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Going to Istanbul in December. Help with itinerary please.

Kuwait
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Going to Istanbul in December. Help with itinerary please.

Hi, everyone.

We are so excited to visit Istanbul this coming December! This will be our first visit.

I have read and re-read many itinerary from this forum. All is very helpful, yet I still need to fill some gaps on my travel plan. We have an 11 year old daughter and a 3 year old son. I know my eldest will gladly hit the streets all day and all night without a problem. But we'd like a relax itinerary for the sake of her little brother.

So here is my first draft:

Day 1 (25 Dec, Wednesday) arriving at 6 am

- Go to our hotel in Sultanahmet, we'll be coming from Kuwait - a three hour flight. So probably just rest and freshen up for a couple of hours.

- Start around 9:00 to Blue Mosque

- Then Hagia Sophia

- Walk around Gulhane Park and perhaps have lunch there

- Proceed to Basilica Cistern

- Back to hotel

Day 2

- Topkapi Palace first thing in the morning

- Lunch

- around 2pm go to Grand Bazaar

- After that we are going to meet some friends...

Day 3

- 9am to Miniaturk

- 11am take a ferry to haskoy pier and see Rahmi Koc Museum

- Lunch

- not sure where else to go. please give suggestions.

Day 4

- Hippodrome

- New Mosque

- Spice Bazaar

- Lunch at Galata Bridge

- Galata Tower

- Thinking of going to Taksim Square and Istiklal Street in the afternoon

Day 5

- No idea what to do in the morning, but we would like to visit Ortakoy in the late afternoon. (Perhaps Yildiz park before Ortakoy? I'm not sure.)

Day 6

- Still blank. Bosphorus short cruise perhaps? How cold is that in the winter? Any other ideas would be great!

Day 7

- It's a Tuesday, and I'd really like to visit Kadikoy Tuesday market. So, that's the plan for this day. We'd probably return to the hotel late afternoon.

Day 8

Our last day. We have a midnight flight, so there is still plenty of time during the day.

Any ideas what to do on our last day?

I know Cappodacia and Ephesus are awesome, but we'd like to just stay in Istanbul.

We appreciate your help. Many thanks!

Tallinn, Estonia
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1. Re: Going to Istanbul in December. Help with itinerary please.

Things I noticed - Hippodrome is next to Blue Mosque so I think it would be good to do on your first day when you are going to Blue Mosque. First day is also quite "short"...you have plenty of time after lunch. It's also really nice to walk around Blue Mosque after it's dark outside so you can visit Hippodrome also in the evening.

4th day: There was a topic where people told not so good things about eating at Galata Bridge. And as I told you earlier, I would put Hippodrome to the first day. Taksim square and Istiklal street are ´must do'. So go there after Galata Tower definitely!

Day 5: You could go to Rumeli Hisari in the morning, if you are into that kind of things.

Kuwait
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2. Re: Going to Istanbul in December. Help with itinerary please.

Ok, will move Hippodrome to day 1.

Hmmm.. I missed that topic about eating at Galata bridge. Thanks for pointing that out.

Kuwait
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3. Re: Going to Istanbul in December. Help with itinerary please.

Ok, will move Hippodrome to day 1.

Hmmm.. I missed that topic about eating at Galata bridge. Thanks for pointing that out.

California, USA
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4. Re: Going to Istanbul in December. Help with itinerary please.

I'd also reverse the order of your day one and do Hagia Sophia first. By 9am there will already be long lines to get into the Blue Mosque so the timing in this case won't matter so much. However, if you can get into Hagia Sophia right when it opens you might have a chance to see a bit before it's completely flooded with people.

Mount Dora, Florida
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5. Re: Going to Istanbul in December. Help with itinerary please.

On Day Three you cannot do Minaturk and the Koc Museum before lunch. We have lunch at the museum and spend the entire day there, and if we had our grandchildren we would probably have to spend the night. I'd enjoy a leisurely start, and visit Minaturk. Then I would spend enough time at the museum to see many of the things and let the children turn the knobs and wheels, and push the buttons, and be sure they go into the submarine and get their Official Submariners Certificate.

If the children are still walking you could spend the last part of the afternoon exploring a neighborhood. I would probably walk around Sirkeci or if I finished with the museum in time I would visit Eyup and the Pierri Lotti Cafe for a beverage and views of sunset.

I do not eat at the Galata Bridge. Some folks love the seafood there. I don't. Istiklal Street is not a "must do" for me, but as a first time visitor to the city, you should get a glimpse of a bit more modern elements of the city.

I would try to take a short trip on the Bosphorus. Dress the children warmly, but do it. We take the full day Bosphorus Cruise every November. It is chilly, but it is still one of my favorite things to do in Istanbul.

To fill the holes in your schedule I would suggest a visit to one or two of the 100+ modern and sophisticate malls in the city, but I noticed you live in Kuwait. I am afraid that even the glamor of Istanbul cannot compete with the malls you have at home. I have not yet been to Kuwait, but my daughter's husband has a huge extended family who live there, and I have seen many, many photos. On the other hand, when the sisters visit us from Kuwait, all they want to do is go shopping because everything in the US is much less expensive than it is in Kuwait. So maybe you would find Turkish malls to be a similar bargain.

