There are few cities which have a beautiful mesh of cultures and continents. Istanbul is one such place. It is the gateway to both Asia and Europe, and it has a lot to offer. Istanbul sits across the two continents and is divided by a waterway that is called the Bosphorus.
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“Life can’t be all that bad, I’d think from time to time. Whatever happens, I can always take a long walk along the Bosphorus.”Orhan Pamuk
So as you can imagine, the city itself combines a mix of both of the cultures, and it is heavily reflected in everything from the markets to the food.
Like anywhere with such a unique mix of cultures, it would take a long time to really get to know the city. But there are some things that really stand out when you only have a short time to spend exploring.
If you want to see some of the most stunning, colourful, and detailed goods in the world, then you need to visit the Grand Bazaar.
It might be one of the most exciting experiences that you will ever have. It has over 5000 shops and is spread across 60 streets.
Back in the 15th century, it was an incredibly important trading centre. There would be a range of traders from Africa, Asia, and Europe who would bring their ‘exotic’ items for sale.
To fully appreciate this amazing place, you are going to need to block out at least half a day (or more). Luckily when you get peckish or thirsty (and you will), there are many cafes nestled in between the spices and jewellry stalls.
This is one of the most famous sites in Istanbul, and most people will want to take a look. The Sultan Ahmed Mosque is wrapped in blue tiles that give it the name The Blue Mosque.
Before you go here, you should know that it is still a functioning mosque, and as such, when you visit, you need to adhere to the rules. You will need to wear trousers, and women must have their heads and shoulders covered.
This is one for the early risers and is the ideal way to begin your day in Istanbul. The Blue Mosque is located in the old city – which means you can check out other sites nearby pretty easily.
Rather than risk getting lost, which can happen a lot, you can book a cab with the Fat Taxi rank. There’s nothing like local road knowledge to get you where you want to go.
Here’s where you may be surprised – but in a rather nice way. Istanbul is very friendly, and you might even be invited to eat with a local family.
If that isn’t something you’d feel comfortable with, then there are plenty of restaurants serving up delectable dishes. Here are a few dishes that you should try:
This is an omelette style dish and super cheap. There are a few kinds that you can try; some have mushrooms, ground meat, and sausages in them; others are filled with cheese and aubergines.
This will be tea, bread, cheese, olives, thick cream, home, jams, and boiled eggs. And if you feel like indulging, then opt for either Sucuklu Yumurta or Borek – both are more for the meat-eaters though.
Almost every country has it’s own style of dumpling or ravioli, and this is the Turkish one. It is a warm dish but served with cold yogurt and garlic. You can add salt, pepper, sumac, and herbs to taste.
Sure you have probably tried variations all over the world. But nothing beats the real deal. Turkish coffee is a rich blend and packed with flavour. But never take the last sip, or you’ll end up with a mouth full of coffee grinds.
If you’d like to mix with the locals, then the waterfront in Ortakoy is where you need to go.
It used to be a fishing village, but it is now a super chic place to party. You can swing by for a simple glass of wine, or you can dance the night away.
If you want the best views in the city, then you might want to make sure this is added to your list of things to do.
The Galata Tower is situated north of the Golden Horn in the Galata Quater. The tower is 9 stories high with a nightclub and a restaurant cafe. And there is the opportunity to take tours up to view the city.
If heights aren’t your thing, you can enjoy the square at the base of the tower. Enjoy some Turkish Delight with a coffee while watching the world go by.
As mentioned above, Istanbul is on the border of Asia and Europe – which means you can move between both on the Bosphorus. It only takes a few minutes, and you don’t even have to go through customs to make the journey.
The cruise is incredibly scenic, and you can take a stroll along both shorelines at your leisure. If you want to try something delicious while on your travels, then check out Kanlica – it is famed for it’s delectably thick and creamy yoghurt.
This isn’t exactly on the track of where most tourists go – and that is exactly why you should try to make time to visit.
The Byzantine art is quite moving and more than worth the effort to get there. The Chora monastery dates back to the days of Constantine, it became a mosque sometime later and is now a museum.
This used to be a place of worship that served multiple religions over the years.
At one time, it was a Greek Eastern Orthodox basilica, and then 6 decades following it was a Roman Catholic church. It wasn’t until 1453 that it became a mosque and stayed that way until 1931. At which point it was closed.
The grand reopening was in 1935 when it became a museum. It was, at one time, the largest cathedral in the world. And, it has served as the inspiration for other mosques around the world and including The Blue Mosque.
It is still considered one of the greatest examples of Byzantine architecture. And something that really makes it breathtaking is the mosaics of a range of religious scenes.
This stunning building was built by Roman Emperor Justinian 1. It has been supplying water to Istanbul residents since the 6th century.
It is incredibly close to The Blue Mosque, so you can combine the visit with ease.
It is known as the Sunken Place, and the cistern holds a massive 2.8 million cubic feet of water. You can see this cistern in From Russia with Love, the James Bond movie made in 1963.
While much about Istanbul is modern, it wears all of the culture and tradition of the past well. Having an eclectic mix of mosques, cathedrals, bazaars, and basilicas makes it a true feast for both the eyes and the soul. Oozing with charm, the people are extremely friendly, and there is more than enough for any explorer to appreciate.
“Istanbul is a magical seal which unites Europe and Asia since the ancient times. Without a doubt, Istanbul is certainly the most beautiful place of the world.”GERARD DE NERVAL