EP007: Istanbul – Europe meets Asia, best of traditional and modern, free teas, street food and shopping

In this episode, we like to welcome to Istanbul, the economical hub of Turkey and imperial capital of four empires, including Roman, Latin and Ottoman.  It is the largest and the most well known city that spans two continent Europe and Asia and home to 14 million residences.  Therefore, we are going to explore this magnificent city and all the famous attractions with new talented host, Meghan Beckwith, Maria E. Ramirez and our special guest Elif Emiroğlu from Turkey.

  • Free Layover Tour of Istanbul “Touristanbul” offered by Turkish Airlines
  • VISA Fees
  • Safety Advices & Scams
    • Water Splash Scams
    • Avoid Color Dresses
    • Blue Mosque Scams
    • Counterfeit Market
  • Recommended Accommodations
  • Public Transportation
    • Istanbul Kart
    • Hours of Operation
    • Directions to Sultanahmet
    • Public Ferry to and from Asia/Europe
    • Evening Cruises under Bosphorus Bridge
  • Free Attractions
    • The Blue Mosque
    • Istanbul Modern Gallery
    • Dogancay Museum
  • Recommended Paid Attractions with Museum Passes
    • Hagia Sophia Museum
    • Topkapi Palace Museum and Harem Apartments
    • Istanbul Archaeological Museums
    • Great Palace Mosaic Museum
  • Recommended Paid Attractions (Not Included in Museum Pass)
    • Miniaturk
    • Basilica Cistern
  •  Landmarks
    • Taksim Square
    • Eminönü Pier
  •  Shopping
    • Grand Bazaar
    • Egyptian Spice Market
  •  Foods
    • Popular Traditional Foods
      • Shishkabob
      • Turkish Pizza Pide
      • Lahmacun
      • Guvech
    • Street Foods
      • Simit
      • Durumis
      • Midye Dolma
      • Kumpir
      • Nohutlu Pilavi
    • Sweet Treats
      • Turkish Delight
      • Rice Pudding
      • Tulumba
      • Baklava
      • Kunefe

Free Layover Tour by Turkish Airlines

Turkish Airlines is one of the largest carrier in the region and offer co-share flights with many partners to offer 261 destinations.  If you are lucky enough to have connecting segments to final destinations via Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport, Turkish Airlines will offer you a free, all inclusive tour of the city, completed with breakfast, lunch, transportation and free admission to many popular attractions, like Hagia Sophia Museum, Topkapi Palace, and Istanbul Galata Tower.  Now, why am I saying “if you are unlucky”? Because if your connection time is less than 6 hours, you are out of luck since there is not enough time.

The tour is offer 7 days a week and depending on your flight time, the tour times are 9:00 am to 2:00 pm, 12:00 to 6:00 pm and full day tour starting from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm.  Now, don’t be too happy yet… the catch is you must pay a VISA fee to exit the transit area of the airport, as a Canadian myself, it cost $75 USD.  But still, its totally worth it if you have a whole day to kill.  By the way, I did not get paid for writing this nor I taken the tour, so I can not give you all a feedback, I actually stayed in Istanbul for a week to fully enjoy what they have to offer.

For those who are interested in Turkish Airlines long haul on board amenities, here is a 10 minute review.

VISA Fees

There is a VISA fee for many countries, including Canada, United States, many of EU, and several Asian countries.  Although it is convenient to obtain a VISA on arrival at the airport, it cost less to obtain a E-VISA thru www.evisa.gov.tr.

For example as Canadian citizen:

  • E-VISA: $60 USD
  • VISA on arrival: $75 USD

You can find a complete list of VISA fees on the official Ministry of Foreign Affairs homepage here

Safety Advices & Scams

Although Istanbul is a fairly safe city, being don’t let you guard down and look out for few petty crimes and scams to look out for.

  • Water Splash & Robbery, it targets both men and women popular near the Taksim Square.  One individual will splash water on your back, when you turn they will try to fight with you, while another individual attempt to rob you of your valuables, such as cell phone and mobiles.
  • Istanbul is home to three of Turkey’s largest football clubs, Beşiktaş (Black and White), Fenerbahçe (Blue and Yellow), Galatasaray (Red and Yellow), advisable not to wear colours associating yourself with any of the clubs, particularly on the days of matches between the sides due to the fearsome rivalry they share.
  • Blue Mosque Scam, beware of the unofficial guides who offers tours of the mosque.  Although they are informative, eventually they will demand a payment for their services as high as $20 USD.
  • Counterfeit goods, Turkey has the world’s second largest counterfeit market.  Therefore, if the deal is too good to be true, it’s like a faked. Especially watch out for faked prescription drugs on the street, always get them from a legitimate pharmacy.

