First of all, I would like to sincerely apologize for the delay of this post. In the meantime I was fulfilling one of my biggest wishes: A cultural trip to Istanbul! As a student of the Arabic and Oriental culture I was more than thrilled to see all the places I read about in my university books. The capital of the former Ottoman Empire is very rich in culture, history and adventure. Istanbul lived up to all my expectations. To make this a bit of a different travel blog post, I will give you a brief description of to-dos and must-sees in this 20-million-people-city.
#1 Visit the mosques
I like to call Istanbul the City of 1001 Mosques, because I feel like this is a fact. Beginning with the Sultan Ahmet Mosque on the Historic Peninsula to Yeni Camii (the “New” Mosque in Eminönü) to the tiniest mosques, every mosque has this typical Ottoman style, which I am unable to describe. You just have to look for yourself!
#2 The Historical Peninsula
You should plan an entire day for this. I recommend starting with the Blue Mosque, the Sultan Ahmet Mosque, which is of free entry. Tourists will receive upon entry headscarfs and skirts to cover their legs. When you exit the Mosque from the main entrance you will see the majestic Hagia Sophia on the other side, which was the role model for the Sultan Ahmet Mosque. From here you can take a relaxed stroll to the Hagia Sophia. Unfortunately, you will be charged for visiting this place. For 85 TL (Turkish Lira) you can purchase the Istanbul Museum Card, which includes free entry not only to the Hagia Sophia, but also the Topkapi Palace, the Harem and offers discounts at many other museums. Bear in mind that this offer is valid for 3 days after purchase.
After the Hagia Sophia, which used to be a church, then a mosque and now a museum, visit the Topkapi Palace. It has a beautiful garden with a view on the Bosporus. Inside the Palace complex you can find several museums (jewelry, clocks, religious artifacts) and the Harem. My favorite museum was the one displaying religious artifacts such as swords of our Prophet Muhammad salallahu alayhi wa-sallam or old keys of the Kaaba in Mekka.
You can end the day with dinner on the terrace right at the back of the palace complex with a stunning view on the sea and the Asian side of Istanbul. Just make sure you bring enough cash: the good view comes with a good price.
#3 Visit the Bazaar
To be honest, I am not a fan of shopping, especially not when I am travelling. Just to experience some oriental flair as seen on TV I would recommend you to visit the Grand Bazaar, which can easily be reached from Cemberlitas tram station. I wouldn’t recommend buying anything there, though, as the prices are really high due to the many tourists. But you should definitely try the Turkish coffee and fresh Baklava there. Unfortunately, I forgot the name of the coffee shop, but I am sure if you ask you will find the right one. I have been told that it is THE place to drink coffee.
#4 Pierre Loti
Take the cable railway up to Pierre Loti. You might stand in queue for a while, but it’s worth it! Not only for the view, but also the piece and quiet up there.
#5 Princes Islands
I think this must have been one of my favorite things to do in Istanbul. I love boat tours and this one was a pretty long one ending up on a cute little island. Of course it is full of tourists, but it really won’t bother you as long as you can take an adventurous coach ride around the whole island.
#6 Bosporus Boat Tour with Sunset in Üsküdar
Yes, another boat tour. This one will take you until the second Bosporus bridge and back to your starting point, but you shouldn’t do that. Instead, get off on the Asian side and walk towards the Kiz Kulesi, the Maiden Tower. There is a restaurant with a breath-taking view not only on the Maiden Tower, but also on the European side of Istanbul.
#7 Take the Marmaray
As for the modes of transportation, you have a huge variety. But this one is definitely one of the most adventurous. The Marmaray metro operates between the European (Sirkeci) and Asian (Üsküdar) side and runs UNDER (!) the sea ground. Yes. You read it right. UNDER THE SEA GROUND. The ride just takes a few minutes. You won’t feel a big difference but I think it’s something one has to do in Istanbul, since this is the only metro of that kind.
#8 Ride the Dolmus
Speaking of modes of transportations, this is a very funny one. Tiny buses operate throughout Istanbul, where you just hop on, hand your money from the back to the person in front of you and so on to the driver and just tell where you need to get off. Make sure you don’t miss your stop, it’s all about speed here!
#9 Eat Simit and a Sucuk Omelet or Melemen for Breakfast
Simit is a sesame ring, which you can buy from street stalls for usually just 1 TL. With that I prefer a nice Sucuk Omelet. Sucuk is a special Turkish sausage, which has a unique spicy taste. Melemen is scrambled eggs with green capsicums, tomatoes and sometimes Sucuk, too. For me this comes close to our delicious Sri Lankan breakfasts.
#10 Get Pampered at the Hamam
This is one of my favorite activities in Oriental countries. Now this is really princess style. At Cemberlitas tram station you can find a nice hamam called Cemberlitas Hamami. There are separate sections for male and female. You pay your fee at the entrance (60 TL for self-service, 90 TL inclusive the scrub) and then you can get started right away. There is a pool and Jacuzzi to relax. In the middle of the hamam is the traditional hot stone which I miss in modern spas, such as in Dubai. There you can lay as long as you want. Either you scrub yourself or one of the Hamam ladies will scrub you if you purchased the according package. You can also book massages, too. In the rest room tea and other drinks are served. The perfect way to end your adventures in this wonderful city, just like I did.
I hope I could arouse your interest to visit Istanbul. If so, let me know if the tips came in handy for you. Until then, dream of far destinations and don’t be afraid to discover new cultures!
Love always. x.