Istanbul's Old City from a Ship's Pool Deck While Docked
Language and Currency
What is Istanbul Like?
What is the Weather Like?
Where Does the Ship Dock?
Where is the Shopping?
What is There to Buy?
What is There To Do?
Is There Anything of a “Don’t Miss Quality?
Are There Any Great Restaurants or Bars?
You will need a valid passport and also a visa is required to enter the country for all United States visitors. If you are flying into Turkey to board your cruise, visas are available right in the airport as a normal function of immigration. There is no need to acquire one in advance. If you are arriving by ship, the cruise line should offer to obtain one for you or help you obtain one.
The official language of Turkey is Turkish, but English is widely spoken (especially in the tourist and shopping areas). The currency is the Turkish lira. I would strongly suggest converting dollars to lira and investing the time to become familiar with the lira currency. The exchange rate is outrageous and it is quite possible to be short changed both in the conversion of funds in stores and in the making of change. Taxi drivers are notorious for shortchanging/over charging tourist using dollars for payment. This is one country that will require some thought and a calculator to convert currency.
Istanbul is a modern, bustling city of almost 12 million people. Spanning from Europe to Asia, Istanbul is diverse and interesting. Istanbul's Old City (or Sultanahmet) dates back to 800 BC and is a walled city of seven hills and hundreds of interesting sights and sounds. The Bosphorus which reaches north to The Black Sea and south to the Marmara Sea, runs directly through the city and adjacent to the Old City. Istanbul (formerly known as Constantinople) offers incredible shopping, awe inspiring sights, excellent dining and entertainment and a world completely different than home.
One of the most inspiring experiences you might have in Istanbul would be listening to morning or afternoon prayer being broadcast over the public announcement system as you walk through on of the many shopping streets in Old City. At that time you know that you are in a truly unique time and place.
Summer is Istanbul's dry season and one can expect warm, dry weather with temperatures reaching into the low 80s during the months of July and August. and into the 70s in May, June and September.
Ship Docked in Istanbul
Ships dock right on the Bosphorus directly across from the Old City just short of the first bridge crossing the Bosphorus near Dolmabahce Palace. The Old City is within walking distance by heading north, crossing the bridge and then entering Old City by the Spice Market, however, taxis are the recommended way to get there. It is best to have a taxi drop you at the Blue Mosque and you can explore the Old City's sights and shopping from there ending up at the Spice Market for a stroll over the bridge and back to you ship (or grab a taxi back).
Istanbul's Grand Bazaar
First and foremost is Istanbul's Grand Bazaar. The Grand Bazaar (created in the 14th century) is at the center of the Old City and goes forever. With over 65 different streets and thousands of shops that are clustered by product type, the Grand Bazaar is the place to shop. The Spice market (near the entrance by Bosphorus Bridge) is also a wonderful place to explore. The entire area within the walled city of Old City is full of shops offering everything imaginable to mankind. Other markets of interest are the Gift Bazaar and the Egyptian Bazaar. There are many street vendors, flea markets and specialty markets to boot found in the Old City.
Istanbul offers more than 20 traditional malls throughout the city and the designer area on the Asian side of Istanbul is the place to got for top name labels on designer clothing, jewelry and other products.
The Grand Bazaar Shopping
It would be hard to go to Istanbul without being approached by carpet salesmen. These sophisticated sales people are expert at gaining he upper hand in romancing you to purchase one of their carpets. You might be in the Hippodrome and a nice Turkish fellow offers to show you around and then invites you to his home for tea. Once there, his family may start showing you their family carpets. As a fair warning, if you accept tea with someone, they are trying to sell you something...not that it is a bad thing, just be aware of what is going on.
Oriental carpets and talisman are excellent buys in Istanbul, but you must shop for them and invest the time to gain knowledge of them in order to get good deals. The Grand Bazaar gold market features hundreds of stores side-by-side selling gold jewelry, figurines and other fine gold pieces at great prices. Clothing, rare spices, furniture, shoes, leather goods, the list just goes on and on. Shoppers will find the Grand Bazaar more than their most wild shopping dreams could imagine.
If Istanbul's fabulous shopping gets boring there are numerous sights in Istanbul. Realizing you might only be there for a day or two, here are the major sights you will want to see.
The Grand Bazaar is a must-see even if you don't shop. Its fully enclosed market comprises of a grid of over 65 streets built upon the oldest section of Istanbul. It is simply awe inspiring.
Hagia Sophia as Seen Walking from the Blue Mosque
The Hagia Sophia, to me, is the most awesome of sights in Istanbul. Built around 350 AD, the Sophia is an overwhelming structure. One can't help but wonder how it was built and hold in awe the engineers that designed, and subsequently built it, without the use of modern equipment or construction techniques
Hagia Sophia Interior
The Sophia was built to be the largest, most important Christian church in all of the world and was for over one thousand years. When Istanbul fell during the Turkish invasion during the 1400s, it was converted to a mosque and minerets (tall, slender spires denoting that the structure is a religious mosque) were added to it. The Hagia Sophia is awesome.
Blue Mosque Interior
The Blue Mosque (adjacent to the Hagia Sophia) is also awe inspiring and is unique, as it is the only mosque in Istanbul with six minerets indicating that it was thought to be the most important mosque by someone. The mosque got its name from the blue hue that the ceiling offers because of the hundreds of thousands of bluish tiles that cover its walls and ceiling. There are a lot of street hustlers around the Blue Mosque offering to act as guides. Unless you actually want one, do not accept offers to tell you about the mosque or surrounding sights. The Hippodrome was the site of the famed chariot races. About all that is left are some of the original monuments that are unearthed fenced off, but it is still quite interesting.
Topkapi Palace, which was built back in the 14th century is also very well worth visiting. Topkapi Palace is one of the finest examples of the Ottoman civil architecture in existence and is considered to be one of the best museums in the world today. It is well worth the time it takes to explore it.
There are many museums, mosques, monuments, palaces and towers (actually to many to see in a week, let alone a couple of days). Depending on your quest for information, the above sights will give you an excellent overview and feeling of Istanbul and will reward the first time visitor with an wealth of experiences to take home.
Your ship will offer a multitude of shore excursions here from walking tours, archeological tours, tours of Istanbul by night, city tours and on and on. The best way to decide if you want to take a tour or go it alone is to measure your aptitude for the unusual. If you are comfortable in unique cultures, then by all means strike out on your own. Do make it a point to stay in the major tourist areas, as many of Istanbul's streets are simply not safe. Do not walk the walls if the Old City even though they look inviting.
By following these simple rules, you will have the time of your life in this fascinating city.
Yes, Don't miss the Grand Bazaar, Hagia Sophia or the Blue Mosque. Also, don't miss being on a back street in Old City during prayer for a once in a lifetime experience.
Yes. We had a dinner at the Panorama Restaurant on top of the Hotel Marmara, Istanbul that was to die for. They restaurant bills themselves as a 5-star gourmet restaurant serving International Cuisine and offering a large international wine list. I would have to agree. The bill for the six of us came to slightly less than 1/3 of a billion lira, but the food and dining experience was well worth it. The views of all Istanbul are breathtaking. The restaurant resides on top of the tallest building on the tallest hill in all of Istanbul. Treat yourself, you will love it.