In ancient times, Turkey was known as the Byzantine Empire, Constantinople and later the Ottoman Empire. Istanbul. Turkey is an iridescent city, offering a great variety of things to do, see and most importantly to eat. Packed with history, architecture, legacies and pregnant with culture that is bound to leave you armed with enviable trivia. You are bound to have a cultural immersion that will leave you enthralled. To top it all off, Istanbul is relatively inexpensive.
I went during the rainy season (October) sigh! However I did manage to get one day of sunshine which I packed as much touristy things in. Here’s what I recommend you do in Istanbul:
Visit the Blue Mosque and marvel at the six minarets and the thousands of Iznik tiles that delicately create a beautiful blue dome over the building. This was built during the Ottoman Empire by Sultan Ahmet who demanded a mosque to rival the grandeur of the Hagia Sophia.
Hagia Sophia was both an orthodox church and a mosque, Hagia Sophia, however it is now a UNESCO museum that houses Ottoman- and Byzantine relics and artifacts. You can still see traces of Christian murals and mosaics and beautiful stained glass windows.
Note: This is a functional mosque so you will have to be dress modestly and wear a scarf over your head.
Topkapi Palace, Like Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace is now a museum and home to a collection of ornaments and tombs that once belonged to the city’s sultans.
The Grand Bazaar is one of the world’s most famous souqs/ market with over 60 streets and thousands more shops, the bazaar can be overwhelming colorful and you can shop for jewelry, leather, pottery, spices and silverware. There are so many beautiful things that will tempt you to spend. One word of advice Bargain Bargain Bargain!
Visit a hamam and get naked. No it’s not what you’re thinking. This is a traditional Turkish bath house, kind of like a spa where they give you various body treatments and scrubs. You will not regret it. I had the funniest Hammam experience that involved a singing and dancing lady. It was good fun. In case you’re worried, male and female baths are separated. What were you thinking?
Visit Istiklal Avenue for the most hip and happening fashion hub with branded stores, cafes, bars, restaurants and ice cream shops. This is where all the fun goes down.
Go on a day cruise down the Marmara Sea and see the Bosphorous Bridge that separates the Asian and European sides of Turkey. See mosques, beautiful houses on the hills landmarks such as the Dolmabahçe Palace, the Rumeli Ruins, the Maiden’s Tower.
Eat a sesame seed covered pretzel from street vendors. Never in my life have I had such freshly baked goodness. I was so addicted to them. You can also get pretzels with Nutella or peanut butter. Yum!
Drink Turkish tea. If you come to Istanbul you have to drink their delicious black tea out of a traditional tulip-shaped glasses. Turkish tea is prepared by using a two layered teapot one to boil the water, and the other to brew the tea.
Great restaurant serving authentic Turkish cuisine.
Sample Turkish delight. Also known as lokum to locals, Turkish delight is a popular yummy treat. Flavors range from rose, cinnamon, mint, strawberry, lemon, orange, kiwi, pomegranate and apple. So yummy and chewy this is enough to keep your mouth busy for days!
Try some Raki which is a popular alcoholic unsweetened, anise flavored drink that is popular in Turkey, as an aperitif. It is often served with meze and seafood. It is similar to several other alcoholic beverages available around the Mediterranean and the Middle East. It hellava strong…beware!
Have you heard of Baklava? Baklava is made with layers of phyllo pastry filled with chopped nuts and sweetened with syrup or honey. It’s very sweet so be warned!
If you’re looking for good street food why not try a Doner Kabab/ Shwarmas. Fun fact: The Doner kebab originates in Turkey. Also the meat here is to die for sooo fresh and so tasty! Eat a doner kebab. Doner is a Turkish dish made with meat cooked on a spinning vertical rotisserie. Like a shawarma. The meat can be lamb, beef, or chicken, and it’s served in a pita with vegatables and a few toppings. Its delicious and super cheap.
Dine with the best view of Istanbul. If you want a gourmet restaurant with a great view that won’t break your wallet, I recommend Topaz with beautiful views of the Bosphorous and the most delicious appletinis in the history of ever.
Take a day trip to the Princes’ Islands on the Asian side of Istanbul via ferry.
The island we went to, one of nine islands, reminded me of an opulent Victorian town complete with horses and carriages.
Such beautiful houses adorn the streets.
Royalty was often exiled on these islands, interestingly Leon Trostky was exiled from the Soviet Union on one of the islands. It was raining heavily when I went so hardly saw much but I loved the serenity the island offered.
Non nom on Lahmacun, which is considered to be the Turkish equivalent of pizza. It’s got a thin base topped with minced meat, vegetables and herbs. It can get quite spicy…prepare for yummiville.
Eat Turkish dondurma which is a Turkish ice cream which has a stretchy and stringy texture and has a resistance to melting. A victory for messy ice cream eaters. The name translates as “freezing. They use a thickening agent called salep , which is a type of flour and also mastic, a resin that imparts chewiness.
Walking in around the city was peaceful. The streets are clean and pretty.
Beyglou is the neighbourhood I stayed in. Its right in the city centre and close enough to all the touristy places. It feels very down to earth and right there with the locals, narrow roads, shops, restaurants, and bars. Beyoglu is also central to major transportation such as buses, taxis and trains. The trains are so efficient and cheap.
The revolutionary Taksim Square that represents freedom and independence.
Turkey, although cold and rainy, you were fantastic..
So long till we meet again!