a day on foot.

For Istanbul, Hagia Sofia is amazing. I also really enjoyed going to Eyup which is a short boat ride from the main town, and has Pierre Loti's Cafe with great views as well as a major Muslim shrine.
posted by handee at 7:19 AM on May 12, 2010

Hi there, sounds like a great trip. You obviously won’t be in either city long enough to see everything. But as long as you can accept that what you’re getting is a snapshot, rather than a comprehensive tour, then you’ll have fun.
I’m a Londoner, so deeply biased, but I’d advise you to switch the days round! Spend more time in London! There are loads of possible side-trips, including Bath, known for its Georgian architecture as well as Roman ruins, or Henry VIII's palace at Hampton Court, or Windsor Castle.
Any guidebook will give you a long list of unmissable locations, but both cities also reward casual exploration. I'd encourage you to not pack your itinerary too tightly - give yourself time to wander around a bit and soak up the city.
posted by sleepy boy at 7:24 AM on May 12, 2010

Seconding that you should switch the number of days around. I happily did Istanbul in 3 days and you could spend 2 weeks in London and still not see everything. Check out this thread for some Istanbul bath recommendations - a definite must do!
posted by meerkatty at 7:39 AM on May 12, 2010

Best answer: If you want quirky for London, Time Out's London Walks series (on the right of this page) are excellent although perhaps better suited for someone not trying to see it all in 3 days.

IMHO their Eating and Drinking guide is the best resource for dining here. If you plan to eat and drink well over your stay it will pay for itself.

Day trips from London: Windsor, Oxford, Cambridge. Bath is doable in a day but further away. If you pick one, I'd go for Cambridge - it's very pretty.

Fun stuff in London that isn't a Royal Palace or church: the Little Venice to Camden canal trip; Camden Market; a glass of champagne at St Pancras Station (this is all doable as one route)

Borough Market (Thu, Fri and Sat only); Duck Tour; the South Bank, taking in the London Eye, Festival Hall, Oxo Tower, the Tate Modern, Globe Theatre, Butlers Wharf (this is also doable as one area, but start with Borough Market as it gets busy by mid morning)
posted by MuffinMan at 8:08 AM on May 12, 2010

Best answer: I've never been to Istanbul but I've lived in London for years.

There are many options for good food in London. I have my favourites, but I won't list them here. Instead, have a look at the reviews in London's Time Out. The ratings are reasonably accurate. Also, you might be able to make use of TopTable to get some good deals. I usually suggest a good curry place (probably in/near Brick Lane), and a modern British restaurant to overseas visitors.

A few suggestions of places to go and things to see: Take a boat trip from near Waterloo, to Greenwich, and visit the National Maritime Museum. A boat trip is a pleasant way to start the day, and the museum is an excellent introduction to Britain's maritime past. Go on a guided walking tour. These are entertaining and excellent value for money. I've heard great things about the Jack the Ripper tour. Stroll along the South Bank (between Waterloo and London Bridge) for some great views over the river and of interesting architecture (ranging from St. Paul's Cathedral to Norman Foster's City Hall and Gherkin). Find a good, old, pub and enjoy a pint of real ale. Visit the weird Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons. Have an after-lunch snooze in one of the many parks. Depending on the days you are in town you might also enjoy a visit to one of the markets (e.g. Borough Market for food).

My advice would be to spend some time wandering and don't be afraid of getting lost (you can't go too far wrong). If you're staying fairly central you can get to most places pretty quickly on foot, so you can avoid the Tube for the most part. Don't try to cram too much into the day.

The music scene is pretty vibrant in London too, if you want to burn the candle at both ends. Time Out is a good source for information on what's on, but you might want to check out legendary venues like Ronnie Scott's or The 100 Club.

I wouldn't bother with side trips if you're only in town for 3 days.
posted by jonesor at 8:08 AM on May 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

I too am a Londoner and suggest giving Greenwich a miss, it's terribly over-rated as a tourist destination. The old navel college and park look great and the view from the observatory is amazing, but that's about it. It's all tourist shops and fake pubs, plus during August it will be unpleasantly busy. It's getting that way already, and it's only May. There are some great bits, but you'll need to get out of the centre to find them.

Seconding Tate Modern and St Paul's though. They're on opposite side of the river and connected by a footbridge so easy to do both together. If you're doing it on the weekend, I suggest a detour into the City (business district) from St Paul's to gawp at the magnificent architecture in streets free of people.
posted by fatfrank at 8:14 AM on May 12, 2010

I live in London, and just got back from Istanbul last week. One thing that is frustrating at times is that there are few short-haul red eye flights - flights are usually early AM or afternoon which means you lose the better part of a day. So I would therefore assume you only have 3 days in each city.