You should certainly spend at least one full day in Kadikoy. Go to the bazaar, Then walk around the fresh food stalls. Have lunch at the famous Ciya. Then walk back down the street and take the children to the candy store on the corner. Then walk about half way down that block to Baylon and have a coup grillet, the best ice cream sundae you may ever eat in your life. I always spend at least two days in Kadikoy because there is so much eating involved:-)

There is a new amusement park in Istanbul called Vialand. I have not yet visited it, and since I live in the heart of the world's amusement parks I do not have huge expectations, but children do not know the difference between outrageous fancy rides, and things that might be more simple. They just like the color and the music and the movement. You could easily spend an entire day there.

I never plan any activity for my last day because I have to hurry around and buy all the things I originally decided we didn't need. I have to pack my suitcases, which takes us a couple of hours. We budget several hours to say good-by to the folks in our neighborhood and the staff of our hotel, but you probably will not do that.

Sometimes we go to the Galata Bridge and watch the fisherman. They are more successful in December. It is the season for fresh fish, so be sure to try some when you are dining out. There are many things you would have time to do. You could go to the Toy Museum. You could visit an important mosque like Suleymaniye. You would have time to cross the Bosphorus and spend some time in Kadikoy if you did not get to eat everything on your first visit.

I have learned the joy of unplanned time, of walking down a new street and stopping for a glass of tea and conversation with Turkish people. I recognize this is more difficult with little ones, but perhaps you will have time to wander a little and get a feeling for how the people of Istanbul outside of the tourist district live.

Kuwait
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6. Re: Going to Istanbul in December. Help with itinerary please.

Ellhest, I'll reverse the order like you said. thanks for the tip!

Busy-retired, home to me is Jakarta-Indonesia which has even more sophisticated malls than Kuwait, believe it or not. Although we enjoy living in Kuwait as well. Perhaps the sisters should come visit Jakarta sometime :-) Anyway, malls would be our last resort. Would like to avoid them if we can. But thanks so much for the many suggestions. Toy museum, Sulaimaniye Mosque, Bosphorus cruise, Vialand, Eyup and Pierri Lotti, now my itinerary won't be too empty.

And you are right... I think it's better to leave the last day unplanned.

Will work on my itinerary now. I might have other questions later, but thanks so much everyone for all your inputs! We're excited!!

Mount Dora, Florida
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7. Re: Going to Istanbul in December. Help with itinerary please.

I would suggest Indonesia to the sisters, but I do not want the family to spend precious vacation time anywhere other than visiting us. I am not a shopper. If I cannot order it delivered to my door by Amazon or some other online store I generally just live without it. I love the bazaars and outdoor markets in Istanbul. I even like walking in the little shops and stores. I have to admit that I also enjoy the high fashion malls in Istanbul. I love the Sapphire Mall. I like the Kanyon Mall just for the design. I love the malls that have unique entertainment opportunities like amusement park rides or this amazing place filled with snow where you can slide down a hill, or try your skills on a snowboard. I like unique things. I also have to do a reality check because we lived in Turkey in the 1960s, and I would never have predicted that this country would grow in such a rapid and sophisticated manner. Shopping in the US, however, is torture, and shopping in a US mall even more so.

There are, however, lots of acitivites for children in malls.

In the middle of the night I remembered another place your children would enjoy. There is an amazing aquarium at Floraya. It is themed around different areas, and has clever little diaoramas around the different displays. Many of the fish are presented in glass bubble that seem to float in the air. You can walk through places where there are fish swimming over your head or under your feet. There is an amazing Amaxon-like rain forest. It is just a fantastic place and could favorably compete with any aquarium in the world. It would be a great place to spend two or three hours.

Kuwait
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8. Re: Going to Istanbul in December. Help with itinerary please.

Busy-retired,

I like me some fancy malls as well occasionally :-) though having lived in both Jakarta and Kuwait, I mostly go there to escape from the heat and just window shopping. As I prefer to buy bargain things. Speaking of bargain things, I read that the Grand Bazaar is quite expensive. Where would be a better place to shop for some traditional turkeyish things like plates, coffee/tea pot etc?

I like the aquarium idea! Jakarta has Sea World with the same concept of having fish above and under your feet. But of course kids can't get enough of staring at sea creatures, so I will definitely add that to my list.

Oh, a question on bosphorus cruise. Is it possible to combine it with a late afternoon at Ortakoy? Should I take the Sehit Hatlari or Turyol?

Melbourne, Australia
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9. Re: Going to Istanbul in December. Help with itinerary please.

As nice as Kadikoy tuesday market is I think it is slowly losing its charm and there is talk of getting rid of it altogether in favour of the ubiquitous shopping centres that are popping up around all the time.

