One of my favourite places to visit is Turkey, in particular Istanbul. Having visited Istanbul a number of times in all seasons, each experience has been completely different. For me Istanbul has a mystical chaotic charm which I fell in love with the minute I first visited. There is a constant buzz due to the masses of people navigating through its bustling streets and markets; 15.03 million to be exact. Some people may be put off by such things but the wonders of this city has something for everyone.
Even I, who prefers the more relaxed vibe was surprised to enjoy the energy that you feel from this place. Istanbul is truly intoxicating and addictive which is why visiting it only once was not an option. Due to its unique position, straddling both Europe and Asia, the amalgamation of different cultures makes this city truly unique.
I have been lucky enough to stay with locals on my previous stays but this time I thought I would check out one of Istanbul’s many hip hotels. I chose to stay in the luxury boutique hotel, Tomtom suites. Located in the the region of the Galata on the European side in the Beyoglu district, this small hotel is located within the Italian embassy and within walking distance of many historic sites, one being the famous Galata Tower built in 1348.
Although this time I only visited for three days I did manage to fit quite a few sites and activities in, here are my highlights of this amazing city;
On the European side there is the buzzing street of Istiklal Cadessi. This is Istanbul’s answer to the likes of Oxford Street in London. It’s 1.3km street is filled with shops, restaurants, bars and clubs. I loved walking along this street and taking in the atmosphere both day and night.
If you don’t wish to walk the whole length of the street you can of course take a ride on the lovely old fashioned tram that goes from one side of the street to the famous Taksim Square.
If your a fan Turkish desserts be sure to visit the very popular Hafis Mustafa 1864. Pick from huge array of baklava and Turkish delight followed by a strong Turkish coffee.
This is one of the most famous squares at the centre of the European side of Istanbul. It is surround by bars, shops, restaurants and cafes and also the central station of the Istanbul Metro. I loved sitting here during the day just to take in the unique atmosphere and watch the thousands of people that cross this area. With all honesty I feel that it isn’t the most attractive square that I have visited in a city but it is a place where everyone congregates all day long, spending many hours talking over a cup of delicious tea or Turkish coffee, here you really get a sense of community.
The Blue Mosque
Of course when visiting Istanbul there is one definite tourist area that you have to visit, Sultanahmet. I was absolutely blown away with the magnificent structure of the Blue Mosque which is the focal point of the area. With its defiant six minarets pointing towards the sky and its marvelled domes and semi domes, you cannot help but be captivated. Built in 1616, this structure has survived earthquakes and wars. Most mosques only have four minarets but this unique specimen has six. This unique design was actually caused by a misunderstanding by the architect however Sultan Ahmet liked it so much, that he kept them.
Directly across from The Blue Mosque is the Hagia Sophia. This Church was built in 360 and went through many era’s in history. It was destroyed and rebuilt many times and in 1453 when the Turks conquered Istanbul it was converted into a mosque. The church was adorned by mosaics of Jesus Christ and other religious figures. As such figures were forbidden in Islamic mosques, these mosaics were hidden during the conversion. This luckily preserved the mosaics underneath and they can now been seen in all their glory. Visiting the Hagia Sophia was one of my main highlights. By simply acknowledging the immense architecture and its ability to survive many turbulent times alongside its juxtapositioning of both Islamic and Christian cultures, the Hagia Sophia truly defined what Istanbul represents to modern day Turkey.
Situated underground in the same area is the Basilica cistern which has been featured in some blockbuster movies. This huge construction was built to supply water to the Great Palace of Constantinople and surrounding buildings. It can hold 2,800,000 cubic metres of water and is held up by 336 Marble pillars, some of which are beautiful my carved. The most popular attraction is the huge carved head of Medusa, get there early so you can absorb the eerie but beautiful atmosphere of this mysterious site.
This beautiful palace straddling the banks of the Bosphorus was built by Mehmet the Conqueror in 1466. It’s spectacular entrance is the first thing that draws you in. Wander through it’s courts, chambers and treasuries and admire its selection of intriguing historical artefacts. Be sure to arrive early as it does get busy and be aware that not all areas of the palace will be open due to renovation.
Bosphorus Boat Tour
The city is split by one of the busiest water-ways in the world; the Bosphorus River. Take a tram to Kabatas, where you will find the Port of Istanbul. Here there are a large selection of boat tours where you can explore both sides of this amazing city. On a warm day, the fresh air is liberating and the city skyline of mosques, hills, monuments and buildings is a wonderful sight. I especially enjoyed the Asian side clad with greenery and beautiful villas.
Next to the Port of Istanbul is the impressive 19th century Dolmabahce Palace. Set in beautiful gardens this architectural beauty seems more fitting to cities such as Paris. It’s exuberance feels slightly out of place but it certainly doesn’t disappoint. It’s main attraction is it’s crystal staircase and it’s ornate gates looking out onto the Bosphorus , you can definately understand why Sultan Abdül Mecit I decided to move his imperial court from Topkapi to this more elaborate building.
Istanbul is definitely one of my favourite cities. In my eyes it is a very unique city that has stood the test of time and continues with its distinctive buzz, energy and excitement. It is a true delight and one place that I highly recommend that you visit.