travel / Turkey

Istanbul, Turkey: The Good Parts

A few weeks ago, I spent a long weekend in beautiful Istanbul! I went with a group of friends and stayed with my old roommate, who’s actually from Turkey. Istanbul was so many different things that I was having a hard time making just one cohesive post about it. So to start, here are the best things about of my trip. 

1) How old everything is

I guess I knew in theory that Istanbul is one of the oldest cities in the world, but it was still pretty mind-blowing in practice. As we stepped into the entryway of the Hagia Sophia, there was a sign telling us this was the ‘new’ version…from 537!


You could see the proper ‘old’ basilica about 12 feet below the street level in a pit. This one was inaugurated in 415.

Yeah. Pretty cool.

2) The food

I’m not a foodie by any stretch of the imagination, but I definitely enjoyed Istanbul’s culinary scene. Did you know that Turkey has something really similar to tapas? I didn’t, so I was pleasantly surprised! My favorite spot was a restaurant that served us salad and Turkish ‘tapas’, followed by fresh grilled fish, and fruit for dessert. Yum!


A normal (and delicious!) Turkish breakfast

3) The people

Turkey and its people aren’t getting the best rep lately because of a few horrible incidents (like the bombing in Ankara and Sarai Sierra, the American tourist who was murdered). I’d also read about it being pretty sexist and dangerous for a single, obviously foreign girl.

But you know what? I experienced none of that. I was extremely nervous, but it was all unwarranted. The Turkish people I met were all very friendly, kind, and generous beyond belief. I felt so welcome, and they were all beyond happy to show me their country and city.

That isn’t to say you shouldn’t be careful when you travel, but don’t let scary headlines frighten you out of a trip.

4) Cruising the Bosphorus 

Okay, I don’t do luxury travel, so the mere sight of the word ‘cruise’ would usually put me off – it sounds expensive, though admittedly lovely. So I was surprised when my friends suggested doing a cruise of the Bosphorus…and surprised again to discover that it was very cheap!


A view of a palace from the ship.

This was absolutely my favorite way to see the city. Istanbul is so big that I was having a hard time getting a grasp on it, but cruising the Bosphorus Strait was a way to see a lot of the beautiful sights from a more relaxed perspective.

5) Going with a local friend

Meeting up with a local is my favorite way to travel, and it was especially welcome in Istanbul. The city left me very overwhelmed and slightly anxious, so I was glad to have a guide. Plus, on top of that, the guide just so happened to be one of my best friends. Win win!


My very kind and friendly hosts!

Whether it was taking a cruise, eating at a restaurant with traditional dancing and music, or going to a rooftop bar with stunning views of the illuminated city, having a local friend help me around really let me see the best of Istanbul in a way I wouldn’t have done otherwise.

6) The prices

When my friend told me my dinner alone was going to cost fifty lira, I freaked out. FIFTY? That’s like… an entire travel weekend food budget for me!

Then I went to get cash out. Forty lira was around seventeen euros. Freak out over!

I probably spent around 130 lira in a four-day weekend, which includes food, drink, transportation, club entries, souvenirs, and tourist attraction entries. And I wasn’t trying to scrimp and save, either. (Had I tried to do the same amount of stuff in Barcelona, for example, it would have been easy to blow that amount of cash in one, maybe one and a half days!)


Okay, so that was the good stuff about Turkey….so look out for my next post where I talk about the not-good-stuff!

Have any of you been to Istanbul? What did you like about it? 



30 thoughts on “Istanbul, Turkey: The Good Parts

  1. It all looks amazing! Lucky lucky you for having a local guide!

    Cruising the Bosphorus sounds terrific. And I had no idea there was something similar to tapas in Turkey! Ahhh, time to befriend someone from the country 😉

  2. Wow, everybody is going to Turkey these days it seems! It wasn’t on my radar when I was in college but it definitely is now. I especially want to visit the Hagia Sophia. Of course, Turkey has gotten negative press when it comes to female travelers (not just the American tourist who was killed) and I am a bit apprehensive traveling there as a woman. I think I might have to do what you did–become friends with someone from there so he or she can take me around!

    • Yeah, it suddenly got really trendy! I feel like half the blogs I read have posted about Turkey recently.

      I was definitely apprehensive as well, but as long as you’re sensible I think it’s fine. Having a local friend or a guy around was an easy way to make it safer.

  3. Turkey is brilliant! I travelled over most of it during the 1980s when I was a carpet dealer. Over a period of five years I went back and forth, buying old kilims to import to England.

    The people are really friendly in the main, and I love the food. Certainly there can be problems for Western women travelling alone, especially when going into the hinterland where tourists don´t usually wander.

    My favourite spot for relaxing was the little town of Side, not far from Antalya, on the south coast. The Roman ruins are in very good shape with a fantastic amphitheatre. There are two beautiful beaches and the night life is great. I haven´t been back in ages and long to return.

  4. I was just in Istanbul and I completely agree that the history, food and people are incredible! Like you I had a local guide so I spent next to no money- everyone was so so generous and wanted to show me a good time.

  5. Interesting what you say about your experiences with the people. I think sometimes some organisations want to scare you so that you stay in their hotels and spend money maximising their profits… cynical view maybe???? I’ve never had a bad experience anywhere but in Slough near where I used to live in UK but then I’m not female 🙂

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  7. I am a huge foodie and that food looks amazing. I’ve never been to Istanbul, but I’ve been to Turkey, where I have to agree that the people are so, so nice and did everything they could to insure that we had a good time. I’ve really been wanting to go back since we only had one day there, and this post makes me want to go back even more. Can’t wait for your future Turkey posts!!

  8. The most interesting thing of Istanbul is that it was a real multicultural city, at least during the Otoman area it was. you can see this in the architecture of the city. It isnt a muslim city, is an armenian, greek, jewish,italian city it is a mix of everything I think that because of that Istanbul people are open-minded. The food is great and i love the Taksim 24 h style. As you say Bosphorus is wonderful, when u take the boat and you see how the sun is getting dark in the golden horn and you hear the sound of the call of pray, wooww this is impressive.

    An interesting thing of Istanbul is that part of spanish jews who were expelled from Spain in 17th century settled in Istanbul and they keep their spanish language during generations, if you visit jewish cemeteries the graves are written in old spanish. check the pictures from here

    Nowadays young Turkish jews speak Turkish but it is possible to speak with old jewish in spanish in fact i did several times, and it is very interesting talk with someone who never visited Spain and speak the same spanish that the people who lived in 17th century

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  14. Your pictures remind me of my trip to Istanbul at the end of January. So many great memories. But as much as I love ancient sites, it’s the cats that really got me fall in love with the city. 🙂

  15. Having a local is the best way to go! I think I would have enjoyed my time more had I known locals or CS’ed. Instead I was with friends but not traveler type of friends, you know full on, We’re tourist type of friends. Certainly a different experience.
    Loved the food too!

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