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6 Days in Istanbul, Turkey: Things to Do & Trip Itinerary

İstanbul, Turkey

Our trip to Istanbul, Turkey was more heavily planned by my husband, as it has been waiting on his list of countries to visit due to the good food and rich history. For me, I didn't know much about Turkey, except that there is a country named Turkey. Well, that and the turkey bird, so our trip to Turkey was a big history learning experience for me! It was also our first time going to a country where neither of us spoke the language, so we relied heavily on Google Translate and Google Lens to make our way around. 

Where We Stayed

We decided to maximize our trip by doing fewer hotel changes. We stayed at the DoubleTree Hotel in Sirkeçi for about the first two-thirds of our trip, and at the Intercontinental Istanbul for the last one-third of our trip. 

Some things we loved about the DoubleTree Hotel was that it was right off one of the main streets, so it was easy getting to the main street when we wanted to walk around and was nice and quiet when it was time to rest. It was also conveniently located next door to a metro station, which made transiting to different places (and our subsequent hotel change) a little easier. The hotel looks a bit dated, and the lotion, shampoo, and conditioner were all fakes made to look "Crabtree and Evelyn" -esque. On closer inspection, you'll find that some or all of your amenities are fakes. I suspected something was off since the scent wasn't quite the usual lemon verbena, and only noticed when my hair felt crunchy/crispier when I was drying my hair. I can't believe I fell for the fake and that it's not a surprising occurrence here (per other blog posts I've found when looking up if this was a one-time anomaly)!

Our hotel stay at the Intercontinental was not too shabby either. The hotel was located a bit further from the main activities and downtown, which made getting places slightly tougher. Thus, most of our outings involved some combination of Uber and walking. Our room faced the front entrance of the hotel and a busy (car wise) street. The initial honking of the cars during peak traffic times annoyed us, but we grew used to it during our stay. We even learned to love watching the traffic move at night and figuring out how long it would take the ambulance/police to make it through the traffic (because, from our observations, traffic was slow to move and make way for them even with their sirens on). The shower leaves more to be desired, as water piled up from clogged drains. 

Our Itinerary

For our trip itinerary this time, we decided not to include our transit days, which would have made our trip technically "8" days long -- one day for flying in, one day for flying out. 

Day 1

Gülhane Park 

A local park near our first hotel. Since we went during the wintertime, there weren't many plants or greenery of trees to see. It was still a lovely park that is worth a walkthrough for your daily steps and some fresh air. The park also leads to a few different museums, if visiting is of interest.

Topkapi Palace Museum

A beautiful palace that features a lot of the architectural and furnishing styles of royalty in Turkey. The palace appeared busy despite us going early in the morning, and it only got busier as crowds and lines formed to enter as we exited. We enjoyed walking through the palace and garden, and enjoying the fresh air from the Marmara Sea.

Gulhane Sark Sofrasi

Stopped by here for our first meal in Turkey, partly because of convenience as it was close to our first hotel and partly because of the good reviews. We had and highly recommend their testi kebab (meat cooked in special pottery clay). The meat is cooked in a pottery jar sent in from Cappadocia, another city in Turkey, over open flame. The jar is rotated for an even cook, then broken with cooked contents poured in a bowl to enjoy the meal. It was definitely entertaining watching the preparation and cooking process!

Hagia Sophia

When in Turkey, you have to visit the Hagia Sophia. You'll find that there are many mosques in Turkey, but nothing quite as architecturally exquisite as the Hagia Sophia. For women, a hair cover of sorts is required for entry. For all visitors, expect to remove your shoes prior to entering the main room. There are shoe racks in the hallway to deposit your shoes. There is also a special area in the front that is closed off for religious prayer. 

The Blue Mosque

The Blue Mosque is appropriately named and blue colored on the outside. It sits right across from the Hagia Sophia. The mosque was much smaller and less impressive inside, partly because most of it was closed for renovation at the time of our visit.

Sultan Ahmet Park

A vast park with a fountain in the center as well as rows of benches for those who wish to have a seat to pray or relax. The Hagia Sophia is on one end of the park, and the Blue Mosque is at the opposite end. During prayer times, the echoing of the prayer between the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque can be heard here. 

Obelisk of Theodosius

An obelisk originally from Egypt that was taken to Turkey. It sits just outside Sultan Ahmet Park, near the Blue Mosque. The heiroglyphics were impressive especially since the only other time we've seen them was in textbook pictures.

