I've discovered a new way to travel

I don't want a leather jacket. And I've got no intention of going leather shopping while I'm in Istanbul. I can't afford it and, more importantly, I ride a scooter, so leather makes me look ridiculous, like someone driving a Corolla while wearing a racing helmet.

And yet there's something insistently pointing me towards the leather shop. "Wonderful service," I hear. "An oasis of calm. A simply wonderful shopping experience. Your best destination."

My advisor in this situation is not a trusted friend, nor a leather-obsessed family member. My advisor is TripAdvisor. As in, the internet. See, I've discovered a new way to travel. You've heard of travel by tour, travel by cruise, travel by train? I'm experimenting with travel by TripAdvisor.

I've got a spare day in the Turkish city. I could do some thorough research by trawling through some travel books and websites for sights and activities that appeal. Or I could just jump on TripAdvisor and let it think for me.

The site is a behemoth, a groaning lump of a thing that takes pretty much every destination in the world and opens it up to public scrutiny. It's democracy writ large, as travellers gleefully review every hotel, restaurant, shop and attraction they've had the pleasure or misfortune of visiting. There are accusations of bias, of course, of hotels slating their competitors with one-star rants but by and large it's the sort of gigantic reservoir of travel knowledge that you could spend days trawling through.

It also makes you lazy. Everything that's reviewed on TripAdvisor is given a star rating, one to five, which is then totted up and the most popular attractions appear at the top of each city's list. The research-shy traveller could just jot down a top 10 and their holiday would be sorted. So I put it to the test. One day in Istanbul at the mercy of TripAdvisor and its critical, leather-loving contributors.

Top of the list on Istanbul's "Things to do" page is the Hagia Sophia, the huge basilica-turned-mosque in the middle of the city, which is a good sign, as it's an amazing attraction. Trouble is I've already been there, so it's off the list.

On the flip side, open-top bus tours also seem stupendously popular, which I'm taking as a worrying sign. If that's truly one of the best things to do in Istanbul, then we have a problem.

There are also a few shops that storm into the top 10, namely a luxury towel store owned by someone called Jennifer and Prens Leather, which, going by a quick scan of the comments, must be to leather goods what IKEA is to impossible-to-assemble flat packs.

I really don't want a luxury towel or a leather jacket, so I decide to strike off both. I'm left with an interesting balance of attractions I either haven't had the chance to visit yet, or hadn't even heard of: the Archaeological Museum, Caferaga Medresesi, the Basilica Cistern, Istiklal Street, pictured, and dinner at Metropolis Restaurant.

First, the Archaeological Museum, which is set in the grounds of the famous Topkapi Palace but is often overlooked for its more enticing neighbour. To be honest, it would very likely have been overlooked by someone like me, who's not much of a museumgoer.

But TripAdvisor apparently knows a thing or two. The museum is amazing, a huge collection of artefacts taking in ancient Egypt, ancient Greece, the Roman Empire and more. It's the perfect place to wander around for a few hours.

Next, Caferaga Medresesi, an attraction I'd never even heard of but which TripAdvisor's critics are all a-twitter about. "Five stars! A gem," someone says. "An oasis," someone else says, possibly the same person who raved about Prens Leather.

Anyway, I make my way up to whatever this Caferaga thing is and soon find it's an art gallery and restaurant tucked into a small alley behind the Hagia Sophia. It's all right. The art is nice enough, I guess. The food looks good, I suppose. But one of the 10 best things to do in Istanbul? C'mon TripAdvisor, you're having a laugh.

The Basilica Cistern gets things back on track and Istiklal Street, the modern thoroughfare over in trendy Beyoglu, turns out to be the heart of the new city. It's only when I go for dinner that things go awry again and I realise the true downfall of the TripAdvisor model.

Metropolis Restaurant is in Sultanahmet, on an ultra-touristy street in an ultra-touristy area. It's full, of course, of tourists who've no doubt read the same reviews I've just read and have come to check it out themselves. They'll enjoy their meal I'm sure and rush back to the computer to post rave reviews of their own.

And so the cycle will begin again. There could be the best restaurant in the world next door but no TripAdvisor junkie will ever visit it. Sad, really, and it just goes to show: you have to take your TripAdvice with a grain of salt.


Have you used TripAdvisor for attractions and things to do while travelling? Post a comment below and tell us about it.