If you could enter a legend or walk into a fairy tale, you might understand what it was like to wander around the Sultanahmet area of Istanbul. We slept in a former prison, braved the January chill, downed baklava by the plate, and sipped hot apple tea.
Safety was a concern. However, we found Istanbul charming. Safe.
It was a fabulous place to ring in the new year. We, in fact, returned for more in February, so we have now traveled to Istanbul twice in 2019, and we wouldn’t mind going back again.
Should you find yourself considering a trip to Istanbul, hopefully the following suggestions will help.
During our stays, we chose the Four Seasons Sultanahmet and the Istanbul Marriott Hotel Sisli. While both were great, the Four Seasons Sultanahmet is located steps away from the things you’ll likely consider a must-see, like the Hagia Sophia Museum, Topkapi Palace, Basilica Cistern, and Blue Mosque.
The Four Seasons Sultanahmet is a former prison. And in 1996, it was transformed into a hotel with 65 guest rooms. The grounds are stunning, and the structure makes me wonder if the former inmates appreciated being housed in such an aesthetically-pleasing prison.
About every fourth shop in Istanbul sells baklava. No joke. It’s a staple. A religion. A greasy, syrupy, chewy, flaky, honey-heavy, pistachio-strong bit of sweet, holy wow.
You can find it just about anywhere in Istanbul, but if you want a place where you can sit, enjoy good baklava (and other desserts) while sipping turkish coffee, or tea, or apple tea, consider Hafiz Mustafa. They’ve been selling baklava since 1864, and they have several locations. We enjoyed the Taksim Square location.
While taxis are plentiful in Istanbul, the drivers seem a bit reckless, pushing their yellow Fiats to a limit that might feel unsafe to some. Fortunately, we found Istanbul fairly walkable, and so while we did rely on some taxis, we spent a lot of time strolling.
On your walks, don’t miss this guy. He’s on every corner, squeezing oranges and pomegranates. A full cup costs about $1.
As you stroll through the Sultanahmet area, you’ll find the sites well-marked.
Don’t miss the Basilica Cistern, which formerly secured the city’s water supply (it could hold 80,000 cubic meters of water).
And a here’s a fun fact: carp were placed in the water to indicate if it’d been poisoned. If the carp were swimming, the water was safe to drink.
Here’s a photo of the Basilica Cistern:
When you surface again, grab some grilled/steamed corn from one of the many carts positioned in the Sultanahmet area.
Make sure not to simply admire the Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya) from the outside. Have a look at the inside:
And you must try a teste kebab. To explain it with words might be dizzying, so here’s some footage from our experience:
Spoiler Alert: the meat is delicious!!
Finally, when we were dropped curbside for our flight home, Turkish Airlines made us pause:
Nope, not yet. But we’re working on it. Thanks Istanbul. See you again soon!
As always, if you have any questions, I’m happy to help. Just contact me, or post your questions in the comments section below.