Recommended Accommodations

Free Turkish Breakfast is Included in Most Hostels
Free Turkish Breakfast is Included in Most Hostels

One of the great things about Istanbul is majority of the historical gems and attractions are less than 15 minutes or less by foot if you are staying in the city centre at Sultanahmet, a neighbourhood in the district of Fatih.  The cost of the hostels in this area normally ranges between $7 to $10 U.S. Dollars in the low seasons between November to March.  The rest of the year, the average cost of hostels ranges from $12 to $20.  One of my favorite part of staying in hostel in Istanbul is the free breakfast, I mean excellent breakfast as seen in the photos above included in the price of your accommodation.  In my case, I paid $23 U.S. in total for 3 nights, a bargain!

Public Transportation

Istanbul Kart

Istanbul Kart and Jeton
Istanbul Kart and Jeton

Istanbul has a very advanced modern and convenient public transportation system, consist of metro subway, trams, buses and ferries.  I recommend you buy a Istanbul Kart, which gives you a discount on all fares, up to 50% off.  The Kart can be obtain at the automated dispenser kiosks for ₺10 (symbol for Turkish litra) or $3.75 USD and you can load a balance on to the card.  The machine accepts 10, 20, and 50 and do not give change.  For metro and ferry, the flat fare is ₺2.15 with Istanbul Kart and ₺1.75 for transfers or ₺4 with tokens each leg.  For buses

Hours of Operation

  • Metro and Trams: 6 am to 12:30 am daily, with 7:00 to 10:00 minutes intervals and 5 minutes on peak hours – full schedule
  • Ferry: typically 7:00 am to 11:00 pm daily, with 15 minutes interval – full schedule
  • Buses: 6:00 am to 12:00 am daily – full schedule and fares

Directions to Sultanahmet

From the Istanbul Ataturk Airport (IST):

Istanbul Atatürk Airport to Sultanahmet by Metro
Istanbul Atatürk Airport to Sultanahmet by Metro

 

  • Take the metro line M1 to Zeytinburnu station (₺2.15 by Istanbul Kart or ₺4 token)
  • Transfer on to the tram line T1 towards Sultanahmet (₺2.15 by Istanbul Kart or ₺4 token)
  • Get off at Sultanahmet (you’ll see the Blue Mosque)

 

Public Ferry to and from Asia/Europe

One of way to see the less touristy and more authentic parts of the city is by taking a ferry across to the Asia side of the Istanbul.  Now, you get to brag about being to Asia and Europe on the same day, the trip last about approximately 20 minute depending on which route you take.  But don’t forget to bring some bread to feed the hungry seagulls.

Night Cruise

Night Cruise Under Bosphorus Bridge connecting Asia and Europe
Night Cruise Under Bosphorus Bridge connecting Asia and Europe

The regular ferry do not typically take you under the Bosphorus Bridge that connects Asia and Europe, however for about ₺10, you can take one of the night cruises that takes you on a 90 to 120 minutes tour.  We recommend you go during a sunset and the cruise will pass by many of the landmarks on both side of Istanbul shores.  You can check here for the full ferry and tour schedule.

Free Attractions

Boukoleon Palace or the Blue Mosque
Boukoleon Palace or the Blue Mosque

Boukoleon Palace “Blue Mosque” – Sultanahmet Cami, 34122 Sultanahmet, Fatih, open 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, except during the pray hours.

This magnificent mosque was built between 1609 and 1616 years, during the rule of Ahmed I, its distinctive for its array of cascading domes and six glittering minarets. Commissioned in the 17th century by Sultan Ahmet I, the Blue Mosque – so called because of the 20,000 blue tiles that adorn its domed ceilings.

Entrance to Istanbul Modern
Entrance to Istanbul Modern Art Museum

Istanbul Modern Arts – Karaköy, Meclis-i Mebusan Cad., 34433 İstanbul, Monday (Closed),  Tuesday – Sunday 10:00 a.m – 6:00 pm, Thursday 10:00 a.m – 8:00 p.m.  Admission: Free (Thursday) and ₺19 regular ticket price, ₺9 for students.

Though the permanent collection of Turkish painting and sculpture upstairs is often overshadowed by the views across the water to Asia and the Old City, the photography gallery and temporary exhibition hall downstairs show innovative work from around the world. The best of all, its on free on Thursday.

Doğançay Museum Exhibits
Doğançay Museum Exhibits

Doğançay Museum – Balo Sokak No: 42, Beyoğlu 34335 İstanbul, Monday (Closed), Tuesday to Sunday 10:00 am to 6:00 pm, Free Admission

This is Turkey’s first modern art museum, is dedicated to the artistic legacy of Burhan Doğançay, The collection covers a wide range of media and materials and includes paintings, drawings, sculptures, prints, photographs and Aubusson tapestries. The admission is free, but come between 3 to 5 pm where you’ll treated to complimentary tea.

