The Ultimate Guide to Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul is truly a city I will never forget.  It was an incredible experience to walk through the streets to see buildings and mosques that were built hundreds of years ago while listening as the call of prayer echoed through the streets.  The city was full of spectacular colors and patterns and joyful people that made me feel welcome into their city full of history and culture.  It has a plethora of things for any traveller to enjoy such as haggling in the markets, exploring the history of museums and mosques, or simply watching the sunset from the Bosphorus Strait.

 

Grand Baazar

With over 4,000 stores on the inside and outside of this Baazar, you will surely be able to find a souvenir to send home to your family and friends (or a treat for yourself of course).  I was fascinated by the variety of patterns and designs that people created with for their pieces, many centered around the Nazar.  The Nazar is an eye-shaped amulet (always blue) believed to protect against the “evil eye.”  People hang them around the places they want to feel safe such as their home, car, or as a piece of jewelry (I bought a couple different pieces and they are in all of those places).

The Blue Mosque

It is estimated that this magnificent mosque was built between 1606 and 1616 as a project of Sultan Ahmed I.  This mosque is full of more than 20,000 sparkling, handmade blue tiles that will make you want to sit and look at the architectural beauty for ages. Make sure to dress appropriately but scarves and skirts are provided if necessary.

Hagia Sofia

The now-turned museum reveals a lot about Istanbul’s religious history. It was first an Orthodox Cathedral from 532 to 1453, then converted into a Mosque, until it became secularized in 1931 and turned into the museum that it remains as today. However, it is currently still technically considered to be the world’s second largest cathedral.  In any case, it’s beautiful structure of large domes and crafted mosaics transcend its history and it still remains an eighth wonder of the world.

 

Turkish Treats

  • Turkish ice cream (dondurma) was a new type of ice cream for me because of its super stretchy consistency.  It’s traditionally made with sugar, milk, salep flour and mastic gum (which gives it the consistency).  The people scooping the ice cream usually put on a fun show by playfully flipping the cone upside down and around for you as an extra treat!
  • At pretty much every restaurant my roommate and I went to we were offered apple tea and other types of delicious Turkish desserts by the owners, which we always politely accepted to accept their warmth and hospitality.  The apple tea is a very popular drink in Turkey and you will probably encounter it at virtually every cafe in the city.

Listen to the call to prayer

It was our first morning in Istanbul when my roommate and I were awakened suddenly at dawn by the call to prayer over the city’s loudspeaker which happens in this Islamic country five times a day.  It was an amazing experience to watch people in the streets stop and come together in order to join in prayer during parts of the day and night.

Bridge to Asia

The Bosphorus Bridge is a connector between Europe and Asia along the Bosphorus Strait. So, if you cross from the Europe side you can literally walk into another continent! There are also magnificent views of the city from the areas around the bridge, especially at sunset.

 

(A little celebration dance crossing the bridge)

Pet a Stray Cat

Cats are literally everywhere in Istanbul, including the streets, on top of cars, and some even sat near us as as we ate lunch outside the Hagia Sofia.  I learned that stray cats are actually pretty well taken care of because water and food is put out by many of the locals.

I have to confess I was very scared at first to visit Istanbul, but as soon as I released all the preconceived ideas I had I was able to open up my eyes and my heart to the beauty of this city.  Walking through historic treasures in a hijab and talking with Turkish shop owners really allowed myself to immerse into the amazing history and culture around me.  I will never forget you Istanbul and I promise I will return.

 

Any favorite places of yours that I missed? Let me know in the comments!

 

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5 Replies to “The Ultimate Guide to Istanbul, Turkey”

  1. Such a beautiful city. You had me at “cat.” 🙂

  2. I haven’t actually been to Istanbul. I lived in Europe for over two years and it was in my top five, yet I sadly never made it there. If I do ever end up going, you’ve given me a few ideas of what to do if time there is short. Hagia Sofia is a definite. 🙂

  3. I love Istanbul, and for me its one of the great cities of the world. Your photos do it great justice too 🙂 The twin gems of Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, plus the Bosphorous, are all definite highlights – another one for me is the Topkapi Palace, which is amazing.

  4. Istanbul must be amazing – I knew it before, and you just reinforced this in me. But with the current political situation I am not sure I would want to visit in the near future… 🙁

  5. Istambul must be one of the best cities to do an escapade.
    It has so much to see, do and eat 🙂

    I need to put it in my travel list for the next years

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