Together with the tour operator Anex visited Istanbul on New Year’s Eve. We found out how much the holiday programs for the New Year cost, talked with the experts of the tour operator. Here are our tips for newcomers to Istanbul who are planning a New Year’s trip to Turkey’s most famous metropolis for the first time. A bonus – photo essay.
ISTANBUL HOTEL: WHICH AREA TO CHOOSE
It is difficult to single out the “best” among Istanbul hotels, each consumer segment has its own top hotels. But we advise you to choose hotels for the New Year either in the Sultanahmet area (the historical center of the European side), or in the Laleli area (nearby, several tram stops, a shopping area, next to the Grand Bazaar, Egyptian Bazaar, etc.).
In both areas there are good 3 * and 4* hotels at reasonable prices (at Anex – from 23 thousand rubles for five nights for two with the capture of the New Year). If you want more comfort, you can look at some of the top five – for example, Ramada Plaza Sultanahmet 5* (from 54 thousand rubles).
Some Sultanahmet hotels have beautiful view terraces in restaurants. The photo shows a view from one of these. Photo: ATOR
The advantage of being located in Sultanahmet is that the main attractions are just around the corner. There are a lot of tourists here, they are not stopped even by rainy days. But still, there are fewer of them in December than in the high seasons for Istanbul – autumn and spring, so it will be comfortable.
If you want to travel around Istanbul by yourself, see the location of the hotel. It is better that it is close to the tram line.
WHAT TO SEE IN ISTANBUL ON YOUR FIRST VISIT
Of course, St. Sophia. The scale of this building is amazing even for those who are not in Istanbul for the first time, and for beginners it is always one of the brightest impressions of Istanbul.
Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey. Photo: ATOR
Now it is a full-fledged mosque, and admission is free. The entrance fee for foreigners will be from January 15, 2024, that is, if you come to Istanbul for the New Year, you will not have to pay.
Inside Sofia is amazing. Photo: ATOR
The Blue Mosque (or Sultanahmet Mosque) of the XVII century is another must see. It is located next to Sofia, across the square.
Blue Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey. Photo: ATOR
According to legend, the sultan ordered the construction of a standard number (i.e. 4) of golden (in Turkish – “altyn”) minarets, but the architect got something wrong and built six (Turkish – “alty”) minarets. But, of course, this is just a legend. The mosque, by the way, is striking not only from the outside, but also from the inside.
Inside the Blue Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey. Photo: ATOR
Topkapi Palace – the residence of all the sultans of the Ottoman Empire up to the middle of the XIX century. It’s a very atmospheric place, and very photogenic.
Entrance to Topkapi Palace, Istanbul, Turkey. Photo: ATOR
This is a museum – and here, of course, it is better to walk with an experienced guide, then the “penetration” into the atmosphere of the Sultan’s court will be complete.
Inside Topkapi is a museum like our Armory. Very beautiful. The photo shows a music box. Photo: ATOR
And we advise you to take a walk in the evening in the lower park of the palace, which overlooks the shores of the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn.
The Basilica cistern is also nearby, in Sultanahmet. Once upon a time, during the Byzantine era, it was one of the largest freshwater storages in the city, but it is not just a technical structure, but an engineering and aesthetic masterpiece. We came across it by chance – a local resident found this huge underground cavity while digging a basement. Now everything is beautifully illuminated here – an atmospheric place.
Basilica Cistern in Istanbul, Turkey. Photo: ATOR
Galata Tower and Galata Bridge. There are excellent panoramic views of the city from both points. The tower is worth climbing (queues are small in December): the photos will be gorgeous (on the cover of the article is just a photo taken by us from the Galata Tower).
We are going to the Galata Tower. Istanbul, Turkey. Photo: ATOR
And on the bridge you can try the famous Istanbul “balik ekmek” (in fact, a local kind of hot fish sandwich) or sit in a restaurant (they are right inside the bridge).
There are many fishermen on the Galata Bridge. Istanbul, Turkey. Photo: ATOR
Istiklal Street. Climb up a little from the Galata Tower, and you will get directly to the Istanbul mix of Arbat and Tverskaya: Istiklal pedestrian street with the famous red “one-eyed” tram.
The same red tram on Istiklal Street. Istanbul, Turkey. Photo: ATOR
Here are the most expensive restaurants and shops in the city. But it is definitely worth going (and taking pictures) in branded dukan (shops) of sweets.
Istiklal Night street is also full of tourists. Turkey, Istanbul. Photo: ATOR
Dolmabahce Palace, located behind the Galata Bridge, in Eminenyu. After this chic 19th century Rococo palace, Topkapi will seem to you a model of rigor and moderation. Everything is amazing here – the territory, the exteriors and the interiors. The palace is very large. Yes, you can’t take pictures of anything inside here – even for a fee.
