Travel tips Istanbul in Turkey: Our experiences + highlights of Istanbul!

In this blog you can read more about our time in Istanbul, Turkey. I also share some useful tips for Istanbul and I select the best hotels and hostels when you go backpacking and get through Istanbul!

We are in Turkey! After two wonderful weeks in the Netherlands (we could have easily stayed a week longer, it was so nice to be back after four months of travelling in Africa), we packed our backpacks again. They are very heavy this time: we have party clothes for a wedding with us and warm clothes for the Annapurna hike in Nepal. But first: Istanbul!

Four days of sightseeing and eating in Istanbul!

After a long travel day (something with strikes of the Dutch farmers and the Dutch railway system which couldn’t handle this) we arrive exhausted at Sabiha airport in Istanbul.

An hour later we are at our hostel. The coming nights we will sleep in the Jumba Hostel, a nice, quirky hostel in the middle of the central Taksim district. Everywhere around us are trendy restaurants and a few hours later we sit in one of them with our friends Willemijn and Jiri. Willemijn is a friend of mine from Maastricht. As a digital nomad, she and her friend Jiri travel the world full-time. Coincidentally they were now in Istanbul, we have not seen each other for almost two years so when she sent me a message for some drinks, that was quickly arranged. We have a lot to talk about and with four of us, it is a very pleasant evening!

Must read before visiting Cappadocia: highlights Cappadocia blog!


Sleepwalking through the old city of Istanbul

With a lot of effort, we get up the next morning. During our last days in the Netherlands we didn’t sleep much, add to that a tiring travel day + two wines yesterday … we are actually still very tired. But we don’t have much time here in Istanbul so after breakfast we head out. Well… we head our for four times … I forget plasters, Ries forgets his sunglasses, and I forget to take my wedding outfit along to bring it to the dry cleaner. It’s clear: we are not really awake yet.

An hour and a half later than planned we are at the Blue Mosque. It is warm, there are long lines and we walk around a little dazed. After walking around for an hour, we chill in a park and then decide that maybe we should take it a bit easier today. Normally we cram our days as full as possible, but after years of travelling, we finally realize that days like these are just part of travelling and it’s better to take a break than to get grumpy or get a headache.NOMAD Topaz backpack in Istanbul

Sunset in Istanbul

And so we relax in our room during the hottest part of the day while watching The Big Bang Theory. At the end of the day, we have enough energy to go out and so we watch the sunset from a beautiful park and then eat the tastiest fish wraps ever!

Viswraps cappadocia

Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia

After a wonderful night of sleep, we are much more rested! Time for a second attempt to visit the Blue Mosque. We are early and walk around through the beautiful building. Unfortunately, almost the entire inside is under construction, so, to be honest, this is a bit disappointing.

An hour later we arrive at the equally impressive Hagia Sofia. Hagia Sofia was originally a Christian church, was then converted into a mosque and got turned into a museum in the early twentieth century when there was disagreement among Muslims and Christians about its purpose destination. The structure is at least as beautiful on the inside as on the outside, with age-old mosaics, murals and stained glass. Furthermore, it’s so amazing to walk around in a building that is almost 1500 years old!

Tip: we bought our tickets for Hagia Sofia online in advance. This saves a lot of waiting time in line! Click here to also book tickets and a tour.

Hot air balloons in Cappadocia: The best locations to spot them!

Haiga Sofia

Haiga Sofia

Having a fight about Little Hagia Sofia

At noon, outside again on the large square where the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia are located, Ries proposes to take a short walk that is in the Lonely Planet and leads past the small Hagia Sofia. I agree although I notice that it is hot and I am starting to get a bit hungry … And whoever knows me a bit sees the ingredients for a cranky Charlotte in the above sentence.

And yes, there we go: Ries loses his way because the Lonely Planet does not describe the route well (and because looking at the map is not his strongest side). I feel the sweat dripping down my spine, my appetite has turned into hunger and after an hour of wandering around, I grab the phone from Ries’ hands and start walking also in the wrong direction angrily. Ries, in his turn, is insulted and so we wander through Istanbul for another hour while no restaurant is good enough …

Recognizable to someone? Those moments are also part of travelling. However, you hardly ever read about this because hey, who likes to air his dirty laundry outside? However, when I read these kinds of stories in other blogs I appreciate it too. It gives a better perspective of travelling in general. It is not always fun. That is why I share this too.