Stay in Sultanhamet in Istanbul and you'll stumble over many of the major sights. Most sights are mosques.

In London, I recommend staying near Goodge St tube. Before I moved here that was where I stayed. Close to the British Museum, a walk to Soho, good pubs and food, good transport connections.
posted by wingless_angel at 8:24 AM on May 12, 2010

Best answer: Oh, and the duck tour sucks hard. Did it a while ago with an out of town friend and it was utter rubbish. Better way to see London from the river is to jump on the clipper, a public transport boat that runs between Greenwich and Westminster.
posted by fatfrank at 8:28 AM on May 12, 2010

The Tower of London and Westminster Abbey are impossible to overrate, IMHO. If archaeology is at all interesting to you, see the British Museum; if war/ WWII interested you, the Imperial War Museum is incredible.

London walking tours are very high quality, much better than they need to be. If you pick a subject of interest to you, a walking tour might be the highlight of your trip.
posted by Clambone at 8:53 AM on May 12, 2010

Was in Istanbul at Easter for three days, which was just too short for a first trip (you'll want to go back!). We did the obvious tourist thigns and they were all more-or-less worthwhile. The bazaar was a particualr highlight, as was a cruise up the Bosphorus. One thing worth checking is which airport you're going to fly into -- Easyjet have done their normal trick of flying into an airport which is miles from anywhere.
posted by patricio at 8:55 AM on May 12, 2010

Don't miss the Pudding Shop! Maybe not as colorful as it was in the old days, but still a blast from the past.
posted by aqsakal at 9:04 AM on May 12, 2010

I'm seconding Patricio. I went to Istanbul this past September, 4 days wasn't enough for more than just touristy stuff. I felt like I had given myself and the city the short shrift. A Bosphorus cruise is totally worth it and good for a day when you have no energy. If I had a do-over(and more vacation time at the time) I'd stay for a week and get to know the neighborhoods better. The public transportation is pretty comprehensible.

At night hang out by the Galata bridge on the European side in that big cement area near the bus depot and do some people watching and watch the fish pita boats, at least once. My traveling companions and I started referring to it as Union Square, for reasons that will become obvious if you go.

Stay in Sultanhamet in Istanbul and you'll stumble over many of the major sights. Most sights are mosques.

Sultanhamet is super (pitched a product or restaurant every twenty seconds as you walk down the street) touristy. I wish I had gotten further out. You can find cheap hostels, though. You can definitely hit all the major tourist stuff in 3 days(Sultanhamet). But I felt like I wanted minimally another three, to explore Taksim and the Asian side which is where life actually happens. The Jewish quarter, Balat, was cool. Taksim is more where the nightlife happens, you can easily pick up a copy of Time Out, Istanbul in English there to find out where the nightlife is happening then. Eyewitness travel Istanbul has some guided walks in the back that I didn't manage to make happen, but that looked awesome.
posted by edbles at 10:09 AM on May 12, 2010

Best answer: We went to Istanbul on our honeymoon and LOVED IT! We were there for 5 days, which was plenty. Probably could have done it in four, but we're kind of lazy and took our time.

Get a hotel in the Sultanahmet district of Istanbul. This is where the Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque are, which you do not want to miss. The Grand Bazaar is another must-see. Don't get caught up talking to the rug merchants, though. There are no bargains for foreigners. We also saw the Yerebatan Saray, or palace cistern which was way cool. It's right across the street from the Hagia Sofia. The Hippodrome is just two obelisks now, but it's right outside the Blue Mosque. Tons to see in a 6 block area. We saw other stuff, too, but those things stand out.

The city is dripping with history. You can't throw a rock without hitting some ancient Roman something or other. Our hotel even had the vestiges of an ancient Christian church, with mostly faded frescoes painted on Roman style bricks.

Also check out a turkish bath. We went to the one listed in "1,000 places to see before you die". Can't remember the name. It's separated by sex, so you'll end up being alone (unless you're LG, obviously), but the experience is fantastic.

No recommendations on restaurants. We just grabbed what looked good.

Have fun!!
posted by wwartorff at 10:17 AM on May 12, 2010

Crap. Forgot to mention, sleep with the windows closed and ear plugs in. The first call to prayer is at about 5:30 a.m. and it is LOUD. And city-wide. Over loudspeakers.
posted by wwartorff at 10:19 AM on May 12, 2010

Best answer: Get the Istanbul Eyewitness Travel Guide. I usually buy Lonely Planet guides, but Eyewitness has done a spectacular job with this one, way out of the league of all the other Istanbul guides.
posted by halogen at 1:58 PM on May 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

A quick addition for your London leg. Have a look at this great little website. It lists some of the real little gems in London and should give you some great ideas for things to do. Even for local folk it can be a revelation.
posted by jonesor at 4:53 PM on May 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

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