Known as Byzantium or Constantinople, Istanbul is the city that has been the link between Europe and Asia for more than 1,500 years. It connects the two continents from an economic, cultural and political aspect. With a long past and rich varied tradition, it is no surprise that Istanbul is among the most popular tourist destinations, with a lot to offer to anyone.
Where to Stay?
With an urban area spread over more than 1,500 sq km and a population of over 14 million, Istanbul has many districts that provide accommodation. You should easily find a place that suits your taste and your budget.
The two main hotel areas are Old Istanbul and Beyoglu. You can find accommodation on the Asian side and to the North of the Bosphorus River as well. The tourist attractions are concentrated in Old Istanbul, therefore accommodations are the most expensive there. Even so, among the five-star hotels you can still find mid-priced inns and hostels alike.
Hotel Sultania is one of the coziest boutique-style hotels in the Sultanahmet district, the heart of historic Old Istanbul. Every room features a different decoration and a complete spa center. Perhaps more importantly, it’s only a 10-minute walk from the Hagia Sophia which I know you will want to see.
Beyoglu, on the other hand, is the most modern part of the city, featuring elegant upscale hotels such as the Marmara Taksim. If you prefer a hostel you should look into the World House Hostel. It’s a small and very friendly place just off the district center.
Where to Eat?
Istanbul is diverse and renowned not only for its monuments, but for its cuisine. As a melting pot of so many cultures, the city gives the visitor the widest possible choice when it comes to food. Enter any eatery in the city and you will see an amazing array of fresh dishes prepared from the best ingredients.
One of the things you should try is menemen, a kind of omelet enriched with herbs, pepper, and onions. If you are in Beyoglu, Sutis is perhaps the best place to try it.
Meze is also something that you should not miss. These cold starters are similar to the Spanish tapas, bite-size appetizers such as artichoke hearts, beans, eggplant served on a large plate. One of the best places to try it is Cumhuriyet Meyhanesi, another great place in Beyoglu.
Kebaps are also a local specialty served everywhere. They are available in many different varieties such as Iskender kebaps made from beaten meat pieces, herbs and vegetables. You should also try Adana kebaps which are prepared with very special procedures and offered only by strictly controlled and certified facilities such as Adanalı Yusuf Usta.
What to Do?
Istanbul is an extraordinary place for sightseeing. The Hagia Sophia, the Topkapi Palace, the Blue Mosque, and the Suleymaiye Mosque are all among the world’s most impressive buildings. I am certain they will astonish you with their beauty.
If you are interested not only in buildings above the ground, you should not miss the Basilica Cistern in Sultanahmet Square. The ceiling of the immense underground cistern is supported by 336 pillars. With its dim lights and soft classic music, it offers a unique experience that some call romantic, others a bit spooky.
When you are tired of visiting all these extraordinary architectural creations, the Grand Bazaar is waiting for you. They sell everything but come prepared to set your own price, bargaining to get a lower price is an absolute must if you are in Turkey. Food enthusiasts should visit the Spice Bazaar at the southern end of the Galata Bridge. The huge marketplace offers not only spices, but also special cosmetic products such as lotions and creams as well.
If you are tired of sightseeing and shopping and you are looking for a relaxing afternoon in nature and a free dive into the life of the locals, you can go to Yildiz Park. Have a picnic, explore the scenic paths and small hills covered in trees and ponds. The park is an excellent place to recharge for further explorations.
City Explorers Tip
Istanbul provides the unique opportunity to see Whirling Dervishes doing their traditional dance. There are various locations in the city where you can watch them perform. Most tourist go to see them in the Galata Mevlevi Museum on Sundays at 5pm. There is another show as well, on Thursday evenings in the Fatih district.
A Day off the Beaten Path
If you think you have seen it all and you are looking for a day spent off the main tourist attractions, here is an alternative itinerary for you.
Start the day with a copious Turkish breakfast and a cup of special Turkish tea at the Sutis Emrigan on the Bosphorus bank. Even if you are a coffee enthusiasts I demand you try it, too.
When you feel ready, head for Zeyrek, a part of the Fatih district not very much visited by tourists. It offers you the opportunity to see what the life of the locals is really like. If you are looking for more sights to see, you can take a walk on the Theodosian walls, the walls that protected the city for a thousand years and still link the Golden Horn and the shore of the Sea of Marmara.
If you are looking for more relaxation in a peaceful environment, take the ferry to the Prince Islands. The journey lasts about an hour and a half each direction, so you will have the chance to see the cityscape from the water. There is no road traffic on the island, so once there, you can either walk around or hire a horse carriage.
Later on, after you have lunch at a local eatery, you can go back to Beyoglu to take a ride on the world’s third oldest subway. Be prepared for a very short ride, only 573 meters, but you will see a unique construction and enjoy org music during the ride.
Another destination that will certainly delight those interested in how different cultures can cohabit is the city’s Asian part. Just cross the Bosporus and you will experience a different world. Try the Cinaralti teahouse on the waterfront and take in the view – it is like nothing else in the world!