Hagia Sophia Museum / Church (Ayasofya)
Santa Sofia was for nearly a thousand years, the largest enclosed space in the world and is still seen as one of the world's most important monuments. It is one of Turkey's most popular attractions, people are drawn by the sheer spectacle of its size, the architecture, mosaics and art. It was built in the sixth century by the Byzantine emperor Justinian. It is closed on Monday.
This palace was one of the main seats of the Ottoman Empire in the 1400s. Today, it is a famous tourist attraction overlooking the Sea of Marmara and Bosphorus. The tourists can get a sneak peak into the life of the Ottomans by visiting the Harem quarters, looking at the porcelain ware as well as taking in the entire architecture. It has also been declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Walking further across the Galata bridge you will see the Galata Tower. The tower was built as Christea Turris (Tower of Christ) in 1348 during an expansion of the Genoese colony in Constantinople. This is is a medieval stone tower in the Galata. Built as watchtower to help protect the city especially by spotting fires, this still remains as one of the dominating structures in the city. The cone-capped cylinder dominates the skyline and offers a panoramic vista of Istanbul. The view from the top is completely breathtaking from every angle. Seeing some of the more modern structures from the top makes one realize how diverse this old city of Istanbul is.
Topkapi Palace Museum
Only the palace is the part of the tour which has so much to see and to be said. A guided tour is a must to really understand the meaning of the most popular attractions of Istanbul. In short, the Topkapi Palace was the imperial residence of the Ottoman Sultans, from Fatih Sultan Mehmet, the Conqueror, until 1856. It became a museum in 1924. Parts of the palace and the Harem, Baghdad Pavilion in Hall Revan, Sofa Pavilion, and the courtroom are distinguished by its architectural heritage, while in other sections artifacts are displayed which reflect the palace life. The museum also has collections from the imperial treasury including Chinese porcelain, weapons, calligraphy etc. It is closed on Tuesday.
A trading center since 1461, the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, attracting between 250,000 and 400,000 shoppers daily. There are 61 covered streets and over 3,000 shops providing one of the most exciting shopping experiences. Here you can buy anything from fashion, jewellery, Turkish ceramics, carpets, textiles and spices. The complex houses two mosques, four fountains, two hamams, and several cafés and restaurants. In the centre is the high domed hall of the Cevahir Bedesten. To get there, take a tram to Beyazit, Üniversite or Sirkeci. Alternatively, the Grand Bazaar is around 15 minutes’ walk from the Aya Sofya/Blue Mosque area (Opening times are Monday to Saturday between 09:00 and 19:00. Closed Sundays and bank holidays) Traveller Tip: When shopping at the Spice Market or Grand Bazaar, taste before you buy, buy from a reputable, high-turnover supplier and pay in Turkish Lira.
The tour starts around 9.00 in the morning in Taksim Square. This square is famed for its array of restaurants, shops, and hotels. If you love shopping, you'll enjoy Taksim Square. Not just this, the Square also houses the Monument of the Republic inaugurated in 1928. You can also see the nostalgic tram that runs from the square along the avenue.
Istanbul Bosphorus Cruise
If you don't have a history of sea sickness, after lunch get on the cruise Eminönü at 14.30. Popularly known as the Istanbul Strait, Bosphorus forms part of the boundary between Europe and Asia. It is recommended that you opt for Şehir Hatları which is Istanbul’s official ferry company. It offers the best Bosphorus tours and unlike some private ferries, won't exploit you. The Short Circle Bosphorus tour is tailor cut for anyone pressed for time. The ferry arrives at Ortaköy around 14:50 and then continue with a two hour non-stop amazing tour. The tour covers Kuleli- Military school in Istanbul, Ortaköy mosques and some medieval fortifications. This tour is to sit back, relax and appreciate the beauty that Istanbul is synonymous with. Travel tip- The price per person is 12 TL. This tour is available every day in summer time (April 1st until October 31st).
