Istanbul is a fascinating place because it’s been home to three major civilisations: Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman. Nowadays it’s the bridge between Europe and Asia and it’s got more culture than we could ever put into a simple guide. However, this pocket guide should put you on the right path.
1: Visit The Hagia Sofia.
Start off with the building that tells the story of the city. It was initially built as a church by the Byzantines, it was later converted into a mosque by the Ottomans who were so impressed by its intricate mosaics that they left them largely untouched.
2: Take In The Beautiful Mosques.
Just opposite the Hagia Sofia is the Blue Mosque, a masterpiece of Islamic architecture and surely one of the most beautiful buildings on Earth. Even though Turkey is secular, Istanbul has over 3000 mosques. So make sure you check out some of the hidden gems but remember to dress accordingly: guys, wear pants, and women, cover shoulders and hair with a shawl.
3: Explore The Topkapi Palace.
Next, head over to Topkapi Palace, the home of the Ottoman Sultans. Get a taste of the lavish life by strolling through its lush gardens, opulent pavilions and, of course, the Sultan’s infamous harem. Don’t forget your camera, because this place provides countless photograph opportunities that you will not want to miss out on.
4: Visit A Hammam Turkish Bath.
If you really want to live like a Sultan, then you’ve got to experience a hammam, a traditional Turkish bath where you’ll be sudded-up with a mop…mildly beaten, and then rubbed vigorously till you howl in pain…or pleasure. Options range from the cheap to the luxurious but either way it’s a Bucket List experience you will never forget.
5: Shop Around At The Grand Bazaar.
Another Bucket List item is haggling in the Grand Bazaar, one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world. It’s a great place to pick up stuff like rugs, lamps, and other things that will remind you for years to come just how wonderful this city is.
6: Fill Yourself Up On Street food.
Turkish cuisine ranks among the top in the world and Istanbul’s streets are a mezze of the nation’s best dishes. Make sure that you try out Pide as well as Kebabs as they will be far better than anything you could get back at home.
7. Step Between Two Continents.
Istanbul is the only city in the world to span two continents so make sure you check out both sides of the Bosphorus. If you have a little bit of money you can take a dinner cruise to Asia or, if you’re on a budget, hop on a ferry for just a few lira.
8: Climb Up The Galata.
Back on the European side, climb up the Galata Tower which was built in the Middle Ages by Italian merchants from Genoa. It is one of the many European ports to establish permanent trading posts in Istanbul and whose influence can still be felt in the neighbourhood’s bars and restaurants today.
9: Try Your Hand At Keyif.
Wherever you go in Istanbul, make sure you spend an afternoon practising the Turkish art of keyif. Whilst enjoying a tea and a narghile. Keyif is almost impossible to explain and it is something that generally only the Turks do, but it roughly translates to ‘a pleasurable state of idle relaxation’ or otherwise sitting and watching the world go by in front of you.
10. Indulge In The Local Nightlife.
When the sun sets, you’ve got some options. From the devout whirling dervishes to the seductive belly dancers, or bar-hopping around Taksim Square in Galata with Istanbul’s young, hip crowd. Whatever you decide on you are sure to have an eventful time and one that you will remember for years to come.
Have you been to Istanbul? Let us know in the comments!