Istanbul is incredible. It has been on my bucket list forever and a day. It all started around 2019 when I first planned to visit. Something happened and I had to cancel. I rescheduled for 2020 and you know what happened! Then in 2023, I started planning. It started as group travel but then I got the following questions:
- Didn’t they have an earthquake? My response was “And…. Don’t we have earthquakes in the U.S.?”
- Isn’t there a war? My response “Since I am going to Istanbul and not the border between Syria and Turkey, I think I am okay.”
- Why Istanbul? “Why not?”
So, my group trip turned into a solo trip. Initially, I was hesitant as it has been a minute since I truly did a solo trip — no group travel, no traveling with friends. I would be completely alone with me, myself, and I. As I was finalizing my itinerary, the hesitation turned into excitement. Then I got afraid that someone would ask, “Can I come?” This was my solo adventure that will get back to my roots.
ISTANBUL AT A GLANCE
Istanbul is the economic, financial, and cultural center of Turkey. It’s also the country’s biggest city with a population of just over 15 million people, making it one of the largest cities in Europe and the world. For those reasons, it’s natural to assume that Istanbul is Turkey’s capital but it isn’t. That distinction goes to Ankara.
Located on both sides of the Bosphorus, what makes Istanbul geographically interesting is that it’s one of a handful of cities that straddles two continents. The western half of the city is situated in Europe while the eastern half is located in Asia. Hence, why Istanbul is known as the city where “East meets West”.
WHAT TO EXPECT IN ISTANBUL
- ISTANBUL TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS
Before doing any serious trip planning, be sure to check Travel.State.gov for information on travel restrictions to Turkey. If you do decide to visit Istanbul, then it’s strongly recommended that you get travel insurance with COVID coverage.
- HOW TO APPLY FOR AN E-VISA TO TURKEY
Applying for an e-visa to Turkey is easy. Everything is done online, and you can have your visa in minutes. You can also apply for a Turkey visa through eVisa.com. The cost is about $50.00, and they accept all credit cards.
- TRAVELING TO ISTANBUL
Istanbul has two airports – Istanbul (IST) and Sabiha Gökçen Airport (SAW). For the best rate internationally, fly into IST. There are several direct flights out of New York, Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles, and San Francisco on Turkish Airways.
Turkish is the primary language spoken in Istanbul, but it’s common to meet people who speak some English, especially in touristy areas. Arabic and Farsi are also spoken throughout the city.
Turkey’s unit of currency is the Turkish Lira (TL). Do not exchange at the airport. They have the worst exchange rate. Use the ATM or wait until you get to your location if you need cash. I found out that the best rates are in Old Town Istanbul or any of the tourist locations.
WHERE TO STAY
Some wonderful parts of Istanbul are ideal for visitors, and the best place to stay will mostly depend on what you are looking for. I was looking for walkability and nightlife. Therefore, I stayed in the Galata area based on the recommendation of Traveljunkee. The area is filled with boutiques, cafes, dining, and nightlife. This allowed me to be close to my hotel and explore Istanbul safely.
Here is a list of other great neighborhoods to stay in while visiting Istanbul
- Sultanahmet: A historic district, with landmarks like the Hagia Sophia and the Topkapi Palace
- Taksim Square and Istiklal Street: Lively and exciting atmosphere with bars and cafes throughout. The SALT Beyoğlu art museum is also located here, with exhibits and free movie screenings offered regularly
- Karaköy: a hip neighborhood built into the ancient ruins of Istanbul. A place to go for modern Turkish culture
- Arnavutköy: this is where the nightlife is — it’s made up of high-end businesses and fun nightclubs and bars. In addition to the fun party, Arnavutköy is also known for its upscale seafood restaurants
- Balat: A beautiful neighborhood known for its colorful buildings! Historically it was the Greek Orthodox and Armenian neighborhood of Istanbul and today you can see many historic homes and churches.
WHAT TO DO IN ISTANBUL
A city that is rich in history and culture as Istanbul has plenty that’s worth exploring! When you explore the city, you can experience some truly unbelievable architecture and enjoy delicious food. I highly recommend finding a group tour. It’s perfect for solo female travelers, and for anyone that might feel more comfortable getting their bearings in the city with the help of a guide. Here is a sample of things to do and visit.
If you want to see one of Istanbul’s most famous historical sites, make time for a visit to the Blue Mosque.
There is some incredible art and architecture throughout the space, but keep in mind that it is an active mosque with daily prayer services. When visiting the Blue Mosque, it’s important to dress appropriately with your shoulders and legs covered as it is a religious site.
One of the most popular places to visit in Istanbul is the Hagia Sophia, which is a grand mosque that was first built in 537. It’s considered to be one of the most influential works in architectural history and has a lot of impressive features, including artwork throughout its many spaces.
The impressive Galata Tower was originally built as a watchtower as part of the Walls of Galata, which are located in Istanbul’s Beyoğlu district.
It is nine stories high, and for a small fee, you can take an elevator to the top and enjoy some breathtaking panoramic views of Istanbul.
The Topkapı Palace was once a grand residence and administrative center for Ottoman sultans. It was converted into a museum in the 1920s, and today you can visit and tour some of the palace’s rooms and courtyards.
THE GRAND BAZAAR
One of the most popular things to do in Istanbul is to visit the Grand Bazaar, one of the most historic sites in the city! The term bazaar refers to a market, specifically a large market space with numerous stalls and vendors. The Grand Bazaar is the world’s oldest and largest, boasting 61 streets and over 4,000 individual stalls selling spices, sweets, dried fruit, jewelry, and more.
VISIT A HAMMAM
The term hammam refers to Turkish baths, which are well-known throughout the world for a variety of reasons, including religion, culture, and general hygiene. You can choose from a variety of packages that include services such as body scrubs and massages. I did both and it was the best 90 minutes in my life.
Istanbul has amazing things to eat – no matter what your tastes are, there are plenty of meals, desserts, pastries, and street food that will impress you! It’s hard to decide where to go, especially in a city as big as Istanbul, so why not take a food tour to make sure you see as much as you can? The Taste of Two Continents Food Tour will guide you through traditional Turkish cuisine as well as items inspired by the country’s Asian and European influences.
The public transportation network in this city can be confusing at times, with a large range of routes, and a variety of options ranging from the subway, buses, trams, overland trains, and even ferries that take people to different parts of the city. Istanbul does have Uber but with the traffic, it will take a minute to get to your destination.
Because I wanted to learn and see the city, I walked. Istanbul is a walkability city but be prepared for the cobblestone roads and the steep incline/decline. During my 4 days, I got my workout and it was good. Make sure to pack comfortable sneakers.
Safety Tips for Traveling in Istanbul
If something should go wrong, this is the place you want to go to! Istanbul is generally pretty safe and petty crime is low. Istanbul has a dedicated Tourism Police department that is located between Hagia Sofia and the Basilica Cistern. Lastly, be cognizant of your area and take all the necessary precautions you would take at home when traveling abroad.
Istanbul is one of the most awe-inspiring cities I’ve been to thus far. Home to breathtaking architecture, delicious food, and some of the warmest, most genuinely hospitable people I have ever met on my travels, it’s a city that I will visit again and again. If you’re looking to visit Istanbul for the first time and/or solo, then I hope you contact us to plan your trip or sign up for Memorial Weekend 2024.