This sprawling metropolis holds many treasures, both old and new. It is known by many names – Byzantium (during the Eastern Roman Empire), Augusta Antonina (dubbed by the emperor Septimius Severus), New Rome, and Constantinople (named after Constantine the Great), until it finally settled on Istanbul.
It is the Queen of Cities, being the largest in Turkey (and the world’s third-largest). It stands majestically a peninsula covered by water – the Bosphorus Strait, the Golden Horn, and the Marmara Sea. Its coverage spans both the Bosphorus Asian and European sides – Anatolia in the Asian part and Thrace at its European side. 27 districts of the Istanbul province fall under this city.
Istanbul is also named as the Door to Happiness (Dersaadet). Indeed, it is a city replete with history and culture – a treasure house of gems that is recognized as part of the UNESCO World Heritage List. It has seen the rise and fall of many an empire, as it served as a capital for the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, the Latin Empire and the Ottoman Empire. (On a side note, just so you know, Istanbul is no longer the capital of Turkey – Ankara is.)
Similar to Rome, this city was also built on seven hills. Today, you will find a mosque in each of the seven hills. There are also buildings that are recognized the world over – the fabulous Hagia Sophia, the Hippodrome of Constantinople, the Topkapi Palace and a whole lot more. Most of this is marked by opulence and splendor – awesome mosaics, grand buildings, and underground cisterns. Most of these can be found in the Old City (Old Stamboul as some call it). The place is very much like an open-air museum!
Now, you shouldn’t have the notion that Istanbul is just about historic remains. But even as it retains traces of its past glory, you can see that it has moved forward. Progress and modernity come in the form of technology, transportation and a joie de vivre that is unique to the city. It is home not just too numerous historic and cultural jewels, but to the hot and happening clubs, bars and restaurants. So, you can have your fill of all the majesty that Istanbul has to offer during the day and when the sun starts to set, you can get out and get to know how Istanbul celebrates its nightlife. There is one-of-a-kind energy that the city exudes, and you can see how it breathes life into the hippest art galleries, clubs, and bars. Be sure to dance and party like there is no tomorrow!
Other districts of the city include modern shopping malls, luxurious residential neighborhoods, and educational centers. Of course, you should also have a look at tea gardens (cay bahcesi) and taverns (meyhane), where you can get to know more about the culture of the city as you raise your glasses along with the locals.
Istanbul is an unforgettable city, in more ways than one. It beckons to the traveler, inviting him to come and visit. There is so much to know, see and do! Come and see it for yourself!
Okay, once you have visited the different districts and their attractions – historic sights, museums and all, what is there to do next? Well, there are a lot of things you can do in this marvelous city, many things that will keep you busy and at the same time give you some of the greatest vacations you will ever have.
Now, how shall we get to know and love this city? Let us count the ways:
Food Fair Istanbul
Go on a food trip. One way to get to know a city is to know how people eat. Istanbul is filled with cafes and restaurants that serve a wide variety of eats. One great place to visit is behind the Ortakoy Mosque – there is a food fair that specializes in Turkish food. Or, you can go with your nose – just follow the delectable aromas of cooking food. Kebabs or fish sandwiches, anyone?
Take a dip on a Turkish Bath. Of course, a holiday in Istanbul is never that unless you go to a Hamam. The traditional Turkish bath is one great way to relax – imagine yourself surrounded by mist and hot, hot water. You can almost feel your pores opening up, sweat dripping from your brow and the hot water doing its job of cleansing and relaxing you. And since you’re there anyway, try getting a massage.
Ride the ferry and go on a tour of the Bosphorus. The Bosphorus Strait is one of the finest treasures of this city. This bustling waterway is lined with palatial homes and pashas. The Bosphorus divides the city’s European and Asian sides.
Pierre Loti Cafe
Soaking up nature’s bounty. Istanbul is full of wide-open spaces – parks, squares and tea gardens where you can appreciate the peace and quiet as well as the chance to take a breath of fresh air. One great place would be the Pierre Loti Café, which sits up a hilltop.
Shop! Need we say more? Istanbul has shops covering every spectrum. From chic designer boutiques to street markets to markets dedicated to spices, fresh produce and a host of other merchandise, Istanbul has ‘em all! Of course, one should not miss the gigantic Grand Bazaar, where you can spend hours and hours just poring over the different products. You can even try to do some haggling – there is no better feeling than to be able to make a bargain.
Istanbul Military Band
Watch live performances Turkey’s colorful culture is shown in many interesting ways – whirling dervishes going round and round, belly dancing at the club and yes, so many more! You can even try watching the performance of the troops at the Military Museum, who, by way of their Ottoman Mehter Band, offer glimpses of how formidable the Ottoman Empire was.
Other interesting activities include getting hooked on hookah, going out on walking tours to explore the rabbit warren of streets that may offer a surprise (architectural or cultural) and watching the sunset over the Golden Horn.
Let’s sit and talk about the many ways you can explore the glorious city of Istanbul. You can indulge in a guided tour or have a do-it-yourself tour of the city. Istanbul tour guides are the best if you want more in-depth information about the sites you are visiting. Meanwhile, if you are longing for a bit of solitude, or can’t fit in a guided tour in your budget, then you can plan your own itinerary. What you should also consider is that there may be savings in getting a guided tour as these usually offer discounts, especially for admission fees. So you need to weigh the pros and cons of both.
You can also opt to go for a walking tour, bus tour or boat tour. Whatever the case, it would be helpful for you to know where you are going before embarking on an exploration of what Istanbul has to offer.
You should take note that because of the size of Istanbul, it is virtually impossible for you to view all the sights in one day. You need to have ample time to truly appreciate the many churches, mosques, museums, and other sights that about in the city. Most of the sights to see are centered around the vicinity of the Old City and that of Sultanahmet.
Your itinerary may also depend on your interest. Here are some itineraries for you to think about:
– Historical tours
– Byzantine tours
– Art Gallery Tours
– Other tours you can do are the Balloon tours,
Here is also a list of tourist spots you should visit:
Topkapi Palace View
Topkapi Palace: Explore the gardens and the harem section as well. (This will take at least 2 to 3 hours).
– Hagia Sophia: Renowned for its grand proportions, visit booth floors – the second floor has a mosaic.
– Blue Mosque: Marvel at the exquisite blue Iznik tiles.
– Hippodrome: This is where important events were held – imperial weddings, celebrations, royal games and so on. At its square are the Serpentine Column and the Colossus (which is a 60-meter tall obelisk that came all the way from Egypt).
– Grand Bazaar: The Mother of all bazaars, with thousand of shops, restaurants, teahouses all in 76 acres of shopping pleasure.
Galata Tower View
– Sogukcesme Sokagi: Features a line of Ottoman houses
– Suleymaniye Camii: Sitting on the third of Istanbul’s seven hills, this is an architectural marvel you should see.
– Dohlmabahce Palace: This palace has 285 rooms, all showing European architecture.
– Suleymaniye Hamam: Soak in a relaxing Turkish bath, here and in the many hammams that dot the city.
– Yerebatan Sarnici
– Land walls
– Spice Bazaar (Misir Carsis): bask in the smells and tastes in this unforgettable spice bazaar.
– Galata Bridge
– Taksim Square
– Ferry tour along the Bosphorus
– Saint Irene Church and Museum
– Archeological museum