Istanbul – Planning Our Trip

Well, what an eye-opener this has been. Whenever we used to go on holiday, we used to love sitting on the sofa, surrounded by guidebooks, planning our day trips around ‘pool days.’ It was a simple, enjoyable task that we used to look forward to because it fuelled the excitement and anticipation of what was to come.

But what does one do with Istanbul; a huge, sprawling, magical wonderland that is impossible to leave with the thoughts of, ‘Well, it was okay.’ Istanbul leaves the visitor overwhelmed by the number of sights to see, the things to do, the food to eat, the places to stay. And that’s why we have to keep going back for more.

Karaköy & Galata Tower from Eminönü, Istanbul

View of Karaköy & Galata Tower from Eminönü, Istanbul

When it came to planning our first ever trip to Istanbul, life was easy. Blue Mosque: Check. Aya Sofya: Check. Topkapı Palace: Check. These usual suspects and more were added to our list and we duly traipsed around each magnificent building. (If you’re visiting Istanbul for the first time and would like some good introductory tips, take a look at 48 Hours in Istanbul.)

We’ve returned to Istanbul numerous times since then, soaking up the bars, devouring the hamsi at Karaköy fish market and losing ourselves in the vast maze of streets…and sightseeing has become pushed well and truly to the back burner – until now! It’s taken over a week to complete, but we’ve made a plan; we’re going to acquaint and reacquaint ourselves with some of the sights of Istanbul.

There are three reasons for this:

  1. The first time we were in Istanbul, I was refusing to accept the existence of digital cameras. I took hundreds of photos, all of which are now lost somewhere in someone’s garage in England. It’s time I got some new photos.
  2. We’ve done many Istanbul posts on this blog and as far as we’re concerned, many of the main tourist sights are glaring omissions in the content. They more than deserve to be there.
  3. The most important reason: It’s easy to think, ‘Seen that. Done that. Been there.’ These buildings are amongst the most beautiful, significant structures in the world, both architecturally and historically. It’s many years since we last entered them and, having read up on Ottoman history since then, we’d like to re-enter with new eyes.

So, what’s on the agenda for our 5 days in Istanbul? We’ve had a good laugh coming up with this plan because bear in mind, we’ve got a 15k run and a marathon right in the middle of all this…some of our list just might not happen!

Blue Mosque, Istanbul

an early morning scene at the Blue Mosque – Sultanahmet Camii

Friday: *Pick up our running bibs and eat lots of free pasta at the marathon expo near Taksim. *Go to the top of Galata Tower (see top photo) just to take photos across Istanbul. *Wander around Çukurcuma and then make our way down to Tophane by the shores of the Bosphorus.

Saturday: *Wake early to get in the queue for Aya Sofya. We remember these queues all too well but never has anything been so worth it. Can’t wait to get back inside this building!

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

A trip to Hagia Sophia is always worth the wait

*Later, visit Sultanahmet Camii (the Blue Mosque) to reacquaint ourselves with the interior. Sadly, my overriding memory of this place is just lots of people. I’d like to replace that with a better memory. We’ll see if that’s possible.

*Afterwards, jump on the Metro as far as Kabataş and then stroll the rest of the way to Ortaköy for photos of the Bosphorus Bridge, Büyük Mecidiye Camii (Ortaköy Mosque) and to eat the amazing kumpir (jacket potatoes) that Ortaköy is famous for.

Sunday: *A small matter of running the 2012 15k and Eurasia Marathon. Who knows what’s going to happen after that? *Barry’s legs permitting, pencilled in is Süleymaniye Camii, my favourite mosque. Let’s see!

Monday: Bosphorus Cruise. This is a day-long trip involving lots of sitting down which we figured we would need after Sunday.

Tuesday: Kariye Museum (The Church of St. Saviour in Chora). Apparently with some of the most beautiful and best-preserved mosaics of the Byzantine era, how can we not go there? It’ll be our first visit here and we can’t wait!

