10 days in Turkey and Greece in Feburary?
November 6, 2013 10:38 PM   Subscribe

So, we're able to get an AMAZING deal on Airfare to Istanbul in February 16th - 25th. Looking for tips and advice for our visit.

I saw this previous post, but our situation with weather and the Greece possibility (I think) is unique enough for another question.

Couple questions:

1) What part of Istanbul would be the best to stay in? Looking to do the usual tourist stuff. Markets, religious sites, ect. Not too touristy, not too seedy would be best.

2) Flying to Athens is about $120 round trip. Weather isn't great that time of year, but thinking perhaps that would be a worthwhile trip? I know it's much more expensive because of the Euro.

3) Political turmoil? We "reserved" the price on the flight until Friday. I'm a bit worried about going to two countries in the midst of political upheaval. I'm not a lilting daisy, but this is our honeymoon and I'd like it to be memorable, not "memorable".

4) ??? Any other tips or advice? We can also go to a beautiful Puerto Rico/Virgin Islands vacation for the same price. Obviously completely different, but if Turkey/Greece is a drag that time of year we're open to anything.
posted by lattiboy to Travel & Transportation around Istanbul, Turkey (10 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I very much enjoyed Istanbul in December. It rained a lot but the temperature was comfortable and it wasn't too crowded. We stayed bang in the middle of the touristy bit and if you want to do the main sights I'd advise doing that. If you stay in another areas it will be cheaper and the food will likely be cheaper and better, but if you're travelling to the same bit of the city every day that would annoy me.

If you only have ten days, I would personally stick to just the one country - Turkey is huge and amazing enough by itself. I was recently in Corfu and out (Corfiot) walking leader was saying that if you wanted to travel in Greece, Athens is way down the list of places to do. I don't think politics should stop you going to either country at the moment, though you should check your government's travel advice and there may be areas you have to avoid. I sometimes ignore milder warnings for countries where I feel I can be sensible or avoid the areas in question but if the holiday is high stakes you might be more cautious.

I would love to make it to Cappadocia, though I suppose it depends on the weather at that time of year. I've have friends who have hiked the Lycian way and loved it, and I think that was early in the year.

I think the choice comes down to whether you want a relaxing beachy holiday or a busy seeing-everything holiday.

If you're a women, it's worth pointing out that both countries have very different attitudes to women. In Istanbul you are expected to cover your hair when going into any Mosque and public displays of any kind of affection (e.g., hand holding) can get hostile reactions from some people. Outside Istanbul, standards of decency will be higher, though with the weather in February, having to cover your arms and legs might not be so bad! In Greece I got unwanted attention despite being in a large group and with a very alpha male local tour leader with us. These are part of going to a country that is different from your own, but can be upsetting for some people especially if the cultures aren't familiar.
posted by kadia_a at 10:57 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

One thing to know about Istanbul in February is that it will be COLD.

I was there in January a couple years ago.

It was cold.

It's also not like the US, where everywhere you go is heated and when it's cold it's only cold outdoors. Cold is cold. Memories of mine include standing in a frigid hostel bathroom waiting for the water to warm up in the shower so I could disrobe* and jump under the warm water. Going back to the baths a second time, because it's a lovely warm way to spend a few hours. Drinking lots of Sahlep and hot tea. It's a good thing I fell in love with hot black tea in Istanbul, because I might have frozen to death without it.

At the very least, I'd splurge a bit on your hotel room, and you may want to ask about heat, availability of extra blankets, etc. when you book.

That said, Istanbul in winter is great! The wintry conditions are sort of romantic (another great memory is wandering through Gulhane park in the fog, early in the morning, while snacking on a simit), and tourist sites are much less crowded. Turkish food is also sort of heavy and definitely fits well with winter weather.

I can't answer your questions about Greece or political turmoil**, but in terms of where to stay, I would stay in the Beyoglu neighborhood rather than the usual tourist choice of Sultanahmet.

*One of the few times I've ever worn a heavy sweater into the bathroom to go take a shower.

