Peter Smith

Publications, Lectures and Other Stuff

Istanbul Tourist Tips

I just came across these old (April 2009) tips I wrote for visitors to Istanbul. Everything is much more expensive now, of course. I first visited Istanbul when I was a teenager, and it remains one of my favorite cities in the world.

“As I gather several people I know are wanting to visit Istanbul, I will put up my list of places visited and add some more info later when I’ve recovered from the journey — I hate flying (unless someone can treat me to 1st class of course :)).

Day 1.
1. Walking around the Laleli [‘Tulip-ville’] neighbourhood where we stayed. Tram to Karakoy and visited the fish market.
2. Yeni Cami = New Mosque. President Obama raced past in his motorcade but he didn’t wave.
3. Spice market & Rustem Pasha mosque.


Day 2.
1. Hagia Sophia [Admission = 10 TL]
2. The Sunken Cistern [10 TL].
3. Sultan Ahmet park & the Hippodrome.
4. Museum of Turkish & Islamic Arts [10 TL].


Day 3.
1. The ‘short’ Bosphorus cruise [20 TL].
2. Up the Golden Horn.
3. Eyup mosque and shrine.


Day 4.
1. Topkapi palace [20 TL + 15 TL for the Harem].
2. Sultan Ahmet mosque.


Day 5.
1. The Military Museum in Beyoglu [3 TL].
2. Istiklal Caddesi in Pera.


Day 6.
1. Prince’s mosque.
2. Valens aqueduct.
3. City walls view from Topkapi
4. Grand Bazaar.
[Could have done more but it was VERY cold with a bitter wind].


Day 7.
1. Clambering on the walls at the Edirne Gate (dangerous).
2. The Kariye Museum (=The Chora Church) [15 TL].
3. After a ling walk thru the maze of Fenner side-streets (not recommended), got to see the old Church of the Pammakaristos = Fethiye Cami [5 TL].
4. Proper visit to Istiklal Caddesi.

Day 8.
1. Archaeological Museum [10 TL].
2. Long and exhausting walk thru Gulhane Park to get to some overpriced tea cafe on Seraglio Point.

Day 9.
1. The Museum of the Conquest at Topkapi Gate [10 TL — but only 5 if you are Turkish — Bkk is not the only place to do double-pricing].

Apart from Days 1, 6 & 9, there are all quite well-filled days. You could rush several of the sites, of course, but the city takes a lot of energy to see properly and we preferred the more leisurely pace — which still left us tired from lots of walking.

Although the endless admission charges for places was a really expensive nuiscence, our total day-to-day costs for 2 people, including all food and coffee and all the site charges came to just over 800 TL for almost a full 9 days = just over 18,000 Baht.


I love Turkish food, so I am prejudiced.
1. Most hotels will probably provide you with a Turkish buffet breakfast — white cheese, eggs, tomatoes, cucumber, olives, fantastic bread (Bread in Bkk doesn’t compare). Wonderful !

2. A good lunch could either be kebab (9-11 TL in a good restaurant), a salad, and lots of free bread, or a self-service place with a range of dishes (about 10 TL for a LOT of food, but less if you have a small stomache). You can pay much more than this if you go to obviously touristy places in the Sultanahmet area, but I would always go where the Turks like to eat rather than the tourists.

I particularly recommend:
-Sultanahmet Koftecisi (go to the original at no. 12 Divanyolu, established in 1920 and always full of a largely local clientelle, and not to any of the copycat places). Make sure you get some of their spicy tomato sauce to go with your kofte or kebab.

-Sultani-i Eyup, Iskele Cad., No 8 (near the mosque).

-The Armada Restaurant on Istiklal Cad. No. 467 when you visit Galata — everyday a different range of self-service dishes.

But there are 100s of excellent places I’m sure.

3. A doner kebab sandwich (2 TL for chicken or lamb) from any good-looking streetside place will suffice for an evening snack.

The last long visit I made to Istanbul was 45 years ago — a lot of things remarkably the same altho not the enormously increased number of tourists), and that was in August. That was before I lived in Bkk, and I found it too hot. This time round in April, it was definitely cold, but with warm clothing not too bad — we only had one day that was severe, and that was partly because of the biting wind against a temp of 11 C. It was sunny most of the time and there was only one day with some showers. I think I read that this is the light tourist season, so this period may have the advantage of smaller crowds.

There is an excellent tram service altho almost always overcrowded. Buy an Akbil token for reuse to make it easier. On the Istanbul side, it goes along the old Roman road.

