Back in August, we spent 4 nights in Istanbul (3 of them with my in-laws). It was our first time visiting, as we had waited for visitors before going. We had a great time, despite the heat. I’m going to spend a couple blogs talking about what we saw and did. My husband couldn’t join us til day 3, so we organized ours days to do what he wanted to see most when he was there.
Day 1 was a Tuesday. We hired a travel agency and shuttle to take us from Ankara to Istanbul. It was supposed to be a five hour drive and we’d have gotten there around 12:30. Our driver, however, made wrong turns once in the city and we added TWO HOURS to our drive. That is how crazy Istanbul traffic is. It was ridiculous! We were so thankful to finally get to our AirBnb. It was in a great location, just a few minutes from the Blue Mosque and Aya Sofya (Hagia Sofia). If it’s available, I do recommend it.
So our day in Istanbul didn’t start til about 3 pm! We stuck to the Sultanahmet, Fatih, and Eminönü areas.
A quick overview of the geography of Istanbul. Istanbul, as you might know, is located both in Europe and in Asia. The Bosphorus Strait goes through it and connects the Black Sea to the north with the Sea of Marmara to the south (which in turns connects to the Aegean Sea and then the Med Sea). The oldest part of Istanbul with the top tourist sites are in Sultanahmet, which is part of the Fatih district. It has the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sofia (Aya Sofya). Eminönü has the famous bazaars and a number of mosques. It is also part of Fatih.
After a late lunch, we headed to Suleymaniye Mosque. It was finished in 1557 and is massive and covers a massive amount of grounds. It is a popular hang out spot with great views of the city. It was quite beautiful inside as well. It was built by Mimar Sinan, a famous Ottoman architect and civil engineer, whose tomb is nearby. The mosque was built for, no surprise, Sultan Suleyman. The gardens have plenty of space for kids to run around.
From there, we headed to the Rüstem Paşa Mosque, but it was prayer time, so we continued on to the Egyptian Spice Market (Mısır Çarşısı). We loved it here! Much more kid friendly and picturesque than the Grand Bazaar we did on day 3. Lots of candies, teas, nuts, and spices. Easy to wander the entire space. It is near the water, so you can also boat watch and get ice cream! We bought cheeses and candy. The kids will love trying everything and seeing all the candy choices!
By this time prayers were over, so we went back to the Rüstem Paşa Mosque. It is known for its blue tile work and was gorgeous! It is 16th century Ottoman. You get to it from some narrow alleyways filled with local shops. Not surprisingly, it reminded me a lot of Egypt. Remember to bring your head scarves for going in the mosques and be prepared to remove your shoes. My kids loved the blues.
Next it was time to head back uphill towards our rental. Istanbul is on hills, so there is a lot of up and down. Kids were less than thrilled with the uphill in the heat aspect while wearing masks through crowded streets. But we managed! We dropped off our purchases and then headed to Jennifer’s Hamam for some shopping! Jennifer’s is VERY popular with our community and I couldn’t wait to visit her shop. She has beautiful Turkish cotton and linen towels, blankets, robes, etc. We had made an appointment to shop at their warehouse and see all their beautiful items. This is their website. They are not too far from the Blue Mosque and are located here. If you don’t want an appointment and just want to browse a selection of their items, they have another shop here. Organic Turkish cotton is very long lasting and high quality and everything is hand-made in the old techniques. We got large bath towels, hair towels, hand towels, a robe, and a shawl. I love my purchases! They are also the nicest people ever and so helpful!
We ended the night with dinner at The New Season Restaurant, just around the corner, and on our way home. It was yummy. Overall, we walked about 6 km (3.7 mi) or so, up and down hills.