Back when I was 35, which feels like ages ago now to be honest, I made a list of 40 things I wanted to do before I was 40. It was a pretty eclectic list, with everything from making homemade lemon curd to visiting Auschwitz, but it was a lovely way to check in with myself and it gave me plenty of options for weekends away or stuff to do when I had time to fill and no ideas to fill it with.
One of the things on my list was inspired by something I cut out of the travel section of the paper one weekend.
I loved the idea of being able to casually say ‘Oh this weekend? I just hung out in a 19th-century Ottoman mansion, then took a cruise up the Bosphorus.’ It’s so much better than ‘I went to Tesco and gave the cats their monthly flea treatment’ isn’t it?
‘Hang out in a 19th-century Ottoman mansion and take a cruise up the Bosphorus’ went on the list.
It was actually one of only a few things that I didn’t manage to complete and so I carried it over to my list of 50 things before 50 and recently I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I’ve started looking at pictures of Istanbul on Pinterest and honestly, it’s even more beautiful than I realised – so much colour and amazing architecture.
I decided I’m going to make this one happen.
For my 40th birthday I went on a trip by myself to Lisbon, also something on my list, and I’ve decided that Istanbul is going to be my birthday gift to myself for my 42nd birthday, next April. If you’ve been inspired by my Pinterest board, (and how could you not be unless you have a heart of stone), then here are some things to think about. With your bum bag neatly packed with your passport, list of Instagrammable destinations and e-visa Turkey is ready and waiting for you!
The weather in Turkey
This is actually the first thing I think about when I’m planning a trip. It seems like a small thing, but you don’t want to accidentally turn up somewhere in hurricane season or when it’s too hot to leave your 19th-century Ottoman mansion do you?
I’d pictured Istanbul as being pretty warm given it’s on a similar line to Greece and Spain, and although it enjoys the typical mediterranean summers it does get cold and snowy in the winter apparently, and April can still be chilly. My birthday is at the end of April, but looking at the average temperatures, having it as a post-birthday trip at the beginning of May could make it significantly warmer.
Flights to Turkey
I tend to use Skyscanner when I’m looking for flights. I will always fly from Bristol unless I absolutely can’t, as it’s nice and easy for me to get to – flying from a London airport add an extra layer of faff and expense that I really don’t want before and after a holiday, especially a short break. Unfortunately there aren’t any direct flights from Bristol to Istanbul, but you can go direct from Birmingham, which is doable for me. Turkey is two hours ahead of the UK and the flight time is about four hours.
Istanbul has two international airports – Sabiha Gokcen International Airport on the Asian side, and a brand new airport that this year replaced Ataturk International Airport on the European side. Istanbul’s new airport is one of the biggest in the world, covering an area six times the size of Heathrow, so I couldn’t not go to that one could I?
I find flights with Turkish Airlines for three nights at the beginning of May at reasonable times of the day for £235. They give me a little bit of time on the arrival and departure days, plus two full days, which should be plenty for me as when I travel on my own I am VERY efficient. Tower seen? Check. Photo taken in colourful street? Check. I get the job done for sure.
I book the flights and start to feel butterflies in my tummy.
The 19th-century Ottoman mansion
I am really tempted at this point to abandon the hotel bit and go for AirBnB, as this is what I’d normally do on a city break. I’ve stayed in AirBnBs in London, Lisbon, Krakow and Geneva, as well as lots of places in the UK, and I’ve always been pleased with them. They’re normally a lot cheaper than a hotel, you can opt for a whole apartment, it feels more personal, and you can save money by self-catering.
However, it’s hard to casually say ‘oh I just stayed in a 19th-century Ottoman mansion’ if you’ve actually stayed in some random person’s modern apartment block isn’t it? It’s a dilemma.
The House Hotel seems to have opened a second hotel in Istanbul since I cut my little bit out of the paper, but it was easy to pick out which one was the original because of the beautiful parquet floors in the rooms. It’s not cheap though. Over 400 EURO for three nights. Gawd.
I look at AirBnB. I could get an entire flat in a similar location for just over £100. I flick between the two. On a short trip how much time do you really spend in your hotel room? I could go for the AirBnB and the difference would pay for my flight and more. It’s a tough one, because while I want to stay true to the 50 things before 50 list, I did write the list, and so who am I really answerable to apart from myself?
I book the AirBnB.
‘Your reservation is confirmed. You’re going to Beyoğlu!’
Cripes. Looks like I’m really going to Istanbul on my own.
Local laws, getting a Turkey visa and travel insurance
Travel insurance is a must obviously. The EHIC isn’t valid in Turkey, even if we weren’t potentially crashing out of the EU any day now, so make sure you have cover in place. I have travel insurance as part of my bank account, but generally it’s not expensive and is an essential. You will also need a visa to travel to Turkey, so factor the Turkey visa fee into your budgeting. Make sure to keep your passport and a printed copy of your visa with you at all times as spot checks are often carried out. It’s actually illegal not to carry some form of photo ID in Turkey and as well as needing a visa, the Turkish government recommend you have at least six months left on your passport from your date of entry into the country.
TOP TIP: The possession, sale and export of antiquities is also against the law in Turkey and could result in a substantial fine and up to 12 years in prison, so be very careful and check the legal requirements if you’re thinking about buying antiques or historical items to bring home. Probably best to just stick with a fridge magnet.
The currency in Turkey is the Turkish Lira. You can buy currency in advance but there are plenty of ATMs in major cities and tourist areas. Dress modestly obviously if you’re visiting a mosque or a religious shrine.
Things to do in Istanbul
My Pinterest board has dozens and dozens of ideas for things to do in Istanbul, with lots of tip too for Istanbul’s most Instagrammable locations, should you wish to use your trip as an opportunity to show off on the Gram. (Which I do.)
I’m going to do a bit more research though and put together an itinerary of the key things I want to do during my three nights in Istanbul. As well as factoring in plenty of time for general wandering about, I love the idea of doing a few more structured things, perhaps a cookery class or a food tour? I’ll have to do the ‘take a cruise down the Bosphorous’ part at least, to warrant ticking it off my list, and the Museum of Innocence is not far from my AirBnB. You know I love a weird museum.
In the meantime, while you inevitably scrabble for your passport and Turkey visa, I will leave you with this picture because it is GLORIOUS. Happy holidays!