Istanbul

  • Dress modestly and remember that some of the city’s most popular attractions, such as the Blue Mosque, are actually religious destinations as well – be respectful!
  • In mosques women must cover their heads, so be sure to have a head scarf with you. Also, take appropriate clothing (no shorts allowed).
  • Keep in mind that Istanbul is a very hilly city: wear comfortable shoes, as you are likely to be doing a lot of walking and the city has many slopes.
  • The city’s public transportation is modern, clean, efficient and inexpensive. For many visitors (and locals), the tram system is an especially handy way to get around.
  • You can buy a museum pass valid for 3 or 5 days. Check the exact conditions (google Istanbul pass) to decide if it suits you and be aware that it doesn’t include transportation.

Istanbul was the most pleasant travel surprise of my life. You have all heard the warnings, stereotypes, and challenges (for women especially) in this Muslim country and I am happy to say NONE of them were experienced by me.

Founded in 330 BC, Istanbul (the city of the four biggest empires: Roman, Byzantine, Latin and Ottoman) is the largest city of Turkey and one of the most important cities in the Orient with a population of 15 million, making it the sixth largest city in the world.  Built on two Continents, divided by the Bosphorus Strait, Istanbul is the link between the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara and it held always an important role in the history of humanity in this part of the world due to his strategic location.

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Things about Istanbul:

  1. During the times of the Ottoman Empire, there were 1400 public toilets around the city while in the rest of Europe there were none.
  2. Istanbul has the third oldest subway in the world. It was built in 1875 after the ones in London and in New York in 1863 and 1868, respectively. It is 573 meters long and it is located in the Beyoglu district.
  3. British author Agatha Christie wrote her famous novel, Murder on the Orient Express at Pera Palas Hotel in Istanbul. The Orient Express train ran between Paris and Constantinople (Istanbul) from 1883 to 1977.
  4. The Blue Mosque is the only mosque in the city with six minarets. Legend has it that when it was built, it had one minaret more than the Grand Mosque in Mecca (four was the common maximum at that time) and this was considered disrespectful in the Muslim world. In order to solve the issue, one more minaret had to be added to the Grand Mosque.
  5. Hagia Sophia was the largest church in the world for about 900 years until Seville Cathedral was completed in 1520. It was also one of the 20 finalists for the New 7 Wonders of the World.
  6. The first tulips bulbs were sent from the Ottoman Empire to Vienna in 1554 and they were distributed further to Augsburg, Antwerp and Amsterdam. Afterwards they grew in popularity in the Netherlands as they proved to be able to tolerate the harsher weather conditions.
  7. The four bronze horses decorating the San Marco Cathedral in Venice were taken from Istanbul (Constantinople at that time) by the crusaders in the 13th century.
  8. The Grand Bazaar is the oldest and largest historical bazaar in the world with 3000 shops covering 61 streets. You would need three days to see them all.
  9. Tea has become a national drink only recently. Before that it was Turkish coffee but when it became expensive and tea leaves could be grown in the Black Sea region, tea took its place. Coffee cannot be produced in Turkey because of the unfavorable climate for its production.
  10. Istanbul was the European Cultural capital in 2010. Two years later it became the world’s fifth-most-popular tourist destination. Currently it’s bidding for the 2020 Summer Olympics.

Famous for both its historical monuments that have survived the centuries and beautiful landscapes, Istanbul has become a popular choice for short breaks. Three or four full days in Istanbul will allow you to experience the delights of Istanbul and give you plenty of time to visit the famous sights from the Blue Mosque to the Grand Bazaar. It’s very accessible even by foot, with many attractions and landmarks to explore and with delicious local cuisine. Istanbul has a rich and unique history as the capital of three great empires. Istanbul has friendly people and an abundance of well priced hotels and restaurants that will make your stay comfortable and trouble free.

Beautiful mosques, great restaurants, palaces, museums, Egyptian Obelisks, Roman remains, trams, the bazaars, beautiful squares, bustling shops and friendly people – all within easy walking distance of each other. Best to stay in this area in one of the many cheap hotels. Again: take comfy shoes and a head scarf if visiting the many mosques! The restaurants sell traditional Turkish food in this area and not all serve alcohol. The old city is a fairly conservative area and there is not an abundance of bars, although you should find enough to keep you amused. There are several places to change money and they offer a good rate of exchange.

