This past September I went to visit my country, Georgia with my family. We took Turkish Airways and had a 6 hour layover in Istanbul. Instead of sitting in the airport we decided to go and explore the beautiful city of Istanbul. lt's about an hour drive so make sure to keep an eye on the time.
Istanbul was a very alluring, busy and fast paced city - harboring 15 million people. Did you know that it is the only city in the world that's in both Asia and Europe?! I like to look at Istanbul as a curious blend of Euro Asian culture. It lies on the banks of the Bosphorus River surrounded by beautiful mosques.
There are so many wonderful places to see in Istanbul but the best place would depend on what you are looking for. For us we wanted to see the major mosques.
There are a lot of questions about if it's safe to travel to Turkey?! It depends. I am not telling you that it's the safest city in the world but from my personal experience, everyone was friendly and happy. There is a lot going on in the buzzing streets of Istanbul so hold on and lets explore Istanbul for 6 hours.
- You will need a Turkish e-Visa to enter the city - the rates vary depending on the nationality but we paid $20 per person. We got our visas at the airport, however you can purchase it ahead of time on the official website here.
- Turkish currency - Lira is used in the country as the main form of cash payment. The exchange rate will depend on the time you travel so I would check it online. There are exchange huts all over the airport. However, some businesses will be able to take USD or Euros.
- Language - Turkish is the main language but some people speak English, especially in the restaurants and the museums.
- Dress code - In Istanbul they're not extremely conservative. You can walk down the street with a sleeveless top but I wouldn't push it with crop tops or jeans shorts. A lot of woman don't wear the headscarves but there are a few that do. I would bring a scarf if you want to go inside a mosque.
- Transportation - there are plenty of public transportation options. There are buses, trains and plenty of taxis. We mostly used taxis everywhere we went. Even though they will try and overcharge you, first agree on the price before hopping in. ( From the airport to the city we paid 120 Lira).
1. Hagia Sophia Cathedral
The architecture in Istanbul is grand and vibrant. Starting from the Byzantine Hagia Sofia Cathedral to the Blue Mosque and ending it with the Grand Bazaar, this is why Istanbul is one of a kind.
Our taxi driver dropped us off nearb Hagia Sophia Cathedral. It was a short walk but in that time we walked by a lot of restaurants, street food and shopping stores. Got to experience real Istanbul and see how people live everyday in Turkey.
Hagia Sophia was the former Greek Orthodox cathedral and later became an imperial mosque. Today it's a museum in Istanbul. It was build in 360 AD and was considered one of the largest buildings in the world that "changed the history of architecture" forever.
There are beautiful gardens and sitting areas around the Cathedral. A perfect spot to sit relax and people watch. Since Turkey is considered a Muslim country, you will hear prayers going off from the speakers of the mosques which was an experience itself.. The locals take the prayers seriously by turning of the radios, Tv's, music and praying. I think it was the coolest thing I've ever seen.
2. Blue Mosque
Blue Mosque also know as Sultan Ahmet Mosque was constructed in 1600's. Hand painted blue tiles is what makes the Blue Mosque the major tourist attraction. It is located on top of a hill at the Sultanahmed neighborhood, right next to the Hagia Sophia Cathedral. It's just a short 10 minute walk.
Sultan Ahmet ordered its construction, reassuring Ottoman power - marking it's territory. It was the first imperial mosque for a half a century. Blue Mosque is so immense that you can see it from the Asian side of Turkey.
The visiting hours are 9am - 6pm, 7n days a week. Keep in mind that there is a dress code. Women should cover their arms, legs and hair and men should cover their legs.
3. The Grand Bazaar
This is about 14 minutes of walking distance Hagia Sophia Cathedral. The Grand Bazaar is one of the oldest markets and the locals consider it the first shopping malls of the world. It is filled with jewelry, gold, silk clothes and more. Its a nice place to check out and the sellers are not too pushy or annoying.
Places to Eat:
There are restaurants and shopping places literally everywhere you look. I suggest getting a rooftop restaurant to overlook the beautiful city and enjoy the breeze. Definetly get the street corn and the Dondurma ice-cream.
By the time you are done eating, shopping and walking around it's time to get back. There are 2 airports in Istanbul so make sure you know where to go. There are multiple security checkpoints so be on time. Hope you will visit this beautiful city one day and enjoy it as much as I did. Happy travels!