Ever wondered how a transcontinental metropolis, bustling with diverse cultures, with the history spanning over 2500 years and which witnessed the rise and fall of four big empires would be like?
One such city is Istanbul, which attracted the attention of the emperors of Roman, Latin, Byzantine and Ottoman empires to set up their capital here and it has continued doing the same even till date where thousands of tourists beckon to its enthralling beauty. Turkey is said to be the most vibrant city by many travelers and as it is known for its ancient monuments, Turkish hospitality, shopping, food and nightlife and hence its the 6th most visited city in the world. Read along and know how I enjoyed this ancient city:
1) Travel back in time
When we think of Istanbul first image that floats into our mind is its skyline which is dominated by the domes and spires of mosques and medieval architectures. These historic monuments are a good example to show us that the Byzantine and Ottoman emperors spared no expenses in aggrandize their capital which serves as timeless artifacts now. Walk through the opulent courtyards and halls of Topkapi Palace to get a peek into the life of the Sultans of Ottoman empire. Stand under the world-famous dome of Hagia Sophia, get mesmerized by the beautiful handmade ceramic tiles where more than 20,000 tiles adorn the walls, pillars, ceiling, and domes of the Blue Mosque and get lost in the 6th century underground chambers of Basilica Cistern. All these will definitely teleport you to the bygone days of glorious Istanbul.
Related post: Hagia Sophia: A Church, a Mosque and a Museum
2) Shop at World’s Oldest Shopping mall
For any kind of shopper, it’s quite overwhelming to shop in a mall which is not only the oldest but also the biggest covered bazaar in the world (3,000 shops and across 61 streets) and filled with zillion things which I was very much tempted to buy. Walking inside the forever crowded, lively lanes of the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul was like a kid lost in the candy world. I could barely keep my hands off from buying the shiny and glittering traditional mosaic chandeliers, crockeries and jewelry, rich and intricately designed Turkish rugs and carpets. Fragrances of spices and teas had filled the air inside the bazaar, mouth-watering Turkish savories and different types of dry fruits were inviting us to try them.
3) Bird’s eye view of Turkey
Want to know how Istanbul looks when viewed from the top or the sky? Climb up to the viewing deck of the Galata Tower, which is at the height of 169.5 ft and enjoy the mesmerizing vista of Istanbul. For centuries this tower was the tallest structure in the city since its construction in 1348 and it was called as “Christea Turris” or “Tower of Christ” which served as a part of the defense wall surrounding the Genoese colony in Galata. But when Constantinople (current Istanbul) was conquered by Mehmet II it was used to detect fire in the city. Standing on the viewing deck and looking at the panoramic view of this ancient city was speechless as I tried to spot the Topkapi Palace, Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophie and many other mosques from up here and the Golden Horn was shimmering brightly under the sun that day.
4) Stroll in their lanes
It is not a secret that the best way to explore and experience a city is by walking and getting lost in its streets. Similarly, Istanbul’s tour is not just limited to its monuments but it extends up to walking through the lanes and streets and catching a glimpse of the locals doing their everyday chores and often bumping into some old charming buildings. This city is filled with hidden gems in every corner and there is no better option than walking and exploring.
5) A hangover from Turkish teas & coffees
As the locals call it Çay and Türk kahvesi in Turkey, these two beverages form an integral part of their culture and have been rooted in their daily activities for hundreds of years. It is not unusual to see the host offering you the piping hot cup of tea or coffee when you visit a local. Personally, I am a tea lover and I have enjoyed unaccountable cups of this minty flavored tea, which was like a big relief for me from the cold of November in Istanbul. The locals enjoy drinking these beverages all day long so there is no fixed time to have them. But the tea time in Turkey is usually during late afternoon and early evening say 3’ clock to 5 in the evening, which is enjoyed with some of their delicious cakes and biscuits. All restaurants, cafes and sweet shops serve tea and you can find in every corner of the city.
6) Eat your heart out
Indulging in the delicious Turkish savories and their hearty meals are the next best thing to do in Istanbul after their striking architecture. Sweetshops, cafes, and restaurants offering not just the local cuisine but a wide variety of food from all over the world can be found here making Istanbul a foodie’s paradise. But while in Istanbul forget about the world-famous fast food joints and enjoy the authentic local food as there is no place to enjoy them than in Istanbul.
7) Indulge in a spa
Lastly, I would highly recommend trying the traditional Turkish bath or Hammam in Istanbul. Istanbul has plenty of centuries-old hammams which are well-known for not just their service but also interesting architectures. Although, initially I was a bit shy about the thought of trying the Turkish bath but by the end of our trip when we were back in Istanbul after Cappadocia and Antalya I wanted to relax and rejuvenate in a local way before heading back home. Even though the hotel where we were staying had an in-house spa and hammam I chose Ayasofya Haseki Hamamı, one of the well-known hammams in Istanbul which was commissioned by the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman I’s consort, Hürrem Sultan in the 16th century and was built by the architect Mimar Sinan. There are various services offered in these tradition spas and one can choose based on their preferences.
Istanbul is a vast city, filled with plenty of interesting things to do as tourists or an offbeat traveler. Do let us know in the comment below your thoughts on this article and if you have any suggestions on things that we missed out in Istanbul.