Istanbul had been in our bucket list for several years. After spending ten days pampering at Aska Lara Resort in Istanbul, we were ready to explore this wonderful city.
We arrived at 10am at Ataturk Airport and we hired Efendi Travel for the transfer to our hotel. Being a family of 4 with limited time to explore the city, for approximately 25 Euros, this was the most effective transfer option to the hotel. Other options include subway, bus and even boat.
We stayed at Double Tree by Hilton Istanbul Old Town. A very decent hotel, conveniently located to explore the city. The hotel was 10 minutes away from Grand Bazaar and you have a tram right across the street, that takes you to Hagia Sofia and the main tourist attractions in less than 10 minutes.
We arrived before check-in time so we left our bags at the hotel and headed directly to the Grand Bazaar. We had read lots of reviews of this place before going to Istanbul but we don’t think there are enough words to describe the Grand Bazaar. It a huge building full of shops where you can buy any type of souvenirs or typical Turkish products. From key rings, magnets of replica football t-shirts to lamps, gold products and spices. It is a magical place where you can spend 30 minutes or the entire day, depending on you interests and time to bargain with the sellers.
After exploring the Grand Bazaar, we took the tram to Sultanahmet station to visit Hagia Sophia, one of the icons of Istanbul. This building was used as a church for 916 years and then converted into a mosque. As in many other places in Istanbul, we found that all the pictures that we saw before arriving, were not enough to describe the wonders of this place.
Our next stop was the blue mosque, one of the largest mosques in Istanbul, situated only a couple of meters away from Hagia Sophia. This is a fascinating architectural gem that truly takes your breath away. Be aware that women visiting the Blue Mosque need a head covering when entering the Blue Mosque. Head coverings are available at the entrance for free. Men cannot enter with shorts.
Once we finished the visit to the Blue Mosque, we walked around the place where the Hippodrome used to be located.
The following Morning we started very early our visit at the Topkapi Palace. This place served as the home for the Ottoman sultans until mid 19th Century. Topkapi Palace was built between 1460 and 1478 by Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror. There are several buildings open for visitors in the palace and you can experience amazing views of the Bosphorus.
We spent between 2 to 3 hours at the Topkapi palace and then headed to the Spice Bazaar, located in the Eminönü district of Istanbul. While a bit less popular than the Grand Bazaar, the Spice Bazaar is also a unique experience for the senses. The smells and colours of spices will transport to a new world.
After exploring this amazing place, we crossed the street to take a cruise through the Bosphorus. We always find boat tours a good options to let the kids rest from intensive walking and they always love seeing the city from a boat. There are several options for this type of trips, going from private boats to organized tours. However, most of them can be very expensive, compared to the IDO (Istanbul Deniz Otobüsleri) company, which is one of the public boat transport companies in Istanbul, which offers a Bosphorus tour for less than half the price of most of the tourist options.
When the boat tour finished, the day was coming to an end but we decided to make a stop at Loti Café and Dining for a quick bite before going back to the hotel.
After 2 days of exploring this magical city, the kids and Pepino were exhausted. And while we are aware that we left some tourist attractions without visiting, we make the most of our stay in this wonderful city.