Do you make an itinerary whenever you visit somewhere new? We’re excited because it’s a long time since we’ve gone anywhere with any particular plan in mind.

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  1. I’m deeply envious. You can never visit Aya Sofya too many times. To paraphrase Samuel Pepys, ‘Whoever is tired of Istanbul is tired of life.’ Have a wonderful time.

  2. A solid plan. And very good reasons for a return visit to some of the most spectacular buildings in the world. I hope you make it to Süleymaniye. It’s my favorite mosque, too. I am so glad to have made the trek up the hill. Besides Sinan’s magnificent architecture, there are those amazing views of the Golden Horn and Bosphorus from the back terraces.

    We did make an itinerary before going to Istanbul. The first trip is easy. There is so much to see and do and never enough time (unless you live there). You’re fortunate to have been to Istanbul several times. Some of your choices are on our list for our next trip: the Bosphorus cruise, The Church of St. Saviour in Chora and Ortaköy kumpir.

    When you speak about planning, I have to chuckle because I spend so much of my time planning the next leg of our journey. After 6 months, you can see why I am looking forward to some down time on the Turkish Mediterranean.

    Good luck with the 15K and the marathon. The Ramblecrunch team will be rooting for you.

  3. @ Jack: It’ll be our second visit. Apparently, the scaffolding is finally off the dome and we also want to see the angel mosaic that was discovered a few years back.

    @ Mark: What a palava we’ve had, planning this. The main problem was the run being slap in the middle of everything. I don’t think we’re cut out for planning an itinerary. Yes, we can definitely see why you’re ready for chilling out by the Med! 🙂

    Thanks for rooting for us with the run. We need it. Got my last big run tomorrow before we go. 🙂

  4. What a wonderful trip!

    I think you’re doing the right thing. It’s wise to have at least a loose itinerary, especially when your time is limited. My family and I tend to leave everything up to serendipity (which we enjoy doing), but sometimes we miss things we’d like to have seen.

    Envious about that Bosphorous cruise. We didn’t take one because I didn’t want to leave the dog alone in the camper all day but didn’t want to bring him on the boat either. Would love to have seen some of those lovely Ottoman waterside residences from the water.

    The Süleymaniye Camii is my favorite as well!


  5. I think you can do a bit of both: landmarks and soak up the city. My advice: don’t be so rigid with your itinerary and let the stay in Istanbul unfold as it may. Enjoy, I’m jealous!

  6. Gosh, your trip sounds great – going where whim takes you sounds great! It’s been years since I was there, and all those photos are somewhere on film!

  7. Can I also suggest a visit to the Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarayı) on Saturday. It is just across the tram-tracks to your right after you leave the Aya Sofya. It won’t take more than 1 hour to walk down and around. It is great for photos of the marble columns and their reflections in the water. Another great photo opportunity is in the upper level of the Aya Sophia. The 2 windows near the Deesis Mosaic can be opened and reveal a view to the Blue Mosque with foreground domes. If you are short you may have problems looking out this window, but you can rest your camera on the window sill and shoot and check your shot afterwards. Good luck to both of you for the run. Cheers, Henry

  8. @ Peter: We usually just let the trip unfold so we thought we’d try something a bit different. We’re both quite good at enjoying ourselves and the itinerary may very well go out of the window within a few minutes. 🙂

    @ Belinda: Yeah, I feel the need to get my collection of photos back – and a bit more up-to-date. 🙂

    @ Henry: Thanks a lot for your comment. Love the tip about the window opening to the Blue Mosque. Barry can give me a peg up. 😉

    We’ve been to Yerebatan in the past and will definitely return again – just not sure if we can squash it in this time. Who knows? I guess it depends how long we’re in the Blue Mosque before we start to feel ‘mosqued out.’ 🙂

  9. Am glad you put up this post, I am planning to come to visit Istanbul at some stage, so will be keeping an eye out on further posts and updates of your trips. Good luck with the marathon again.

  10. @ Renee: We go everywhere with loads of good intentions and always end up somewhere completely different. Good fun but like you said, sometimes you miss out.