IS IT WORTH TAKING AN EXCURSION PROGRAM FOR THE NEW YEAR
Of course, yes. For those who are traveling for the first time, we recommend it from personal experience. The first acquaintance with this amazing city will be better and easier if you have a good guide. Because you can study the history of Istanbul yourself for all five years, just like at the university. You can “explore” the city yourself on subsequent visits.
What New Year’s sightseeing tours of Istanbul does Anex have? For the first acquaintance with the city, you can take a New Year’s program with departure on December 29 “New Year in the city of dreams” for 4 nights. The program includes visits to almost all the top places that we have listed above.
Together with a flight from Moscow, such a holiday for the New Year 2024 now costs from 180 thousand rubles for two adults – taking into account the flight, accommodation (you can optionally choose a 3*, 4* or 5* hotel), transfers according to the program, excursions and medical insurance.
Another festive option: when booking a tour with the capture of the new year on the Anex website, you can optionally add a water excursion “New Year’s Cruise on the Bosphorus”. We tried it out in December personally, we recommend it.
The program on the yacht includes a very interesting menu (both local and European cuisine), an entertainment program with dancing, a professional DJ, as well as a Christmas tree and Santa Claus with a Snow Maiden. And, of course, unlimited alcohol, including champagne. The cost is 200 euros per person.
Finally, there is an option to book a New Year’s Eve dinner at another hotel, for example at the Eser Premium Hotel. There will be a show program, a New Year’s dinner and a transfer from your hotel. The cost, including the transfer, is 180 euros per person.
WHAT TO TRY IN ISTANBUL FROM THE LOCAL CUISINE
Our Istanbul top is:
- Baked chestnuts. They are sold everywhere in winter – from carts, trays. Very tasty.
Baked chestnuts in Istanbul, Turkey. Photo: ATOR
- MADO ice cream made from goat’s milk. The shops of this chain are scattered all over Istanbul, in Sultanahmet there is one near Sofia, next to the tram stop. You can also buy other sweets there.
MADO Ice cream and Sweets store in Istanbul, Turkey. Photo: ATOR
- Ali Nazik – the most delicate lamb kebab on a pillow of eggplant paste. It can be found on the menu of most cafes.
Ali Nazik in a cafe in Istanbul. Photo: ATOR
- Fresh fish dishes and fragrant coffee on the sand in the Kumkapi district, where there is a street of fish restaurants.
Street of fish restaurants in Kumkapi, Istanbul. Photo: ATOR
And this is how coffee is prepared in Istanbul on the sand. Photo: ATOR
- Sweets in branded stores (there is also, as a rule, a cafe area with tables) Hafiz Mustafa and Simit Sarayu in the city center.
Simit Sarayu shop and Cafe in Istanbul, Turkey. Photo: ATOR
WHAT TO BRING FROM ISTANBUL
You can pay for purchases in Istanbul either in lira (by changing the currency in the city) or by card (foreign bank, or Russian UnionPay of Gazprombank – checked, works).
Let’s say right away – in our experience, on The Grand Bazaar and the Egyptian Bazaar, which are definitely worth a look for the sake of the atmosphere and photos, are all at least 2- 2.5 times more expensive than in the city.
Istanbul’s tourist bazaars are beautiful. But expensive. Egyptian Bazaar, Istanbul, Turkey. Photo: ATOR
We specifically compared prices for the same products. A 400 ml bottle of Turkish lemon cologne costs 130 lire in an Egyptian bazaar, and 60 lire in an ordinary shop next to the hotel. Draw conclusions.
We advise you to bring home from Istanbul everything delicious and not to waste money on plastic Chinese souvenirs, which are full everywhere.
In the center of Istanbul, you can find amazing handmade sweets handmade sweets in the stores of the brands Hafiz Mustafa (Kemal Ataturk himself liked to invite his guests to his store on Istiklal Street) and Simit Sarayu. Here they will be packed in beautiful boxes (masterpieces in themselves) to bring home.
Shop window of Hafiz Mustafa in Istanbul, Turkey. Photo: ATOR
That’s what’s in the boxes – Turkish sweets, very fresh, cut and packed in front of you. Photo: ATOR
You can buy goodies cheaper: find the nearest Koska brand store on the map (the Turkish equivalent of our “Red October” in popularity and prevalence). They are also scattered all over the city.
They have a large selection and everything is fresh – from lukuma and baklava to interesting chocolate. Not as expensive as Hafiz Mustafa, but no less delicious. And cheaper than in any Duty Free for sure.
Koska also has interesting things for children. Photo: ATOR
You can go to the branded coffee shops Mehmed Efendi and bring freshly ground coffee of this famous brand right in front of you. There are a variety of varieties: Colombian, Ethiopian coffee, mix.
Mehmed Efendi brand store in Istanbul. Photo: ATOR
But we advise you to take just factory–made golden foil packages – here the grinding will be much smaller, “in the dust”: it fits perfectly for Turks. This Mehmed Efendi is perhaps the only coffee that smells, without exaggeration, for the whole apartment.
Have a nice New Year in Istanbul!