**I was there during the turmoil in Greece, but before the Taksim Square protests. I don't remember it feeling unsafe or like there was tension or unrest brewing (and I stayed right near Taksim). Keep in mind that Taksim Square is the central protesting spot in Istanbul, in general. That said, I was once in Darjeeling, India, during the height of a Marxist/Gurka Nationalist uprising and had a great time, so my "political intrigue" meter might be a little skewed.
posted by Sara C. at 11:11 PM on November 6, 2013

Seconding the advice to stay in one place. Istanbul! Constantinople! Byzantium! You will have beyond plenty to do there to fill your ten days, maybe save Greece for when you have longer and can plan to tour beyond Athens. Plus you then have the advantage of not having to deal with a (presumably) new alphabet - Turkish is really easy to read and pronounce, and learning a few politenesses etc will add lots of value to your time.
posted by runincircles at 2:32 AM on November 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

My husband and I had our honeymoon in Turkey in July and we stayed at the Intercontinental on Taksim Square overlooking Gezi Park. It was absolutely fine. There were memorials to the protesters who were killed and injured in the park (which were removed by police the week after we left) and there were riot police on duty all around Taksim Square every night, but we never had a problem and we happily wandered around in the evenings eating street food and sitting in the park. I never felt unsafe.

I also talked a lot with one of my bosses, who is Turkish, before we went. He said not to worry about the protests, and as with any other city, just stay away if things start getting hairy -- just like you'd stay away from an Occupy Wall Street protest if the riot cops were out and starting to pepper spray. (He also fully supports the protests and said that if he were still living there he'd be out with them every night) Istanbul is a very large city and the protests, while politically significant, physically occupy a relatively small part of the city and relatively few people. Even if they do start up again, there is so much of the city to see and enjoy that you can avoid it without much trouble.

Take the like $12 or whatever ferry up and down the Bosphorus that stops at various ports to let people on and off, and get off to have lunch at one of the seafood restaurants at the end just before the Black Sea. It's a good way to see the Bosphorus without paying tons more for a tourist-targeted tour. (Use the bathroom on shore before boarding unless you are used to squat toilets with no TP) Totally go to the Basilica Cistern in Istanbul. We nearly skipped it but I am so so glad we went. It's wicked cool.

Have fun! You'll love it!
posted by olinerd at 3:11 AM on November 7, 2013

You shouldn't need to worry about political turmoil in Turkey - in terms of numbers they're in a better condition than Europe!

There's a restaurant on an open roof between the Sofia and the Blue Mosque - that's pretty cool.

Maybe get a historical walking guide but spend extra and make sure of quality with a very small group. I thought the UK had a lot of history until I came to Istanbul. They have what, 5 or 6 (?) different cultures and empires all mashed into one, each with it's own history as rich and extensive as the roman empire... the mind boggles...

made me realise how ignorant I am...
posted by jago25_98 at 8:50 AM on November 7, 2013

I was there in February of last year, and while it was chilly, we were in hoodies and jeans most of the time. If I recall correctly, it was in the 50s most days, and in the 60s at least once. This was late February--maybe early-mid is colder, not sure.

The best part is it will be relatively empty! We never waited for a table anywhere and the crowds were light at all of the markets. You might want to stay in Sultanahmet, the old city, which we found to be a little bit cheaper than anything around, say, Istiklal (that said, you definitely want to check out Istiklal!). We stayed at the Basileus, it was absolutely perfectly comfortable. (Gorgeous bathrooms.) The neighborhood is not very touristy, definitely didn't feel seedy, but there wasn't much going on nearby at night.
posted by like_a_friend at 9:10 AM on November 7, 2013

Yeah, I was there at the end of January and while the temperatures were probably in the 50s outside during the day if the sun was out (optimistically?), I wore a coat, sweaters, and boots every day of the trip.

Certainly none of this open air restaurant or take a day trip on the ferry stuff was really much fun to do while I was there. I spent a lot of time in museums. Which is the kind of travel I like to do, but be aware that a lot of the tourist recommendations are given under the assumption that you'll be there in the summer.

