It was Wednesday 7th June 2017 at 6am corresponding with 12th Ramaḍān, when we departed from home in a City Taxis minibus to Manchester airport. The driver drove quite fast, getting us there by 7am.
Our Turkish Airlines flight departed at 11am, and at 5:30pm local time we had landed at Istanbul Atatürk Airport. We already had the Turkish visas, so headed straight for passport control and cleared customs within 30 minutes. We had approximately 6 hours to tour Istanbul, as our connecting flight to Amman was at 2am, and we had to be back at the airport no later than 11:30pm.
As we came out into the terminal, there were a number of kiosks offering taxi services. We randomly picked one and asked him the price for a 6 hour tour of Istanbul. As I had already made enquiries with a local guide, I knew the going rate was around £100. The kiosk attendant started with $270 and finally came down to £100 for a large 7-seater Mercedes with an English speaking driver.
The driver was a middle aged gentleman who spoke very little English, but we managed to communicate and got on well. Our first stop was at the resting place of Ḥaḍrat Abū Ayyūb al-Anṣārī رَضِيَ ٱللَّٰهُ عَنْهُ, known as Sulṭān Eyüp locally, located in an area of Istanbul named after him, Eyüpsultan (or just Eyüp).
As it was evening time, there was a lot of traffic, so it took us around 45 minutes from the airport. In Istanbul, people gather at open spaces and the surrounding areas of Mosques and holy sites to open their fast with their families. Crowds were building up at Sulṭān Eyüp as well.
We requested the driver to stay with us all the way. After parking the minibus in a nearby car park, we made our way to the resting place and presented our Salāms to this great Sahābi, who hosted our Holy Prophet صَلَّىٰ ٱللَّٰهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ upon His arrival in Madīnah al-Munawwarah. It was sad to see so many innovations (BidꜤah) at the grave.
The area around the Masjid (built in his memory) and tomb was very lively, with stalls selling food & drink and families getting together ready for Iftār. It was a buzzing, electric atmosphere.
From here, we headed towards Sulṭān Aḥmet Camii, also known as the Blue Mosque, arriving at around 8pm, approximately an hour before Maghrib, and Ifṭār time. Although we were traveling (musāfir), مَا شَآءَ الله we had all fasted. It had been a very long and tiring day, but all of us were still going strong, ٱلْحَمْدُ لِلَّٰهِ.
Parking is a huge issue in Istanbul, especially around famous tourist sites, so taxi drivers prefer to drop and pick up, but that can be risky. You could lose precious time looking for the taxi, a long walk to the parking spot, or maybe just not finding it (giving the benefit of doubt).
Therefore, if you’re on a tight schedule, it is always better to have your taxi driver accompany you all the time. Paying for his food and entrance fees to tourist places will give you peace of mind, and a stand-in tour guide.
The Blue Mosque is spectacular, a masterpiece of Turkish architecture. Approaching Maghrib time, hundreds of families were gathering in the beautiful gardens around the Masjid, preparing for Ifṭār; a wonderful atmosphere. I had requested the driver to arrange Ifṭār for us at a nearby restaurant immediately after Maghrib. After praying our ꜤAṣr at the Blue Mosque, we waited there for Maghrib. It was very sad to see that very few people came for Maghrib; the majority of the people most probably offered their Ṣalāh outside, after breaking their fast.
Please also read my previous blog My 2 Visits to Istanbul, which also has some pictures from my visits.
You can apply for an e-Visa upon arrival at the airport but it is advisable to apply online, before travelling, and have it ready. The cost is still only $20 per person, unchanged from 2017.
Turkish Airlines fly from London, Manchester, and Birmingham to 244 international destinations, via Istanbul. As there are multiple flights each day, to many countries, it may be possible to take a longer connection and visit Istanbul. A clear 6 hour connection is necessary, otherwise it would be difficult to go into Istanbul and return back to the airport at the required check-in time (at least 3 hours prior to departure).
A 9.5 hour outbound connection, and 7.5 hours inbound, allowed us to see quite a lot of Istanbul,
If you have flown Turkish Airlines, and transit in Istanbul for more than 6 (but less than 24) hours you may be able to join a free guided tour; google Touristanbul for more information.
