Istanbul - Turkish Delight

Tripoto
20th Aug 2014
Photo of Istanbul - Turkish Delight by Gypsea Trip

Istanbul is unique – the city where East meets West, it is the only city in the world that straddles two continents, Europe and Asia. This gives Istanbul it’s multicultural atmosphere. Spires and domes of mosques, medieval architecture dominate the skyline. Although not the capital, Istanbul is the heart of Turkey!

Sultanahmet – This is the old part of the city, with cobblestoned streets and narrow lanes. You should definitely base yourself here if you want to be walking distance from all the main attractions in Sultanahmet square.

Photo of Istanbul, Turkey by Gypsea Trip
Photo of Istanbul, Turkey by Gypsea Trip

Blue mosque – Also known as Sultanahmet Mosque. It looks very impressive from the outside with its six minarets and cascading domes. Entry is free, you must cover your head and shoulders with a shawl, legs must also be covered and remove your shoes. Shawls are provided if you don’t have your own.

Photo of Istanbul - Turkish Delight by Gypsea Trip
Photo of Istanbul - Turkish Delight by Gypsea Trip

Inside, the ceiling and the lights are beautiful. Blue iznik tiles adorn the interior and give the mosque its name. There are several ways to enter the grounds, but to fully appreciate the architectural symmetry and grandeur you should use the south gate from the Hippodrome. The mosque is closed to tourists during prayer times.

Photo of Istanbul - Turkish Delight by Gypsea Trip
Photo of Istanbul - Turkish Delight by Gypsea Trip

Hagia Sophia – Standing right opposite the Blue mosque is the Hagia Sophia or Aya Sophia. The name means ‘holy wisdom’. It was originally a basilica, and became a mosque in the 15th century when The Ottomans conquered the city. Now it is a museum. Hagia Sophia is the only building in the world that served to three religions in order – Pagan, Christian Orthodox and Sunni Islam. This makes it an important part of the cultural fabric of the city in both ancient and modern times. Entrance fee is 40 TL.

Photo of Istanbul - Turkish Delight by Gypsea Trip
Photo of Istanbul - Turkish Delight by Gypsea Trip

Topkapi palace – The Topkapi Palace is the biggest and one of the most popular sites to visit in Istanbul. In the 15th century, it served as the main residence and administrative headquarters of the Ottoman sultan. Beautiful parks and water fountains in flowering gardens surround courtrooms, pavilions, the imperial hall, the treasury and the harem. It is built on top of a hill, with great views all around. Entrance fee is 40 TL.

Photo of Istanbul - Turkish Delight by Gypsea Trip

view from palace

Photo of Istanbul - Turkish Delight by Gypsea Trip

Pro tip: Buy the Istanbul museum pass online – costs 85 TL, valid for 5 days. It saves time as you don’t have to stand in the queue to buy tickets, you can visit Hagia Sophia, Topkapi palace and 10 other museums on this pass. Even if you just visit these two, it is still worth it as the individual tickets are 40 TL each. Website: https://www.muze.gov.tr/tr/purchase?t=5

Basilica Cistern – The Basilica Cistern is the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns that lie beneath the city of Istanbul. The cistern provided a water filtration system via aqueducts for the Great Palace of Constantinople and Topkapi Palace. Fifty-two stone steps descend underground into the depths. Inside it is cool, dark, and you walk over bridges and walkways around water tanks. There are some big fish in the water! Look for the Medusa pillar, which featured in Dan Brown’s novel ‘Inferno’, and in the movie. Pro tip: It’s a good place to visit in the afternoon, as it provides some respite from the heat.

medusa pillar

Photo of Istanbul - Turkish Delight by Gypsea Trip
Photo of Istanbul - Turkish Delight by Gypsea Trip

Grand Bazaar – With over 4,000 shops, the colourful and chaotic Grand Bazaar is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world. I loved the coloured mosaic hanging lamps. There are piles of desserts and sweets stacked outside shops – try the delicious gooey Turkish delight. This is a great place to do your souvenir shopping and take back presents. Don’t forget to bargain!

Photo of Istanbul - Turkish Delight by Gypsea Trip
Photo of Istanbul - Turkish Delight by Gypsea Trip

Things to eat – Some local things you must not miss – simit (sesame seed bread rings) which are sold from hand carts in the street and doner kebab – fast food rolls of chicken or beef stuffed with fresh salad.

Photo of Istanbul - Turkish Delight by Gypsea Trip
Photo of Istanbul - Turkish Delight by Gypsea Trip

Bosphorus cruise – A good evening activity. Dinner cruises are also available, but we decided to just take a round trip. Şehir Hatları, Istanbul’s official ferry company, is probably the best and cheapest way to cruise the Bosphorus with two available routes: The Full Bosphorus Cruise and the Short Bosphorus Cruise.

Photo of Istanbul - Turkish Delight by Gypsea Trip

The ferries depart from the Eminönü station. You can see a lot of interesting buildings on the riverside as you enjoy the fresh air. Another local treat – try the fish sandwich (Balık ekmek). There are many roadside vendors in Eminönü around the ferry station.

