Ahsana shares her holiday pics of Istanbul and a little travel guide on what to do, what to wear and where to go
Istanbul, I left a piece of my heart with you. A city straddling between Europe and Asia across the Bosphorus strait, it is a centre of Turkish economy, culture and history. The number one spot of many dream travel destination lists.
The city is opulent and twinkling with lights, it brushes your face with noor and feeds the soul and heart. Istanbul is, and always will be, one of my favourite cities I have had the pleasure of visiting. It is the perfect expedition to learn about culture, faith, history and to broaden your perception of the world. I yearn to return.
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I always jump in glee when someone reveals they are travelling to Istanbul and inundate them with all my top recommendations. Words cannot explain how much I implore this blissful cosmopolitan city should be on everyone’s travel destination lists!
We spent around seven days in Istanbul which was plenty of time to properly savour the sightseeing, impromptu excursions and exploration. Not having an entirely strict itinerary meant we could be flexible in what we wanted to do each day and swapping activities depending on whereabouts in the city we were heading to. As the old age saying goes: the best adventures come from the unplanned adventures.
Some visitors often divide their stay in Turkey with X amount of days in Istanbul and the remainder of their trip to the southern region of the country. For instance, it may still be possible to visit popular sites within three days. However larger activities, like Hammam Spas or Bosphorus Boat Tours, may need to be accounted for in advance of your planning as both can consume a substantial amount of time in itineraries.
British Citizens holding an Ordinary Passport may need to be in compliance with visa guidelines if they are travelling to Turkey for tourist purposes. Visitors are able to travel with a visa for visits of up to 90 days in any 180-day period. If your stay exceeds the 90 days, you will need to apply for a longer stay visa before you travel or get a residence permit from the local authorities before your 90 day stay has elapsed.
The Turkish government advise that your passport should be valid for a minimum of 6 months from the date you enter Turkey and that there is a full blank page for the entry and exit stamps.
As always, be sure to check your local and Turkish government guidelines for the most up-to-date information on visas and entry requirements.
Direct flights from London to Istanbul are available with Turkish Airlines and British Airways. Flights operated by Turkish Airlines can depart from London Gatwick and directly travel to Istanbul Airport. Direct flights take approximately four hours to and from Istanbul.
It is good to keep in mind that the city is predominantly Muslim and therefore, out of courtesy, it is best to dress modestly. Ensure you pack plenty of long dresses / skirts, sleeved tops, blouses and comfortable trousers.
Have a scarf with you on hand so you can slip it on when visiting mosques. Many, if not all, establishments have spare scarves for lending to visitors. There are plenty of market stalls selling scarves for as little as ₺30 (approx £3) if you need to purchase one in haste.
Spring in Istanbul is mild with temperatures starting from 8°C and highs reach up to 16°C during the day, so it is best to layer up with a light jacket or thick cardigan. The start of Spring in the city is similar to the UK, what with it being rather chilly, but still able to forego boots and opt for more springtime appropriate footwear.
Lastly, wear comfortable shoes that you can easily slip on and off as you galavant around the mosques and historic sites. I made the mistake of wearing my pretty slingback sandals and before lunchtime had event hit the horizon on day two, I had to call it a day. I couldn’t go beyond a single cobblestone without almost stumbling over an unsuspecting shopper or merchant. Grand Bazaar came to my rescue with some fabulously comfortable and stylish loafers and I suddenly felt like I was walking on a cloud. I was certain I could take on Mo Farrah at a 100m sprint!
To minimise any surprise charges kicking in when the wheels touch down on home ground, it’s ideal to pick up a cheap SIM if your phone provider does not offer free roaming. Vodafone is your best bet and often have great deals on Pay as you go SIMs. You can simply order a free SIM from their website, choose the Pay as you go bundle you want, then top-up the corresponding amount. From previous offers, users could get £10 worth of credit, 15GB of data and unlimited texts!
If you are unable to secure a compatible SIM in Istanbul, your network provider will automatically switch over to local telecoms provider TurkTelecom for any phone calls or text messages. You will be charged your standard roaming rate.
Istanbul can be walkable depending on where you’re staying! Echoing the statement above about comfortable shoes, you can either find yourself at steep slopes in Beyoğlu or gliding across in Fatih with the odd encounter of street stairs to shimmy your best Joaquin Phoenix Joker dance.
