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Hop on Hop off Istanbul: a more authentic alternative

Hop on Hop off Istanbul bus tours are a great way to see a city. I personally love them because they give you a chance to rest your legs while you browse through the sights and landmarks the city has to offer. I usually see something that catches my attention, so I make a separate visit later in my trip. But there’s also another way! Read my post below for a new sightseeing way that does not include an Hop on Hop off Istanbul bus tours (including some drama and lovely encounters).

view of a bridge from a bus

It’s my second time in Istanbul now – the first time, around five years ago, I only had about 24 hours, and I saw nothing (not even time for a quick Hop on Hop off Istanbul bus tours). We arrived late at night, drove to the hotel, and the following day, we drove back to the Sabiha Gökçen airport, where we were filming for an airline. That’s it!

But this time, I had more time and wanted to explore the city more. I planned to book an Hop on Hop off Istanbul bus tours for my first day, but I didn’t have to eventually because I got a much more authentic and fun tour straight out of my plane! Inspired by Nina’s Dubai, as seen in the bus photo special, I decided to make my own here in Istanbul.

hop on hop off Istanbul

It started with a bit of drama, but that’s part of the deal when you decide to create your unique tour instead of an organized Hop on Hop off Istanbul bus tours: several ATMs didn’t accept my bank card, and at that very moment, the last thing I remembered was the pin code for my credit card. There I am, with precisely five Euros and seventy in my pocket, without a data connection and tired from the trip (by the way, a good way to avoid data connection troubles is to use e-SIM cards, and you can check out Airalo for their plans).

I had lots of questions popping up in my head: Where do I have to go? How do I say hello? Where can I smoke a cigarette? How do I get wherever? These are the usual questions one asks themselves when arriving at a new destination. I was still far from thinking about my Hop on Hop off Istanbul bus tours. But I had no money, no bus ticket. Finally, the 20th ATM I tried out took pity on me and gave me some money!

skyline with buildings

When I finally get on the bus, after FBI-questioning the driver if he really stops where I need to get out (which is a much more challenging task than an Hop on Hop off Istanbul bus tours), I feel exhausted. I was definitely not in a chit-chat mode. But then this old Turkish lady sat next to me, and there was no “Sorry, I don’t speak Turkish” that worked for her. She was very happy to test her English skills, and you can’t say no! We started sharing little words and sentences in English, and she taught me a few Turkish ones: hello, thanks, good morning, enjoy your meal, and the classic two beers, please.

She also told me the name of each sight we saw from the window, trying to explain a bit of the history and meaning. And let me tell you, having this old Turkish woman explaining it to you just out of love and curiosity is far better than during an Hop on Hop off Istanbul bus tours.

sunset view on the river

As far as the bus tour, I was amazed by the blend of history and modernity that defines Istanbul: you can clearly see the city’s cultural and architectural heritage.
One of the first landmarks you might see is the Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge, also known as the Third Bosphorus Bridge. This bridge connects the European and Asian sides of Istanbul, offers stunning views of the Bosphorus River, and is a marvel of modern engineering.

Next, you might pass the neighborhood of Bakırköy, famous for its seaside promenade and lively street life.

view of the river

Continuing the journey, you will probably see the walls of Constantinople: these 5th-century walls give you a chance to admire Istanbul’s ancient past and were meant to protect the city from attacks.

Finally, you arrive at the city center and the heart of Istanbul’s historic district. You might glimpse The Hagia Sophia (a must-see, not only through a bus tour). The Blue Mosque is another must-see for its beautiful blue tilework and domes. By the way, make sure to dress appropriately when you visit it since it’s still an active place of worship.

red flag on a pole

Once you reach the city center, you’ll find yourself in the heart of Istanbul’s historic district, where you can explore many attractions. The Hagia Sophia is a must-see, a stunning example of Byzantine architecture.
Then, you might even see the Topkapi Palace, once the residence of the Ottoman sultans. Closeby is the Grand Bazaar, one of the oldest (and, if you ask me, one of the craziest) covered markets in the world.

skyline with buildings

So please do yourself a favor and take the bus from Istanbul Airport to the city center: it’s not just a commute but a chance to sightsee the city and learn about it from the best locals.
Then, you can still take an Hop on Hop off Istanbul bus tours the next day, or if you feel like a more romantic activity, you can try this amazing dinner cruise with the view of the Bosphorus.