In its place I'd recommend you to visit the Fatih market which is on wednesdays. Together with that you could devote a whole day to the area visiting Fatih, Mihrimah Sultan, Sehzade, Ismail Aga mosque, Valens aquaduct, Chora Museum, Fevzi Pasa Caddesi (main road that runs thru Fatih) has some lovely shops on it that has plenty on offer.

Another street pazar I would recommend is the Bakirkoy market which is on saturdays.

I'll also be in Turkey around the same time and intend to visit both of these.

Mount Dora, Florida
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10. Re: Going to Istanbul in December. Help with itinerary please.

The Grand Bazaar is rather strange. Some years I go and everything is priced so high that the thought of bargaining it down to a fair price is more work than I am interested in doing for some trinket to bring home. Other years those trinkets seem to be priced reasonable. Last year I bought most of the trinket stuff at the Grand Bazaar. I gathered up a bunch of inexpensive silver jewelry and some ceramic bowls and plates and a few evil eyes, and a couple of other things. I asked the price of every object as I picked it up. When I had a little stack of items, I offered him exactly 50% of what the total would have been based on his original prices. I was prepared to move up, but he just accepted. You know that always makes you feel as if you should have offered less. At any rate, last year the Grand Bazaar was the least expensive place I shopped.

The year before things were crazy expensive. Instead of spending 40TL for a silver ring, they wanted 800TL. I just did not want to be jerked around like that so we left. Many times I really prefer shopping in the tiny Arasta Bazaar located on the side of the Blue Mosque. It is very tiny, but when you recognize that many shops in the Grand Bazaar sell exactly the same merchandise, you do have a bit of opportunity for selection in the Arasta Bazaar.

If you are staying in Sultanahmet you might just take 30 minutes and walk through the Arasta Bazaar to get some idea of prices. Then you can visit the Grand Bazaar and decide if they are unreasonable. There are some other areas where you can find very inexpensive gift items. The tiny streets that run down hill from the back of the Grand Bazaar to the Spice Bazaar are steep and narrow, but they are lined with shops, and merchandise is almost always less expensive here. Shops group themselves by their merchandise. You will find a street that sells only luggage. Another street may sell only children's clothing. There is this crazy little block where every store sells only zippers.....millions and millions of zippers. So if you find yourself on a long street of merchandise that does not interest you, just move over to another street.

Near the bottom of the hill, about 75% of the way to the Spice Bazaar there are shops that sell jewelry making supplies, beads, crystals, findings, gold wire etc. In this same area there are several quite nice looking shops that sell fashion jewelry. I have purchased many things from these three stores. The jewelry is really cheap, but it holds up as well as similar things I would buy in the US, and it is about 75% less expensive.

I always have to give my Grand Bazaar tip. There are 4000 shops in the Grand Bazaar. If you find something you like, but decide to look around a bit and then return, either just buy it while you are there or get a business card from the merchant. I know that you believe that you can easily retrace your steps, but I have never met anyone who can do this except some of the people who have worked there for many years. I have wasted many precious hours in Istanbul trying to find a shop that I knew was just two blocks down and a turn to the right. Get a business card with an address so you can find the store again.

Two years ago I bought some very unique pendants made of gold and semi-precious stones. Everyone at home loved them. I resolved to take more home as gifts. I absolutely know exactly where that shop is. Absolutely!! Last year we went to the Grand Bazaar specifically to purchase four more of these pendants. The shop was not where it was last year, except that the people in the current shop insisted they had been in that location for 20 years. It was just two stores on the right side in from the exit near the tram stop. I can still clearly see it in my mind. I could pass a lie detector I so confident of where that shop is. We went to every exit on that side of the bazaar. Then we went to every other exit. I could not find that shop. Fortunately I found some similar pendants, but only at one shop in all of the bazaar, and they were buried under a bunch of other stuff. I had to have the young man fish them out for me.

And my final tip for the bazaar. Sometimes I get too caught up in the bargaining process. The pendants I mentioned I had paid $75USD for in 2011. The shop keeper in 2012 wanted $150USD. We negotiated, and I could not get him below $90USD. I walked away, even though they were the only things I really wanted to bring home from Istanbul. Of course I thought I would just go back the following day and pay $90USD if that was the best deal I could get. The next day we had to catch the tram back to the Grand Bazaar and then walk almost the complete length of the Grand Bazaar to purchase the pendants. I am sure I must have looked like death warmed over. The shop keeper ushered me into his shop, gave me a chair and ordered tea. He also sold me the pendants for $85USD each. However, saving $20USD for four pieces of jewelry was not worth the time, expense and effort required to return to the bazaar. So.....do not get so involved in the process that you damage your schedule and waste energy.

There are no performing sea creatures at the aquarium I mentioned at Florya. There is some type of entertainment place that supposedly does some dolphin acts in the spirit of Sea World. We do not mention it on the forum, and we never suggest it. The poor fish and mammals are kept in deplorable conditions. I accepted the experience of the first forum expert that went to this place. I did not need to pay to see abused animals for myself. Some one might mention it as an alternative to a Sea World type of experience, but the two places could not be more different. I would go to the aquarium in Florya long before I went to the other place.