Istanbul, Turkey was a perfect combination of the familiar feel of Europe and the exotic feel of a Middle Eastern Country. Initially, my husband and I had feared a language barrier, but we found that most people, both in the hotels and around Istanbul, spoke English very well and were more than happy to do so. In fact, the people of Istanbul as a whole, were extremely outgoing and kind. We asked for directions quite a few times and were met with smiles and helpfulness.
I worked with one of our preferred tour operators to create an itinerary that was the perfect mix of sightseeing and time on our own to explore the streets of Istanbul. The guide was obviously well educated on all the major sites including Topkapi Palace, Hague Sophia, Blue Mosque and the Grand Bazaar, but he really blew us away by providing an internet hotspot allowing us to Skype with our children in the middle of our tour. As parents going on our first big trip away from our kids, knowing that we could be in touch at a moment’s notice eliminated a layer of stress and we were able to relax.
Our first accommodation in Istanbul was the Four Seasons Istanbul Sultanahmet. The hotel, which has a boutique feel, is perfectly located in the heart of the city allowing guests to walk to most of the major sites. The room had such character and really made me feel like I was in Istanbul as opposed to a generic hotel room.
The Four Seasons Bosphorus, a renovated 19th-century Ottoman Palace, had a grander more formal feeling with gorgeous high ceilings. It is not as close to the sites as the Sultanahmet, but great if you are looking to spend some relaxing time in a resort with a spa, hammam, beautiful outdoor area, and pool.
The most stand out experience was the private boat ride down the Bosphorus. It was almost surreal to experience Istanbul at sunset and then at night. It was nice to have our guide pointing out the sites, and it would have also been a lovely experience without the tour for a romantic evening or adventure with friends.
I had a beautiful view of the Bosphorus from my room at the Shangri La. Located right next to the Mariner Museum and in front of a ferry terminal, the Shangri La is still close to the sites. The inside of the hotel is stunning – very elegant and fresh looking.
Although not near the stereotypical Turkish sites, the little village of Ortakoy, is full of life and action, and very worth seeing. The trendy boutique hotel, House Hotel Bosphorus in Ortakoy is located right on the Bosphorus under the first Bosphorus Bridge. The ferry tours docked right in front of the hotel.