Şerefiye Sarnıcı (Theodosius Cistern)

In the olden days, the cisterns were used to hold water. The cisterns feature several columns underground, which still has water actively running down them. The cistern is located adjacent to a cafe, and there is a light show featuring the cistern columns. 


The Ottoman Empire once occupied the area that is now Turkey, and this is the place to go if you want to sample some authentic Ottoman fare, particularly the meals that were prepared for the sultans. If you love meat, we highly recommend their lamb shank. Portions are on the larger side, and we're glad we listened to the suggestion from the store owner in ordering dishes a la carte (as we were originally planning to order a full Ottoman course). 

Day 2


Picture this -- all the historical, famous, and popular sites of Istanbul in mini form and all in one convenient place. My husband and I ventured early in the morning, and we had the park all to ourselves. We were able to take our time reading and enjoying the mini places as we walked around the park. The park had more tour groups and crowds about midmorning, at which time my husband and I completed maybe 50% of the park. There are several stray cats that hang out in the park. 

Galata Kulesi (Galata Tower)

Galata Tower is a watchtower that was used since the Byzantine Empire. Going up the tower was easy with the help of an elevator. At the elevator stop, there is a windowed watch deck that offers a panoramic view of Istanbul. From there, you can go up another flight of stairs on a spiral staircase if you want to go to the open watch deck. When going down, expect to go down several spiral stairs (no handrails, so take your time and be cautious). There is a different elevator that can take you back to the ground as well if needed.

Karaköy Balik Evi (Karakoy Fish House)

As Istanbul is surrounded by the Bosphorus Strait and Black sea, we figured getting our fill of the local catch would be an experience that we shouldn't miss out on as foodies. The Karaköy Fish House is located just off the Bosphorus Strait right by a fish market. The fish is literally ready to be cooked to order. We really enjoyed and recommend their grilled seabass (levrek) fish dish. 

Karaköy Güllüoğlu

A popular local sweets shop, featuring several different kinds of baklava. As it was our first time visiting a sweets shop, we were overwhelmed with all of the different choices and shapes/styles of the baklava. You can choose to eat at the shop or to have some boxed and air sealed to go. To order, you walk up to the counter and get helped by a worker. The worker will package your order according to the type of baklava you want and quantity. We highly recommend checking out the menu ahead of time prior to going, since the shop does get very busy and the workers get a bit inpatient if you're taking too much time to make your choices.

Şehzade Cağ Kebap

Located in an alleyway of several restaurants, but hard to miss because of the filled seats and lines. There is outdoor and indoor dining available, and the restaurant does fill up. My husband and I ordered cag kebap durum and cag kebap meal to go. The hardest part about ordering to go from here was the lack of an area to wait for our food. The alleyway does get crowded and the outdoor diners aren't the happiest if you get too close to their space (like most people would be). 

Day 3

Büyük Mecidiye Camii (Büyük Mecidiye Mosque, Ortaköy Mosque)

We started our journey this day extra early to avoid crowds. We were able to catch the outside of this mosque as well as all the city lights since it was still dark outside. It was nice walking along the waterfront and enjoying the fresh air without the crowds. 

Yedikule Hisarı Müzesi (Yedikule Dungeons Museum)

We were hoping to visit the dungeons museum, and we even figured out the public transportation to get us there. Unfortunately, the museum itself was closed for renovation when we went. Despite this, we just walked around and enjoyed the outer walls of what used to be Constantinople. Aside from seeing the walls and snapping photos, there wasn't much else to do in town, and we recommend going at your own discretion. 

Merdivenli Yokuş Evleri

Our next stop was to check out a row of colorful homes in Turkey! We had a taxi driver bring us up the hill to these homes, and their skill navigating through the tight streets was just amazing! The homes reminded us a lot of the painted ladies in San Francisco, but with its own uniqueness in that there are 1) more homes making up this group of homes, and 2) more bold colors used. We were pleasantly surprised to find that we were the only tourists (and people for that matter) walking through the street. Like our other stop, there wasn't much else to do in the area, so be prepared to walk or Uber!

Üsküdar Sahili Yürüme Yolu (Uskudar Coast Walkway)

Our next stop was walking from one end of the walkway to the other. We really liked that the walkway was wide with space for pedestrian traffic and bikes (with proper to and from lanes marked). Walking along the walkway, we were able to catch a view of the Maiden's Tower. 