Recommended Paid Attractions (Included in Museum Pass)

If you are fan of visiting museums and historical sites, I recommend you buy a 5 Day Museum Pass for ₺85, sold outside most museum in a mini-van.  The pass is valid for 120 hours from the first use and you’ll get access to following attractions, or you can see the individual ticket price and buy it separately for the following attractions by visiting here.

Interior Dome of Hagia Sofia
Interior Dome of Hagia Sofia

Hagia Sophia Museum – Sultanahmet, Ayasofya Meydanı, İstanbul, Winter Hours: 09:00 am to 5:00 pm, with the final entry at 4:00 pm. Summer hours 9:00 am to 7:00 pm, final entry being at 6:00 pm

Built in 455, it was a former Greek Orthodox patriarchal basilica, later an imperial mosque, and now a museum, it is one of great architectural structures and an important monument both for Byzantine and for Ottoman Empires.

Topkapi Palace Museum
Topkapi Palace Museum

Topkapi Palace Museum and Harem Apartments – Sultanahmet, Fatih, Istanbul, Tuesday (Closed), Winter Hours from October 26th – April 15th on Wednesday to Monday, 9:00 am to 4:45 pm (last admission at 4:00 pm) and Summer Hours Between April 15th – October 26th, Wednesday to Monday, 9:00 AM to 6:45 PM (last admission at 6:00 pm)

 

Courtyard of the Istanbul Archaeological Museums
Courtyard of the Istanbul Archaeological Museums

 Istanbul Archaeological Museums and Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts,  – Fatih, 34122 İstanbul, open 7 Days a week, 9:00 am to 7:00 pm (last admission at 6:00 pm).

It was established by imperial decree in 1891 during Ottoman Empire with the goal of protecting cultural goods. The collection includes Alexander Sarcophagus, once believed to be prepared for Alexander the Great, the Kadesh Peace Treaty (1258 BCE), signed between Ramesses II of Egypt and Hattusili III of the Hittite Empire, the oldest known peace treaty in the world.  The two museum are house together and contain collections of various artifacts from civilizations that had left their traces to different periods of the history, is one of the 10 most important world-class museums designed and used as a museum building.

Other museum access includes:

  • Museum for the History of Science and Technology in Islam
  • Istanbul Mosaic Museum
  • Hagia Irene Museum
  • Rumeli Hisar Museum
  • Yildiz Palace Museum
  • Galata Mevlevi House Museum
  • Fethiye Museum

Recommended Paid Admissions (Not Included in the Museum Pass)

The Blue Mosque inside Miiaturk
The mini size Blue Mosque model inside Miiaturk

Miniaturk – Sütlüce Mahallesi, İmrahor Caddesi34445 Sütlüce – Beyoğlu, open 7 days a week, 9:00 am to 6:00 pm, ₺10 cash only.

This miniature parks covers 15,000 square meters and is one of the world largest containing 122 models of important sites and historical structures across Turkey.

Charles inside the underground Basilica Cistern
Charles inside the underground Basilica Cistern

Basilica Cistern, Yerebatan Sarayı “Sunken Palace” – Alemdar Mh., Yerebatan Cd. 1/3, 34410 İstanbul, open 7 days a week, Winter hours 9:00 am to 5:30 pm and Summer hours 9:00 am to 7:30 pm

Built in 6th century, it is the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns that lie beneath the city of Istanbul. The enlarged cistern provided a water filtration system for the Great Palace of Constantinople and other buildings on the First Hill, and continued to provide water to the Topkapi Palace after the Ottoman conquest in 1453 and into modern times.

Landmarks

Taksim Square at Night
Taksim Square at Night

Taksim Square

Located in the European side of Istanbul, the Taksim Square is considered the heart of city and popular with both tourist and natives.  It is famous for home to western shopping, hotels, restaurants, pubs, and international fast foods.

Eminönü Pier and Ferryboat Dock Terminal
Eminönü Pier and Ferryboat Dock Terminal
Boat Restaurant on Eminönü
Boat Restaurant on Eminönü

Eminönü Pier

The pier contains the ferryboat terminal and along the shores contains many restaurant on the boat and countless street foods, along them is freshly caught fish.  Nearby is the Egyptian Spice Bazaar.

Shopping

The Egyptian Spice Bazaar “Mısır Çarşısı”

Located near the shores of Eminönü, it is one of the two famous bazaars located in the city of Istanbul.  The bazaar currently have 85 shops selling spices from all over the world, Turkish delight and other sweets, jewellery, souvenirs, and dried fruits and nuts.  Make sure to bring home some of their fresh coffees as seen in the video above shot in December 2014.  As always in Istanbul, never accept the first price and bargain hard!

