Istanbul has long been heralded the city where East meets West. The blue ribbon of the Bosphorus river separates the two sides, intricately placed between two continents. The unique mix of the old quarter with picturesque views of Byzantine and Ottoman architecture where domes and minarets crown the skyline, contrasts so beautifully with the modern glittering skyline across the Bosphorus. It has its own charm which delights tourists from all over the world, making it the most visited city in Turkey.
Istanbul is a perfect destination for a short getaway. Flights from the UK can be had for as little as £80 return with Atlas or Pegasus airlines. During their promo periods, this can be even cheaper! Hotels in the heart of Istanbul’s old area can be had for around £30-40 for a 4 star hotel depending when you go!
The magnificent domes of the Blue Mosque captivate the skyline as you wind yourself through cobbled streets, coming to the green square which sits in the middle of Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque. The intircate blue tiles and designs wonder tourists all over the world. The mosque was built by Sultan Ahmet I from 1609 to 1616. It is open for all visitors except during prayer times. Do also remember to wear modest clothing (long sleeves, long skirts for women) or you can borrow scarves and skirts at the entrance.
Tip: Make sure you see the blue mosque at night too, especially from the outer courtyard area where colourful fountains colour the mosque in a rainbow of amazing colours.
This museum served as a church until 1453 until Mehmed the Conqueror converted it to a mosque. It was later secularised and converted to a museum, which is as it stands today. The historical, architectural and cultural influences can really be seen when walking through the museum as you see the remnants of different eras and their influences on the building.
Tip: Do try to get their early to avoid long queues and to see the place in its beauty without an influx of tourists.
This amazing architectural gem really showcases the lavish lifestyle of the Sultans during the Ottoman empire. This palace come museum is a must visit and also provides amazing views of the Bosphorus. Visit the ‘Harem’, the Sultan’s personal quarters, take yourself back to and Ottoman feast as you explore the kitchens, and marvel at the priceless jewels, art and gold on display. There are also beautiful pavilions to explore, each with intricate architectural detailing.
Tip: This place is huge, so get yourself a map so you can visit everything. Come early as the place gets very VERY crowded and don’t forget Topkapi is closed on Tuesdays!
The Grand Bazaar
One of the oldest souqs (markets) and shopping places in the world. This place is a shopper’s haven for touristy goods, although overpriced, haggle hard and come early to get the best prices. The hustle, bustle and ambience of the place is like no other. Don’t think you’ll find your way back to the same shop as this place is a maze. However, you can get some maps of the place by some friendly shopkeepers. There are approximately 3000 shops selling all sorts from Turkish lamps, designer knock offs, gold jewellery.
Tip: Do look at gate numbers when entering or exiting as this will help you find your way back to your hotel or your next tourist stop. Also, the outside streets are also lined with sellers where you may find some things cheaper!
Another souq to tickle your senses, the spice bazaar is a taster’s paradise. As you enter the spice bazaar, close to Rustem Pasha mosque (another glorious mosque sitting on the edge of the Bosphorus), you will be invited to taste a range of delicacies from Bakhlava, to Turkish delight. Do have a taste as you wind yourself around taking the sights and smells.
Tip: If you do decide to buy, remember to bargain hard and what you tasted was probably the better quality more expensive one.
One of the highlights of visiting Istanbul to take in all that it offers is a river cruise, preferably just before sunset. The views of this wonderful city from the sea are incredible, especially as the skyline changes colours on the Golden Horn. The views of palaces sitting on the edge of the Bosphorus, the Maramara sea, and the Bosphorus bridge, will really highlight the contrast of old and new.
Tip: Try not to get ripped of with the expensive ‘tourist boats’. The two hour tour is pretty cheap and only sets off when the boat is full (which doesn’t take long). Don’t forget to bring a scarf/hat as it can get pretty windy, especially on the bottom deck.
Taksim Square/Isiklal Street
Across the river from Eminonu, and up the tram is Istiklal street and Taksim square at the end of it. This is the place to come for a more Western shopping experience with the historical references of Taksim square. It’s a complete contrast to the old quarter.
Tip: Do try to walk across the Gelata bridge before/after going as it gives amazing views of the Bosphorus and the skyline. Depending on the time you go, you’ll also see locals fishing on the bridge!
Fortunately, many of Istanbul’s attractions are walking distance from each other. However, you can always take the public tram, which is super quick, cheap and efficient. Get yourself an ‘Istanbulkart’ and top up as needed. It also, familiarises you with the main routes for those times you want to explore walking.
You will find restaurants virtually on every corner, with traditional turkish mezze, pide and other dishes. You’ll also find other cuisines too. Don’t forget to try the 1-2 Lira Simit Turkish bread, with Nutella if you prefer. A perfect snack as you go about exploring. Turkish tea is also a must try, it is an acquired taste and quite strong. Fishing boats near the Bosphorus at Eminonu also sell fresh fish in bread with lemon juice and salad. At 3 Liras, this is a must try!
Let me know if you have visited Istanbul before and what your favourite sites were, or if Istanbul is on your bucket list!