Photo of Istanbul - Turkish Delight by Gypsea Trip

Galata Bridge – Galata is one of the oldest districts of Istanbul, famous for its tower and the bridge over the Golden Horn. To experience İstanbul at its most magical, walk across the Galata Bridge at sunset. Many people fish from the bridge, and the walkway underneath has a number of restaurants where you can grab a bite.

Photo of Istanbul - Turkish Delight by Gypsea Trip
Photo of Istanbul - Turkish Delight by Gypsea Trip

Galata tower – The Galata Tower is one of Istanbul’s most iconic visuals. This cylindrical nine-story stone tower gives great panoramic views over the city. An elevator goes most of the way to the top, but there is one flight of stairs to climb.

Photo of Istanbul - Turkish Delight by Gypsea Trip

The queues can be long and the narrow viewing balcony can get overcrowded, but we were up there during prayer time and were rewarded with the sounds of multiple azaans echoing across the city.

view from top

Photo of Istanbul - Turkish Delight by Gypsea Trip

Taksim square – Istanbul’s contemporary heart is Taksim Square. Take a look at the Monument of the Republic, crafted by the famous Italian sculptor Pietro Canonica. We were there a little after the riots and protests on Taksim square, so there were still police vans and tanks with water cannons on the sides of the square.

Taksim square monument

Photo of Istanbul - Turkish Delight by Gypsea Trip

There is a cute historic tram that runs from Taksim square down Istiklal avenue, jump on for a ride!

Photo of Istanbul - Turkish Delight by Gypsea Trip
Photo of Istanbul - Turkish Delight by Gypsea Trip

Istiklal avenue – The main shopping street, it is the busiest street in Turkey. It is Istanbul’s answer to Champs-Élysées, or Times Square. It boasts branded stores, restaurants, fast food, cafes, bars, and more. It is a good place to hang out at night. A must try is the Turkish ice-cream (called Dondurma). The vendors put on a show, twist and turn and play with the scoop and cone in a way that is most amusing to watch! See the video!

Istiklal at night

Photo of Istanbul - Turkish Delight by Gypsea Trip

Ortaköy – Ortaköy is a neighbourhood full of fancy waterfront cafés, restaurants, bars and clubs. It is the best place in Istanbul to eat kumpir (stuffed baked potato) and enjoy a lovely Bosphorus view! The small and beautiful Ortaköy mosque is located on the waterfront, next to the bridge.

Ortakoy mosque

Photo of Istanbul - Turkish Delight by Gypsea Trip

Istanbul dolphinarium – They have a great dolphin and seal show. The walrus is awesome as he performs all sorts of tricks. You can even swim with the dolphins after the show! (The water is cold though… that’s how the dolphins like it.)

Photo of Istanbul - Turkish Delight by Gypsea Trip
Photo of Istanbul - Turkish Delight by Gypsea Trip
Photo of Istanbul - Turkish Delight by Gypsea Trip

Gulhane park – Istanbul has a number of parks where you can take a stroll, have a picnic, and chill out with wonderful views of the Bosphorus. Gulhane park is one of the oldest and largest parks in Istanbul. Part of Topkapi Palace, it used to be accessible only to the royal court, but now it is open to the public. Gulhane means ‘rose garden’ in Turkish. Take a sandwich and enjoy it on a park bench amongst the fountains and stunning flower beds.

carvings on tree

Photo of Istanbul - Turkish Delight by Gypsea Trip

Princes islands – We took a day trip to Büyükada. It is the largest of the nine Princes islands. It takes about an hour to get there on the ferry. The unique thing about it – There are no motor vehicles on the islands! The only way to get around is on foot, by bicycle or horse carriage.

Photo of Istanbul - Turkish Delight by Gypsea Trip
Photo of Istanbul - Turkish Delight by Gypsea Trip

We took a tour of the island by horse carriage, taking in the fresh air while admiring the leafy lanes, mansions, and the quaint town square. Büyükada has some nice beaches, and some expensive restaurants. There are hotels you can stay in, if you want to spend more time on the island.

Photo of Istanbul - Turkish Delight by Gypsea Trip
Photo of Istanbul - Turkish Delight by Gypsea Trip

Pro tip: On a sunny weekend, the ferries will most likely be full and you will have to wait in long queues to get on. If you’re planning to go on a weekend take an early ferry, or plan to visit on a weekday.

Where we stayed – For 3 days we stayed in the Tria hotel in the Sultanahmet area. The rooms are average, but location wise it is excellent, it has a great breakfast buffet and a pretty rooftop restaurant. The high point was that a stray cat gave birth to kittens on our room balcony one morning!

Photo of Istanbul - Turkish Delight by Gypsea Trip

Tomtom suites

Photo of Istanbul - Turkish Delight by Gypsea Trip

For the next 3 days we stayed in Tomtom suites in Galata area. This is an excellent boutique luxury hotel, I highly recommend it. Close enough to the hustle and bustle of Istiklal avenue, but tucked into a quiet bylane.

Photo of Istanbul - Turkish Delight by Gypsea Trip

As you can see, my trip to Istanbul was a Turkish Delight!

Good news for Indians… if you hold a valid US, UK, or Schengen visa (multiple entry), you can apply for e-visa online, which is a very quick and simple process. What are you waiting for??

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