Eight Istanbul Tips

Friend’s question: We’re going to Istanbul in a few days. Any tips?

My response:

  1. Buy the harem upgrade at Topkapi Palace.
  2. The Basilica Cistern, near Hagia Sophia, is a perfect escape from the heat.
  3. If the line to Hagia Sophia is long, then pay the slight premium to hire one of the roving guides, who will usher you to the front — and, unless you’re already an expert, enhance your experience inside.
  4. If you go to a whirling dervish show/ceremony (such as the one at the Sirkeci station), then sit by the door so you can leave discreetly, if desired, once you get the gist of it.
  5. Eat lots of Turkish Delight. Hafiz Mustafa seemed to be the major purveyor, and while for all I know the locals may consider it to be the White Castle of Turkish Delight, it delighted our uneducated palates so frequently and so mercilessly that Edmund’s surrender to the White Witch made complete sense.
  6. Be very, very judicious in selecting a Turkish Bath, or Hamami. Avoid Tarihi Galatasaray in the Taksim Square neighborhood; nearby Ağa comes on higher recommendations.
  7. If you’re planning any excursions elsewhere in the country, the Skyscanner app includes several regional budget airlines (e.g., Pegasus, Atlas, SunExpress) that the Kayaks and Travelocities don’t appear to cover, or at least didn’t. Turkey’s bigger than Texas, and you’ll be pleased at how inexpensively those smaller carriers can help you to cover a lot of ground.
  8. And a minor detail: Don’t be there during or in the several days immediately following a major Muslim holy day (e.g., Ramadan), because the Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar, among other attractions, will probably be closed.