A month ago, yours truly spent her evenings wandering the streets of Istanbul with a doner kebab in one hand and Turkish delight in the other. Home to 14.8 million sinfully good looking people, this dream destination boasts an array of history, art, and culture. It’s no wonder why Turkey sits on many travelers’ bucket lists.
Brown parents are often hesitant about sending their little ones beyond the borders of their own home, let alone to a different country. I found Istanbul to be a go-to destination for any brown girl travelling for the first time or travelling alone.
Here are some highlights – the most important bits of my trip for any newbie (as I was one), which are enough for you to make the most of your trip, decide if it’s a place for you, and come back fluent in Ottoman culture and tram travelling.
Location, location, location
One way to make the most of your trip is to ensure you book a hotel within the hustle and bustle. Staying within a busy area allows you to experience a lot of the city’s local culture and is a great walkabout area after a day of touring and sightseeing. If you’re anything like me, you’d prefer Old Town Istanbul, where the ‘’must-sees’’ and ‘’must-dos’’ are minutes away from your hotel. However, if you prefer a more international scene with contemporary shopping and nightlife, New Town Istanbul would be the way to go.
Even with a limited budget, or if your country’s currency isn’t great (SAME), you can still enjoy the best of Istanbul by traveling wisely. Excluding tours, your daily expenditure shouldn’t exceed 150 Turkish Lira (roughly 370ZAR). This includes travelling via tram/metro, street food and light shopping at your local bazaar. Of course if you prefer dining in, more luxury shopping and travelling by cab, you will need to increase your daily budget.
Places to see and things to do:
One stop in Sultanahmet, and you would have covered the following 3 of Istanbul’s top tourist sites.
Stroll through Topkapi, palace where some of the Abrahamic religions’ most precious artifacts lie and your eyes behold some of history’s richest treasures.
Next is Hagia Sophia, the Roman Empire’s first cathedral, a mosque and now a museum.
Your final stop, the Blue Mosque, will leave you mesmerized. A place of peace and prayer, it also screams ‘’look at me, look at me’’ for its majestic grandeur of Ottoman architecture.
A hop onto a ferry across Bosphorus, a waterway connecting Europe and Asia, will allow you to take in all of Old and New Town Istanbul and also witnessing the Black Sea and Sea of Marmara meet where their waters never mix.
Don’t forget to add in Taksim Square, and the Grand Bazaar into your itinerary to collect spoils and souvenirs for your loved ones back home.
The local cuisine is also a MUST. Go to a fancy restaurant, or go to a dodge looking restaurant; buy from street vendors and kiosks…where ever you go, you cannot leave without having a doner or KUNAFEH.
Travel with the locals!
Ask your concierge to brief you on how to use the metro and tram system.
Yes, you will most likely be brushing up against complete strangers but you’ll avoid traffic and exorbitant taxi fares. The tram and metro line are both quickand easy to use but you need to be confident when travelling. Don’t be afraid to ask transport officials for help on how to get to certain places, and always carry a map to show them the stops you need to get off at. They’ll either be sweet or just grunt and point
towards the direction you need to go in.
I sum this up and write this to you on a balcony somewhere along the shores of Durban, but you can be assured that this girl’s heart remains on the steps of Sultan Ahmet Camii (The Blue Mosque). I’ve tried and failed to document my trip into this one article. I feel a word limit could never do Istanbul justice.
Considering the safety, affordability and what this beautiful place has to offer I would highly recommend Istanbul as a ‘’definitely-maybe’’ destination when thinking about travelling alone, with friends or for the first time. You’re guaranteed excitement, fun, a cultural awakening and a lifetime of memories.
Look out for our next posts in the series with more tips and hacks on how to make the best out of your budget and itinerary. And remember! Always research your desired location thoroughly so you’re prepared to answer your dad’s 5000 questions when you build up the courage to suggest a solo trip (this may also decrease your nanima’s dramatised panic attack by 14%).