    The Bosphorus Cruise is great for photos and once you’re sailing, it’s a relaxing day, too. We’ll be going on the public, cheap on where it’s every man for themselves getting a good spec on the boat. Elbows at the ready. 😉

  11. @ Tania: The idea is that as we get more content on the blog, we’ll eventually have a pretty comprehensive Istanbul section. There’s already a bit on here but it’s mainly bars and food. We decided it was about time we got some sights on here too. 🙂

  12. Istanbul looks amazing, cant wait until I can come for a visit, in the meantime I will enjoy the visits via your photos and updates 🙂
    Love reading you blog, although only makes me yearn to be back in Turkey 🙂

  13. Sounds like a great itinerary! Had a kumpir in Ortakoy back in August… It’ll be lovely to be in Istanbul in the autumn. I always try to have some kind of itinerary, or at least a list of must-see places.

  14. Since I travel mostly with my children, itineraries rarely work out. But when I travel on my own, I often have some sort of plan, to get the most out of my (usually short) time. I was in Istanbul 20 years ago, but still remember the interior of Aya Sofya. Such a beautiful place. I think I should go back. Perhaps with the kids.

  15. Wow that is one well planned itinerary. I agree that you cannot employ the “Seen that. Done that. Been there.” philosophy when you travel. There are always new things to uncover.

  16. @ Tania: Istanbul is just too big to cover. Lots of sites out there, doing there best. We’ll just keep covering one trip at a time. 🙂

    @ Deniz: Good to hear. We started to feel a bit lazy with Istanbul. So much to see ans so much we leave undiscovered. 🙂

    @ Sophie: We haven’t got kids but I’m a former primary school teacher (7-11) and I always have a moment where I think, ‘The kids would have loved this!’ LOADS to keep kids of all agbes occupied and interested.
    Our personal itinerary will hopefully work out. It’s an interesting exercise for us. 🙂

    @ Grace: Well planned, legs permitting! 🙂 It’s so long since were at the places we’ve seen, we need to see them again. Wish we had more time. Maybe one day…

  17. The Aya Sofya definitely is amazing…and you will notice a big difference in the improvements. Many of the old chandeliers have been replaced. That’s on of the first things I noticed after numerous trips with our guests this summer. On Monday, if you 2 are up for a drink or something, let me know. I am around. =)

    Good luck on the race! Cheers!

  18. @ Joy: Yeah, looking forward to seeing Aya Sofya again.

    Well you know exactly where we’ll be throughout our break. 🙂 We’re taking the laptops with us so we can send you a message on Facebook. I don’t think the weather forecast is brilliant so we may well be free all day Monday! I’m sure we’ll entertain ourselves somehow. Will be in touch.

    Thanks for the good luck message. We need it! 🙂

  19. Sounds like a good trip. Re: Ortakoy mosque – it is undergoing renovation so is covered with scaffolding and actually a picture of the mosque underneath. It has been since we started living here in April, and was when we cruised past in the ferry last Saturday on our way home to AnadoluHisari. Hopefully it will be finished soon, it certainly looks nice. Ortakoy is lovely to go to nevertheless! Good luck with the marathon.

  20. @ Jayne: Thanks for that info. Wherever we visit, we always come across the good old scaffolding! Think we might still head down there anyway just because I love the jacket potatoes and we need some carbs for the run. 🙂

    Thanks for the good luck wishes, too.

  21. John McClane says

    If you’re taking Turyol” for the Bosforus trip (it’s the cheapest) you need to get to get to Kadiköy and get seats on the right hand side of the boat as you come on so you get a good view of both banks of the Bosforus as you go & come back We didn’t. Turyol is the cheapest.

  22. @ John McClane: A very good tip! 🙂 We didn’t make the trip on this occasion due to rubbish weather but İ think that’s the company we went with last time – well, we certainly went with whoever was cheapest! 😉 Hope to get back to İstanbul in spring 2013 so will look out for Turyol.

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