Paris is unique, Rome too. But Istanbul is truly a diamond amongst all of them. There is no other city in the world that spans two continents and is split by the Bosphorus River.
Besides attending a sporting or cultural event or partying with funny Istanbulites- the metropolis is historically rich. Its former names are Byzantium and Constantinople. Nowadays it is an exhilarating cosmopolitan city, which bridges cultures and traditions between Europe and Asia. And it is home to 20 million people of different religions, races and traditions.
The Greeks, the Jews, the Armenians etc. – All of them have lived here for centuries and left an indelible heritage. Influences from the Romans, Greeks and Ottomans, Islam and Christianity. Also mixed with a pinch of Arabic flair. And where modern architecture meets ancient ruins.
Mesmerizing! It all blends together beautifully in such a refined grandeur. It’s really a masterpiece.
Istanbul and Turkish Cuisine
Anyone want to enjoy one of the tastiest cuisines in the world?
Istanbul is not only rich in history. But their cuisine is renowned as well.
Turkish breakfast is unlike any breakfast around the world. It is more like a brunch by all the variations of bread, cheese, jams and spreads, vegetables and olives traditionally.
Moreover, street food is more than just Turkish kebabs: Simit, corn and chestnut vendors are everywhere. Simits are bagels coated in sesame seeds and a must-try on your trip.
You could wander around some bazaars and sample dried fruits, nuts, Turkish delights and baklava. It’s (almost) worth it gaining weight in Istanbul.
For vegans – I recommend lentil soups. Dürüm (wrap with balls made of bulgur and herbs). Dolma (stuffed vegetable dishes) and of course the world famous hummus with bread.
Don’t forget street vendors with freshly squeezed orange. And pomegranate juices.
For seafood lover – Don’t miss a fish sandwich beneath the Galata bridge.
Things to Do
On the first day, start a Free Walking Tour right in the city center. So you can get a feeling of what Istanbul is like. It is a good introduction to the city and its history.
It is a huge city and each district is distinctly unique. I will list some of them here.
The best way to explore them is by foot. But the metro system is quite effective if you don’t want to walk around the whole day. Like I did (expect to walk at least 15km per day).
Taksim: Taksim is where Sara and I stayed. It is very crowded and a well-known shopping area for locals and tourists. Here you can find bars, restaurants and nightclubs.
Beyoglu: I would consider this a bohemian cobblestoned district with small shops and restaurants. Close to Galata Tower, you can find the best souvenirs for friends and family.
Sultanahmet: All the main attractions clustered at one spot and prices are higher than anywhere else it seems.
Fener & Balat: A colourful neighborhood with traces of Jewish and Armenian communities living in peaceful co-existence.
Sunsets in Istanbul
Even in November when it is cold and cloudy, the metropolis shows off its beauty. Especially around sunset time.
In summer, the locals proudly boast about their enchanting skies of orange, pink and purple colours. With flapping seagulls in the air.
Take A Cruise
Bosphorus River splits Istanbul into two continents. You can’t miss watching Asia on one side and Europe on the other. The tickets are very cheap.
Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque & Basilica Cistern
The 3 buildings mentioned above are on everyone’s must-see list. And are within walking-distance of the Sultanhamet neighbourhood.
Blue Mosque has beautiful blue tile work. The architecture of Hagia Sophia is the epitome of Christian and Islamic coexistence. Take a walk in the underground of eerie Basilica Cistern to witness two columns of Medusa’s head.
During Ottoman Empire, generations of sultans kept their residence at this impressive architectural icon. Walk through the palace and set yourself back to the 15th century.
My personal highlight of all touristy top-notch places is the Dolmabahçe Palace. Where the main administrative center of the Ottoman Empire was located in the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. Hence be sure to get a glimpse of the Harem, where the wives and mother of the sultan lived.
Istanbul’s Archaeology Museums
If you want to learn more about the history of the region, please head to the Archaeology Museums. All three are clustered in one place. And they display one of the world’s largest collections of classical antiques.
Bazaars and Hammam
Bargain for souvenirs and breathe in different scents of the Grand Bazaar. And Istanbul is known for its variety of Bazaars and you haven’t experienced the “Real Istanbul” if you didn’t get lost and wander in one of them.
The traditional bathhouses are called hammam. Which are worth a visit. Unfortunately, Sara and I were short on time. Hence we decided to ditch it for other activities. Furthermore, the prices range from very basic to luxurious.
Whirling Dervish Ceremony
The nightlight scene is undoubtedly vibrant.
But instead of dancing the night away. Instead we decided to witness a Whirling Dervish Ceremony at Hodjapasha Centre.
Sufi whirling is like a physically-active meditation practiced by the Mevlevi order, a branch of sufism. The hatted men wearing skirts and spin in repetitive circles. With the aim of reaching perfection while abandoning one’s ego, desires and focusing on God. As a result imagine it as a symbolic imitation of the solar system in which the planets are orbiting the sun.
Next Destination Is Iran
From hitchhiking in Eastern Europe I ended up in Istanbul. Also I hope this article will give you a little insight into this beautiful city and what to do.
Now I am on my way to my next adventure and the upcoming destination is…. Iran. A country I’ve wanted to visit for a very long time!