Exploring Both Sides Of The City
For our summer vacation this year, we decided to visit Istanbul – the meeting point of two continents and a gateway between the east and the west. The city is known for its history and diverse culture and cuisines. With the Bosphorus Strait running through the city, dividing the European part of the city from the Asian part, Istanbul offers a taste of two continents.
Planning our trip
When we set about planning our trip, we decided that it would be interesting to travel to Istanbul during Ramadan. Ramadan this year fell in June, which meant we could fit in the most perfectly timed trip, during the last week of the holy month.
So we booked our trip for the 7th June to the 12th June, avoiding the summer travel rush, and leaving just before the busy Eid Al-Fitr holiday celebrations. Though our trip was short, we decided to make the most of Istanbul, and see as much of it as we possibly could.
Rather than booking just one hotel, we booked accommodation in two different locations: one hotel in the heart of the city, and one alongside the Bosphorus River. We thought that this way, we’d have the chance to experience two sides of Istanbul, and make our trip a little more varied.
When booking our flights, we opted to fly to Sabiha Gokcen airport, purely because we had already passed through the Ataturk airport a couple of times on our previous travels, and visiting a new airport made landing even more exciting.
Arriving in Istanbul
We had a smooth flight to Istanbul, and arrived at Sabiha Gokcen airport in good time. We passed through the security process quickly, perhaps because we had our e-Visas with us already.
Once we were out of the airport, we just had to figure out the best way to get to our first hotel, Shangri-La Bosphorus. After some quick research, we realised that as a family of four with luggage, the easiest way to get there was by taxi. The taxi cost us 180 Liras for all of us, and the drive took us about 1 hour 50 minutes, but it would have been much quicker were we not traveling during rush hour.
The perfect stay at Shangri-La Bosphorus
As we approached the hotel we were thrilled to see that we’d chosen a hotel with such amazing views of the Bosphorus Strait. We were so impressed with the hotel’s surroundings that we’d almost forgotten to step inside.
Once we entered the hotel, we were blown away once again. Istanbul might be a city of history, but this hotel was a modern oasis, with the diversity of the city represented in the mix of European, Asian and Turkish designs. We were definitely looking forward to spending two nights here.
We booked the Deluxe Bosphorus Room with an extra bed for the kids, and we definitely weren’t disappointed. Before we’d even taken a look at our room, we were marvelling at the view over the Bosphorus from our floor-to-ceiling window.
Eventually we tore ourselves away from the window to explore the room a bit more. The window meant that the room had a good amount of natural light, and for evenings, there were black out curtains.
The beds were incredibly comfortable, and the room was more than spacious enough for a family of four. It had everything we could have needed and more, including high-speed internet and a desk, which came in handy when we needed to check emails or do some last minute research about our destination.
There was a beautiful black marble bathroom, with both a shower and a bath, a heated floor, and complimentary toiletries.
Once we had finished getting to know our room and marvelling at the views, we decided to go and explore the rest of the hotel’s facilities.
The health club consisted of a swimming pool, a gym, and Jacuzzis, all of which were open until 10pm, so there was plenty of time to make the most of these facilities after a busy day out.
The indoor heated pool seemed like the perfect place to relax. The ceiling was painted with clouds, and on the walls were paintings of Turkey’s countryside. And for those more keen on relaxing than swimming, there were loungers dotted around the poolside.
For the ultimate relaxation session, there was CHI, The Spa, which offered a whole range of different spa treatments, inspired by Asian healing philosophies.
As for food and drink, the hotel had an all-day dining venue, IST TOO, a Cantonese Restaurant, Shang Palace, and the Lobby Lounge, which served breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea.
The IST TOO dining venue offered a range of dishes including Mediterranean and Asian cuisine. There was also a Japanese Sushi bar here. But when we asked where the hotel suggested for dinner, they recommended Shang Palace, the hotel’s signature restaurant. We were told by the front desk that this restaurant served the best and most authentic Chinese-Cantonese cuisine in Istanbul, and having dined there, we definitely agree. Not only was the food delicious, but the restaurant’s atmosphere was perfect.
Our first day out in Istanbul
After we’d spent a few hours resting and exploring the hotel, we decided to venture out for the day. We had arrived fairly early in the day, so we were still able to fit in almost a whole day out after we’d checked in.
We walked to Kabatas metro station, which took around fifteen minutes, but on the way we stopped to try some of the street food on offer: chestnuts and fresh juice. From Kabatas, we got the train to Sultanahmet.
We visited Istanbul’s beautiful and impressive Blue Mosque, which was built between 1609 and 1616, as well as Hagia Sophia – an imperial mosque that has been turned into a museum.
Part of experiencing a new place is experiencing the local food, so we made the most of the street food throughout the day, snacking on things like fresh corn. We also stopped for a delicious lunch at Firuz Kebap House. After this we headed back to the hotel, where we dined at the SHANG Palace restaurant.
Our second day out, and an exciting invitation
After a comfortable night’s rest at Shangri-La, we set off early for a day out in Istanbul. Once again, we got the metro, but this time to Grand Bazaar, where we spent some time shopping. We browsed souvenir shops, and bought some dried figs, some jewellery and some souvenirs to take home.
