Istanbul is a magical city that everyone needs to visit ASAP. I was so enamoured by the extreme mix of cultures, from the smell of Asian spices and European vibe, to the Arab hospitality, I really felt at home in Turkey. This was pretty impressive considering I only had 12 hours to see Istanbul and do as much as possible. I happened to find the perfect flight back to Bahrain, which stopped over at Istanbul from 6am to 9pm, the perfect layover (checkout more on what to do during a layover here)! Not to mention super cheap. So after a lot of online research, I created my perfect itinerary for the day which I thought I'd pass on to you guys.
First things first for me is always food. After reaching the city centre from the airport I grabbed a tram towards the Sultanhamet area and found my way to Seven Hills Restaurant. On the 7th story, there is a rooftop terrace overlooking the Blue Mosque, Haga Sofia and the ocean. I basically had the place to myself and feasted on traditional Turkish breakfast foods and endless amounts of Turkish coffee. The manager was super lovely and made sure I was always looked after. Beware of the birds flying above though, they will try and steal your food!
After you've had your fill of food, its time to explore the Blue Mosque. You can get clothes to cover up with at the entrance before making your way inside the beautiful structure. Theres no better place to experience the act of worship in Islam and the culture behind Istanbul.
A short walk from the Blue Mosque, is Basillica Cistern, a hidden underground water source. It sounds a bit dull, but its a pretty cool piece of history which dates back to the Roman era. Both dark and mystical, you sort of feel like you've been transported to another world. If you want to avoid crowds you can always visit here first before the Blue Mosque.
Grab a quick and traditional lunch at Old Istanbul Cuisine. Do yourself a favour and feast on the Potter Kebab, you won't regret it!
Time to experience more of Asian spices I previously mentioned by visiting the Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar. Bazaar is just another term for market, and is a place where you can find many traditional items to take back home such as material, rugs, and those beautiful lanterns that are always seen on Instagram. You can even try your hand at a bit of haggling which is normal to do in these parts of the world, the first price is never the final price!
The Spice Bazaar is about an hours walk up from the Grand Bazaar so I would recommend skipping this if you're short on time. But if you happen to have a couple more days, I've heard great things about it as many say it has a more 'authentic' feel!.
I was set on exploring the area of Balat before I left Istanbul. For you Londoners, it's basically a combination of Shoreditch and Notting Hill wrapped in one! The neighbourhood was once known as the Jewish quarter of the city, but is now home to many hipster cafes and restaurants as well as beautiful pastel coloured houses (an Instagrammers dream!). It's also one of the few places where there are hardly any tourists around, making you feel like one of the locals.
I would spend a couple hours just roaming and exploring what this neighbourhood has to offer. And definitely stop by cooklife for a refreshing iced coffee.
And so comes to an end the perfect day in Istanbul. Although at this point I was rushing back to the airport in fear of missing my flight. But if you've got the time then I've been recommended dinner at Nar Lokanta where Turkish food and culture is at the heart of the restaurant. But wherever you end up going I'm pretty sure the food is always guaranteed to be delish.