Sultanahmet district

This is the old part of Istanbul and the area with the most must see attractions. In this are you can find Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Basilica Cistern, Laleli University, Grand and Spice Bazars and lots of beautiful views, so you cannot miss going through Sultanahmet. Is a great place to relax and unwind after so much walking. Take a rest stop at one of the many cafés for a Turkish coffee and a game of chess, or be more luxuriant and get all of the day’s dust and ware off at one of the many Turkish Baths in the area – the neighborhood is famous for its Hamams! This is the perfect spot to unwind and rejuvenate while enjoying the metropolitan atmosphere.

As I described in San Francisco post (China Town), I love the red lanterns, which are strung up and down on the narrow streets because introduced me in the magic world of the asian culture.

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Blue Mosque

Located in Sultanahmet, the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Camii) is an architectural marvel still in use for services today. Known for the cobalt blue tiles that line its interior, this spot is a world-famous destination due to its sprawling courtyard, magnificent mosaics, and vast minarets. Enter via the old Hippodrome.

I suggest visiting here early on in your trip so that you have plenty of time to come and see it again before you leave. Allow yourself at least half an hour to visit inside. There are benches facing the mosque so you can spend limitless time here watching the world go by and admiring the beauty of the mosque. The Blue Mosque was built between 1609 and 1616 and is known as the Blue Mosque because of the blue tiles inside.

 Hagia Sofia

Converted from a church to a mosque, and now a breathtaking museum tiled in gold, the Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya) was built in 537AD and remains not only a tribute to human imagination, but an impressive feat of art, engineering, and architecture. This location is for the history enthusiast, the art enthusiast, and qualifies as a must-see for anyone visiting Istanbul. A short walk from the Hagia Sophia, this Palace-turned-museum houses fantastic ancient relics, waterfront views, and, in the warmer months, beautiful gardens. A great spot to enjoy the view at a café while soaking in more culture and history.hagia-sophia-interior-istanbul-turkey-720x480

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Basilica Cistern

Located near to the Blue Mosque, the ancient hallway of the Basilica Cistern is hauntingly lit. Roman columns have been keeping the underground cistern spacious and beautiful since 532 AD. Soak in the history, and do it in style; you are able to take photos in old Ottoman dress once inside.basilica-cistern-istanbul-turkey-720x502

Taksim Square

Taksim Square is perfect for any nightlife enthusiast. Restaurants stay open late, and the area is resplendent with nightclubs, dance halls, and bars. It is also easily accessible by metro and bus.

Topkapi Palace

Not far from Topkapi Palace (about fifteen minutes by public transport), the Grand Bazaar in the Old City is a place to get your adventurer’s blood flowing. After learning the history of some of the city’s greatest landmarks, experience the culture via the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of the Grand Bazaar, one of the world’s largest marketplaces. Located on the Silk Road of yore, it’s good for anyone who is ready for shopping, eating, and interacting with the locals!

Grand Bazar

The Grand Bazaar is one of the largest covered markets in the world. It is huge, a maze of 61 streets and 3000 shops! Some guide books suggest spending several hours here, which you could, however we felt an hour was enough to walk around just some of the many streets. This gave us a flavour of the bazaar and we were able to enjoy the bustling atmosphere. The Bazaar is very busy with tourists exploring, as well as locals enjoying Turkish tea. There were lots of shops selling lamps and carpets as you might expect so it is the place to come if you are looking for a souvenir. Be aware, most of the things are overpriced.

Spice Bazar

After visiting the Grand Bazaar we walked through the Spice Bazaar. The colours and smells are amazing and you can take some fabulous photos. There is so much food here from spices, Turkish delight and tea in so many flavours. It is much smaller than the Grand Bazaar and if anything I preferred it. The spice bazaar has been in Istanbul since the 1660s.turkey-istanbul-spice-stall-spice-bazaar

Galata Bridge

After walking through the Spice Bazaar we walked down to the Galata Bridge. To the right of the bridge you can purchase tickets for the river cruise. A river cruise is an excellent way to see the Bosphorus and the many sites along it such as: Dolmabahçe Palace; Ciragan Palace; mansions, Ortakoy Mosque, Beylerbeyi Palace, Küçüksu Kasri (a hunting lodge). At present they are constructing a new bridge to be called the Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge.

Famous for fish take a walk along the bridge following the river cruise. There are lots of fisherman fishing off the bridge and there is a constant flow of people crossing the water. If you walk along the bottom level of the bridge there are fish restaurants which I hear are some of the best – however I did not sample any. The original Galata bridge was constructed in 1845 however the one that stands today (the fifth) was completed in the 1990’s.

 

 

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