Once we had completed our shopping trip, we visited the Topkapi Palace Museum. The palace had previously been home to Ottoman sultans, before they moved to Dolmabahçe Palace, so you can imagine the grandeur that awaited us inside.
We spent a while taking in the amazing architecture, and learning about the history of the palace, before heading back to the hotel.
An Iftaar Dinner at Çiragan Palace Kempinski
That evening we were invited for a tour of the Çiragan Palace Kempinski, and for Iftaar dinner at their Bosphorus Grill Restaurant.
The restaurant served both international and Turkish dishes, with lots of seafood on offer, and all of it looked amazing. We were delighted not just with our food, but also with the beautiful views of the Bosphorus bridge.
We enjoyed the evening with our friend, Cansu Bas, who was the Palace’s Assistant Public Relations Managers. Cansu also revealed to us the Palace’s plans to introduce a ‘Sultan’s Dinner.’ The idea behind the Sultan’s Dinner is that it will transport guests back in time using the tastes and flavours of the Ottoman era.
With the banquet being presented in the Palace’s Ottoman Hall, the taste, presentation and surrounding couldn’t be more authentic, and by the sounds of it, guests really will feel like Sultans.
Our last few hours in Bosphorus
That morning we had to check out of the Shangri-La. We were sad to leave, but excited to spend the next few days in the heart of Istanbul’s city centre, at the Movenpick hotel.
After we’d had our last breakfast at Shangri-La, we made the most of the morning by heading out on the Bosphorus tour. We said goodbye to the area in style, as we cruised along the Bosphorus Strait, taking in the beautiful views for the last time.
Checking in to Mövenpick Hotel Istanbul
Later that day, we checked in to our next hotel, the Mövenpick Hotel Istanbul, on 4. Levent. It took us no time at all to find the hotel, it was centrally located in Istanbul’s business and shopping district and there was a metro station right next to it.
When we stepped into the lobby we paused to take in the elegant and modern design of the hotel, before being greeted by friendly and professional staff. We checked in and were shown to our Junior Suite, where we would stay for 3 nights.
The Suite was light and spacious, with a comfortable King size bed, and a separate living area, so there was space for all four of us. Our suite was fairly high up, so we spent a while taking in the views of the city from our window.
Had we been traveling for business, we’d have made much more use of the large desk and work space area, and the high-speed internet throughout the hotel, but as it were, we were too busy enjoying our trip to think about work!
The bathroom was elegantly designed, with everything we could need, including a combined bathtub and shower, and complimentary toiletries.
By booking a suite, we had access to the Skyline Club Lounge on the 20th floor, so of course we had to see what it was like. The lounge had amazing views over the city and the Bosphorus, even better than the views from our suite window. We could even see the islands and the Topkapi Palace.
The lounge also served complimentary refreshments and snacks all day long for executive floor and suite guests, so we were able to replenish ourselves and relax before the rest of the day.
After we’d relaxed in the Skyline Club Lounge for a while, we decided to explore the rest of the hotel. We quickly found the wellness area, where there was everything you could possibly need to stay fit and healthy during your travels, and/or relax after a long day.
The gym was fully equipped with all the latest machines, and to help you keep your energy levels high, there was even a vitamin bar serving fresh juices, healthy drinks and light snacks.
For relaxing, there was an indoor pool, heated to 27 degrees, and saunas, Jacuzzis and steam rooms for the ultimate spa experience. There was also a whole range of spa treatments to choose from and a team of friendly and professional massage therapists on site.
When it came to food and drink, we were spoilt for choice. There was the AzzuR Restaurant where we could go for a complimentary buffet breakfast, or for a Mediterranean lunch or dinner. As if that wasn’t enough, the BarAdoX had a delicious snack menu, a range of exotic cocktails and an inviting lounge to relax in. Then for sweet treats, there was GourmeT, which sold homemade cakes, chocolate, ice cream and sweet souvenirs to take home.
After we’d discovered all this, we realised we still had half a day left to see some of Istanbul’s city centre, so we left the hotel, promising ourselves that we’d try out some of the facilities later on.
A relaxed afternoon at Taksim Square
We hopped on the metro and headed to Taksim Square for the afternoon, to see the Republic Monument, and get a taste of life in Istanbul’s centre.
Whilst the Republic Monument is an iconic historical monument, marking the start of the Turkish Republic in 1923, the Square actually lies at the heart of the city’s modern sector.
There were hundreds of shops around the Square, and just as many restaurants serving all kinds of different foods. It seemed to be one of the most diverse areas of Istanbul, with so many different cuisines, and so many different shops selling just about anything you can imagine.
The smell of the many restaurants caused our stomachs to start rumbling, so we stopped for lunch at the Gezzy Restaurant, which was situated in the hotel zone of Taksim Square. The restaurant seemed fairly popular, which we saw as a good sign, so we sat at one of the outside tables and soaked up the vibrant atmosphere whilst enjoying Turkish and seafood dishes.
