After two months of travelling we’ve just arrived in Turkey, our second to last country of this trip and are really excited to be here! We will be spending almost three weeks exploring this incredible country in depth with Neyzen Travel and Yachting, the leaders in luxurious custom designed Turkey travel. Our travels began in Istanbul, the cultural capital of Turkey where we spent three days exploring this incredible city with its mighty Byzantine walls, mysterious underground cisterns, majestic basilicas, opulent Ottoman palaces, breathtakingly beautiful mosques, buzzing markets and the ever-busy Bosphorus strait. Istanbul is a city brimming with culture, history and magic with traditions still alive that are rooted in over 2,500 years of history! Like no other city in the world, the city of Istanbul bridges two continents which has fused cultures, ethnic groups, religions and history in its own extraordinary way and is truly a unique, majestic city.
LUXURY TURKEY TRAVEL WITH NEYZEN
Neyzen Travel & Yachting were established in Bodrum in 1987 and they specialise in overland and sea tours with a cultural emphasis that are designed for the discerning traveller. Neyzen are the foremost provider of luxury vacations in Turkey are are the experts in imaginative and unique travel! We love their vision which is:
“to share an exceptional insight into and respect for the land and culture of Turkey by custom designing experiences that are enchanting and authentic. Neyzen’s aim is to keep alive that indefinable quality that makes travel truly special, while taking the stress out of route and itinerary planning.”
It was Neyzen’s vision, passion and emphasis on cultural and authentic travel experiences that drew us to them in the first place. The further we researched the more we loved about this incredible company. Neyzen Travel & Yachting operate an exclusive fleet of 4 boutique gulets offering luxury yacht charter cruises of the Aegean coastline and Greek Dodecanese Islands which we will be doing in a week’s time! In addition Neyzen are the specialists in tailor made travel and create travel experiences in all of Turkey that are different and unique from other tour operators!
Neyzen locates the very best accommodation in each of their destinations that is full of character and offers real luxury. They seek out the very best activities and excursions. headhunt the best guides, crews and chefs and always pay attention to every single details ensuring they provide their guests with a completely outstanding travel service. We’re very happy to say that only a few days into our three weeks that we have found them to be an incredible travel company like no other and cannot wait to see what the next few weeks in Turkey brings!
OUR TOP THINGS TO DO IN ISTANBUL
When we were planning our trip with Neyzen we decided that we wanted to do the Istanbul leg of the trip on our own. We like strolling around cities, choosing the sights that interest us and having the freedom to explore at our own pace. In addition to organising our accommodation in a fantastic boutique hotel collection which really suited us and our travel needs they also put together a suggested touring itinerary as well as providing us with a wealth of information about travel in Istanbul, it was fantastic and just how we’d hoped to explore Istanbul.
We had issues with getting to Istanbul as our Pegasus flight from Sarajevo was cancelled at the last minute and so we arrived around 9 hours late on a different flight. We were so happy that hoppa, our go-to transfer company were so fantastic in assisting us with our frantic emails and last minute changes to flights. Our transfer driver was waiting for us on time at Istanbul airport and we could not have been anymore grateful for all their assistance during this stressful day. We’ve used hoppa for all our airport transfer needs over the past two years and whether you are flying into Istanbul Airport or anywhere else then we can’t recommend them more highly. Every transfer has run smoothly, our drivers have always been waiting to collect us on time and after a long journey there is nothing better than having someone waiting with a sign with your name on it to pick you up and take you directly to your hotel!
Here are our highlights and recommendations from our Istanbul travels:
The Sultan Ahmed Mosque or Sultan Ahmet Mosque which is mostly popularly known as the Blue Mosque for the beautiful blue tiles which adorn the walls of its interior. It was built from 1609 to 1616 during the rule of Ahmed I and comprises a tomb of the founder, a madrasa and a hospice. In addition to being a popular tourist attraction in Istanbul it is still used as a mosque and is so closed a number of times for 90 minutes at a time throughout the day for daily prayers.
Non-Muslim visitors enter from a separate entrance to Muslims who are going there to pray and entrance is free for all. All visitors are required to take off their shoes and put in plastic bags at the entrance and women and men both need to dress respectfully with women required to cover their hair (you can borrow head scarves and clothing for free at the Blue Mosque). The Blue Mosque is a place of worship so be sure to remain quiet and don’t use flash on your camera!
The Blue Mosque is an incredible place to visit and without a doubt one of the most beautiful buildings I’ve ever seen. It is one of the most famous monuments of Turkish and Islamic Art and is a wonderful example of classical Turkish architecture and is the only mosque that was originally built with an extravagant 6 minarets. It is a must visit when travelling in Istanbul!
