Istanbul is the metropolis that connects Asia and Europe. The magical place of clashing cultures, the gate to the orient. It is one of the most diverse cities around the world. Originally it was called Constantinople and it was the center of the Byzantine Empire. Since it has more than 15 million inhabitants, life here simply just never stops. Either you are enthusiastic about its history, religion, culture or gastronomy, it never lets you down. Here we present you 10 things to do and see in Istanbul.
Indulge in a cup of Turkish coffee
Although people of Istanbul are major tea consumers, coffee is as just important in their everyday life, so for a day-starter, we would recommend some coffee. For many visitors, black, unfiltered coffee may seem a bit unusual, but if you are not afraid to get out of your comfort zone, you should definitely try it.
The most authentic way to prepare it is on hot sand in a cezve and served in tiny ornamented cups without sugar, accompanied by some Turkish delight. If you have an expert in the group, you can also try to predict your future from the grounds.
You can find traditional cafés all over the city, just search for old men sitting around a table, reading the newspaper, playing table games or even smoking shisha.
Haggling in the bazaars
Istanbul has much more to offer than the most convenient Grand Bazaar, which is, of course, a must-visit place as well. But if you are in the city, make sure you are not missing out on the Spice Bazaar, Arasta and Sahaflar Carsisi (Book Bazaar). All of them offer an authentic experience, they are different than European shopping streets. All of them are part of the history and the current everyday life at the same time.
Grand Bazaar is one of the oldest and biggest covered markets in the world, which was built in Byzantine style. The Spice Bazaar built in the 17th century offers the best variety of spices all over the world, dried fruits, nuts, Turkish delights, plants, tea, coffee and so much more. Arasta Bazaar is close to the Blue Mosque and offers a traditional Turkish shopping experience where you can find some manufactured goods. While at the Shflar Carsisi, you can get some secondhand old books. No matter which market you choose, just don’t forget to have the fun of haggling.
Do a Bosporus tour
Bosporus is a natural strait connecting the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara. There are plenty of local companies that are offering complete Bosporus boat cruises with dinner and other extras. Although for the cheapest and most authentic experience, you have to use the frequently scheduled ferries which connect the different districts of the city. The most common route is to take the ferry from Üsküdar to Beşiktaş, or the other way. These ferries operate every half an hour.
If you suffer from seasickness, you still can enjoy the view from one of the dozens of restaurants and cafés offering a nice view of the strait.
Visit the Hagia Sophia
Located in the Sultanhamet district of the city, this building was originally built as a cathedral in the sixth century A.D. It was converted to a mosque in 1453 by the order of Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II after conquering Constantinople. In 1934, it was converted into a Museum by the common decision of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and Council of Ministers. Since then, Hagia Sophia has been welcoming visitors as a museum and is famous for its mosaics.
Just opposite Hagia Sophia Museum, there is the Blue Mosque with its impressive and unique 6 minarets. Blue mosque is a functioning mosque which attracts many tourists every year and is sought among tourists for its astonishing beauty.
Climb up to the Galata Tower
Once used as a watchtower to defend the city of Istanbul, Galata tower today functions as a museum. It is very popular among tourists for the panoramic views it provides from the top. The cobbled-stoned streets taking you up to this iconic medieval tower of Istanbul are as marvelous as the view you get from the top of the Galata Tower. You can find many restaurants and shops on your way here.
Sunset hours is our recommended time to visit Galata Tower for enjoying a beautiful view of Istanbul city. Expect a long queue at the entrance.
Enjoy a belly dance show
The belly dancers were the main entertainers in the whole Ottoman Empire, although the dancers were never been Turks because this was supposed to be a disgraceful occupation. Mostly they were Turkish Rroma. They are often invited to life cherishing celebrations like weddings and circumcisions. The origins of the dance itself not specified. It has maybe Egyptian roots, but some say that it could be the descendant of ancient Anatolian fertility dances.
Today you can check some nice shows, like Sultana’s 1001 nights show located in the center of the city, which offers a variety of programs for a large audience due to its capacity. And where you can also enjoy the five-star Turkish cuisine. If you are staying more time in the city, you may be interested in joining a belly dance class.
Visit the Topkapi Palace
It was the principal palace for the Ottoman Sultans from the 15th century. Famous for its impressive jewelry collections, Spoonmakers diamond, traditional costumes, and ceramics, like the Chinese celadon ceramics. Make sure that you are not going to miss the Imperial Treasury, the Imperial Armoury and the flawless courtyards with ancient trees.
Refresh yourself in a Turkish Bath
Turkish baths or Hammams are well renowned in the whole world. These Hammams offer a unique bathing experience with astonishing architecture. These were important places not just because Islam requires a clean body, but they played a significant role in the social life of the people.
The most famous baths in Istanbul are Cağaloğlu, Galatasaray, Kilic Ali Pasha, Haseki Hurrem Sultan and Mihrimah Sultan. Each of them has its own history and characteristics, so it’s your decision to choose the one you that you want to experience.
Watch the whirling dervishes
A mystical ceremony of the Mevlevi Order which is according to UNESCO is a significant religious practice. The tradition itself is at least 800 years old. It is connected with the Sufi founder and great Persian poet, Rumi. And for our luck, it can be witnessed for bigger audiences as well. Hodjapasha Culture Center, for example, is a perfect location to enjoy these dances. It was built in the 15th century as a Turkish bath, and today offers a variety of shows.
Forget your diet for a few days
Turkish people love fast foods and especially their sweet delights. Turkish delight (or lokum) is famous all over the world. Think about that Edmund in the Chronicles of Narnia, basically betray his siblings to the White Queen for some Turkish delight so it is definitely a powerful and tempting treat. People with a sweet tooth, you are in the right place, all the desserts are immensely sweet. Like baklava, Kadayif, Lokma or Pişmaniye, which is like a box of cotton candy.
Featured Image: Istanbul © Pedro Szekely / flickr
– Republic of Turkey Ministry of Culture and Tourism
– Lonely Planet – Istanbul