Istanbul, home to 14.8 million people and a cultural capital in its own right, has been on the top of my list of travel destinations for a while now. Turkey is a great destination if you’re travelling on a budget– the conversion rates from GBP to TL is not only very good at the moment (approx. £1- 4.3TL) but also the food, accommodation and museum entry fees are all quite cheap compared to many other destinations that I’ve travelled to in Europe.
We flew into Ataturk airport from London Heathrow with British Airways. Although British Airways is one of the more expensive airlines, we chose to fly with them because of their (general) reliability (that said, they are going on strike on the first week of July) and also because my mum is registered with their executive points scheme. It’s important to note that if you are planning on travelling with British Airways or to selected Middle Eastern countries (Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia) that the UK government has temporarily implemented a technology ban, allowing only for mobile phones to be bought on the aircraft.
London Heathrow is always my first choice when travelling out of London for two main reasons. Firstly, it is probably the most accessible airport in London with the Piccadilly line terminating at terminals 1-5 and because of that, it is also one of the cheapest airports to get to, costing you only up to £5.00 to get there by tube. Once we were in Istanbul, we asked our airbnb host to arrange an airport transfer for us which costed only 60TL, approximately £13. I would highly recommend to avoid using yellow taxis as they tend to up the normal rate, however if you find yourself in a situation in which you have to, make sure you always agree on a price before hopping in and that no money is handed over until you reach your destination.
Although you can purchase an e-visa online before arriving at Turkey, you can also purchase it at the airport at the visa information desk or using one of the self-service kiosk. The cost at the airport is £20/ $20 in cash and it is valid for 90 days from the date in which it is validated with a stamp (at the airport). You can apply for a visa up to 3 months in advance online and can pay using a credit or debit card. The official UK government website has some useful information about applying for a Turkish visa.
Travelling light as we were only staying three days, we decided to book an Airbnb right in the heart of Istanbul, a stone throw away from the Blue Mosque. Airbnbs are my preferred type of accommodation because they often tend to be a lot cheaper, located in local areas and usually offer the a space to cook or prepare light snacks. If you’re unfamiliar with airbnb, I’ve got a video all about how I plan a budget holiday often including my staple airbnb accommodation.
As I mentioned, I’ve wanted to visit Istanbul for a while now, with everything from the food, to the TV series, art and architecture influencing my decision, however with the increasing terrorist attacks worldwide and the media’s propaganda of which countries are ‘safe’ and which aren’t, I was a little apprehensive to visit. When I told most of my friends and family that I had booked a short trip there, most of them would ask me whether that was a good idea, which of course made me even more uneasy. I’m really glad I did visit though because we were met with nothing but openness, kindness and a heartfelt welcome from everyone. Waking up to leave for the airport on Monday morning and hearing of the terrorist attack that took place near Finsbury Park Mosque and in Virginia, I had to stop and question myself– is Istanbul really anymore dangerous than anywhere else in the world? As with everywhere, you need to be cautious of your surroundings, but we shouldn’t be dissuaded from experiencing a culture firsthand by the media’s portrayal of certain countries. I personally couldn’t have felt safer and more at peace here.
If you’re looking for somewhere to learn about Islam, go to Turkey. The Blue Mosque in particular had very useful information scattered around the premises, with everything from the history of Islam, to an explanation of what hijab means, to the family tree of the prophets. I felt so emerged in Islam, waiting to break our fast with the adhan and not just with a countdown on my watch– It was such a unique and spiritual experience for me. I truly feel that the people there were so genuinely kind and friendly, everyone we met was so humble. Anywhere we ate or bought food, or gifts from, they thanked us so much for choosing to visit their country and to buy from them. If you look lost, you won’t even have to ask, someone will be waiting willingly and eagerly to point you in the right direction. The hospitality and goodwill nature is something you must definitely experience firsthand.