The Hagia Sophia is the world’s oldest basilica, built in 537 by the Emperor Justinian in the glory days of Byzantium as one of the attempts to revitalise the dwindling Roman Empire. This Eastern Orthodox cathedral remained the greatest church in Christendom and the seat of the Patriarch of Constantinople for 7 centuries until 1453 when the Ottomans converted it to a mosque. Over the centuries it has had many additions and a cluster of subsidiary buildings have altered the exterior of the church almost beyond recognition, but despite it being converted to a mosque they kept the dazzling Christian mosaics and some of the original features which can still be seen today. The Hagia Sophia was designated as a museum in 1935 and both the beautiful exterior as well as dazzling interior with incredible dome which is considered the epitome of Byzantine architecture leaves visitors speechless by its beauty.
TOPKAPI PALACE & GULHANE PARK
We walked through beautiful Gulhane Park on our way to Topkapi Palace. Gulhane Park was one the outer garden of the Palace which was accessed only by the royal court. Today it is open to everyone and is a beautiful park to stroll through and enjoy the beautiful trees, stunning flowerbeds and beautiful views of the Golden Horn and Sea of Marmara.
Topkapi Palace is the former residence of the Ottoman Sultans and houses some of the world’s finest exhibits of porcelain, jewelry and kaftans, silverware, glassware and clocks as well as Ottoman weaponry, royal treasures, the world’s largest harem, and a cloak and sword belonging to the prophet Mohammed. Topkapi Palace is a UNESCO protected site and is an incredible place to visit to understand the Ottoman history. When Sultan Mehmet II captured Constantinople in 1453, he found the palaces of the Byzantine Emperors in such ruins as to be uninhabitable, so in 1459 he began construction of this Yani Saray (New Palace) which changed and grew over the years with each of the Sultans. In its heyday, Topkapi was very much a city within a city with up to 4,000 residents living within the palace! In 1924 Mustafa kemal Alaturk ordered the palace to be converted into a museum.
GRAND BAZAAR & SPICE MARKET
Istanbul’s covered bazaar which is known as the Grand Bazaar is actually called The Kapali Carsi and is the world’s largest and oldest covered bazaar. The Kapali Cariso is located in the very heart of Istanbul and is the perfect place to combine exciting shopping with a rich cultural and historical experience. The market itself is like a giant labyrinth with more than 60 lanes and 3,000 shops and has a unique and unforgettable atmosphere.
The winding Ottoman passages of the Spice Bazaar are also a must visit when in Istanbul. The Spice Bazaar is the second largest covered market in Istanbul and is brimming with shops heaped with colourful piles of spices, teas and sweets. Locally the market is known as Misir Carsisi which means Egyptian Market, because the building was initially endowed with taxes levied on goods imported from Egypt. In its heyday, the bazaar was the last stop for the camel caravans that travelled the Silk Routes from China, India and Persia. Both of these markets are a must visit in Istanbul and we had an incredible time strolling the passages, stopping to look at souvenirs, smelling the incredible spices and tasting mouthwateringly good Turkish Delight!
The Romanesque Galata Tower has dominated the district of Beyoglu’s skyline since 1348 and still offers the best panoramic views of the city. It was originally named the Tower of Christ and was the highest point in the city walls of the Genoese colony known as Galata. The spired cylindrical structure has nine stories and is 219 feet high. There is an elevator to the top and the balcony which surrounds the upper tower offers the best 360 degree views of Istanbul.
Istiklal Caddesi is one of the most famous, nostalgic and busy avenues in Istanbul and leads from Taksim Square to the historic neighbourhood around the Galata Tower. Istiklal is a cosmopolitan pedestrian street that is approximately 3km long and is bursting with culture. The street is lined with boutiques, art galleries, shops, cinemas, theatures, cafes, restaurants and old patisseries all of which are beautifully integrated into the elegant 19th century Turkish architecture. We spent a few hours one afternoon exploring Istiklal Caddesi and spent our time strolling along, shopping and dining on delicious food in one of the many charming restaurants.
EXPLORING THE CITY ON FOOT
Istanbul is an incredible city and we found the best way to see it was on foot! We had a fantastic time exploring the beautiful neighbourhoods of Karakoy and Galatasaray around our hotels as well as the streets around all of the main sites! As with any city in the world you see the most when you explore on foot and we found some of the most incredible views of the city this was as well as unique little shops and restaurants serving the most amazing authentic Turkish food! Istanbul is a very easy city to see on foot and we felt completely safe all the time.
ADDITIONAL RECOMMENDED SIGHTS
We were really happy with how much we’d managed to see during our visit, especially as we arrived in Istanbul 8 hours later than expected on our first day as our original flight from Sarajevo was cancelled. Neyzen had put together an amazing itinerary of suggested sights and things to do whilst in Istanbul and whilst we didn’t get a chance to do them all we wanted to share with you the other fantastic places to see that were recommended to us! These include the Byzantine Cisterns, the Turkish Islamic arts and crafts museum, the Chora Church, the Hippodrome and a river cruise along the Bosphorus! There is no shortage of incredible places to visit in this beautiful, very diverse city and there is truly something for everyone! We really appreciated that Neyzen helped us to create an itinerary that suited our interests and travel style rather than a “one itinerary fits all” method.
