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  • Writer's pictureMunira Ishak

Istanbul Chronicles: A Solo Journey through Rich History and Vibrant Culture

Updated: Jul 26, 2023

Hi, I'm Munira, a PMI Certified Project Manager and Business Travel Expert residing in Dubai. I enjoy traveling the world and mixing business with leisure. I often add on days to my business trips to explore new places.

I share my tips and advice on how to plan and execute successful short excursion days. I will also share my personal experiences from my travels, so you can learn from my mistakes and successes. In this blog, I took a short trip just after a project well done as a celebration before embarking on a new project.

I hope you enjoy my blog and find it helpful in your own travels.


Istanbul, a city that connects continents, attracts travelers with its rich history, vibrant culture, and lively streets. In November 2022, I went on an unforgettable journey to this enchanting city, discovering its hidden gems and experiencing its warm hospitality. Join me as I share my four-night itinerary, filled with immersive tours, delicious food, and captivating experiences.

Day 1: Tour of Alternative Istanbul - Unveiling the City's Hidden Charms

To kickstart my Istanbul adventure, I chose the "Tour of Alternative Istanbul" at 2 pm. This off-the-beaten-path exploration allowed me to discover lesser-known gems of the city. We began the tour by exploring the fascinating Book Market, where shelves piled high with literary treasures offered a glimpse into Turkish culture. While most books were in Turkish, their presence conveyed the richness of the local literary scene. Istanbul University, a renowned institution with a long history, impressed me with its architectural grandeur.

The Süleymaniye Mosque and Rustem Pasha Mosque stood out with their intricate architecture and peaceful atmosphere. I wandered through the lively Tahtakale Bazaar and Spice Bazaar, immersed in a world of vibrant colors, scents, and the lively banter of traders and tourists.

To top it off, we crossed the iconic Galata Bridge, enjoying panoramic views of the city and the glistening waters of the Bosphorus. It was a day filled with hidden treasures and a glimpse into the local life that pulses through Istanbul.

Sites Visited:

• Book Market

• Istanbul University

• Süleymaniye Mosque

• Rustem Pasha Mosque

• Tahtakale Bazaar

• Spice Bazaar

• Galata Bridge

Day 2: Old Town Tour - A Glimpse into Istanbul's Rich History

Immersing myself in Istanbul's rich historical tapestry, I embarked on the "Old Town Tour" in the morning. The day was filled with fascinating encounters and captivating stories that transported me back in time. Our first stop was the impressive German Fountain, a neo-Byzantine masterpiece gifted by Kaiser Wilhelm II, showcasing the city's multicultural influences.

Exploring the Hippodrome, I couldn't help but imagine the past chariot races and gladiator battles that once took place there. The Hagia Sophia, an architectural marvel with a storied past, left a lasting impression as I marveled at its grandeur. While I could only admire the Blue Mosque from the outside, its elegant domes and intricate tilework showcased the craftsmanship of the era.

The Sultan Cemetery and the Column of Constantine the Great provided glimpses into Istanbul's imperial history, while the Nuri Osmaniye Mosque offered a serene space for reflection. As I navigated the enchanting labyrinth of the Grand Bazaar, I indulged in the sights, sounds, and scents of Turkish craftsmanship.

Sites visited:

• German Fountain

• Hippodrome

• Hagia Sophia

• Blue Mosque

• Sultan Cemetery

• Column of Constantine the Great

• Nuri Osmaniye Mosque

• Grand Bazaar

• Corlulu Ali Pasha Madrasah

In the evening, I joined the "Tour From Taksim Square to the Galata Bridge," immersing myself in Istanbul's vibrant streets. Along İstiklâl Street, I encountered historical churches, mosques, and synagogues, each reflecting the diverse fabric of Turkish society. The tour concluded with a captivating view of the Suleymaniye Mosque, proudly standing against the backdrop of the Golden Horn River.

Sites visited:

• Taksim Square and Istiklal (Independence Monument)

• Taksim Mosque

• İstiklâl Street

• Nostalgic Tram and the 2nd oldest Funicular in the World

• French, Greek, Dutch, Swedish and Russian Consulates

• Galatasaray School

• Yenikapı Dervish Lodge

• Galata Tower

• Galata Bankers Street

• St Antuan Church

• Neve Shalom Synagogue

• Kamondo Stairs

• Galata Old City Walls

• Viewpoint on Golden Horn River and Galata Bridge

Day 3: A Tale of Two Continents - Exploring Local Life in Istanbul

Eager to experience Istanbul beyond the old town, I embarked on the "A Tale of Two Continents" tour. Starting in Karaköy, a vibrant neighborhood on the European side, I was fascinated by the blend of history and modernity. Charming streets led me to trendy cafes where I enjoyed Turkish tea and delectable pastries.

