Every tourist who chooses to come to Istanbul knows about colorful & authentic Grand and Spice Bazaars. These places sell mostly souvenirs, jewellery, leather and carpet for tourists. If you are looking about modern day shopping ie. clothes, shoes, etc you have lots of other choices in this huge city. First of all Europe's most largest shopping mall has been opened last year called Cevahir in Mecidiyekoy district. You can directly reach it by underground from Taksim or take simply a taxi. It has hundreds of men&women clothes shops with decent prices as well as a fast food court, a supermarket, a DIY shop and furniture shops. Akmerkez in Etiler, Kanyon and Metrocity are the other great shopping centres. Akmerkez and Kanyon has a good collection of designer shops like Harvey Nichols (Kanyon) or GANT (Akmerkez). Kanyon has an awesome architecture. You actually shop at the outside. It has many nice outdoor cafes that you can sit and relax. Galleria which is the oldest shopping centre of Istanbul is good for people who stays at the old part close to the airport. Profilo is the modest  and smallest them all in Mecidiyekoy area. All them has either cash machines or bank branches inside so dont worry about the money! However unlike the Bazaars you can't haggle with the sellers in these places yet you can be sure that you would never be ripped off.

If you like outdoor shopping Nisantasi area is just for you! From designer shops to the modest range ones it offers good choices. The area also very lively with its cafes, restaurants, bars theathers, concert halls, beautiful 19th century apartments.  Even if you don't like shopping why not stroll around to see the lively atmosphere, laughing locals at the cafes and beautiful flowers from the vendors?

 While Nisantasi area is the landmark for the European side of Istanbul, Bagdat Street is the landmark of Asian side. If you stay in European side it might be further away for you but if you like sea travel ling take a ferry from Eminonu to Kadıkoy and then small buses called dolmus to the street. The street is much wider and longer than Nisantasi and very popular with youngsters! Like Nisantasi a wide selection of shops and entertainment will be waiting for you here too!.Enjoy!

Historic Sites, Museums

***Links for the attractions and sights below should lead to TripAdvisor listings or the official website. Tour company links are NOT allowed.***

There are so many, but here are the biggies. Any travel book has info on them so there is no comment on what to specifically see or expect:

Must Sees

1. Topkapi Palace is a world class treasure – not only for some of the architecture or artefacts, but to glimpse the life than Sultans led (and the Harem women). Plan 3-4 hours.   Audio guides available for purchase in Multilanguage for 10 Lira and worth every penny.   Arrive early – get there by 9am even though the Harem is not open until 10am and just before then hordes of people (in the hundreds) arrived by bus in tour groups.

2. Blue Mosque is a spectacular building, plan 40 minutes

3. Haghia Sophia is another magnificent building, plan 90 minutes

4. Basilica Cistern is a great place to visit in the heat of day, plan 60-75 minutes

5. Dolmabahce Palace

is also a great to visit and 14 mins from istanbul

Should Sees

6. Galata Tower , fabulous views great place to snap pictures, worth the admission price

7. Galata Bridge, better to walk under on both sides in both directions, great place to sit in the evening, have a beer and look at the Topkapi Palace, the Haghia Sophia and the Blue Mosque

8. Kariye Müzesi – Chora church. Church/museum with beautiful mosaics and frescos. It’s near the land wall so go admire it too.    

Could Sees

9. Archaeological Museum is interesting but not a must see. Plan 75 minutes

10. New Eminonu Mosque (if you pray here, participating in the washing of your hands, feet, face and prayers) even if you are not Muslim just respectful of the host country.   Plan 30 minutes after the call for prayer.   You can put your sandals in the plastic bags and carried them with you – and of course wore pants not shorts. You might see younger children being instructed by older worshipers about how to conduct themselves: how to stand, bend, kneel, etc. you might learn as well.

Cultural, Day Trips, Other Sightseeing tours of Istanbul

Must Do

1 Bosphorus Cruise on the Ferry.   This was so relaxing with great vistas.   Enjoy a meal, have a haircut, a shave and a few beers at Anadolu Kavagi.   Ferry trip costs almost nothing and is a great break from the City proper (although the skyline of Istanbul is ever present). 

2. Taksim Square and Istiklal Caddesi and streets off it are full of life – bars and restaurants and people everywhere.   Great to spend evenings in and around this area.