Kız Kulesi (Maiden's Tower)

We didn't take a boat over to Maiden's Tower, but just watched from the walkway. It's quite literally a small island with a tower that has been converted to a restaurant. There are many seagulls that hang out between the walkway and Maiden's Tower. 

Çiya Sofrası

With all the walking around and moving about, it was quickly time for a late lunch. We went to Çiya Sofrasi for lunch. The restaurant serves up several different traditional Turkish dishes of the day, and it is pretty much cafeteria style. You let the worker know what you want and how much of it, then they figure the price by weight. The food names were not posted or listed anywhere. We were lucky that the worker helping us that day knew how to speak some English and was very kind/patient as we decided what we wanted to order. We tried 3 small portions of different lamb and chicken dishes, although we can't tell you the names of the dishes. We highly recommend visiting this restaurant to sample some traditional Turkish fare!

Kasap Osman

A local Turkish food place serving up different Turkish dishes cafeteria style. The ordering process was similar to the previous food place, but the food being served is listed and posted on a large sign outside of the restaurant. Be sure to translate and decide on what you want to order prior to going in, as the line may get very long. We even recommend thinking of your second and third runner ups. We were a bit disappointed that the dishes we wanted to try were all sold out, and had to even go to our third runner ups ourselves. The worker helping us wasn't the most helpful, and only started pointing out the different dishes that were left as he realized that all the dishes we wanted were all "no more." The food itself was not bad, although their spinach and egg dish wasn't anything that I couldn't make myself. It's worth a try if you're lucky and the dishes you want are in stock! In hindsight, we probably would've been okay if we had come by earlier.

Fun Fact: If you didn't already know, part of Turkey is in the continent of Europe, and the other part of Turkey is in the continent of Asia. 

Day 4

Şehir Hatları Bosphorus Cruises

We started the day early and made our way to the ship docking area to purchase tickets for a day cruise on the Bosphorus. We were scared that the ship would sell out, but were pleasantly surprised to find that there was quite a bit of seating space throughout our time on the cruise. We sat on the topmost open deck the entire time. It can get windy and cold, but having a mask on because of COVID times kept us warm. We recommend avoiding the bathroom if possible, as it is quite dirty. There was no toilet paper on the ship, so be sure to carry some with you. 

Yoros Castle

Upon docking at our stop, we made the trek uphill (as did all the other cruisers) to Yoros Castle. Walking uphill can be strenuous, but there is plenty of sidewalk space to just stand and catch your breath. Once you enter the castle area, there are several restaurants (if you're hungry), and public restrooms (attached to the restaurant, kept very clean). There isn't too much to see inside the two remaining towers of the castle, but the view overlooking the Bosphorus is just beautiful! 

Kosem Balik Lokantasi (Köşem Balık Restaurant)

My husband and I decided to skip the touristy restaurants near the castle, and settle instead for the seafood places near our docking point. We opted for a restaurant that wasn't too "flashy" with their free samples and a place that didn't have other people from our cruise dining in. We ordered their anchovy, shrimp casserole, and white fish dish. Anchovies are a local catch from the Black Sea, and their white fish local to the Bosphorus. The anchovies were fresh and fried to perfection. The anchovies were not at all fishy, and we would have ordered a second dish if our cruise wasn't going to leave for some time. The white fish tasted like the typical white meat fish. It wasn't overcooked and had lots of meat with each bite. We were glad to know we were trying some local catches!

Balkan Lokantası

Another traditional Turkish restaurant serving up food cafeteria style. Similar to our other Turkish cafeteria food experiences, we recommend stopping by for a sampler of traditional Turkish fare!

Day 5

Kapalı Çarşı (Grand Bazaar)

Visiting the Grand Bazaar during COVID times wasn't the most ideal due to the crowds. Since we're in Istanbul, we decided to see what it was like going in the morning. The Grand Bazaar wasn't as crowded and packed as we read it could be. Instead, since we went in the morning, we saw shop owners enjoying their Turkish tea as they started mopping and cleaning their store front. Some shop owners who had already finished that part of their morning ritual started setting up their shops. There were really no other tourists or shoppers to be seen, and the experience was overall underwhelming. To some extent, we wished we were able to catch the busyness of the bazaar, but we were glad we stayed away from the crowd due to COVID and all. 