A short ferry ride across the Bosphorus brought me to Kadıköy, a bustling district on the Asian side. Here, I immersed myself in the local life, exploring lively markets bursting with colors and flavors. The famous eateries, fruit and fish markets, and traditional shops provided a glimpse into the culinary traditions and daily rhythms of Istanbul's locals. The vibrant atmosphere of the weekend, with people gathering with friends and family, added to the authenticity of the experience.

The day culminated with a true taste of local cuisine, where I dined like a local, savoring the richness and diversity of Turkish gastronomy. This journey bridged continents, expanded my horizons, and deepened my appreciation for Istanbul's vibrant soul.

Day 4: Self-Exploration, Indulgence, and Retail Therapy

On my final full day in Istanbul, I decided to explore at my own pace. Roaming the streets, I delighted in the diverse culinary offerings and treated myself to some retail therapy. Istanbul's markets and bazaars were a treasure trove of unique handicrafts, spices, and traditional Turkish delights. From authentic Turkish tea sets to exquisite textiles, I found souvenirs to suit my taste.

Departure: Reflecting on a Memorable Journey

As I bid farewell to Istanbul, I couldn't help but be grateful for the delightful experiences I encountered during my solo adventure. The city welcomed me with open arms, and the warm hospitality of its people will forever hold a special place in my heart. Istanbul had unfolded its secrets before me, and I departed with cherished memories, a deeper understanding of its history and culture, and a profound appreciation for its vibrant soul.

Travel Tips:

Time of the Year: The best time to visit Istanbul is mid-spring, in April and May, and also fall, from September to October. During these times the Turkish capital enjoys pleasantly mild weather.

Location to stay: I stayed in the old city – Sultanahmet area, which is the quieter area but plenty of grocery shops, and restaurants. If you're on a budget, I recommend staying in the Sultanahmet area, which is close to many of the major tourist attractions. If you're looking for a more luxurious stay, consider the Beyoglu or Galata districts. You may stay in Taksim area which is more modern.

Public Transport in Istanbul: When it comes to getting around Istanbul, I found the city's public transport system to be efficient and convenient. To make my travels smoother, I purchased an Istanbulkart, a rechargeable smart card that can be used on buses, trams, metros, and ferries. It was easily obtainable at kiosks and metro stations, and I simply loaded it with credit to pay for my rides. Of course, my most favourite mode is walking. Driving or hiring a driver within Istanbul is not recommended as the traffics are quite congested.

Cards and Cash: Istanbul is generally card-friendly, and credit cards are widely accepted. However, it's advisable to carry some cash for smaller establishments or when visiting local markets or coffee kiosks.

Traveling Tips for Solo Female Travelers: 🚶‍♀️

As a solo female traveler, it is essential to prioritize your safety while exploring Istanbul. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

Stay Alert: Be aware of your surroundings and trust your instincts. Avoid poorly lit areas at night and always stay on well-populated streets.

Dress Respectfully: Istanbul is a blend of cultures, and dressing modestly can help you navigate the city more comfortably. Respect local customs and cover your shoulders and knees when visiting religious sites.

Avoid Isolated Areas: Stick to well-known areas and avoid secluded places, particularly at night. It's always safer to explore in groups or with a reputable tour guide. Even if I walk back to my hotel after the sun has set, I make sure I avoid dark and empty roads, and always have a confident body language (act like you belong!)

Be Cautious with Strangers: Exercise caution when interacting with strangers. While most locals are friendly and helpful, it's essential to maintain personal boundaries and avoid sharing too much personal information such as your hotel location or the fact that you are travelling alone. I was even invited to free meals etc during my walk in to grocery stores and restaurants.

Remember, solo travel is empowering and allows you to create your own journey. With a balance of caution and an open mind, Istanbul promises an enriching experience for female travelers. Embrace the city's charm, indulge in its flavors, and cherish the memories you create along the way. Safe travels! ✈️🌍💫

🚨 Safety Caution: It is essential to note that Istanbul has experienced historical attacks in the city center. While this shouldn't deter you from visiting, it's important to remain mentally prepared and prioritize your safety. Always travel with comprehensive travel insurance and stay informed about the current security situation in the city.

I'm a personalised travel advisor based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates and if you'd like me to organise your business or leisure trips submit your travel request and let's get on that discovery call.

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