Read all about our Turkey itinerary in this blog!


The Grand Bazaar

After a baguette with feta and honey, the fight is settled quickly and the hunger satisfied. We do find out, however, that in we have some trouble with a cancelled pin transaction at a Turkish bank called Akbank. Although we cancelled it, the transaction is nevertheless debited and most likely the machined spewed our money out when we already left. Unfortunately, we get zero response from Akbank to our complaint.

One advantage: we literally have no money to be tempted to buy something in the grand bazaar. And believe me, that temptation is great because there are a lot of nice things. The grand bazaar surprises us a lot: it is much less crowded and chaotic than we expected and most sellers leave us alone. We stroll around, look around with big eyes and then go back to our hostel to cool off with a cold shower. In the evening we visit a local yoga school and take part in a very nice but hard yoga session.

Big Bazar

Visiting Akbank and buying a new Fujifilm camera filter

Unfortunately, our problem with the Akbank ATM has not been resolved. And, so we have to visit the office. After waiting an hour and a half we are told that they cannot do anything for us. Pretty annoying and we definitly can advise against ever using this bank. Fortunately, at our next stop, Ries finds the perfect polarizing filter for his Fujifilm camera. A polarizing filter is often used in front of the camera lens in order to darken skies, manage reflections, or suppress glare from the surface of lakes of the sea. This allows him to take even better photos, especially in the mountains of Cappadocia and the Himalaya.

The rest of the day we take it easy, we do some shopping on the Kalverstraat of Istanbul: the Istiklal C.D. where the H&M, Zara and Decathlon are located. I need new sport shirts, some jewellery for the wedding of Axel and Gokce where we are going next week and Ries is looking for new slippers. Along the way, we stop for a cold lemonade on the terrace (it’s 30 degrees outside). It’s nice people watching and enjoying the beautiful weather. At the dry cleaner we pick up my wedding outfit and in the evening we eat traditional Turkish with a vegetarian twist.

Lemonade Istanbul

Drinks with a view of Istanbul: a classic rooftop bar

We celebrate our last evening in Istanbul with a drink in the rooftop bar of hotel Marmara Pera. This hotel has a beautiful roof terrace from where you can see the entire city. Visiting roof terraces for a drink is something that we try to do when we visit big cities every now and then. It’s a way of getting away from the budget hotels and budget meals, dress up nicely and then chat with a glass of wine and cocktail about what the future will bring us. A very nice end to our wonderful time in Istanbul.

The next day we fly on to Cappadocia, a great place that will soon have a travel guide online. And then we enjoy the spectacular wedding of Axel and Gokce in Antalya for four days.

View Istanbul rooftop

My top tips for Istanbul:

Four days is actually far too little to see this huge city. I have received many tips from readers about what we really should not miss in Istanbul, far too many to do unfortunately but here is a small selection of things that we really should not miss during a trip to Istanbul!

Eat fish wraps at the port

Every day there are dozens of fishermen on the Galata Köprüsü (Istanbul’s most famous bridge). You can eat their catch in the evening at one of the small street barbecues where the fish is grilled and then wrapped in a delicious wrap. Perhaps the tastiest food I ate in all of Istanbul!

See the sunset with a view of the Istanbul skyline

The Asian part of Istanbul is located across the Bosphorus. On day two we went by ferry to the hilly park Buyuksehir Belediyesi Fethipasa. After a steep climb to the top of the hill, we looked out at the Istanbul skyline during sunset. Recommended! Also nice to sail a bit over the Bosphorus by ferry (and a good budget tip, only € 0.60 round trip!)

Travel budget Turkey: What does a trip through Turkey cost?

Sunset Istanbul

Havabus: the shuttle bus from the airports to the city

Upon arrival in Istanbul, we took a way too expensive taxi to the city. It turned out that we could have travelled to the centre with Havabus just as quickly and considerably cheaper. So we did for the following flights. Havabus runs from both Istanbul airport and Sabiha for 18 TL per person to the centre.

