If you’re heading to Istanbul for a visit, believe me, you’re very lucky! Istanbul is one of my favourite cities on earth, and the fact it is so cultural, historic, and downright beautiful, means you will almost certainly be planning your next trip as soon as the first one is over with!
The only city on earth to straddle two continents, one part of Istanbul lies in Europe, the other in Asia, and it’s a definite must-do to see both sides.
Of course, a city of this vast size means plenty to see and do, but how do you know where to focus your attention? Well, here are a few of my tips on the best places to visit when you head to beautiful and intriguing Istanbul.
Night-life and shopping central, Taksim is where the evening comes alive, however it’s not all about modern-day amenities. Istiklal Street is famous, and the old-fashioned red tram which runs up and down the street is a fun ride. During the weekends you will find this stretch is extremely busy, so do hang on to your bags. The Metro system is pretty easy to navigate, so if you are staying in any other part of Istanbul, perhaps Sultanahmet, then you will be able to get back and forth with minimal fuss.
The ancient part of the city is the most historic, and this is where you will find many of the main attractions. We’ll cover those separately next, but Sultanahmet as a district is worth mentioning in terms of the feel of it. Basically Taksim is very Turkish in feel, but also quite western, however Sultanahmet is where you will find a truly Turkish experience. Be quite respectful of what you wear in this area, especially if you’re heading to the historical buildings, such as the Blue Mosque, but during winter, especially when the snow is on the ground, this part of the city is simply magical.
The Blue Mosque stands opposite the Hagia Sofia in Sultanahmet and is simply breath-taking both inside and out. The tall minarets soar high into the sky, and dominate the scene, but once you enter you will certainly drop your jaw. Remember to do a little reading into mosque etiquette before you enter, e.g. women must cover their heads, wear respectful clothing, and everyone must remove shoes. The interior of the mosque is simply beautiful, with small mosaic-style decoration.
The Hagia Sofia stands opposite the Blue Mosque and whilst it might not be much to look at from the outside, the inside still stays with me to this day. It is simply beautiful, with golden-lit chandeliers seeming to hover in mid-air, and the sentiment of the entire building is something to behold. This is where Islam and Christianity sit together within one building, and despite the fact you have to pay a very small entrance charge to get in, it is worth every single penny.
Cruise the Bosphorus
If you’re not a fan of seagulls, perhaps leave this one, but a cruise over the mighty Bosphorus river, with the Bosphorus Bridge in the near distance is a must do. Seagulls tend to flock to the ships because everyone feeds them bread, and they are certainly hungry creatures along this stretch of water!
The Grand Bazaar
My last suggestion is the huge and quite amusing Grand Bazaar. I say ‘amusing’ simply because you will get lost, so make peace with this fact and embrace the hilarity! Even the locals get a little misplaced in this maze of market stalls, and the colourful and loud atmosphere is certainly intoxicating. Haggle for a few souvenirs to take home, you never know how cheap you could get them!
These are just a few suggestions, and there are certainly countless more things to see and do in Istanbul, but as a starter, make these your first bets.