Beyazıt Meydanı (Beyazit Square)

An open square near Istanbul University. A big part of the square was under renovation during our visit, so our walking through ended up being straightforward to say the least. 

Taksim Meydanı Gümüşsuyu (Taksim Square)

Another large open square with several shops, restaurants, and bars. Taksim Square is a nice place to walk around. Like most places, there are times where the square gets busy, and other times that the square is quieter. The foot traffic around the square is mostly near the restaurants and shops (as expected). If you're enjoying your walk looking at the statues or fountain, you'll hardly run into too many people unless it's a peak time.


An Anthony Bourdain recommended place known for their dürüm (Turkish barbequed meat in wrap form)! My husband and I ordered 3 large sized dürüms and a salad to go, since we planned to eat and regroup at our second hotel before continuing on with our day. We highly recommend their dürüms; you really can't go wrong with whichever meat you decide to go with! We recommend skipping the salad -- it was chopped and grilled red onions and tomatoes with a lot of oil. 

İstiklal Cd.

A very busy (and crowded) street with many shops, restaurants, and food trucks! My husband and I agree that it was probably one of the more crowded places we visited during our trip. Walking through the street felt like walking through any other street, as we tried to blend in and move along with the sea of people. There were even brave people sitting in the middle of the street trying to get pictures. We didn't really have any place in mind to go shopping, so it was just a quick walk through for us. 

Hafız Mustafa 1864 Meydan

Our go-to chain confectionary shop for sweets! We highly recommend their baklava, Turkish delights, and puddings! Throughout our trip we stopped by Hafiz Mustafa at least 3 different times, each time to try their different puddings and to get our day's fill of baklava. For pudding, we highly recommend their pistachio chocolate one, or if you're adventurous, their saffron pudding (which does sell out). If you're afraid the saffron may be too spice-y for you, we recommend getting the saffron and milk pudding since the milk helps to decrease the spice flavor. 

Haliç Metro Köprüsü (Haliç Metro Bridge)

We took the metro to the stop with the bridge for the purpose of walking the bridge. Walking the bridge from end to end, one side and the other offered different vantage points of the Golden Horn of the Bosphorus. Since the bridge is connected to the metro, expect the bridge to shake a bit when the metros are coming in or leaving the station. 

İstanbul Sapphire Observation Deck

An observation deck on the topmost floor of a shopping mall and high rise with panoramic views of Istanbul. The observation deck is one of the lesser known, less touristy towers in the area, yet the views are stunning! My husband and I made our way 360 to get a complete view of Istanbul. We were lucky to have gone in the late afternoon, as we were able to catch daylight, sunset, and nighttime views!

Çağdaş Börek

A shop known for their börek (pies)! Think of the dish as if it were a flaky croissant bread exterior with a filling of your choice. When my husband and I walked over from our second hotel, there were only two choices left, and we opted to try a bit of each. They chop the long pies into smaller, bite-sized pieces and sell the bread by weight. We went with a half kilogram of each, which filled us up quite a bit. We recommend visiting if you're looking for a quick snack on the go or if you're looking to try another different traditional Turkish dish!

Day 6

Dolmabahçe Sarayı (Dolmabahçe Palace)

An ornate palace turned museum that belonged to an Ottoman sultan. The view from outside the palace itself is gorgeous, and overlooks the Bosphorus. Inside the palace are several ornate rooms and hallways. The palace was quite crowded, even though it was our first stop of the day. There were several tour groups and even young children doing field trips to the palace when we visited. 


Gözlemece is a popular meal or snack in Turkey, and it is basically akin to a crepe or pita sandwich. This restaurant still makes the dough by hand, so each order is quite literally made to order. We each got their spinach gözlemece and recommend stopping by for a try!

Karadeniz Döner Asım Usta

Found this place because Google probably knew I was in Turkey, and started sending blog posts of food places and whatnot. One of the blog posts was written by a Turkish person now living in America who visited Turkey recently. The blog post details how things have changed when they grew up and local food places they recommend. What caught my eye about this place in their post was the fact that the place would sell out and even close early for the day. When my husband and I stopped by, all of the outdoor seats were full and the line was building up. We ordered some döners for dinner. When we received our order and left, the line had grown down the street. This is another place we definitely recommend stopping by for a try!


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We can't believe how quickly the trip went by and wished we were able to celebrate New Years abroad, but nevertheless, it was time to go home, adjust our sleep schedules, and get ready for a new year of work.

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