Weekends for Expatriates in Istanbul and Turkey

It’s the weekend and the perfect time to explore this exotic city. In Istanbul, you can never be bored. There are numerous world-class museums and art galleries. There are palaces and mosques. There are historical landmarks and sites. There are traditional markets and classy shopping areas. There is so much to keep you entertained that your weekend will be over before you know it.

Bosphorus and Golden Horn cruise

If you enjoy being on the water, then this is a perfect excursion to while away a few hours and discover different areas of Istanbul. You can enjoy a drink on board whilst listening to music and relaxing as you float by some of Istanbul’s most luxurious houses. You will see historic waterfront Ottoman houses. Stop off in Ortaköy and enjoy the weekend craft market as well as a Kumpir, a baked potato stuffed with everything delicious. The Bosphorus cruise is a sublime way to see Istanbul from a different perspective, away from the crowds.

Princes’ Islands

In the middle of the Marmara Sea are a small group of islands. Four of them are open to the public and are a popular weekend getaway. The streets on are paved with history and magnificent Ottoman architecture. No cars are allowed on the island. The only means of transport are bicycles or horse-drawn carriages. Büyükada is the largest and most visited. It is an hour and a half ferry ride. Whilst being a great weekend day trip, most locals think so too. The weekends are rather crowded. Still, it’s a great experience. Whilst you are there, you can enjoy a Turkish breakfast or lunch there.


  • The magnificent Topkapi Palace was the home to the Sultans during the Ottoman Empire. Its lavish interior and views over the Bosphorus along with sculptured gardens, ornate courtyards make it a must-see attraction.

  • Dolmabahce Palace is another reminder of Ottoman times and is luxurious in every way. It has the world’s largest chandelier, 14 ton of gold leafing and the most exquisite collection of Turkish silk carpets.

  • Beylerbeyi Palace used to be the summer residence of the Sultans. It is another reminder of Turkey’s great past and opulence.

Museums in Istanbul

  • Istanbul Archaeological Museums are a must-see for all history buffs. This site is a combination of the Archaeology museum, the Ancient Orient Museum and the Islamic Art Museum. Delve deeper into Turkey’s colourful heritage with displays from its Egyptian, Greece, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman past.

  • Istanbul Modern is a collection of contemporary Turkish and International art exhibitions set in a modern riverside building.

  • Pera Museum is home to the famous painting ‘The Tortoise Trainer’ by Osman Hamdi Bey. You’ve probably seen this piece of art on jigsaws and posters and now you can see the original. Pera house many permanent exhibitions as well as temporary and is an art lover’s dream.

  • Museum of Innocence is a wacky, offbeat museum inspired by the Nobel prize-winning author, Orhan Pamuk. A visit to this museum may surprise you and take you on a journey to the Istanbul of Pamuk’s youth.

Historical landmarks

There are too many to mention but here are a few of the most interesting:

  • Galata Tower is one of the most recognizable landmarks and it is where you go for a spectacular 360-degree view of Istanbul. It was built by the Genoese in Constantinople in 1348. At that time, it was the tallest building in Istanbul. Today there is an elevator to the top and a restaurant and viewing balcony.

  • Basilica Cistern is an underground labyrinth of waterways and marble columns and arches right under the bustling traffic of Sultanahmet. Look out for Medusa head sculptures at the base of two columns.

  • The Hippodrome was the site of chariot races and other sports. Today it is a meeting place and during Ramazan, after the sunsets, it is alive with families and friends enjoying the iftar, the meal after the fast.

Turkish Experiences

  • Witness the magic of a Whirling Dervish performance. The music, the chanting and the whirling are hypnotic to watch.

  • Visit a Hamam. The Çemberlitaş in Fatih is a great place to start to see the magnificence of the marble interior. All sessions at this Hamam are segregated as was tradition. In some tourist towns down south, you may find mixed Turkish baths.

  • Nargile is the Turkish water pipe. Visit a nargile cafe with friends to pass around the nargile. This 400-year-old tradition is also called Hookah and Shisha.

Experience the markets

  • The Grand Bazaar is also known as Kapalıçarşı. It is one of the largest covered markets in the world and has been operating since 1455. Here you can find everything from leather goods, gold, carpets to baklava and Turkish sweets. Its an experience not to be missed. Bargaining or haggling is a must.

  • As soon as you step into the Egyptian Spice Bazaar you are seduced by the aromatic smells and the sights of colorful mounds of spices. Tables and tables of colorful Turkish delight and baklava and other Turkish sweets. A bonus is that you can taste before you buy.

Weekend Getaways

Sometimes a day trip isn’t enough and you want a weekend away.

  • Gallipoli War Cemeteries is about a 6-hour bus journey from Istanbul. The entire Gelibolu Peninsula is a paradise for World War One history buffs with excellent tour options to explain the different campaigns fought and lost on the peninsula. There are 47 beautifully maintained war cemeteries with both Turkish and Allied losses buried there. Lone Pine Cemetery is one of the more significant sites to Australians. The ANZAC legacy was born here and is commemorated every April 25.

  • A 20-minute ferry across the Dardanelles will take you to the historic town of Çanakkale. A great place to stay for a night, enjoy a meal and wander along the Kordon, seafront. Here you will see the Trojan Horse from the movie ‘Troy’ with Brad Pitt and was gifted to the city.

  • Twenty-six kilometers from Çanakkale you can visit the archaeological site of the ancient city, Troy. It is well worth the visit if you are familiar with Homer and the Illiad.

  • Bursa used to be the old capital city of the Ottoman Empire. From Istanbul, it is a couple of hours travelling south across the Sea of Marmara to Yalova. The ferry is a fast one. Bursa is a beautiful city to visit any time of year. In winter, people head to Bursa and up to Uludağ for the ski resorts. There are beautiful hotels to stay at in the snow but book early as they are always popular.

  • Sile on the Black Sea is a summer spot with white sandy beaches, warm swimming and fish restaurants. It’s a fishing village but a great getaway from the hustle and bustle of Istanbul.

Visit the official Istanbul Tourism site for more details on all of the above.