Modern-day travellers have to overcome more and more hurdles in their quest to see and experience the wonderful world we live in. And it is a wonderful place, despite terror attacks, military uprisings and everything else scaring people out of boarding a plane to see the ancient cities of Constantinople, Cairo and countless others.
But what can we, the starry-eyed travellers, do? The simple act of travelling is one of the greatest peaceful defiances of fear and destruction. We say ‘No’ to terror, ‘No’ to inhumanity and ‘Yes’ to celebrating diversity and cultures. We say ‘Yes’ to investing in order countries’ small businesses, entrepreneurs and their locals.
And for us, it’s enriches us too.
In April 2016, I visited Istanbul in Turkey. It was right after a bomb had exploded in the country’s capital city of Ankara, killing 32 people. Many local South Africans advised me not to go. But how could I be hypocritical and stay? Although South Africa has remained largely unaffected by terror attacks, our country certainly hasn’t the best record for stability and safety – especially when viewed on international media.
So I figured; if I can experience a South Africa different to the one portrayed through snippets of the evening news, there must be a Turkey that’s not only conflict and turmoil either. One year on and I’m still dreaming of my return visit to Istanbul.
The city of Istanbul sits on both the Asian and European continents. Along with that, the local flag carrier Turkish Airlines serves more international destinations that any other airline operator on the globe, flying to over 280 destinations globally.
Naturally, there is a great amount of transit travellers in Istanbul on any given moment. And Turkish Airlines is making these waylaid passengers’ airport time a little less horrible by providing free passes into Istanbul! This Istanbul Tourist Pass is also available for purchase, but if you’re flying with Turkish Airlines, it will save you the R2 000 per person for a day pass in the city.
Whether you’re in the city for a layover or it’s your destination of choice, here are some of my favourite things to do.
Here are the must-dos for an 8-hour visit:
See: The Blue Mosque, or Sultan Ahmed Mosque and Topkapi Palace are top choices. Make the Blue Mosque your first stop. After exiting, you can simply walk across Sultanahmet square until you see Topkapi Palace gate in front of you, on the right. Buy your ticket online to skip the queue.
Exiting the palace, you can continue on to see iconic Hagia Sophia.
Eat & Drink: A simit, or round Turkish bread snack sold by many street vendors. Then, a quick Turkish coffee or tea, with Turkish Delight. And, of course, Turkish ice cream or dondurma.
Do: Take a cruise of the Bosphorus Strait.
Here are the must-dos for a 12-hour visit:
Add onto the 8-hour visit:
See: Take in the view from the Eyüp gondola or Eyüp–Piyerloti aerial cable car – a two-station gondola-type line which takes you up to the best viewpoint of Istanbul. Pick a café and enjoy a glass of local Ayran under the shade of the trees up there.
For another viewpoint, Galata Tower also offers stunning views of all major monuments of the Old City.
Eat & Drink: If you’re going up with the Eyüp–Piyerloti cable car, have lunch at one of the cafes at the top. Opt for Doner kebabs or lahmacun from the street vendors, or pick a café under the large trees.
You can also opt for a fresh fish meal at Galata Bridge, the bridge which spans the Golden Horn in Istanbul, connecting the Old City with the new, modern parts. Underneath it, some of the most hip, most sought-after seafood restaurants in the city operate.
If you’re peckish or would like to grab a meal on the go, the street vendors sell amazing grilled corn, toasted chestnuts and other local deliciousness.
Do: If you have time between visits at Topkapi Palace and the Hagia Sophia, take a stroll along the picturesque back streets of this touristy neighborhood. The area is filled with small cafes where you can knock back a Turkish coffee or tea.
Also make time to see the Grand Bazaar, or Kapaliçarsi. The market is located in the neigbourhood, and can also be easily reached from Sultanahmet and Sirkeci by trams, from the Beyazit-Kapaliçarsi stop.
If you still have an hour or two, visit a Sultan’s Palace. Sightseeing from a ferry is one of the best ways to view the palaces of the Bosphorus, nothing beats being inside one! A visit to the Beylerbeyi Sarayi is highly recommended for history boffins.
Here are the must-dos for a 24 hour visit –
Add onto the 12-hour visit:
See: Cats! Istanbul is famed for its many cats, so you need at least one selfie with one of these well-cared for strays.
Also, if you’re in Istanbul during the evening, visit Istiklal Caddesi or Independence Street. During the day, Istiklal Caddesi is abuzz with trams and young professionals, who then frequent the pubs at night.
Eat & Drink: First, enjoy a classic Turkish tea at the Tarihi Cinaralti Cay Bahcesi. For dinner or lunch, a meal of whole baked fresh fish and real Turkish meze Yakamoz Restaurant is also highly recommended. The restaurant overlooks the Bosporus, so views of the city are mesmerizing.
In Istiklal Caddesi, enjoy a local beer – Efes Pilsen, brewed in Izmir.
Do: Buy spices and souvenirs at the Spice Bazaar, or Misir Çarsisi. This market is alive with smells of turmeric and Turkish Delight, and you can buy world-class spices, like real saffron, as well as Turkish Delight and teas at great prices. The locals buy here too, which makes it that much cooler.
Getting there and back
Many of the city’s must-dos are located in the Old City. The fastest way to get there form Ataturk airport is by taking the metro form the arrivals terminal to Aksaray, then changing to the tram that takes you directly to Sultanahmet district. You go back the same way as you came.
If you’re going with the Turkish Airlines Touristanbul pass, you’ll be escorted by bus.
*This article was originally written for and published by News24 Traveller24. View it here.