‘Splendid, full of culture and an assorted feast for travellers!’
I agree all of the above sounds like a dramatic reality show judge getting fanatical about the onstage performance but this is what every experience seeker would say after visiting Istanbul. Impeccable architecture ornamented with barren trees during winter along with the shiny Bosphorus Strait in background makes for a perfect postcard moment.
Istanbul being a bigger city than the capital Ankara surely has a lot to offer. While planning a trip to Turkey there’s no enough number of days to spend in Istanbul. You can spend 10 days here and the city will not exhaust you of options. You will find yourself swept away with its charm when the best of east meets the best of west. Divided between two continents Istanbul serves the best of both worlds reflective in its churches with mosaic tiles to mosques touching the sky and some of the most genuinely warm people.
The city rests at the nexus of Europe and Asia that is rich in history, Ottoman heritage, archaic buildings, blended colours, gourmet streets and thousands of cats! The first question that will intrigue you as a first timer in Istanbul is as to why are there so many cats everywhere? You will invariably find a feline following you on the streets of Istanbul. It is due to the dominant muslim culture prevalent in the area. Cats are considered an integral part of the benefaction as they are self cleansing beings. Interesting! You can try and spot the green and blue eyed felines in the lanes of Istanbul. The city will surprise you at every corner.
There are two main areas to stay in Istanbul which are on the European side- Sultanahmet and Beyoglu.
Spend on experiences
There’s a lot to do in Istanbul apart from the popular tourist spots. It is an opportunity to indulge in experiences. Let’s begin with the most exquisite one- the Turkish Hamam. It is definitely one of the most impressive escapade to look forward to in Turkey. Originating from the Ottoman Era, hamam is an age old practice of public bathing followed by massage. One simply cannot leave Istanbul without trying out this Turkish experience. We should be thanking the Ottomans for introducing the world to this truly exhilarating affair.
Another experience in the city is one of the first shopping malls of the world- The Grand Bazar. It is officially one of the top visited sites by tourists with roughly 4,00,000 visitors daily! More than 4000 shops, spice market, illuminated Turkish lamps, intricately designed carpets, pottery, hand painted porcelain and the list could go on. You can get lost in this maze like market and handpick some of Turkish keepsakes. The shopkeepers will be standing at their door with a big heart and a smile on the face.
Everything comes alive at night
Istanbul is a sight to watch at night. Walking down the lively Istiklal street packed with clubs and restaurant with a medieval red tramp passing the crowds. What a distinctive blend of eras! Even after terrorist attacks in some of the renowned clubs, Istanbul refuses to back down. The nightlife in the city is glittering now more than ever. The Isitiklal Street and Galata region are packed with cafes, clubs and pubs. Take a walk down from the Taksim Square right till Galata Tower and discover a foodie’s paradise. Do try out some cafes in the Galata region.
While in Istanbul one should definitely opt for the Bosphorus Cruise to sail through Europe on one side and Asia on the other. It is a spectacular site at night.
Popular tourist spots
One should definitely not miss the so-famous tourist check-ins in Istanbul. The structures and architecture in Istanbul are vivid, comprehensive and spewed with colours. The Sultan Ahmed Mosque or the Blue Mosque is an unique place due to its blue coloured tiles on all interiors. It is an active mosque so the best time to visit is early in the morning to avoid the crowds.
Right in front of the Blue Mosque is Hagia Sophia Museum. Once a cathedral church then an Ottoman mosque and now an open museum! Hagia Sophia is a witness to the rich history of Turkey. The intricate designs inside the museum will leave you awed. Do visit the lane right next to Hagia Sophia and treat your tastebuds from the multiple array of cafes for a twist of Turkey. There is a small sitting area between the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia for a peaceful breather whilst your hectic time in Istanbul. The area is filled with small coffee/tea sellers and provides a 360° view of the cultural beauty surrounding you.
The next on the list is the Topkapi Palace or the Sultan’s Palace. This palace will leave you longing to teleport into an era of rich royalty. This is surely amongst the top 5 beautiful palaces that I have visited till date. Adorned with gold inlay work on marble with the view of Marmara Sea at the back is a cherry on the cake.
Visiting commercial cities can be difficult due to the heavy traffic and crowded spots but Istanbul will surely be an exception owing to its ability to blow your mind with thousand of things-to-do layered with a radiating culture. After leaving Istanbul I definitely felt that I left a piece of me in the hullabaloo of the city or did I take a part of it with me? Counting days to go back to the magnificent Istanbul!