Sprawling across the cusp of the Eastern and Western world, this historic city was once the seat of some of the greatest empires the world has ever seen. Istanbul today masterfully dances on the delicate line separating the modern from the archaic. The city embodies the juxtaposition of the past and the present, giving itself in it’s entirety to neither. The affect of Kemal Atatürk’s modernising regime is seen everywhere in the romanised script that covers the city that was once the crowning jewel of the Ottoman Empire.
While Kemalism erased much of Turkey’s Ottoman culture, the remnants of the Ottoman Empire are found in more than just the awe-inspiring historical structures of the city. There is a certain poetic melancholy to these structures, when you set foot inside you cannot help but be drawn into the stories of the past, of kings and of empires. It is only when you leave and reality once again takes it’s grip, that you will be struck with the crushing sense of nostalgia for an era that you have not had the privilege of witnessing.
In this Post
- Istanbul 101
- How to Get To Istanbul
- Getting Around
Turkish. English is understood by some of the younger locals, but by and large most people speak only fragments of English. Despite this, it’s not difficult to find your way around; Istanbul is very tourist friendly.
1 USD = 2.86 Turkish Lira 1 Euro = 3.24 Turkish Lira
Remember, in most market places, haggling is expected so vendors start double sometimes triple the actual price.
Culture and History enthusiasts, Food enthusiasts
How to Get There:
Arrival in Istanbul is through the Istanbul Atatürk Airport.
Beginning April 10, 2014, the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs will no longer provide visas on arrival to foreign travelers. All foreigners must obtain their Turkish visas electronically prior to departure from their country of residence. You need to have a travel document valid for at least 6 months from the date you intend to enter Turkey.
Check here if you need to see if you need a visa to Turkey.
I recommend staying in Aksaray, it’s close enough to Sultanahmet that you don’t waste too much time (>15 minutes) on the metro, but far enough to avoid exorbitant prices. AirBnbs for the area can be found here.
On foot, metro. The metro in Istanbul is fairly cheap,extremely efficient, and take you just about anywhere you want to go.
The Sultan Ahmet Mosque or the Blue Mosque. Built in 1601, the Blue Mosque remains one of the most popular mosques in Istanbul. Source
The story of Hagia Sophia is the story of Turkey, it started of as a Greek Orthodox church, which then became a mosque and is now a museum. Built in 537 AD, it has survived centuries of conquest, natural disasters and more and today embodies both religions of Turkey’s past.
The Topkapi Palace, once home to the Sultans of the Ottoman Empire for 400 years, is now a museum of Islamic heritage with several artefacts that belonged to the Prophet Muhammad.
The Mecca of all bazaars, with over 4000 stores, the Grand Bazaar is one of the oldest and the largest bazaars in the world. Be sure to haggle for the best price!
The Bosphorus bisects Turkey into it’s Eastern and Western halves, a scenic cruise along it’s waters will gift you the right to brag of having straddled the continents of Europe and Asia at once.
Head to the Galata Tower for a bird’s eye view of this picturesque city.
A quick ferry ride will take you to Prince’s Island, easily one of the most beautiful places on the planet with it’s gorgeous old world charm. No motor vehicles are permitted on the island, so you can choose to see it on foot, or rent a bike or perhaps, tour on a horse drawn carriage.
Uludag is a hill station accessible via cablecar or ‘Teleferik’ from the little town of Bursa. After enjoying a walk in the brisk mountain air, you can fight off the chill by barbecuing the freshest meat you will ever taste, and then sit back and enjoy your meal with a cup of steaming Apple Tea.
The food in Turkey alone would be enough to convince me to move there. Succulent kebabs, fragrant Simit, and Sahlep, a drink unlike any other.
My absolute favourites were:
- Iskendar Kebabs: Pita bread with grilled lamb soaked in tomato sauce, butter and yoghurt comes together to form the most incredible culinary experience I have had till date. To try authentic iskendar kebabs, head to it’s birthplace in Bursa.
- Sahlep: Made of orchid tubers, this rich, spicy drink is the perfect thing to warm you up on a chilly afternoon.
- Simit: Simit is the local bread sold in all sorts of flavours, shapes and sizes. You can find it sold on just about any street or head to your nearest Simit Sarai.
Like most tourist destinations, Istanbul requires you to haggle with tenacity, especially if you decided to foray in the Grand Bazaar. Turkish scarves are gorgeous, as are their lamps. Traditional Turkish jewellery features an blue and white eye designed to ward off the effects of an evil eye.
Ceramics from Izmir known as Iznik pottery are particularly gorgeous and are said to last a lifetime, these tend to me a little more expensive than your average bowl.
Note: Be wary of designer dupes being sold as originals.
While Istanbul has been relatively safe in the last few years, the recent flurry of terrorist attacks means that it isn’t quiet as safe as it has been.
Have you been to Istanbul or any other part of Turkey? How did you like it? Do you have any tips to share? Or are you planning a trip there?
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