We recently returned from 4.5 days in Istanbul. Rather than a long trip report, here is a quick list of impressions, focusing on practical matters:
1. Covering Istanbul reasonably well takes 3 days. Two in Sultanahmet and one for the Bosphorus and Villages.
2. Istiklal St. and Taksim Sq are not worth the time or energy. There is nothing there to see. No interesting stores or sights. Apart from the Galata Tower, there is very little worth bothering about in new town.
3. Don’t waste a full on the full Bosphorus cruise. It isn’t that interesting apart from historical interest and looks the same going both ways. Spending 3 hours sitting around a small village is wasted time. We got off in Sariyer (1:15 min) took the bus to Rumeli Castle, looked around, had tea by the Bosphorus, walked to Babek, took the bus to Kabatas tramline. That’s a good Bosphorus trip. Alternatively, I would take the 2 hours circular cruise.
4. For pure romance, it is hard to beat sitting on your hotel roof at night with the floodlit Blue Mosque hanging in the background a few hundred feet away.
5. If you go to Topaki, get there first thing in morning and go directly to the Treasury. Topkapi gets mobbed by midmorning and the Treasury most of all. Expect a long visit since there are many buildings and a lot to see.
6. The tramline is a great and is your best friend in Istanbul.
7. Google maps are highly inaccurate for Istanbul. Do not rely on them for navigation.
8. As I expected, the grand bazaar was barely worth a walkthrough. It could easily be skipped. Same with the spice bazaar.
9. Despite what guidebooks say, the rule that women must wear head coverings in mosques is not enforced (at least in the tourist areas where we were). Many women had uncovered heads. Unlike what the guidebooks say, there were also no people handing out loaner scarves for women who don’t have one.
10. The constant pushy salesmen get to be annoying. They also really hurt you interaction with the locals because you can’t tell who is just being friendly and who wants something from you. I’m afraid that we blew off and insulted some genuinely friendly people because we couldn’t tell them from the annoying touts when they approached us just trying to be helpful.