Again, not to say you shouldn't go, won't have fun, will be miserable. Just expect winter if you go early in February. I feel like Americans assume Istanbul = Middle East = Hot All The Time, when it is very much not the case.
posted by Sara C. at 12:31 PM on November 7, 2013

The neighborhood is not very touristy

Obviously everyone's mileage varies, but Sultanahmet is the traditional tourist ghetto in Istanbul. It is definitely more touristy than anywhere else.

That said, in February this isn't much of an issue, because it's the low season. It's not going to feel like an overwhelming high season packed out tourist nightmare. Also, in my experience the tourist center is really small, and easy to escape in favor of other more interesting parts of town. So it's not a particularly miserable tourist ghetto, as such things go. I think if you can't find a hotel in your price range in Beyoglu (which is what "around Istiklal" is), and want to save some bucks by staying in Sultanahmet, it wouldn't be the worst thing. Though it definitely doesn't meet your criteria as "not too touristy". It is the tourist area of town.
posted by Sara C. at 12:49 PM on November 7, 2013

We did this trip in February of this year - we were even about to book Puerto Rico when we saw that we could go to Istanbul for a little bit less. ~$300 RT, including taxes from DC to Istanbul. Yes, hat-coat-scarf - it was chilly but bright and sunny almost the whole time. We found a fairly inexpensive hotel about two blocks below the Blue Mosque in a very backpack-y and tourist-y hotel area. It was clean and very convenient to the Blue Mosque/Aya Sofia and the tram line - the only hassle in the neighborhood was the restaurant touts - you couldn't walk a block without someone trying to drag you in to a restaurant for dinner.

We did a *ton* while we were there (I think we were 7-8 days) - Blue Mosque/Aya Sofia/Dolmabache Palace/Istiklal and Taksim neighborhood/Grand Bazaar/slow boat up the Bosphorus to that little town on the Asian shore (and climbed up to the ruins of the old fort) - we also did a day trip to Bursa that was the BOMB - we walked to a commuter train that took us to a ferry that dropped us at a bus that took us to a subway stop that took us to the center of Bursa. We saw the Green Mosque there and the market - I bought lovely silks.

It was my second trip to Istanbul, my husband's third, and we'd go again in a heartbeat. I'm gonna go look at Turkish Airlines prices now!
posted by ersatzkat at 7:27 AM on November 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I know I'm late to the party here, but having just gotten back from Turkey I would absolutely nth everyone suggesting that you just stay there for your trip - even if you go no further than Istanbul you'll have plenty to see, and if you cared to venture a little further out you could take a cheap flight or busses within-country to lots of different places. One thing we found to be really awesome even in November was that (as others have already noted) lots of places were not crowded; we had Roman ruins in multiple cities pretty much all to ourselves, which was incredible.

If you do end up staying in Istanbul for the whole time, consider splitting things up into two hotel stays, one in the touristy area of Sultanahmet - which is nice because then you're right there for the "big" touristy sights - and one elsewhere, maybe up in Beyoglu, so you can get a feel for what the city is like outside the tourist bubble. We stayed in the Kybele Hotel in Sultanahmet (I'm linking to their TripAdvisor page because their website auto-launches music) and found it utterly charming and romantic - and the food was pretty good, too. And yes, absolutely go see the Cistern - we almost passed it up too, because from the street level it doesn't look or sound very interesting, but it was one of my favorite and most novel experiences in Istanbul. Oh yeah, and the Seven Hills restaurant between the Blue Mosque and the Aya Sofia looks kinda tacky from the street, but they had good food, friendly service, and the views were spectacular. There's an indoor area so you don't have to freeze your whatevers off (though we had coffee/tea up on the outdoor terrace after dinner - the staff brought us blankets!).

Politics-wise, we felt 100% safe the entire time we were in Turkey (as two ladies on our honeymoon! We just told people who asked that we were "friends," and nobody pressed). The night we strolled up through Taksim Square there was a fairly heavy police presence, and down one of the side streets there was protesting going on, but the square was as busy as ever and even there we really didn't feel unsafe.

Wherever you end up going, have a wonderful time!
posted by DingoMutt at 12:27 PM on November 20, 2013

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