I come form an ancient era in which travellers’ check were still normal. This was a major mistake for Istanbul where most banks and currency exchange shops refuse to deal with them (We hunted around a lot and then had to go thru a long bureaucratic procedure at a bank. An exceptional exchange shop was quicker — and gave a better rate).

1. A good place to look for hotels of all kinds anywhere in the world is:
[NB. Our hotel — in the Laleli area near the university — worked out at 440 Euros for 8 nights for a double-bedded room]

2. A Turkey travel planner:

3. Learn a few basic words of Turkish:
100 words:

4. Istanbul:

5. Fancy hotels:

6. PS. SHOPPING. Wander thru the Grand Bazaar but remember that even after haggling most of the things there are still cheaper outside on the regular streets where ordinary Turks buy them.


Memorials of Byzantium.

The city of Constantinople was established by the Emperor Constantine in AD 324, and apart from a period of occupation by the Latins remained the capital of the Eastern Roman / Byzantine Empire until the city’s conquest by the Ottomans in 1453.

The following are all worth visiting:

1. Of the remaining Byzantine structures, the Hagia Sophia remains one of the most amazing buildings in the world. Completed under the emperor Justinian, it was dedicated for worship as the city’s cathedral in 537, and apart from the dome (rebuilt in 563 after the original collapsed) and some Ottoman additions, remains fairly much as Justinian left it. It was at the time and for many centuries after the largest domed structure in the world. William Rosen (‘Justinian’s Flea) provides an account of its construction.

2. There is now a large park at the site of massive Hippodrome — most famous for it chariot races. Three columns — one an Egyptian obelisk — remain from that time, and if you go down the hill at the south end you can see some of the original walling.

3. The Sunken or Basilica Cistern was one of several large Byzantine water reservoirs underneath the city. The roof is over 8 m high and is supported by 336 columns.

4. A large section of the aqueduct of Valens can still be viewed (near the Prince’s Mosque).

5. The Church of St. Saviour in Chora (near the Edirne Gate) is an exquisite piece of architecture with beautiful murals (most of the murals at Hagia Sophia sadly have been lost).

6. The Church of the Pammakaristos. Another gem with some lovely murals. It is in the backstreets of Fenner. It is now partly a mosque (the Fethiye Cami) and partly a museum. [1&4 above are now both museums].

7. The walls of Theodosius were built in the early 5th C (AD 412-22) and joined the Golden Horn with the Sea of Mamara along a distance of about 6.5 km. There were not breached until the Ottoman conquest (1453). It is easy to view the walls — now partly reconstructed in parts I think — at both the Topkapi and Edirne Gates (There is an interesting new panarama of the conquest displayed in a ‘museum’ at Topkapi).

NB. The Topkapi Gate is not to be confused with the well-known Topkapi Palace.


The Bosphorus & the Golden Horn.

One of the main attractions of Constantinople / Istanbul as a capital of two successive empires is the city’s remarkable geographical location.

The Black Sea is joined to the Aegean — and hence to the Mediterranean — by the two narrow straits of the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles, themselves joined by the inland Sea of Marmara. The original city of Constantinople was located on a peninsula at the entrance to the Bosphorus with the Sea of Marmara to its south and the ‘Golden Horn’ (a flooded river valley) to its northeast. Apart from its easy defensibility, the city watches over a major shipping channel (still vital for Russian and Ukrainian trade) as well as the most easily traversed crossing between Europe and Asia Minor (The Bosphorus is 700 m wide at its narrowest point).

Going up the Bosphorus towards the Black Sea, tour boats commonly take tourists as far as the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge and the nearby Rumeli Hisari (the ‘Fortress of Europe’, build by Mehmet II in 1452 as a prelude to his conquest of the city). En route, the boats pass various late Ottoman palaces and the famous Bosphorus Bridge, opened in 1973 (It is 1,560 m long and reaches up to 64 m above the water). Ataturk’s yacht can also be seen.

The entrance to the Golden Horn is now bridged by the Galata Bridge (there is a fish market neaby and you can buy fish kebab sandwiches). On the old city side of the bridge is the district of Eminonu where there are ferry termini and the great New Mosque (Yeni Cami) and the nearby Egyptian Bazaar (the ‘Spice Market’). The small Rustem Pasha Mosque is located in this area.

Going up the Horn (there is a regular ferry) will bring you to the Eyup district with various mosques and a shrine to one of the companions of the Prophet Muhammad. Nearby is a large burial gound and the famous Pierre Loti Cafe.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


This entry was posted on August 20, 2013 by in Turkey and tagged .
%d bloggers like this: