1. The People.
It is no accident that the People of Istanbul are No. 1 on my list. Turkish people are honest, ever helpful and surprising in their quirkiness.
Vendor at the Talarbasi Sunday Market, Istanbul.
2. The Mosques.
The imposing Blue Mosque has deserved top billing amongst the more than 3000 Mosques in Istanbul, while the diminutive hidden Rustem Pasha Mosque is prone to stealing hearts.
The mosque shown below, presiding atop one of the famed seven hills and overlooking the Golden Horn was built for Suleyman the Magnificent between 1550 and 1557 and it truly is magnificent. Entry is free to all Mosques but they cannot be visited during prayers.
The Suleymaniye Mosque.
3. Istiklal Caddesi.
Both modern and traditional at the same time, Istiklal Caddesi is the street that embraces locals and tourists equally. Istiklal means Independence in Turkish but before assuming this name, it was known as the Grand Rue de Pera. The atmosphere of pedestrian bustle, iconic trams and Dondurma vendors is addictive, especially in the early evening when the festive lights work their magic.
I suggest staying in the Beyoglu District so that a stroll down Istiklal becomes a twice daily event, providing twice the entertainment.
4. The Food.
The renowned Turkish Village breakfast is too good to pass up and this rather special one was found at Cafe Privato in the Galata District, the rendezvous for a blogger’s brunch. Our co-conspirators for the feast being Jenny from A Taste of Travel, Jo from Frugal First Class Travel. Is there anything better than a group of bloggers meeting up on the road with an endless supply of food and chatter? I think not.
I would not class Cafe Privato as a budget option, but the Turkish breakfast is superb and worth the money.
5. The Galata Bridge and Tower.
Sydney is the most well-known city in our home country of Australia and the Sydney Harbour Bridge the most well known and loved feature of that city (hand in hand with the Opera House of course). In parallel, Istanbul is certainly Turkey’s most celebrated city, even though like Sydney it is not the Capital.
The Galata Bridge and Tower, that’s it shown below, are what I associate with and love most about Istanbul. Galata is a great place to stay in Istanbul for first timers. We stayed there and each day offered a jaunt across the Galata Bridge passing the ever-hopeful fishermen and for one week we lived in the shadow of that enchanting Rapunzel like tower – Galata Tower.
As early morning fades, the restaurants below Galata Bridge fill up with patrons eager for Balik Emek, the traditional Turkish fish sandwich.
Entrance Fees. Bridge Free. Tower 12tl. Balik Emek 6tl.
Galata Bridge joining historical Sultanahmet with the trending district of Beyoglu, with the waters of the Golden Horn flowing beneath.
6. The Basilica Cistern.
It takes a while for the eyes to adjust when first entering this cool damp Byzantine cistern (532). It was rediscovered in 1545 when locals revealed they could retrieve water by simply lowering buckets beneath their floorboards, neglected by the Ottomans and finally restored in 1985 and opened to the public in 1987. It originally held 80,000 cu m of water delivered by 20km of aqueducts from a reservoir on the Black Sea coast. Peer into the pools of reflected light at the schools of carp, and don’t forget to locate the Medusa Head pillars (just follow the crowds).
Entrance 10tl. The cool factor on a hot day – priceless.
7. Hagia Sophia.
Designed by a mathematician and a physicist originally as a Greek Basilica (537), changing into a Mosque (1453-1935) and then a Museum (1935 till today) – how many lives can one building have?
Considered the perfect example of Byzantine architecture, the huge dome had forty windows inserted beneath, giving it the illusion from within of floating on light.
Emperor Justinian spared no expense in the then basilica’s construction – columns were pilfered from Ephesus, and coloured stone and marble brought from as far as Syria and Egypt. Byzantine emperors were crowned here on the marble square in the main floor. I loved the muted pink of the exterior walls, but the interior expanse needs to be seen to be appreciated.
8. The Palaces.
The Topkapi Palace sprawls beside the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia on a hill in Sultanahmet, strategically overlooking the Bosphorus Straits.
The Sultans, Courtiers, Eunuchs and concubines of the Ottoman Court lived a life of intrigue at Topkapi between the 15th and 19th Centuries. Go for the Harem, gold treasures, multiple decorated pavilions and unforgettable views from the Treasury Terrace. The huge Palace Kitchens house Chinese porcelain that reportedly changes colour if tainted by poison – a handy thing to possess in treacherous times. The Iznik Tiles, Gilded Mirrors, Jewels, Costumes, pools and exotic furnishings of the Topkapi palace are impressive. HERE are some more Istanbul Palaces.
Palace 25tl, Harem 15tl. Purchase both at the main entrance.
Topkapi Palace taken from the Kadikoy Ferry.
The Topkapi Palace Harem interior with it’s striking tiles, patterns and glazing.
9. The Markets.
A visit to the Grand Bazaar is traditionally Istanbul’s tantamount shopping experience, but today many save their gift buying for the Arasta Bazaar, hidden away near the Blue Mosque in Sultanahmet which supposedly offers a more peaceful experience. Why not try both?
We purchased some fresh dates at the Spice Market (priced according to quality) and although ours was not a budget buy they were the best dates I have ever eaten.
The Spice Market.
10. Water Views and Ferries.
It is said that the Bosphorus divides Europe and Asia – splitting Istanbul between the two. Before we arrived I imagined that the European side of Istanbul would be more European in flavour than the Asian, but the difference is purely geographical – all of Istanbul is distinctly Turkish.
Once visited, Istanbul can not be thought of without envisaging water, ferries, fishermen and gulls.
The Bosphorus on it’s way through Istanbul links the inland Black Sea with the Sea Of Marmara and then on through the Dardanelles (the straits near the Gallipoli Peninsula) to the Agean Sea. The Princes Islands in the Sea of Marmara can be reached by Ferry from Istanbul and are a popular day trip.
In the photo below the Bosphorus is directly ahead, the Sea of Marmara on the right and to the left (unseen) is the Golden Horn.
Photo taken from the Topkapi Palace Treasury terrace.
Cengelkoy a district of Istanbul on the Asian shore. ThIs photo is taken looking back toward the Topkapi Palace positioned on the central distant hill.
The waters of the Golden Horn inlet from the hill district of EYUP.
Ferries are vital for commuting workers but should also be on every tourists’ to do list. The Kadikoy Ferry is one ferry that links The European and Asian shores providing a different view of the sights for only 3tl. For a lot more, dedicated cruises ply the 31km length of the Bosphorus complete with commentary.
The Real Reason to Visit Istanbul.
Despite the terrain, much of this City built on seven hills (in Turkish Yedi tepeli şehir) is walkable, and what better excuse – than that of screaming calf muscles – is there to stop for that tulip glass of tea, or nostalgic turkish coffee, or to partake in a Dondurma Magic Act. After all is said and done, the only reason anyone needs to visit Istanbul are those everyday yet exotic sights, sounds, smells and tastes that are just waiting to be discovered.
This post is linked to Nancie’s Budget Travelers Sandbox Travel Photo Thursday.