For more efficient ways of getting around the city, purchase an Istanbulkart card from the airport or at the terminus stops such as Sultanahmet. It is a multipurpose travel card that can be used on trams (including the iconic red Istiklal Caddesi tramway), metros, buses and passenger ferries. The more enticing factor is that up to five people can use the same card! Istanbulkart provides a level of ease to navigate around the city with plenty of top-up machines dotted around each tram stop.
Lastly, be mindful when booking taxis because streets are narrow in Old City. Taxis can struggle to get through to your pickup or destination so you may need to walk out a short distance. Leave your number with the booking company for your driver to contact you if this may be the case.
There’s nothing better than coming back to a cosy apartment after a day of exploring a new city. Many holiday-goers around the world opt for choosing a place for the sake of housing their suitcase because, quite arguably, they will be out for the most of the day. I believe it is best to find the middle ground between the two purposes, wherever you are travelling. Choose an accommodation in which you feel safe, comfortable and can call home for however long you will be staying. At the same time, if you know you won’t be staying indoors for a significant amount of time during your visit, don’t pour the majority of your budget into the rental. Seek the absolute necessary amenities when you are booking your living quarters: security alarm, lockable safe, laundry, WiFi, spare blankets, HVAC, the list goes on.
AirBnb is the metropolis of affordable accommodation in Istanbul. With penthouses and sea view apartments dotted around the city, you are bound to find something that is within your budget, desired area and interior taste. Fatih is close to the main centre and apartments often a pebbles throw from historic sites, such as Ayasofya and the Blue Mosque. Whereas Karaköy is lively with plenty of energy bustling into the early-hours. It is the New York City of the Mediterranean, and is closer to the tourist hotspots, like Taksim Square and Galata Tower.
Istanbul is a sanctuary for delicious street food. There are plenty of eateries where you can prop yourself on a table and choose from a selection of street food staples guaranteed to satiate your tastebuds.
The vast majority of Turkish cuisine is meat and dairy based. This may prove to be difficult for vegans to find suitable dishes. However, many baked dishes are prepared in olive oil rather than dairy products. Additionally, plenty of mezze is suitable for vegetarians, including the traditional simit.
Halal food is available everywhere. Thus, a fantastic culinary expedition for folks hailing from the ‘Shires where halal Burger Kings and Subways are few and far inbetween. Take the opportunity and visit the fast food chains. I know some try not to toy with their own feelings because the only way we can taste a Big Mac once again is on our next long-haul flight to the MENAT regions, but… Burger King’s Barbecue Brioche Whopper. That’s all I’m saying. My personal favourite area is Peykhane Caddesi. This is a street of restaurants near the Blue Mosque offering tenfold of traditional Turkish food. The friendly neighbourhood rapidly became our dining hotspot for dinner every night!
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Ahsana Nabilah is an innovative Software Developer, strong advocate for women in tech, supportive mentor, energising public speaker and successful tech and beauty blogger. Beyond her day-job responsibilities and Firmwide diversity, equity, and inclusion commitments, Ahsana Nabilah actively engages with the local community by encouraging others to consider a future in technology. She had collaborated with non-profit organisation Hack Pompey to host annual hackathons in Portsmouth, with a focus on increasing representation of minorities within technology. Hack Pompey had welcomed 150+ attendees and conceived projects on a range of themes including gaming, space, and social planning. Most recently, she has teamed with social enterprise Code First Girls as a Coding Instructor to upskill women in the UK in frontend development. Under the self-titled blog, ahsanabilah, her site has amassed 4000+ views and 2000+ visitors worldwide, helping her challenge gender bias in technology, spotlighting that individuals can be feminine and technical, and aiming to inspire the new generation of technologists. Ahsana Nabilah has a degree in BSc (Hons) Computing from the University of Portsmouth, where she was also awarded the School of Computing Prize for the Best Business Solutions project out of the 270+ student body. She was also the valedictorian for her graduating class of 2017, delivering the student speaker speech on behalf of the School of Computing and the School of Education & Childhood Studies. Throughout her degree, she was a proud ambassador for the Faculty of Technology, often participating in University and Departmental Open Day Q&A panels to encourage prospective students and their parents to attend the University of Portsmouth. Furthermore, she was the co-founding member and Vice President of the TEDxUniversityOfPortsmouth society, having victoriously campaigned to the Student Union to ratify the society and securing 170+ members.