19 Jun

The wife’s sister, her two little toddlers, younger sister and my golfing partner-in-crime, the bro-in-law were in town. The younger sister is getting married in a few months so we decided to combine their visit to London with a shopping trip to Istanbul. Wedding dresses are a good buy in Istanbul – excellent quality at very good prices. You are likely to find a wedding dress in Istanbul that will give Vera Wang a run for her money – so with that in mind, it was off to the ancient city if Istanbuk

Istanbul is definitely in my top 5 favourite cities along with Medina (KSA), Cape Town (RSA), New York City (USA) and Dubai (UAE). The city has so many stories to tell with an incredibly rich history. Through the ages Istanbul had been ruled by various Muslim dynasties, conquered and then lost by the Christians during the crusades, acted as the centre of Christianity, became the centre of a Renaissance under the Ottomans and had almost been pretty much a leading city in all things – architecture, education, art, politics and manufacturing during a time when the western world was barely out of the stone age!

Where to Stay

Sulthanahmet is the only area to stay when on holiday in Istanbul. It’s a very old part of Istanbul and most tourist attractions are in walking distance. Within 15-20 minutes you can finish your prayers at the Blue Mosque, hope on a tram, cross the Golden Horn going over the Galata Bridge and be shopping in İstiklal Avenue in Taksim.

Two hotels I recommend for location and price:
Sura Hotel and Suites – Boutique hotel with an excellent location. Check out my TripAdvisor review here.
Innova Hotel – Not quite boutique but very good value for money. Check out my TripAdvisor review here.

What to do

If you ever have the privilege of visiting this magical city, be sure to do the following:

  • Check out the Blue Mosque (view of the Dome from the interior below) Blue Mosque
  • Check out the Hagia Sophia. The walking tour offered by guides at the entrance is well worth it.
  • Check out the Topkapi Palace Museum. I once again advocate getting a guide and touring the Harem area. Also, the Relic Room is an absolute must – if there is just one thing you do in Istanbul, it should be visiting the Relic Room in the Topkapi Palace. In this room, you will find the sword and bow belonging to the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and his companions (RA), the staff of Moosa/Moses (AS), a Turban belonging to Yusuf/Jospeh (AS) and many more ancient relics. As a Muslim, you won’t find a better collection of artefacts and relics from the ancient Muslim world.
  • Do a riverboat tour of the Bosphorus and Golden Horn
  • Go to a Hammam, I strongly recommend Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Hamam. Check out my Tripadvisor review here.
  • Shopping, shopping, shopping!
    • İstiklal Avenue (or İstiklâl Caddesi in Turkish) is well worth the visit. Designer brands alongside local Turkish brands make for a good shopping day. The ride up and down the old tram on the Avenue is also loads of fun.
    • Do not buy anything from the Grand Bazaar without a bit of a haggle, but generally the Grand Bazaar is a bit of a tourist trap.
    • For Wedding Dresses, check out Fevzi Paşa Avenue/Caddesi. in the Fatih area close to the Fatih Mosque. Ladies should also check out the Laleli area next to the Laleli tram station – you would find some very decent evening wear there.
    • If fake goods are your thing, check out the area next to the Beyazıt-Kapalıçarşı tram station leading to the Grand Bazaar – they’ve pretty much knocked off every brand!

Some interesting Facts

  • One of very few cities to span two continents
  • Tulips, the symbol of Holland, originated in Istanbul and were sent from Istanbul to Netherlands
  • The Grand Bazaar is the biggest old covered bazaar in the world, with over 3.000 shops

Where to eat

While there are loads of places offering the traditional Turkish Kebap with the more famour types being Iskander Kebap and Doner Kebap, the place I love eating at most in Turkey is Virginia Angus – hands down the best burger I have ever had in my life! I cannot rave enough about the awesomeness of their food! In fact, this burger and steak joint is now one of the primary reasons I love going to Istanbul. I reviewed them on TripAdvisor a few years back

Virginia Angus

Virginia Angus Burger

If you are ever presented with the opportunity to visit Istanbul – don’t pass it up, if just for the Virginia Angus burger 🙂