Easter Weekend in Istanbul


Back in March Pegasus airlines opened a new route from Plovdiv to Istanbul, so we thought we would give it a go when we went to Plovdiv for the Easter holidays. I booked some tickets €70 return per person which seemed a reasonable price. I also booked the Sapphire Hotel for three nights in the Fatih area of Istanbul, right next door to the Topkapi Palace, Ayasofya Mosque and the Sultanahmet Mosque.


Our flight landed on time in Sabiha Gökcen airport and we proceeded to the exit of gate 13 where the hotel said we will find our pre-booked transfer. What a welcome to Turkey that was! We found the right location, but there were many others looking for a transfer at the same location and we were approached by several drivers offering a transfer, none of whom seemed to know our name or our destination. Not having roaming, I was unable to contact the hotel. After some standing around, looking like useless tourists (which we were), we eventually managed to get a transfer for €45, which was €5 less than the hotel had stated us. And so began our adrenalin fueled taxi ride from another dimension...

We got in the cab and set off, a short while later the cab driver pulled into a nearby petrol station to refuel. Not for petrol as you might expect, but for RedBull and cigarettes. And so the fun began. More thrilling than a Schueberfouer ride, more dangerous than a shuttle launch and more scary than a Stephen King movie: our taxi driver was weaving in and out of traffic on the motorway into town, whilst holding a can of RedBull in one hand, a cigarette in the other, speaking to god knows who on one phone and using Google translate to give me the tourist highlights on another all whilst changing gears with the wrong hand. After too many "beyond close" calls with other cars on the road, including several where I thought "that was a nice life, unfortunatrly didn't quite make it to 50", we promptly hit peak traffic around our hotel and didn't move for a good 20 minutes whilst we were a 15 minutes walk from our hotel! After several more twists and turns to get passed multiple cars on streets too narrow for even one car, the driver stopped, pulled in between two traffic cones and said: "this as close as I can get you, your hotel is down that road first on your left". So we got out, I gave a €5 tip and we got to our hotel a few minutes later.

Day 1 - Easter Sunday

We started off on this cold, but sunny day, by walking around Gülhane park which is next to Topkapi palace.

Gülhane Sign

Tulips had been planted in the park for Istanbul's Tulip festival which is in the whole month of April.

Gulhane Tulips

At the northern end of the park we had a look at the Bosphorus.


We then headed back to the entrance of the Topkapi palace. Unfortunately the queues were so long we headed on to the Ayasofya Mosque only to be confronted by even longer queues.

Ayasofya Mosque

Not to be dispirited, we continued on to the Sultanahmet Mosque only to see that it was temporarily closed for restoration.

Sultanahment Mosque

That would explain why the other two queues were so long. That and the fact the place was full of Easter weekend tourists.

We headed onto the Mosaic Museum, via a nice market, but that was also shut.

Market stall selling spice

By now it was time for lunch, which we had on a roof top terrace that afforded great views of both the Bosphorus and the Sultanahmet Mosque. The food was also very nice.

Sultanahmet from roof top

Having relaxed a bit on the terrace we headed to the spice market on the other side of the Fatih quarter. Whilst interesting, spice wasn't the only thing they sold here, which made it feel like just another market.

Spice market

Having failed to get into any of the mosques in the Topkapi palace area, we were happy to have a look inside the Yeni Mosque, just next to the spice market.

Yeni Mosque

From here we could also see the Galata tower and were discussing on the merits of getting the tram across the bridge or walking when a guy managed to convince us to get on a one hour cruise around the Bosphorus. He gave us about 50% off the regular price, which we later realised was because it was probably the last cruise of the day and the boat was quite empty. Still, this meant we got good views as we sailed up and down a section of the Bosphorus.

Here are some of the riverside views.

Galata Tower
Yeni and Rüstem Pasha mosques
Asian side with the largest mosque, flag and tower

Day 2 - Easter Monday

Our second day in Istanbul was essentially a day of cold and rain. The good thing about this was that it forced us to figure out the public transport and the benefits of the Istanbul Card. The card costs 50TL and using it you get roughly half price fares compared to the regular fare. The best part being that you can share the card between five people, so no need to spend 200TL for the family just on cards. By sharing the card between the four of us, we recuperated the cost of the card after a couple of journeys.

So we headed to Taksim square first on the tram and then up the hill with the funicular (which is a regular part of the public transport system and not a tourist thing). As it hadn't stopped raining, we stopped off in a nearby cafe for an hour or so and had a nice Turkish coffee.

Taksim Square

Once it had more or less stopped raining we carried on walking through Taskim park, passed the technical university and down the hill along the Beshiktas football stadium and back to where we got off the tram. Since we hadn't yet been to the asian part (except for our mad taxi drive at the beginning) we got the ferry to the other side of the Bosphorus.

Beshiktas Stadium

On the asian side we walked north-east along the riverside in the Üsküdar district. Then we walked up the hill through a little park and back down to the ferry station along the main road. This gave us a better feel for what might be the more normal Istanbul away from the maddening tourist crowds.

Üsküdar park

We returned back to the Fatih district on the Marmaray train. This was an efficient, if dull, experience. It got us back to Fatih in about 3 minutes! Having spent the day getting around on various forms of public transport (tram, funicular, boat and train) I have to say that I am impressed with the public transport in this city. Still the roads are blocked full of cars! Maybe the day to day experience of public transport is different to the tourist one.

We ended the day with a lovely meal in the Salute Restaurant, 100 metres from our hotel. Definitely recommended.

Desert fruit salad

Day 3 - Return home

Our flight home was in the late afternoon and checkout was at midday, so we walked around the Topkapi area in the hope of there being no queues after the easter weekend. We were mistaken, but did manage to get into the Sultan Ahmed Tomb which was nice.


Then we headed back to the hotel, grabbed our bags and got in the pre-booked taxi back to the airport. This time it was a normal drive along the motorway. No thrills, no danger, no scares.

Bridge from Taxi