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Notes from an Indian traveller: top things to do in Istanbul on a 5 day trip

I stumbled into Istanbul as it had stumbled on to a map – somewhere between Europe and Asia. Somewhere between 2017 and 2018, I tried three things I had never done before: visited a place with freezing temperature, stayed in premium properties and covered only one city for the entire duration of my trip. And it was one of the best decisions I ever took.

The best decision you will ever take → Pickyourtrail

Here’s a picture of what 5 days in Istanbul has in store for you:

Hagia Sophia

09:00 – 17:00

An architectural marvel of the Byzantine era, Hagia Sophia has seen more than its fair share of change. From being an Orthodox to an imperial mosque and now a museum, Hagia Sophia has served Paganism, Christianity and Islam. World renowned, its interiors are as spectacular as the museum’s exteriors – the museum is a story to see, feel and touch; going back to 537 B.C.E.

Sultan Ahmet Mosque

Image credit –

Also called the Blue Mosque, it gets its name from the hand-painted blue tiles lining the walls of the building. By the night, it paints an unforgettable picture with lights framing the six minarets and the blue colour gleaming against the black of the Istanbul night sky.

Read more: The most colourful places on Earth!

Before you go:

  • Avoid the mosque at prayer times. The mosque closes for 90 minutes each time.
  • Remove your footwear before you enter the mosque.
  • Cover your head before entering. Head covers are available at the entrance.
  • Remain quiet inside and avoid flash photography.

Sulaimaniye Mosque

Sulaimaniye Mosque
Image credit – pierrelotihotel

Istanbul’s second largest mosque, the architecture inside is a blend of Islamic and Byzantine elements. Even the courtyard is a sight to behold – with columns of granite and marble decking your range of view.

Galata Bridge

Galata bridge, Turkey, Istanbul
Image credit – Srinath Shankar

Linking the traditional part of Istanbul to other districts, the Galata bridge spans over the Golden Horn. It is common to see locals drawing fishing cords from the bridge.

But, fishing is more than just a national pastime – grandparents bond with grandsons while passing on a legacy, youths in their mid-20s and 30s try to make a livelihood out of it, a middle-aged woman may try to relieve her stress; all on the Galata bridge.

A sunset here behind one of the mosques is the best thing you can do on your Istanbul vacation.

Interesting read: Now face scanning aquariums will welcome you in Dubai!

Galata Tower

Entrance fee – 18.5 Liras

Galata tower
Image credit – erasmusu

A stone tower in the Galata district of Istanbul, it is one Istanbul’s striking landmarks – dominating the skyline over the Golden Horn. The nine-storey tower offers some spectacular views of the city. Built in the Romanesque style, Galata Tower even houses a restaurant, a cafe and a nightclub.

Dolmabahce Palace

60 Liras

Inside Dolmabahçe Palace
Image credit – travelistanbul

Built in the 19th century this spectacular palace sits on the shores of Bosphorus, dazzling away to glory. It is as decadent inside as it is out – with sprawling palace gardens, ornate clock towers and a shimmery ceiling dotted with chandeliers.

The Ceremonial Hall and gardens are often booked for weddings and receptions

Topkapi Palace

Inside Topkapi Palace
Image credit – worldwanderista

 Overlooking the Golden Horn, the Topkapi Palace serves as a museum today. With four courtyards, and many gardens and squares, the Palace was abandoned in the 19th century and later turned into a museum in 1924. On display is everything from weapons of the Ottoman army to the imperial treasury to portraits of Sultans and even caftans, fabrics owned by the Sultans.

Read more: Destinations you can travel to for the price of iPhone X.

Grand Bazaar

 At least 3 hours

Grand Bazaar in Istanbul
Image credit – thousandwonders

In the heart of Istanbul’s Old City, find yourself in the world’s oldest and largest covered market. With 4,000 stalls claiming 61 streets, the Grand Bazaar is actually regarded as one of the world’s first shopping malls.

Among a spread of a variety of tea, pretty lanterns decking shops – you will find your haven if you love shopping.

Egyptian Bazaar

08:00 – 19:00

Egyptian bazaar
Image credit – delightsofturkey

Located next to the New Mosque, the Egyptian Bazaar houses 100 shops approximately. Centre for all the spice trade, find everything from herbs, dried fruits to coffee, clothing and souvenirs.

Try the Turkish delight or lokum when here.

Must read: A date with Mummies of Egypt.

Istiklal Avenue

Istiklal Avenue
Image credit – janeyinmersin

Located in the Pera district of Istanbul, this pedestrian street runs all the way from the iconic Galata Tower to Taksim Square. This 1.4 km long street is decked with cafes, pubs and nightclubs on one side, Neo-Classical buildings of late Ottoman era alongside theatres, art galleries, and libraries on the other side.

As with Barcelona’s Las Ramblas petty crimes maybe common. So keep your wallets close.

Gülhane Park

Gulhane Park
Image credit – yasmakhotels

Once the outer garden of Topkapi Palace, today this House of Roses is accessible to all. With picturesque views of the Bosphorus, a walk under the ancient walnut and oak trees is a must do in Istanbul.

The park is said to be a sight to behold during the Istanbul Tulip Festival in April.

Sultanahmet Square

Sultan Ahmet Square
Image credit – tourismturkeytr

Used for everything from horse to chariot racing in the Roman and Byzantine era, this Square continues to thrive today. Albeit, with only the ancient structures that survived time. Transporting you from Egyptian to Greek to Roman to Ottoman cultures at once, this place also happens to be Istanbul’s biggest symbol of secularism. Almost like Mary/Jesus and Allah/Mohammed live in harmony here.

Must read: The 2018 Bucketlist.

Basilica Cistern

Basilica Cistern
Image credit – thousandwonders

Dating back as far as the 3rd or 4th century, this the largest surviving cistern in Istanbul. Designed to serve the Great Palace and the buildings nearby, the sheer symmetry of the place takes your breath away. Subterranean, it is cold and looms around you as you take a good look.

Bosphorus Bridge

Bosphorus Bridge
Image credit – heidelbergcement

Bridging two continents, it is one of the three suspension bridges over the Bosphorus Strait. Linking Europe and Asia, taking a walk on the bridge is as awe-inspiring as it sounds. Every October, the bridge closes to vehicular traffic. A fun run takes place where people gear up to cross the bridge on foot.

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2 comments

  • Hi Srinath,

    Great article – did you happen to visit Konya in Istanbul? I’m a Rumi fan and wondered if you had any suggestions for exploring Shrines of Rumi or Shams..

    • Hi Neha! Am replying on behalf of Srinath 🙂
      Konya was not on my list, but yes it is the top most place to visit if you are a Rumi fan. The Galata museum can be a good place to learn a bit about Sufism. Hope you visit Istanbul soon!