Istanbul - Day 1 We reached the airport at around 5 in the evening. Honestly, our experience at the airport was not very good as we had to wait in taxingly long queues at the Visa check department. We also had to get our Euros exchanged to Turkish Liras because we couldn’t find any Exchange shops in Delhi which kept TLs. So till the time we got out of the airport at Istanbul, it was dark and the only thing we had was our host’s address. After some inquiry, we took the shuttle bus from Airport to Taksim (the most happening area of Istanbul). From there we walked some metres to the Taksim square. My shoulders had already started hurting with the 12 kilos of backpack I was carrying. Our host had told us to take a direct bus from Taksim square. We didn’t want to rent a cab as were cutting down on costs everywhere. However, on our failure to find that bus, we finally found a nice cab driver who ensured that we reached the home of our host safely. Finally, we were home! Our host Ada, a single woman in her early 30s, was waiting for us on the street and welcomed us warmly into her home. And guess who welcomed us inside her house. Her pet cat rubbed itself on us fondly as we entered our room. The room was neat, peaceful and cozy. Ada provided us some details about getting around the city and then left us to rest. That night we were too tired to go anywhere even though we wanted to go out for dinner. My sister Somya was in love with the interiors of the house and expressed her wish to have a house exactly like that. That night, partially due to the soft bed and partially due to our tiredness, we had the most comfortable sleep in a long time. Day 2 – Istanbul The next day we cooked our ready-to-eat breakfast and headed out. We discovered that we were living in a very lively and rather popular area called Besiktas (read Beshiktash). We walked downhill to the bus stand. Istanbul, and in fact most of Turkey, is hilly. We took a bus to the nearest tram station and then boarded a tram to Sultan Ahmet, where most of the tourist spots are located. We visited the beautiful Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia mosque. Both the mosques were facing each other and the site was splendid. We were lucky enough to catch a local musical band playing in front of Hagia Sophia. We were already hungry so we decided to have lunch. Across the road was a street full of expensive restaurants and bakeries. The street was bustling with tourists and the waiters of the restaurants were calling out to them, some even trying to flirt with girls not accompanied by men. And one thing I learned through these men and many others like them during those 15 days – people of Turkey cannot speak anything but Turkish (not even English) but they love Bollywood. And I either look Indian or Turkish. Anyways, we grabbed the famous Turkish Doner Kebabs, and trust me when I say, I have never tasted or enjoyed chicken and meat so much in my life like on my complete trip to Turkey. The Doner Kebab role was delicious and cheap. Infact, some tourists came to us asking where we got them when we were sitting near the mosques enjoying our heavy meal. After fooling around a little, we went to see the much-renowned Basilica Cistern located at walking distance. Basilica Cistern is an underground water storage system built to provide water to the residents of Istanbul in the 6th century. The entry ticket to the Cistern cost us around 600 INR. It was dingy and dark and I found it really fascinating. Somya didn’t like it much though. There even was an inverted head of Medusa lying in one of the ponds. The head has a long history behind it. We came out of the place in around 20 minutes after clicking some dark pictures. After that, we took the tram to the popular Grand Bazaar of Istanbul. It was much like the Sarojini Nagar Market of Delhi or Fashion Street Market of Mumbai, the only difference being that it was covered and much prettier. We reserved the shopping for the last day and went back to Besiktas after around 2-3 hours of inspecting the market. There we had dinner at a nice restaurant, which had good ambience but served pathetic Pasta. When I ordered that Pasta, the waitress said to me, “our customers don’t like it because it is very spicy. So I wouldn’t recommend it.” To which I gave a very stereotypical reply, “I am an Indian. I can handle spicy.” However, she came back with Pasta which was nowhere near spicy. Nevertheless, we enjoyed our dinner and went back home tired and happy. Not to forget, we also bought a Vodafone SIM card, which cost us around 1500 INR (the SIM alone). Day 3 – Istanbul Our next day started a little late as we were busy uploading our pictures on Facebook. We left at around 12 noon and went to take a cruise in the Bosphorous River. For those of you who don’t know, Istanbul lies both in Asia and Europe and Bosphorous River connects the two continents. The government cruise cost each of us around 350 INR for two hours. Before getting onto the cruise, which was to start at 2 pm, we roamed around a river-side lane which was full of restaurants serving seafood. The waiters of those restaurants were extremely playful and one even asked me to click his picture and save it for memory. Following that, Somya and I took some more pictures of the surroundings