3. Cagaloglu Hamami.   A bit of a rip off for what you get, the masseuse might hound you for money afterwards, but it will be worth the exp. of being there.   Great architecture and worth the price just to see it.   

Should Do

4.  Whirling Dervishes at the Mevlevi Monastery were very enjoyable, but a tad long.   Nice gift shop inside which you visit first to buy items at it was closed on the way out after the 2 nd show and many people were disappointed.

Could Do

5. Bus Tour of Istanbul from the Sultanahmet (audio guide provided in English).   You could see a few places you would not have otherwise – and if time permits this is always a great introduction to any city.

6. Princes Islands and horse carriage ride (this was OK but the Island needs a real cleanup in particular the back 90 as it is littered with garbage everywhere – plan 45-60 minutes for the carriage ride) and plan to be disappointed if they do not clean it up.   Plan a half day for the excursion trip at a minimum.

7. Tram and Train trips – cheap way to see the best and worst areas of the City – do this where ever you go.   Use the Abkil pass – it works well, saves time and frustration buying jetons (tokens), is easy to use and saves a few bucks.

Shopping

While the Grand Bazaar is a must see place for a visit, it is not necessarily the best place to buy anything other than souvenirs.   You will see that the Grand Bazaar must have abounded in exotic goods from all corners of the world at one time.   Today however, it is full of trinkets, junk, knock offs – albeit there are carpets galore and of course hundreds of small jewellery places.   Its “buyer beware” here.   This is not the place to come to on your first day or two upon arrival and should be left to visit when you have some strength and energy to deal with the sheer size of the place and to withstand the constant banter and calls trying to get you to buy things.  You can price out some jewellery items in the Grand Bazaar and compared the prices to larger stand alone jewellery stores located elsewhere in Istanbul – and opted to purchase from these stores rather than the Grand Bazaar based on price, reputation and some local advice.   Notwithstanding, you can observe many women in Muslin dress negotiating prices on rings and bracelets in the Grand Bazaar, indicative that they are capable of evaluating the authenticity jewellery and craftsmanship at a price they like.  

The Spice Bazaar and street surrounding it is much more interesting, and worthy of some time to explore.   If you like to shop for shawls one of the streets has store after store of shawls and such and you might have to fight your way through all the women buying!.   Taksim offers some shopping, but the real shopping is in malls, back streets of Istanbul and those around the Grand Bazaar.   You can buy some very nice art, some prints, pottery, jewellery, and souvenirs – and certainly ended up with extra luggage, which you should plan for.

Food and Eating Out

Eat everything everywhere.   By and large the food is very good – but you might come down with “travellers upset”.   Here are some of the places:

(1) Haci Abdullah off Istiklal Caddesi which was excellent and an ISO 9000 certified restaurant – spotlessly clean (bathrooms in particular) with exceptional food, nice wines,

(2) Haci Babas (right off Taksim Sq.) which had excellent service, good food and a great wine list

(3) Kalamar (Fish Restaurant) in Beyoglu at the apex of Nevizade, good service, nice mezes, fresh fish, enjoy a nice bottle of white “BUGU” Emir 2004, 35 Lira

(4) Tarih Koftecisi in the Sultanahmet (lunch twice) great food, busy   

(5) Cennet in the Sultanahmet, had Turkish ravioli, lamb kabob (be careful about choosing the yoghurt dishes however as refrigeration may be a problem here)

(6) countless other places to eat and drink, like Efes or Tubourg (which is now brewed in Istanbul) beer while listening to live music or watching the world go by.

Final Thoughts

While is Istanbul is not Turkey , it is the major gateway to Turkey and for many visitors provides a first impression to the country.   Istanbul leaves a favourable impression and may tweak your interest in a second visit at the beginning or end of a trip to other parts of Turkey.

There are some downsides of Istanbul, and while not meaning to be offensive, you might be disappointed with:

(1) lack of bi-lingual language at major tourist sites and places tourists are likely to frequent (in English is the world’s business and tourism language), and

(2) lack of garbage cans which should be provided everywhere (none are evident anywhere and in particular the entire length of Istiklal Caddesi and anywhere in Taksim or Beyoglu) and the back streets off Istiklal Caddesi are littered – you will see many plastic bottles in the Bosphorus and elsewhere.   Istanbul needs to take action on these items if it wishes to portray a clean and inviting image.   Other than that – Istanbul was simply GREAT!