Neyzen arranged all our accommodation for us during our time in Istanbul. They have a number of hotels and service providers that they work with in each destination ensuring there is the perfect hotel for every guest no matter what their needs. They have personally reviewed each hotel and only work with the very best to ensure guests are 110% satisfied with the service.
Neyzen had arranged our stay with the fantastic House Hotel Collection which is a group of five luxury design boutique hotels in Turkey, with four being in the city of Istanbul and one located in Cappadocia. The House Hotel Collection offers affordable luxury and intimate service in settings that are unique to Istanbul an we had an amazing opportunity to experience two of their hotels during our time in Istanbul.
We spent our first two nights at Vault Karaköy, The House Hotel which is located in the up-and-coming neighborhood of Karaköy and is situated in a beautiful building that was a former Bank on Bankalar Caddesi which was a very convenient location to explore all Istanbul has to offer! During its restoration many beautiful original features were retained and the luxurious modern interiors were designed with inspiration from the imposing bank vaults which also gave inspiration to the hotel’s name. Vault Karaköy, The House Hotel highlights Art & Culture, blending classic and contemporary styles, thus bringing together visions of Ancient and Modern Istanbul.
We were staying in a beautiful Deluxe King Room which was spacious and elegant and featured stenciled ceilings, parquet floors, green Carrara marble bathrooms with rain showers, custom furniture and lighting, a large soft and motorized curtains along with beautiful large, open windows. The contemporary classic room interiors also evoke wealth and luxury and have been decorated in beautiful warm, organic colours.
Vault Karaköy also has an incredible rooftop terrace which offers fantastic views of the historical peninsula and the golden horn. There is currently a pop-up concept restaurant called Karletto located on the terrace which will be accommodating food lovers until October! The views are incredible and it is well worth taking the time to visit for a drink or meal to enjoy the stunning views!
The Spa at Vault Karaköy combines modern and traditional wellness with classic, white marble Turish Hammam. The Spa offers a state-of-the-art gym, relaxation room, treatment rooms, sauna and steam rooms. The facilities are excellent and we made time to use the spa and sauna during our visit which was fantastic!
THE HOUSE HOTEL GALATASARAY
We spent our final night in Istanbul at the beautiful House Hotel Galatasaray. The hotel is located in the heart of bohemian Beyoğlu, Istanbul’s creative and cultural centre. The hotel is housed in the historic 1890s Zenovitch Apartment which belonged to a family of Montenegran tradesmen and reflects the historically cosmopolitan character of the region. The hotel was the first of the House Hotel collection to be opened in April 2010 and was renovated to the highest level which still respecting and retaining many of its beautiful original features including the shuttered façade, marble staircase and ceramic tiled reception.
The House Hotel Galatasaray is a charming, luxurious boutique hotel with 20 spacious suites which all boast high ceilings, luxurious decor, top quality furnishings and striking freestanding rain showers. We were staying in one of the Executive Suites which are 41 sqm with 3.5m high decorated ceilings and a beautiful white marble bathroom. Our room was extremely spacious, bright, comfortable and elegantly decorated, it really we felt like we were staying in a palace!
The hotel blends in perfectly with Galatasary, its authentic neighbourhood which is a beautiful combination of languages, cultures and religions. It is ideally located within walking distance to many of Istanbul’s main sites as well as being only a few minutes from the İstiklal Caddesi and to the charming neighbourhood of Karakoy, located on the shorefront of the Bosphorus River. The hotel is also the perfect location to explore Beyoğlu’s artistic and bohemian culture and vibrant nightlife.
There is a fantastic lounge bar on the top floor which offers beautiful views over Istanbul’s red roof’s and the Galata tower and is also where breakfast is served each morning. Breakfast at the hotel was a delicious, healthy affair with a delicious buffet of freshly baked and prepared breakfast items including cakes, pastries, breads, cereals, fruit, cheese, juice and tea and coffee. There is also an egg menu with delicious eggs cooked however you like to order!
FINAL THOUGHTS ON EXPLORING ISTANBUL WITH NEYZEN
Our three nights in Istanbul were incredible and we had an incredible time exploring as much of this exciting city as we could possibly fit in during our time there. Neyzen were excellent and ensured every aspect of our time in Istanbul was organised and that we were safe, happy, satisfied and well looked after. Their hotel recommendations were fantastic, both the hotels were luxurious and elegant boutique hotels in fantastic locations with great staff. Our suggested touring itinerary was detailed and the recommendations we received for sights, restaurants and travel within Istanbul was all spot on. We were incredibly impressed with how professional and friendly the team at Neyzen are and they well and truly go above and beyond to ensure every aspect of your trip is perfect! In the build up to our trip we’ve been almost in constant contact via email with Neyzen and always get a very prompt, helpful and friendly response to our many questions. Istanbul has set the scene for the rest of our time in Turkey and we’re so looking forward to exploring this incredible country in further depth with Neyzen and sharing it with you all!