and then headed towards the cruise. We took seats on the top floor of the cruise so that we could have a better view of the city. The cruise took us through beautiful monuments and we cruised alongside stunning localities and we were in complete awe of the city that lie on the sides of the River. It was a little chilly that day so it got uncomfortable after a while and also bored but that cruise is the perfect place for someone who wants to sit and relax. Ice cream vendors and Turkish Chai and Coffee vendors came hawking every few minutes. And we saw so many Jelly Fish in the river. After finally coming back to the shore, we had lunch near the Galata Towers and then went to see the towers which looked like Rapunzel’s castle to me. We waited in a long queue to get inside and after spending 600 INR each we were standing in a lift opening straight into a restaurant made inside the tower. The tower was initially a light house and tourists stood in the gallery taking pictures and stepping over each other in an attempt to pass or stand there and take more pictures. The scene was all in all funny. But as the sun set and the sky became orange and then dark blue and finally black covered in white twinkling stars and the city lit up with twinkling lights, I was mesmerized. What a beauty it was! I stood there adoring the city for sometime before finally being troubled by people trying to click pictures and then went back inside. It was dark when we reached home and we were too tired to eat out so we cooked maggi for dinner that night. We went to bed quite sad about having to leave Istanbul the next day. We had grown fond of Istanbul’s culture, liveliness, friendly people and pretty faces.
TurYol - Bosphorus Cruise
There are many cruise tours available for the travellers. It is best to avoid private tours. Official ferry companies are far more reliable. There are plenty of historical sights to explore in Istanbul but that is not an excuse for ignoring this cruise. Try it, you won't regret it.
Dolmabahce Palace was built in the 19th century. It is one of the most glamorous palaces in the world. It was the administrative center of the erstwhile Ottoman Empire when the last of the Ottoman Sultans was residing there. The Dolmabahce Palace is closed on Monday and Thursday.
After the tour of the museum, it will be almost time for lunch. So head to the much heard of Historic Eminonu’s Fish-Bread. This is adjacent to Galata Bridge and near the New Mosque. At the stall, the fish (mackerel) is directly grilled on the boat and then put in a half-bread together with some salad and onions. Simple food, simply delightful taste.
Eminönü is the best place to know about the Byzantium Empire as ancient Byzantium was built on the areas roughly covered by Eminonu. With low population, it is one of the main tourist attractions of Istanbul. It is still a bustling city with the busiest ferry crossings for the Bosphorus and the Marmara Sea. During the day you will welcomed by many merchants, hordes of shoppers and tourists. The night in the same place is quite the contrast as it with graced with peace and quiet, a little too quiet perhaps.
Basilica Cistern (underground cistern)
The Basilica Cistern is a giant underground cistern built by Justinian in 532 to provide water to the city in cases of siege. A wooden walkway floats above the fish filled water and winds between the pillars. Lights and piped music add to the eerie atmosphere and the statues of Medusa are impressive. (Opening times are between 09:00 and 18:30. Entry is 10 TL for non-Turkish citizens.)
Blue Mosque Apart
The Sultan Ahmed Mosque is also known as Blue Mosque because of the blue tiles adorning the walls of its interior. It was built in the 17th century. It has only one main dome.The minarets and secondary domes has the imprints of the Ottoman Empire and the classical Islamic architecture. It is still used as a mosque where people pray. Interiors are spacious and nothing less than magical!
Istanbul is a city rich in history. Formerly Constantinople, and cradle to the Ottoman Empire, it was founded 667 years before Christ and is the only city in the world built on two continents. I indulged in a nice Turkish Bath (not very expensive at about $40 for the whole service, including a massage.) My first stop was Istanbul’s most recognizable landmark, the Blue Mosque. The mosque was built opposite Haghia Sophia (originally a Christian church) to underline the supremacy of Islam over Christian Byzantium. The Blue Mosque gets its name from the blue Iznik tiles that dominate the interior. After leaving the Blue Mosque, I wandered over to the Grand Bazaar. Originally designed as the trading heart of an empire, the Grand Bazaar is a shopper’s delight for carpets, spices, souvenirs, leather goods, you name it. After the bazaar, I wandered around town a little more and ended up down by the Bosphorous waterway which links the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara, dividing Europe from Asia (Istanbul sits on both sides of the Bosphorous, hence the “city on two continents” title). There are a number of ferries that run along the Bosphorous linking central Istanbul with outlying towns. It’s a great view from the bridge to watch all of the fishermen lining the railing and the ferries going by below.
