I spent 5 days in Istanbul as a single traveler just visiting and experiencing the city. It is romantic and interesting and I can definitely recommend it. Istanbul is to the Middle East what London is to Europe. Well, In my view.
There are very few western tourists to be found around this city in the cooler months. Clearly most of the tourists emanate from the Middle East or Asia.
I was always treated with respect and I never felt uncomfortable or unsafe.
The Turks take security more seriously than I have seen any other nation. Expect to see armed police and military personnel guarding strategic tourist sites and most areas of the city. Metal detectors can appear at any inside structure. You get used to this.
Once again, I never felt unsafe.
Have respect for the Turks religions. This is predominately a Muslim country and the people cherish this right. I was never bothered by it in any way. The History of this place is fundamental to the understanding of its culture and people.
Where to stay
You first need to decide what area to stay in. The old city is nice and has plenty of restaurants and some bars but the nightlife is in Beyoğlu. There are other areas with options down the Bospherous or even on the Asian side but you are getting a bit far from the action and accessible transport.
There is a vast array of Hotels in Istanbul. Virtually all very well priced. There are many Hostels and simple hotels that are clean and cheap. Expect to pay about 30 US for these.
The five star hotels are superb and very well priced in comparison to other Large cities. Some of these cost about 120 US which is a bargain. Always remember season dependent.
I stayed at the Rixos Pera Hotel which was excellent www.peraistanbul-tr.rixos.com. I also had an amazing experience enjoying the comforts of the Pera Palace Hotel which has an interesting history involving Agatha Christie. The Orient bar is a wonder. Www.perapalace.com. This hotel was also about 150 US which is a steal for this treasure.
Due to the disconnect between western societies and the Middle East www.booking.com and www.TripAdvisor.com do not have many of the hotels on their lists. You need to also look at sites like www.boutiquehotel.me/Turkey or you can arrive in this city and find a hotel quite easily but I would recommend at least booking your first night for obvious reasons.
Istanbul is a busy city so use the trams as much as possible. Taxis are well priced but use your judgement. Don’t get into vehicles at peak times. You can walk vast distances in safety in this city to avoid traffic or just to enjoy the streets of Istanbul. The buses are also a cheap option but the trams are cheap and faster.
The ferries are cheap and effective. Use them to get around the Bospherous.
The food was good. There is something for everyone just not a lot of bacon.
On the streets you will find kebob shops with shredded chicken or beef with various accompaniments. Expect to pay 2 US. There is all sorts of other street food which is tasty and fresh. You can eat very cheaply this way. Fish is fresh and many restaurants have a good selection.
There are also fantastic upmarket restaurants serving Turkish, Anatolian food, Italian and various fine dining and other interesting restaurants. Ask around as google does not have all the answers here.
Eating at restaurants on the bospherous is a must. There are many to choose from. The views at night are exceptional. Totally worth the extra buck.
There is always Burger King to fall back on.
The following is a list of awesome restaurants worth a try. These places are not very expensive but if you are very budget conscious then skip them.
Mikla. I went here. By Beyoğlu. Brilliant food with the best views of Istanbul. Fine dining Catalonian cuisine. Www.miklarestaurant.com
Kiyi restaurant. I believe from an exceptional source that this is the best fish restaurant in Istanbul. Www.kiyi.com.tr
Karakoy Lokantasi. Traditional Ottoman food. The real stuff. Www.karakoylokantasi.com
The St Regis hotel is also home to a few worthwhile and upmarket, western orientated restaurants like its Brasserie and Wolfgang Pucks restaurant Spago which is exceptional. Www.thestregisistanbul.com
La Mancha down the Bospherous with exceptional views was fantastical. I drank a few tequilas in their phenomenal bar. I would go back here in a heartbeat. Very good tapas. Www.lamancha.com.tr
The Turks love music and have a very active music scene so there are lots of venues with live music or at least a DJ. The nightlife gets going after 21h00. There are many bars and clubs mainly close to İstiklal street and the general Beyoğlu Neighbourhood. Walk up the streets off Istiklal street to party.
There are areas around the Bospherous that Night clubbers can enjoy. Not hard to find these.
Always look down small roads off busy streets to find interesting little treasures. Karaoke bars are in abundance.
It is not that easy to meet people in these establishments as the language barrier is very real. Very few Turks speak English so be prepared for this. Utilizing apps like “speak & translate”
(App Store) that automatically translate your language to Turkish is vital.
The Tourist Attractions
I visited in winter which makes the main attractions more accessible. Get there early to beat the large groups of Asian and middle eastern tourists. These sites open at 09h00 am.
The following are the big 4 that I visited. You can certainly have a good look at all 4 in a day unless you are a historian who wants to study everything with a fine tooth-comb. Go to all 4 and use your own judgement. I enjoyed the Topkapi palace the most. They are all very close to each other. Literally a hundred meters apart.
Hagia Sophia, The Blue mosque,
The Basilica and Topkapi palace.
There are other noteworthy palaces, mosques, museums and galleries that I was just not motivated to visit however are well rated attractions.
I focused on food and booze and some shopping for my baby creeps.
Istiklal street has miles of shops. Brand names and others. There are numerous large malls and then there is the Grand Bazaar.
The Asian side
Take the ferry there and poke around. You will find it a bit cheaper but essentially the same. Interesting bars and restaurants and some shops in this area. A good days outing.
The Grand Bazaar
Yes this is frenetic.
You need to arrive with the right attitude to deal with the traders. Most of these gentlemen understand the word “no” but some are persistent and become pests. Don’t let the few spoil the experience that so many others have worked so hard to create.
Bargaining or rather negotiating is the order of this bazaar. Negotiate well and you can knock prices down massively. Shop around a little as many stalls have the same items.
You can expect to find fake watches, clothing and handbags in abundance.
There are locally made items like chess sets and backgammon boards.
Armed with a smile and some wit you should enjoy the experience for a few hours.
There are locals who literally attach themselves to you and often speak good English. These people all have an agenda to sell you something or to take you to a shop. It’s best to just say no and walk. They are a pest but it is not a total nightmare so don’t worry too much.
Always ask taxi drivers to use their meters.
I don’t have a list of bad as I had a great experience. Just get there and enjoy an interesting historical place with something for everyone at a reasonable price.