There is no greater melting pot than “the pearl of the Bosporus”. The city officially has about 10 million inhabitants, but the real numbers range from 12 to 13 million. In five days you can discover the city at your own pace. If you only have three, do it our way.
0-24h: Steam, tea and modern Turkish music
What better way to start your visit than with a traditional visit to the hammam? When bathrooms in the house were still a luxury, ordinary Turks went to the steam bath once a week. Bathing then had a strong social function, while now it is more about the well-being of the visitor. In the authentic Cagaloglu in the Sultaahment district you feel like a real sultan. Don't turn it into a tourist blitz, try to last at least a whole morning in the fumes.
In the same old city district, you will feel reborn in a typical Turkish tea house. Near the sea is Taps, a well-known tea house where you can play the typical board game tawla, known to us as backgammon.
After this short stopover, take the ferry north at Karaköy boat station to the Pierre Loti Café. The Turks will offer a guided visit, but the best part is if you explore on your own. In this café, the famous 19th-century French writer Pierre Loti is said to have sipped his coffee several times while writing “Aziyadé”, a semi-biographical book about his experiences in Istanbul. While you sip your very strong coffee, you once again enjoy a beautiful view of the Bosporus, this time from a completely different angle. After your visit, walk past the old cemetery, where you will find graves from the Ottoman era.
Hungry from the trip? No problem: Istanbul is bursting with restaurants, bars and food stalls, so you have good food around you at all times. In the evening you head to the hotspot with the local youth, Babylon. This “AB of Istanbul” emphasizes Turkish music in all its variants, with an emphasis on modern artists such as Mercan Dede, Baba Zula and Taksim Trio. Babylon is the artery of the music scene in Istanbul, time to put your finger on the pulse here.
Tip: If you still want to pay a guided visit to the Pierre Loti Café, do not accept the first offer. Look around, compare the prices of the different tours and feel free to haggle on the price.
24-48h: Boats, vans and a sturdy castle
Trust us: it's better not to get behind the wheel of a car in Istanbul. Much safer, faster and more fun are the many boats that take you to the other side in no time. For the price of one euro you can go from the European part via Karaköy to Ortaköy, the Paris of Istanbul on the Asian side of the city. You will pass Fener, the famous lighthouse built on a rock in the Bosporus. Once across, stroll past the art galleries and find yourself a cosy restaurant for lunch.
Afterwards back on the ferry for a visit to a beautiful medieval castle. Sultan Mehmet was nicknamed “the conqueror” in 1453 because he added Constantinople to his empire in no time. To quickly capture the city, his troops built a stronghold in just three months that served as a base of operations during the conquest. The ruins by the sea will undoubtedly leave a gigantic impression on you. Also nice are the concerts that regularly take place here.
To get back you can use the dolmus buses, which stop everywhere you want. It's more fun to walk along the coastline, where Asia is up for grabs on the other side. Through this walk you will discover a completely different side of Istanbul: the fishermen along the quay, the beautiful 19th-century houses and the marina.
TIP : Although a decent metro system is currently being developed, the most convenient means of transport is by boat or the dolmus bus. Advantages of the dolmus – which literally means “full” – are the cheap tickets and the hop-on-hop-off method: just raise your hand to pick up a van and let the driver know where to drop you off. Advantages of the ferries: cheap, you avoid the busy traffic and you enjoy a fresh breeze.
48-72h: Football, a harem and a view of the Bosphorus
In Turkey there is one common denominator: football. Istanbul has three well-known football teams: Galatasaray and Besiktas on the European side, Fenerbahce on the Asian side of the city. For regular matches you can easily buy cheap tickets at the counter, with a city derby you better get away. Every weekend there is a team in town.
Not a sports fan? No problem: plenty of cultural sites to visit. For example, don't miss a visit to the palace of the sultans. This is where the evocative sultans and their harem lived for centuries. The beautiful gardens with a view of the Bosporus, the private rooms and the impressive military collection are the highlights of the museum.
Once back outside, take a walk on the beach around the old city walls. You can't really call it a real beach walk, since Istanbul has no beach. Close to the palace, Turkish families come to a rocky rock beach on Sundays, where they barbecue, fish or play board games. Start your walk at Topkapi Palace, follow the old ramparts, pass the rocky beaches and finish at Sirkeci train station, the old final destination of the famous Orient Express.
Then cross the Galata Bridge and look for bar Leb I Derya, which means “the lips of the coast”. The bar is located upstairs in an apartment building and gives you a phenomenal view of the Bosporus. Take a breather while contemplating the horizon and don't forget to drink your delicious cocktail.
Istanbul has a large jazz scene. Every year in June there is the International Istanbul Jazz Festival, where professional and amateur musicians take to the stage. The city will buzz like never before with a mix of Western and Eastern music.
Some shopping in between? The city's oldest market is the covered spice bazaar, where you can now buy much more than spices. Enjoy the beautiful building and the cosy atmosphere. Learn some basic Turkish to keep the pushy salespeople at bay.
The Galata Tower is arguably the world's first skyscraper. In 1348, the Genoese restored the destroyed tower, which measures 61 meters from the ground and 140 meters from sea level. Again a great view.
The Pera Museum has introduced Turkish audiences to countless internationally acclaimed artists. Some of the most illustrious amongst these include Jean Dubuffet, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Rembrandt, Niko Pirosmani, Josef Koudelka, Joan Miró, Akira Kurosawa, Marc Chagall, Pablo Picasso, Fernando Botero, Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Goya.
Since its inauguration, Pera Museum collaborates annually with national and international institutions of art and education to hold exhibitions that support young artists. All of the Museum’s exhibitions are accompanied by books, catalogues, audio-visual events in addition to education programs. Parallel to its seasonal programs and events, Pera Film offers visitors and film buffs a wide range of screenings that extend from classics and independent movies to animated films and documentaries. Pera Film also hosts special shows that directly correlate with the temporary exhibitions’ themes.
Pera Museum has evolved to become a leading and distinguished cultural centre in one of the liveliest quarters of İstanbul.
Visit the Pera Museum and get a 50% discount on your admission fee.
Or plan your visit on a Wednesday and visit the museum for free (only for students).
Here's an overview of just a few ISIC benefits
you can score in Turkey:
Hotels.com: Extra 10% off online bookings
If you're looking for the perfect hotel, apartment, hostel or treehouse – Hotels.com got you covered with its 300.000 properties around the world! Verify your ISIC, ITIC or IYTC card and receive an extra 10% off online bookings, on top of the current on-site promotion. Please note that this discount applies to reservations made without the Hotels.com Rewards. You need to pay online for your stay.
Withlocals: 10% off experiences
Enjoy a trip through the eyes of a local: walk off-the-beaten paths, see hidden gems, taste authentic food, and hear insider stories that only locals know. Verify your ISIC card to get a promo code for a 10% discount on your experience.
Pera Museum: 50% discounted entrance!
Pera Museum is a private museum offering an outstanding range of diverse high quality culture and art services.
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