It should be borne in mind that our flights transited through Istanbul Atatürk Airport, which ceased operations in April 2019. Istanbul Airport is the new international hub, much further from the city, and the travel world has changed somewhat, so please do your own research, beforehand.
The new airport is only accessible by road, so either taxi or bus to the city. Please be wary of unscrupulous taxi drivers. Do your research first; there are lots of websites offering useful advice, and guide prices (note that taxi prices went up by 25% in 2019).
General advice is to insist on a metered service, otherwise you’ll need to do some hard bargaining and keep your wits about you. You need to agree upon the hours and also the locations where the driver will take you.
If pre-booking, do request an English speaking driver, get an official receipt for your payment, and make it clear what time you need to be back at the airport, which should be at least 3 hours before your flight.
The Turkish Lira was approximately 4.35 to Pounds Sterling in 2017, currently 9.46. Familiarise yourself with the notes, some of which are very similar, as you could easily get cheated.
Places of interest
The resting place of Ḥaḍrat Abū Ayyūb al-Anṣārī رَضِيَ ٱللَّٰهُ عَنْهُ is a must visit for conveying Salāms to this eminent Sahabi رَضِيَ ٱللَّٰهُ عَنْهُ. Depending on the time of day and traffic, you will need around 2 hours for this ziyārah.
A 15 minute walk away, is a complex where the resting place of some reported Saḥābah, including Ḥaḍrat KāꜤb (some debate about which KāꜤb) and Muḥammad al-Anṣārī, رَضِيَ اللَّهُ عَنْهُمْ are located.
The Topkapi Palace may be the richest museum in the world, with all the worldly wealth and spiritual artefacts on display. One has to visit the Chambers of the Sacred Relics, which house a number of Holy Items from the era of our Beloved Prophet Muḥammad صَلَّىٰ ٱللَّٰهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ, to past Prophets عَلَيْهِم ٱلسَّلَامُ, and the Khulafā-e-Rashidīn (al-Khulafā’ ar-Rāshidūn, the rightly guided caliphs) رَضِيَ اللَّهُ عَنْهُمْ. These (real) treasures include the Ghilāf, Locks, and Keys of The Holy KaꜤbah.
One can spend a full day here, exploring the other rooms and huge gardens, but if time is limited, then a minimum of 2 hours are required to visit the most important areas.
The world famous Sulṭān Aḥmet Camii, known as the Blue Mosque, a masterpiece of Turkish architecture, is situated very close to the Topkapi Palace.
The Ayasofya, or Hagia Sofia, another great monument, which recently reopened as a Masjid, is right next to the Topkapi Palace.
Süleymaniye Mosque, again a masterpiece of Turkish architecture, was designed by MiꜤmâr Sinân, known as the Grand Architect, whose achievements include the Privy Chamber at the Topkapi Palace (which house the Sacred Relics).
The Grand Bazaar is a must for shopping lovers, with hundreds of shops, selling almost everything you can think of, not to forget the delicious Turkish Delights and delicacies. There are many shops selling these, and your driver should be able to take you to a genuine shop. If possible, request to go to the Sulṭān Eyüp shop very close to the Topkapi Palace and Grand Bazaar, as they had a very good variety and the owners seemed very genuine.
There are many other places of interest which one can look up on the internet and plan visits according to the time available.
Our driver took us to a nearby local restaurant where we ordered food for all of us. With hindsight, we would have been much better off if we had bought some food from the stalls outside. The atmosphere in the restaurant was not to our liking, with music, and the relaxed attitude in preparing the food. By the time the food came and we ate, it was almost time to head back towards the airport.
A point to remember here is that parking at tourist places is very difficult and your vehicle can very easily get blocked. Our driver had actually given his keys and vehicle to the car park attendant, who had parked the minibus far away. As we had allowed enough time, we were lucky that the vehicle was returned to the driver in good time and, مَا شَآءَ الله, we reached the airport at 11pm.
That is part 1 of Istanbul done and the end of a very long day of Ramaḍān with rozā (fast) مَا شَآءَ الله.