Places to see and Things to in Istanbul
I was looking for a cheap holiday a couple of months ago and I couldn’t had found a better deal than a visit to the city of Istanbul; the offer included flight, 4 days and 3 nights in a 4* hotel for £175. I have to be honest; it was not in my top 10 list of places to visit and it never crossed my mind until I saw the offer; however, I completely fell in love with this beautiful city, the food is absolutely fantastic, food is great and people are absolutely lovely; there is nothing I didn’t like about the largest and more exciting city of Turkey. The outstanding landmarks, palaces, mosques, towers and boat trip have made Istanbul - ‘Byzantium and Constantinople’ my second favourite city in the world (only after Rome).
After my short stay in this city, I have finally understood why my Turkish friends are so passionate about their country; the feeling and vibe is so intense, the friendliness of the people makes you feel like being at home and the delightfulness of the food obliges you to order more. If you are a westerner the first thing that comes to your mind is security and safety; but I have to admit: I felt safer in Istanbul than in London or New York; you only need to worry if you are a single, pretty and young female travelling on your own, but just because you will receive a lot of attention from the male population.
1. The Blue Mosque
History, beauty and grandeur are just three simple words we could use the describe one of the most remarkable landmarks in the world; the first thing that will come out of your mouth is ‘wow’. The Blue Mosque is located in the Sultanahmet area and was built after the Ottomans took the city from the Christina Byzantine Empire; it was originally built to compete with the Aya Sofya and they did a great job; it is difficult to decide which one is most amazing; however, they both have their own history and particularities; you can enter the mosque for free and without any problem; they will only ask you to remove your shoes and wear a headscarf (if you are a woman) as a sign of respect.
2. Hagia Sophia Museum
The Hagia or Aya Sofia has been through a lot of changes since its construction; it was originally built as Cathedral, then it was transformed into an Imperial Mosque and although this 1,500 years old landmark now functions as a Museum, you can still feel the sacred atmosphere; however, it is important to highlight that any kind of worship is completely forbidden within the area of this building. The interior of the museum is absolutely fascinating; one of the most interesting Mosaics in the museum is the Jesus Christ figure on the Deeis Mosaic. There is a small entry free but it is worth it.
3. Topkapi Palace
This beautiful building is actually a Palace and was the residence of the Ottoman Sultans for 400 years. The majestic Ottoman Architecture is a great example of the grandeur of this civilization and the importance of imperial rivalry. Visit the museum to discover wonderful treasures but don’t miss the panoramic views of the Bosphorous and the city centre. You should dedicate at least one full day to explore the palace, gardens and museums and I highly recommend using the audio guide; there are good cafes within the building but it is also possible to take your lunch and have a picnic in the garden.
4. The Grand Bazaar
One of the best things to do in Istanbul is to wander through Grand Bazaar, it is not only history and over 2,000 shops where you will be able to buy carpets, Turkish delights, jewellery and lamps; the Grand Bazaar is the largest and oldest covered markets in the world. I absolutely love this place and the good news is that opposite to other markets, you won’t get a lot pressure from the vendors; you don’t have to buy anything but if you do, you better practice your haggle techniques.
The bazaar is open from Monday to Saturday (8:30am to 7:30pm)
5. The Spice Market
The smells of spices, coffee, incense and all it s culinary mix completely transports you to the time of the sultans and to an inexplicable state of ecstasy; it is absolutely great. The market is located in the Fatih, just a few minutes walk from the city centre and it is the second largest covered bazaar in the world (only after the Grad Bazaar); you will find all kind of spices possible; even those that you never knew they existed. The combination of the different smell and the vibrant colours, as well as the very friendly will make a visit to this place unforgettable.
6. Other Places to See and Do in Istanbul
You must take a Boat Trip on the Bosphorus (it connects the Black Sea to the Marmara Sea;) the highlights are to see the Dolmabahce Camii and the Ciragan Palace. Take time to visit Galata Tower (a medieval stone tower in the Galata district); the Ramparts surrounding Istanbul (Built, first time in the 7th century). In order to understand more about the Turkish culture you must attend a Sufi music and Whirling Ceremony; this is a physically active meditation which originated among Sufis. Last but not less important; if you are in Turkey, you must go to one of the many wonderful Turkish Baths that the city offers.
7. Turkish People and Turkish Food
They are very friendly people, tourists are treated very well and they make an effort to make you feel safe and at home; from the moment you take a taxi at the airport, they will start making conversation with you; that might come as a shock if you come from a big city such as London, Paris, New York; but don’t be put off by this; this is the way they are; visitors are considered a gift from God so give them a chance. Turkish food is absolutely delicious; the variety of dishes, very rich in spices and flavour is a unique experience; however my favourite part was the Turkish deserts: baklavas, Turkish delights, macun, all sweets are just yummy.
I have also prepared other travel guides that you might want to keep if you love travelling:
Top 10 Places to See in Singapore
Places to See in Kuala Lumpur, "Malaysia"
Places to visit in Spain - Andalusia
Places to Visit in London; Top 10 Places to See in London
Bogota; top 10 places to visit in the city of Bogota