Turkey is truly a magical place. And it is cheap!
We went during the winter and it sucked. Go during the summer and stay one day— other than the calcium pools and the ruins of the Heliopolis, there is not much to do. We stayed in Venus, which was cozy, cheaper and about 15 min walk to the main attractions.
I have gone both during the summer and the winter, and to be honest, I like the winter more. The snow gives it a truly fairytale quality, and even though -11C is really cold, you will be too excited by the photos to care.
Before you, the hotel you pick will basically determine the quality of your photos. The most popular is Sultan Cave suites, but we stayed at Mithra and the photos came out phenomenal. Here is a list of other instagrammable hotels. Make sure you have at least 2 mornings in Cappadocia, one morning to be on the balloon and one morning to take the pictures of the balloons.
It is cheaper and easier to buy a carpet in Cappadocia than in Istanbul, since I feel like in Istanbul they are always trying to rip you off. Sultan Carpets, Ali and Mustapha and have been in this business for a long time and really know what to show you depending on your personality. If you tell them your budget, they will be reasonable, and won’t rip you off, and won’t hassle you if you don’t want anything. According to locals, they do a good job of going into the countryside and buying directly from the people who make it. They will also give you a certificate that proves the authenticity.
Ikam Galerie has been passed down through 5 generations and 120 years so they have a massive selection. I bought my actual carpet from Sultan, but I bought my Kilim’s from Ikam Galerie. A cheap Kilim can start at $20 and go up to $600. They also have a gorgeous store that is super fun to take photos in. If you don’t buy anything they do charge you.
Horseback riding both during summer and winter was one of my favorite things to do. You can book with Dalton Brother directly on Klook. They will take you through Swords Valley and Rose Valley. Even if you've never ridden a horse before, theirs are super manageable and it's a great way to cover ground.
My favorite boutique hotels: Empress Zoe and Kybele ( both in Sultanahmet). Karakoy is more trendier and hipster, has all the signs of recent gentrification, such a vintage stores, cute cafes, and great restaurants, but if this is your first time in Istanbul, Sultanahmet is a lot more convenient for all the major sites. If you want to go lux, then all the big hotels are by the Bosphorous, except for the Four Seasons Sultanahmet.
For shopping, obviously the Grand Bazaar, but I like the Egyptian Bazaar and the Book Bazaar more. Above the Egyptian Bazaar is Pandeli, which has gorgeous views of the bridge and was the favorite hangout of Audrey Hepburn.
If you want an authentic Nargile (shisha/water pipe) experience, go to Erenler Nagile, an sultry hidden bar behind a graveyard close to the Grand Bazaar. Hands down one of my favorite places in Istanbul.
There’s a lot of cheap places to get turkish delights but my favorite place is Inci, where they basically let you sample as much as you buy.
Ulus 29 is the most popular club, and Klein has a cool cabaret show. House Cafe is great for sundowners and cheap drinks.
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