- I landed in Istanbul early in the morning and started my trip with a walk around the Sultanahmet area in Istanbul - the tourist hub of the city!
- Visited the Blue Mosque, also called the Sultanahmet Mosque. The mosque is free to enter for both Muslims and non-Muslims, however, during the prayer times, non-Muslims cannot enter the mosque. Also, women are required to cover their heads with a scarf and wear clothes that cover their shoulders and knees. Men are required to wear full-length trousers/pants.
- Right next to the Blue Mosque is Hagia Sophia, a museum that has recently turned into a mosque (in June 2020). During my visit, it was serving as a museum only and the entrance fee was 100 Turkish Lira.
- Another interesting place to visit in the same area is the Topkapi Palace Museum, which served as the headquarters of the Ottoman Empire during the 15, 16th century. The entrance fee of the museum is 100 Turkish Lira. The museum displays remnants of the Ottoman leaders and belongings of many prominent figures in Islam, including Prophet Mohommad's personal sword.
- After some back-to-back sight-seeing in the morning and noon, I spent a lazy evening chilling at a cafe in Sultanahmet ending the day munching on Turkish Kebabs!
- Today I stepped out of Sultanahmet to see the rest of the city and caught a tram to Taksim Square. I would like to name Taksim as 'The heart of modern-day Istanbul'. The place is so lively and buzzing, it is almost impossible not to spend the entire day there! After strolling around the square and taking many pictures, I found a cool group of street performers and quickly spent an hour watching them dancing and playing music. For lunch, I just walked a few meters to a food street in Taksim and ordered Shawarma and Hummus from a tiny food stall.
- After lunch, I walked to Istiklal Street, which right next to Taksim square. Istiklal street is the place to be for every shopaholic! From branded stores to amazing cheap duplicates of the brands, you can find absolutely everything there! I didn't know how I quickly a few hours passed in Istiklal and I had to force myself to stop spending money on shopping just on the second day of the trip!
- It was almost time for the sunset, and many friends suggested that Ortokoy is the best place to witness a sunset in Istanbul, and that's exactly what I did! I hopped on a bus, directly from Taksim to Ortokoy. I went straight to Ortokoy Mosque, which is a beautiful mosque built right across the river. It has a vibrant seafront area with seatings and many chic cafes and restaurants. I watched the sunset sitting right in front of the mosque and then spent the rest of the evening relaxing at a super cute cafe!
- This day was all about the long day trip to the Princes Islands! The Princes Islands are a cluster of nine small islands near mainland Istanbul. Only four of the islands are open to the public and they can be reached by a public ferry in 90 minutes from the mainland.
- The ferries to Princes Islands run all day and the last ferry return back from the Islands at 6 PM in the evening. There is no prior booking required, it works on a first come first serve basis.
- I choose to visit Buyukada Island, the largest island. The best activity to do on the island is to ride a bicycle on the beautiful streets and enjoy seafood sitting at the edge of the Marmara Sea.
- You can also visit the other three accessible islands, however, I just loved my time ay Buyukada so much, I didn't mind not visiting the other islands.
- After returning to mainland Istanbul in the evening, I spent the rest f the day driving around the Asian side of Istanbul, which looks very different than the touristy European side.
- One of the must-see places to see in Istanbul is the color Balat neighborhood, which is famous for its colorful houses, street art, and chic cafes. I spent the entire morning walking in the narrow steep alleys of Balat before stopping for lunch at a small cozy cafe at the corner of the street.
- Next up, I made my way to the Grand Bazar for some souvenir shopping. Grand Bazar is closed only on Sunday so plan your visit accordingly. It can get very overwhelming to visit due to the tourist crowd, loud shopkeepers, and all sorts of haggling and bargaining happening around. Nonetheless, it is a must-visit place for souvenir shopping of all sorts!
- For my final evening in the city, I chose to have a nice peaceful dinner while cruising on the Bosphorous River. I booked a spot for a 2-hour dinner cruise, which included dinner plus a guided tour of the city from the river. It was a wonderful experience to learn about the history of the city while sailing around it and to see some of the royal palaces and courtyards from a distance that is not open to the general public.
Lodging: Ramada Suites by Golden Horn Bridge