After lunch we decided to walk off our meal, so we took a stroll down Istaqlal Street, which we had heard was a must for tourists. There were more shops to browse, and street performers dotted along the street, filling the bustling street with beautiful music and positive energy. It was the sort of place you could never get bored of, it seemed that almost all of the city’s tourist attractions could be reached by foot from Taksim Square and Istaqlal Street. Had we not been so tired from our busy day, we would have carried on exploring, but we decided to head back to the hotel to rest, relax and get ready for tomorrow’s adventures.
The next morning, after breakfast, we planned a day trip to Bursa. We took the metro to Yenikapi station, and from there we got on a ferry which took us to Bursa. The ferry ride took around two hours, but the experience of crossing the Sea of Marmara was exciting enough that the time flew by, and before long we were in Bursa. From the ferry terminal we took a taxi to Bursa City.
After the long journey we were excited to see what the city had to offer, and we started off with a shopping trip at the Kent Meydani Mall. This modern shopping centre is a hub of activity, with shops for everyone and every style. So we spent a while souvenir shopping, and then explored the surrounding area of Osmangazi.
Bursa is the birthplace of Iskender kebaps, so we decided to stop for lunch at Uludağ Kebapçısı Cemal Cemil Usta, which we’d heard many claim was the best Iskender in Turkey. The food was delicious and the staff were very friendly. The meal had given us the chance to rest our legs, but we still had a few more things planned for the day.
Next on our list of things to see was the Green Mosque, which was a beautiful sight to behold, and a mosque with so much history. We admired the green-tiled mosque inside and out, appreciating the architecture, and the rich colours and textures used throughout the interior.
After seeing the Green Mosque, we decided to visit the Emir Sultan Mosque, a smaller mosque but one with just as much character and history. The original Emir Sultan Mosque dates back to the 14th century, but the mosque that stands today has been rebuilt a few times since then. The design of the Emir Sultan Mosque is of a baroque style, with intricate details on the ceilings and walls. This style reflects the fashionable designs of the 19th century Ottoman Empire.
After this we made our way back to the ferry terminal, and started the long journey back to our hotel. On our way back we stopped for an easy dinner in the Sultanahmet area, at the Ikram kebab house. Then it was back to the hotel to enjoy the facilities and get some rest.
Our last day in Istanbul
Monday was our last day in Istanbul and we were a little sad that our trip had flown by so quickly, but we chatted about our experiences so far over breakfast and resolved to make the most of our last full day.
We planned to meet with our friend, Paul in Sultanahmet, who had retired from Kuwait and was now living in Istanbul. Not only was it a nice reunion, but it was also good to meet with a local who knew the area.
Paul took us to his favorite restaurant for lunch, The Cozy Garden, which turned out to be a delightful French and Mediterranean restaurant. As the name suggests, the restaurant also had the option to sit outside in the ‘cozy garden’ – a charming garden with colorful umbrellas hanging above the tables, adding both color and shelter to the area.
The Cozy Garden Restaurant was in such a nice location that we thought we’d go for a walk around the area after lunch. The neighborhood was quieter than some of the areas we’d visited, with just a few hotels dotted around, so it definitely felt like a bit of a hidden gem.
We couldn’t leave without trying at least one more bit of street food, so decided to give the midye dolma (mussels) a try. We had seen the mussels sold on almost every street corner, so it seemed only right to give this snack a try before the end of our trip. Midye dolma was a simple snack, made from mussels mixed together with spicy rice and lemon juice, but it was a delicious combination of flavors.
That evening we went back to Taksim Square, to enjoy the busy hustle and bustle of the tourist hub once more. We explored a few of the streets that we’d been too tired to venture down before, and of course we did a bit more souvenir shopping.
We bought some Turkish sweets to take home from one of the most popular stores, and ended the evening with a classic donner kebab.
On Tuesday 12th June we had our last breakfast at the Mövenpick Hotel, and we savored every mouthful.
Our time in the historic city of Istanbul had come to an end and it was time to pack our bags and get the taxi back to the airport.
We had the most amazing time in Istanbul, and by staying in two different locations we definitely feel like we experienced the city properly. We were able to visit the popular tourist attractions, as well as some of the more local areas. The trip was without a doubt the perfect combination of action-packed sight-seeing days and relaxing hotel evenings.
We couldn’t have been happier with our hotel choices, both the Shangri-La and Mövenpick Hotel had everything we could have needed, and more, to make the beginnings and ends of our days as easy and relaxing as possible.
Though our trip was fairly short, we fit as much in as we could, and we’re looking forward to returning to the beautiful city at some point in the future.
Sinanpasa Mah. Hayrettin Iskelesi Sok. No.1, Besiktas, Istanbul, Turkey
Tel: (90 212) 275 8888 Fax: (90 212) 275 8889
Çıragan Palace Kempinski Istanbul
Çıragan Cad. 32 • Beşiktaş 34349 • Istanbul • Turkey
Tel +90 212 259 0373
Mövenpick Hotel Istanbul
Eski Büyükdere Caddesi, No. 3 | 34330 4.Levent
Tel: +90 212 3192929
Fax: +90 212 3192900