The Grand Bazaar “Kapalıçarşı”

This is one of the most famous bazaar in the world, built in 1455, cover 61 streets with 3,000 shops, and attractions over 90 million visitors a year.  Here is can virtually find absolutely everything from sweet treats to a new iPhone.  Once again, one word of advice, never accept the first offer, bargain hard!  Here is a little video of me trying to negotiate prices inside the Grand Bazaar on buying some Viagra tea, just for the fun of it.

Foods

Popular Traditional Foods

Chicken Shishkabob Plate with Turkish Tea for $3.50 USD
Chicken Shishkabob Plate with Turkish Tea for $3.50 USD on a side street

Although the food in Istanbul cost little more than other destinations in the region, you can get the best deal by avoiding buying them in the touristy main streets along the Sultanahmet.  Try out shops away from the main street to a restaurant on side street and you can easily find inexpensive complete meals for approximately ₺7 like the chicken shishkabob dinner shown above.  Other traditional foods includes:

Lahmacun, oval-shaped flatbread topped with spicy lamb or beef mince is Turkey's take on pizza
Lahmacun, oval-shaped flatbread topped with spicy lamb or beef mince is Turkey’s take on pizza
  • Turkish pizza pide and lahmacun, dough contains the highest quality butter, flour and eggs; it is rolled out by hand, not with a rolling pin; it is pulled into a boat shape that can hold a stuffing; and it is baked in a wood-fire oven.
  • Guvech, a stir-fry meat casserole with eggplant, zucchini, onion, potato, mushroom, carrot, celery & garlic

Street Foods

Typical Street Food Vendor in Istanbul
Typical Street Food Vendor in Istanbul

Now, this is my favorite part of any city I visit… street food!!!  The street food in Istanbul is so inexpensive and tasty, so I am going to list some of ones I tried and love!!!

Simit Vendors on the Street
Simit Vendors on the Street
  • Simit, freshly baked, molasses-dipped and sesame crusted dough, cost only ₺1 or $0.40 USD or try it with goat cheese for a ₺1 more.
Balik-ekmek fish sandwich
Balik-ekmek fish sandwich
  • Balik-ekmek, the famous Turkish fish sandwiches that are impossible to ignore anytime you’re near the Eminönü shore
Midye dolma, mussels on the half shell, popular street food
Midye dolma, mussels on the half shell, popular street food
  • Midye dolma, mussels on the half shell, mixed with spicy rice and served with squeeze of lemon juice, served right out of a tray.
Kumpir, baked potato hamburger
Kumpir, baked potato hamburger
  • Kumpir, a baked potato with myriad and toppings like cheese, corn, salads, peas and carrots.
Nohutlu Pilavi, grilled chicken with peas, rice and fries
Nohutlu Pilavi, grilled chicken with peas, rice and fries
  • Nohutlu Pilavi, pilaf of rice, chick peas and grilled chicken, sometimes with fries but usually served with a salty yogurt drink.  The best bargain, ever for $1.25 USD!!!

Sweet Treats

Now, I got a serious sweet tooth!  There is no way I leaving Istanbul with sampling of the authentic Turkish deserts.  The list is way too long, but here is ones that I personally approved and have cause the greatest damage to belly.

Turkish Delight, jelly sweets consist of starch and sugar with varieties of nuts.
Turkish Delight, jelly sweets consist of starch and sugar with varieties of nuts.
  • Turkish Delight, a treats made from gel of starch and sugar.  Many varieties, colors and favors, including chopped dates, pistachios, hazelnuts, walnuts and more.  The price ranges from ₺8 to ₺13 for premium variety.

 

Turkish Style Rice Pudding sütlaç
Turkish Style Rice Pudding sütlaç
  • Sütlaç, Turkish style rice pudding
Tulumba, a fried batter soaked in syrup
Tulumba, a fried batter soaked in syrup
  • Tulumba, a fried batter soaked in syrup, one of the popular dessert found in the cuisines of the former Ottoman Empire
Baklava, sweet pastry made of layers of filo filled with chopped nuts
Baklava, sweet pastry made of layers of filo filled with chopped nuts
  • Baklava, a rich, sweet pastry originated from the former Ottoman Empire, made of layers of filo filled with chopped nuts and sweetened and held together with syrup or honey.
Kunefe, cheese pastry soaked in sweet sugar-based syrup
Kunefe, cheese pastry soaked in sweet sugar-based syrup
  • Kunefe, typical dessert belonging to the former Ottoman Empire, consist of Levantine cheese pastry soaked in sweet sugar-based syrup

Hopefully, you’ll find this guide to Istanbul hopeful.  If you like our guides, make sure you share it and also you can help us by like, comment and subscribe to our video channels.  Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

Have amazing journey and go far!

Charles Huang, June 29, 2015

One thought on “EP007: Istanbul – Europe meets Asia, best of traditional and modern, free teas, street food and shopping

  1. Amazing post about this place. I’m currently thinking on new journey (to Germany) and provided information could be very useful. Cheers.

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