Bosphorus Cruise Day Trips
Of course being in a city on two continents, a trip in between the continent shouldn’t be missed. You can do a two hours Bosporus Cruise for 10 TL plus 7.5 TL for a guide. If you are very much into history, please get the guide but if not it is not necessary in my opinion cause we were overstrained with finding out what the guide is talking about (which building) and actually it’s more important to enjoy the cruise and enjoy the areas you’re passing.
The ancient Hippodrome, scene of chariot races and the center of Byzantine civic life. Of the ornaments which once existed, only three remain: the Obelisk of Theodosius, the bronze Serpentine Column and the Column of Theodosius Constantino. Obelisco is originally an Egyptian piece of art erected in 1547 BC and originally was 60m in height. The German Fountain is also within the hippodrome area; constructed in Germany during the second visit of the German Emperor Wilhelm II to Istanbul, it was imported and officially opened on January 1, 1901. The interiors of the three domes are decorated with gold mosaics.
Move along one of the most elegant pedestrian streets- İstiklal Avenue. This is one of the most lively spots in the city as the cobblestone street houses boutiques, music stores, bookstores, art galleries, cinemas, cafés, pubs, restaurants and many more places for you to explore. You shouldn't miss this place if you want to see the Ottoman era buildings and their Neoclassical and Neo-Gothic styles of design.
Taksim Club IQ
After more than 10 years since I first visited this city I am finally back yo Istanbul one of Turkey's most beautiful cities... Or is it?I was shocked with how filthy the city was literally you have to walk for 10 mins to find a bin to drop your garbage .The food was filthy a lot yet delicious ???? food booths are not covered at all and sell to everyone If you speak anything but turkish your life would be hell! No one speaks english and even if they do they don't understand themselves
Sapphire Bosphorus Club
A boat cruise down the Bosphorus Cruise to the Rumeli Fortress is a great way to see Istanbul unfolding in front of you., The Bosphorus Bridge which connects Europe and Asia and Beylerbeyi Palace on the Asiatica. También can be seen during the cruise. Imperial Gardens, Yildiz Palace, Ciragan Palace and Dolmabahce Palace also lie by the Bosphorus and thus are also covered.
Day 11, 12 & 13 – Istanbul We reached Istanbul around 10 am and took a minibus to go to our BNB house that we had booked just two days ago. This time we booked a Bed and Breakfast near Taksim square so as to enjoy the nightlife of Istanbul. From the bus stand we took a metro to the area and were received by our host’s friend. We were disgusted at reaching our house. It was pathetic and dingy. There were alcohol bottles all over the place and it was like a small prison cell. We felt stuck and didn’t know what to do. Our host was not present there and we sort of got into an argument with him over messaging. He said we could leave his house and that he would refund our money by cash. We were relieved and looked for the best place we could find immediately. Luckily, we found a place which said it was situated near Taksim and contacted the host. The host informed us that the room was available but he would only be able to receive us after 7 in the evening. We booked and went to Taksim to first get rid of our baggage. We found a baggage locker and deposited our stuff there for the day. Then we wandered on the streets of Istanbul, enjoying the pleasant weather. We even visited one of the many sex shops on the street out of curiosity. We were scandalized after going in and ran out blushing at once. Next, we took a tram to the Spice Market and tasted some heavenly Turkish delights from different shops. We felt the day was well-spent after having those Turkish delights. Our host picked us up from Taksim in a cab and we went to his house. Our host, Mehmet, was as young as we were and his house was located in a posh area of Istanbul. Though, it was nowhere close to Taksim. Anyhow, the house was pretty but unkempt. We laughed it off as we know how careless guys can be. Next day we took a cruise to the prince’s islands and got down at the last island. It was a beautiful little island, with nice, small restaurants, cafes and shops, and pretty little houses. Motor vehicles were not allowed there so, Tongas and bicycles were the only mode of transport. We rented a bicycle and moved around the island. In the evening, we went club hopping with Mehmet to Taksim square after