Istanbul is one of those cities with so much to offer, that one would need a few days to see the most important sights. With history dating back to 660 BC, nowadays flocks of tourists visit the city to enjoy its world class museums, historical sites, rich cuisine and wide range of hotels. Recently, on a trip from Tbilisi, in Georgia, to Kyrgyzstan, I had a 10-hour connection in Turkey’s largest city. So here I show you how I spent those ten hours, and hopefully that will give you good ideas of what to do during your Istanbul flight connection.
My flight landed at 7:15am and by 9am, I was already in the main area of tourist interest. I got off the tram at Beyazit, which is near the famous Grand Bazaar. On my previous trip to the city, I stayed at a hotel close by, but with so many options available, I probably should have stayed somewhere else, away from the big crowds. Once I was off the tram, I went to the University of Istanbul square. It is a very pleasant place to wind down, watch people, and pose for a few photos by the imposing university entrance. After about 10 minutes, I walked to the nearby bazaar.
This ginormous maze is still one of the largest bazaars in the world. Here you can find practically anything you need (and also what you don’t need), from souvenirs, decoration objects, to fake designer clothes – although some shop owners will swear by their grandmother’s grave everything is original! 🙂 It was very early and the place was already busy.
After some haggling game with a couple of shop owners at the bazaar, I went back to the main street to Sultanahmet Square. Orientation is very easy, I just followed the tram tracks. This square is the place for sightseeing in Istanbul. It is home to the magnificent Sultanahmet Mosque, commonly known as the Blue Mosque, due to the blue tiles that adorn its interior. Despite being there on two other occasions, I couldn’t help but going inside again. Non-Muslims are welcome, and everyone has to take their shoes off. Women must cover their head, and a scarf given at the entrance, and no one wearing shorts of mini-skirts will be allowed in.
The interior is beautifully decorated by more than 20,000 ceramic tiles, some with Arabic scriptures from the Quran, others designed with representations of flowers and fruits.
Just opposite the Blue Mosque, is the equally imposing Haya Sophia, built in the 6th century as a church, then converted into a mosque, and today a museum. Entrance costs 25 Turkish lira (roughly 11USD, €8, £7) and a visit deserves at least one hour. On this occasion, I didn’t go in, but first time visitors shouldn’t miss it.
By now, it was already nearly 12pm and I carried on walking towards Galata Bridge, following the tram tracks. This way is slightly longer, but it’s the best way to avoid getting lost in the labyrinthine streets. After Sultanahmet, this is in fact one of my favourite areas in the whole of Istanbul – in fact I have many “favourite” areas in the city!
In this area, the views are breathtaking, no matter on which side you are. Once I got to the small junction by the bridge, a drizzle that lasted about ten minutes washed my face. I could hear the sound of ferries, street sellers shouting, trying to sell their goods, cars and trams from coming from everywhere and seagulls flying.
Trying to escape the rain, I went to one of the boat restaurants for a quick snack, before crossing the bridge on foot. This is another place to practise one of my favourite exercises: people watching. Fishermen, hundreds of them, of all ages and sizes, take over the bridge catching small fish and selling them right there.
After slowly crossing Galata Bridge, I got to the other side and I climbed the hilly streets that lead to the 67-metre high Galata Tower, another of the Istanbul’s postcards. After taking a few pictures, I walked up Galip Dede Caddesi (street).
This street can get you confused as to whether you are in Istanbul or in Italy, because of the architecture. It is full of interesting shops, many of them selling musical instruments, old vinyl and artsy objects. While at the Grand Bazaar you must have good haggling skills, here prices are labelled and you often get better value. It is, in fact, another of my favourite spots in the city.
I continued walking along Galip Dede Street, until I got to Istiklal Caddesi. This pedestrian street in fact just a continuation of the previous one, but much more modern. It is the city’s main shopping artery, home department stores, traditional Turkish delis, countless cafes and designer shops.
It was past 2pm and I sat at one of the street’s many cafes, enjoying the sunshine and watching the crowds of shoppers, workers, tourists and the historic tram passing by.
After a few minutes, I continued walking up the street, arriving at Taksim Square, the heart of modern Istanbul, the city’s main transportation hub, the final point of my walk.
From here, I used public transport to make my way back to Ataturk airport. If your flight is from Sabiha Gokcen airport, the shuttle bus will drop you at Taksim Square and you can walk from here to Sultanahmet, my starting point.
After my long walk, I still arrived at the airport nearly two hours prior to my next flight. Walking around Istanbul for a few hours was a good way to see the city’s main sights and do some exercise, which helped me sleep well on my flight. If only I could always have such interesting flight connections!
What about you, have you ever been to Istanbul? What are your favourite sights?