Roasted corn cobs and Simit on the street

The Turkish version of the pretzel stand: everywhere in Istanbul you will find small stands where corn cobs and Simit, the Turkish pretzel, are sold. Delicious!

Buy an Istanbul Kart for public transportation!

Buy an Istanbul Kart for less than € 1.50, with which you can travel by public transport for much less money. You can buy this card at small kiosks on the street. If you hand in the card, you will also receive the purchase amount back.

Istanbul Simit

Nice hotels in Istanbul

Hereby some good ho(s)tels for Istanbul that we visited ourselves or that we spoke to other travellers about!

Tip: book your ho(s)tels for Istanbul on time. Because is currently being blocked in Turkey, you cannot book accommodation if you are already in Turkey. So book from another country, then everything will go well!

Jumba hostel €

jumba hostel

We slept in this cozy hostel. Right in the center with a very nice atmosphere, a small roof terrace and both private rooms and dorms. From € 10 per person.

Eternity hotel €€

eternity hotel

This modern hotel is located in the old center, within walking distance of all sights. The rooms are sleek and there is a roof terrace. From € 64 per person.

tagged in diary, istanbul


  1. by maria on 14 September 2022  08:16 Reply

    Istanbul is a really beautiful city, thank you for this article.

  2. by Igor on 22 October 2022  13:47 Reply

    Hi Charlotte. Congratulations on the article. But I had a bad experience in Istanbul and I don't recommend a trip to this city.

    I don’t recommend Istanbul for a trip. I landed on the night of 10/17/2022 at Istanbul Airport (IST). Before the flight, I purchased a transfer service through for the transfer from the airport to the hotel, for 32 pounds sterling.

    Upon arrival at the airport, I did not meet the driver at the agreed location (exit 13) and spoke with a driver who was there. I showed him the name and phone number of the person who was supposed to pick me up. He called then and on the other end of the line someone impersonated the driver who was supposed to pick me up, saying that there was a mistake and that I should make the ride with the one I had found. A price of 3590.00 Turkish Lira was placed and payment would be accepted by credit card. As I was very tired, it was late at night and I didn’t know the rate of the Turkish lira, I accepted it. On leaving the airport, the local called a colleague to accompany the trip.

    On the way, they stopped at the first ATM and I was forced to withdraw the money. At that moment, I saw that it was a coup and that my life was in danger. Upon arriving at the hotel, I took a photo of the license plate and asked the receptionists for help. I couldn’t sleep that night. The next morning I went to the tourist police station. I told him what had happened and the police officer only said that he would contact the owner of the vehicle and talk to him about returning the money.

    On the night of 10/19/2022, a representative of the vehicle owner went to the hotel and the hotel manager brokered the contact and negotiation. The two, representative and manager, said it would only fit me 85.00 euros as there would be fees to cover. I paid the equivalent of 225.00 euros for the criminal race and received only 85 euros at the end. No policial report was registered. I was coerced and robbed. This is all completely absurd. Crime and impunity prevail here.

    I hired a guide for a walking tour of the historic center, but he didn’t show up. I paid for a laundry at the hotel to deliver clean and ironed clothes but they only delivered clean ones.

    Anyway… a very negative experience.

    Tourism is done with transparency, honesty and trust. I leave Istanbul sad and very disappointed. I don’t recommend this city to anyone.

    • by Charlotte van de Sande on 1 November 2022  08:48 Reply

      Hi Igor,
      Sorry to hear this but I think you might have just had really bad luck. I don't believe that since you had a lot of bad experiences, all toursim is done with transparency, honesty and trust. Also not in Istanbul. Again, very sorry to hear about your experience but I really don't think is the case for everyone going to Istanbul.
      Kind regards,

  3. by Zafer on 28 February 2023  05:41 Reply

    Hi Charlotte,
    Thanks for sharing. I believe that such blog posts are very helpful especially for the first time visitors. Istanbul is very complicated, huge and crowded. Careful planning is needed. Reading Igor's comment, yes, bad experiences might happen but again, they can be avoided with good planning.
    Best regards,

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.

Theme developed by TouchSize - Premium WordPress Themes and Websites