drinking a couple of beers at the house. After dancing for hours at stretch, we finally asked our host to take us back home at 3 in the morning. He was surprised to know we wanted to leave so early. We were surprised he called it early. We were further surprised when we came out of the club at 3 and saw that amount of crowd on the street and vendors and hawkers sitting on the roadside. Some shops and restaurants were also open. Mehmet told us the city only goes to sleep after 6 in the morning. Belonging to Delhi, we weren’t used to that kind of lifestyle so we came back and dozed off immediately. We were quite upset the next morning as it was our only full day in Turkey left. We were amazed as to how quickly time had passed. We had kept our last day primarily for shopping but the main markets of Grand Bazaar and Spice Market were closed that day due to Eid. So, we boarded the tram and evaluated which were the markets that were open and went shopping wherever we could find an open shop. That was the only day we saw some Indians in Turkey due to the Gandhi Jayanti holidays back home. We also saw some Indian restaurants. We shopped for some really amazing stuff. If you ever go to Turkey, do not forget to buy the Turkish flavoured teas and tea cups. We also bought some souvenirs, scented soaps, and other exquisite stuff. So, our day finally came to an end and with a heavy heart, we were all set to leave for Dubai the following day.
A Turkish bath, or hamam, can be a daunting experience. There are many historical baths located around Istanbul, but one of the oldest and most elegant is Çemberlitaş Hamam, Çemberlitaş. Alternatively, you can also check out Çemberlitaş hamam located on Yerebatan Street close to the Grand Bazaar or Beylerbeyi hamam close located right next to Beylerbeyi mosque. One of the fanciest hamams in Istanbul is the Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamam, Tophane. There are several different services that you can pay for at a Turkish bath. Select the Traditional Style if you want the real experience. An attendant will wash, exfoliate and massage you for about 15 minutes. You are usually provided with sandals and a cloth to be tied around your waist for modesty. Women and men are admitted separately. Men will usually be completely naked under their wrap, while some women might want to keep on their underwear (often not their bra). You will get drenched, you will be scrubbed bare and you will be expected to tip the attendant 10 – 20% of the total amount.
The Istanbul Spice Market was once the largest spice trading venue of the medieval world. Originally the Egyptian Bazaar, it has been used for the last 350 years as a market place for spices, medicinal herbs, incenses and oils. Some stores now emulate Grand Bazaar souvenir kiosks stocking scarfs and homewares. But you can still pick up full bodied spices from most stores. Check out the spices at the authentic Arifoğlu (#31). Other delicacies that you can pick up here are dried fruits and nuts from Malatya Pazari (#40 and #44), Turkish Delight, cheese and Turkish coffee. Özer (#82) is a Boudoir style shop offers hand-woven silk scarves and restored antique female clothes. (Opening times are Monday to Saturday between 08:00 and 18:00 and Sundays between 09:00 and 18:00)
Eminönü Boğaz Şehir Hatları İskelesi
After lunch, start the cruise from Eminönü at 14.30pm. Popularly known as the Istanbul Strait, Bosphorus forms part of the boundary between Europe and Asia. I’d suggest you opt for Şehir Hatları which is Istanbul’s official ferry company. It offers the best Bosphorus tours. The Short Circle Bosphorus tour was tailor-made for those pressed for time. The ferry arrives at Ortaköy around 14:50 and then continue with a two hour non-stop amazing tour. You can see the Ortakoy mosque, Kuleli- A military school, medieval fortifications and imperial palaces of Dolmabahce Palace and Ciragan Palace, located on the European shore while summer palace Beylerbeyl on Asia. This tour is to sit back, relax and appreciate the beauty that Istanbul is synonymous with.
Sokullu Mehmet Pasha Mosque
My next door Mosque which was built in 1562. This is the view from the terrace of the building I stayed in. The view from the bedroom window is magnificent. About the mosque: “Constructed on a steep slope in Sultanahmet, Sokollu Mosque is another fine remnant from master Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan. The Mosque was dedicated to Esma Sultan, the daughter of Selim II and wife of Grand Vizier Sokollu Mehmed Pasha, of whom the official name was granted to.”