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Istanbul

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4 - 7 Days

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About Istanbul

The stunning spectacle of the Hagia Sophia perfectly balanced by the Süleymaniye Mosque, with the Golden Horn in between. Elsewhere, an even more layered view of the city juxtapositions old and new. From this perspective, the Hagia Sophia is now in focus with the modern Levent business district on the horizon. Truly, few cities can boast of the skyline that gives Istanbul its distinctive identity. Here, east meets west, and the old flows easily into the new.

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While Ankara may be the capital of modern Turkey, Istanbul remains its historical and cultural capital. It is currently the eighth-most visited tourist destination in the world. Uniquely positioned in both Europe and Asia, it is also the most populous city in Europe. Its history goes back to 66O BC when the Megarians founded the city of Byzantion here. Later, the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great would develop this into the great city of Constantinople, which replaced Rome as the capital of the Roman Empire in 330 AD. Historians point to many similarities between these two capitals, including that both these were cities built on seven hills. Subsequently, it would also become the capital of the great Byzantine eastern Roman and Ottoman empires, where each ruler sought to outdo his predecessor with the grandeur of his monuments. All this ancient history meets and finds its own place in contemporary Istanbul.

Besides the city’s famed mosques and palaces, Istanbul is also set apart by its unique geographical location, which creates two unique spectacles. One is the Bosphorus, a strait that separates the European and the Asian parts of the city. The second is the Golden Horn, an inlet of the Bosphorus. Together these create the beauty of Istanbul’s famed waterways.

WHAT TO SEE
Hagia Sophia:
While much has been said about the Hagia Sophia, nothing really prepares you for your entry into the revered dome. You instantly recognize why the structure, built by Roman Emperor Justinian I in 537 AD, soon rose in stature as the largest church of the Byzantine Empire and the Eastern Orthodox Church and was considered the greatest church of the ancient Christian world. When Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Empire, Hagia Sophia became a mosque. Subsequently, the secular Turkish Republic would establish it as a museum in 1935. Later, in 2020, it was converted into a mosque again. Now that it is a mosque, entrance to the Hagia Sophia is free for all visitors. The structure itself remains one of the finest examples of Byzantine architecture, which also influenced Ottoman styles over the next two centuries.

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Blue Mosque: Opposite the Hagia Sophia is the spectacular Sultan Ahmed Mosque, better known as the Blue Mosque, built between 1609 and 1616 by Sultan Ahmed I. The site also includes Ahmed’s tomb, a madrasa, and a hospice. At the time when it was built, it was the Sultan’s goal to replace Hagia Sophia as Istanbul’s principal mosque. While he may not have completely succeeded, like the Hagia Sophia, the new mosque was also distinguished by a blue dome structure, now so characteristic of the great mosques of Istanbul. The architect Sedefkâr Mehmed Agha is said to have built on the work of Mimar Sinan in the Süleymaniye Mosque, who was in turn also influenced by the Hagia Sofia. The Blue Mosque would also bring a touch of the Ottoman Empire to the square that also has the Roman-era Hippodrome, the Egyptian Obelisk, and the Byzantine era Hagia Sophia. Over two thousand years of history and sometimes conflicting chronicles of empires all coalesce in this space.

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Our Tip: While strolling between the Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque, watch out for the carts selling hot cinnamon rolls. It’s a unique flavour of Istanbul that you will not find anywhere else in the world.

Topkapi Palace: If the Ottoman Sultans worshipped in the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, they also needed new quarters where they could live, befitting of a new great empire. So, the Topkapi Palace was built by Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror just six years after the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Empire. It remained the royal residence from 1478–1853 AD when it was replaced by the Dolmabahçe Palace. But for over 300 years, it was both the seat of power and royal counsel. Today, the place hosts several exhibitions, including its collection of Islamic relics and an armoury. But nothing attracts more interest than the intrigue and politics of its harem. While the practices or the history of the harem were rarely documented, this adds to the touch of mystery around the structure and is the source of many urban legends. Its many vantage points high above the city give you a unique view of both the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn. Along with the Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque, it remains one of the most visited structures on Istanbul’s first hill.

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Grand Bazaar: Built in 1455 by Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror on Istanbul’s second hill, the Grand Bazaar was one of the earliest structures erected in the city by the Ottoman Sultans. One of the world’s oldest covered markets, the Grand Bazaar is sometimes also hailed as one of the world’s earliest malls. Merchants originally organized themselves according to their trades here, and the streets still bear some of these old names. Today, its winding alleys house over 4000 shops. At its surface, with all its modern brands and glitz, the Grand Bazaar may seem to have lost some of its old charm as a grand oriental bazaar. But spend some time strolling along its famed corridors, and you will stumble across many nooks that are rich with the history and flavours of yesterday.

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Our Tip: Friday prayers are a unique experience here, as the faithful close their shops temporarily and come out to pray by the Grand Bazar’s mosque spilling into its alleys.

Süleymaniye Mosque: Built by Suleiman the Magnificent on Istanbul’s third hill, this mosque that defines many of the city’s iconic views was Istanbul’s largest mosque for over 400 years. While its architect Mimar Sinan drew inspiration from the Hagia Sofia, the Süleymaniye Mosque would influence the architectural style of the Ottoman mosques that followed this, including the Blue Mosque. Today, it remains a landmark monument representing the characteristic architectural style of the Ottoman Empire. Besides its religious and historical significance, the structure also offers you some of your best views of the Golden Horn.

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Our Tip: Stop for Beans just outside the Süleymaniye Mosque at Meşhur Kurufasulyeci Ali Baba. Set against the mosque, it has an otherworldly ancient ambiance. There couldn’t be a better setting for a typical Turkish meal that also has the flavour of home.

Dolmabahçe Palace: Built in 1856 by Sultan Abdülmecid I just off the Bosphorus, the Dolmabahçe Palace replaced the Topkapi Palace as the residence of the Ottoman Sultans. Though built in the Ottoman neoclassical style, it sought to rival the great modern palaces of the European world. It marked a shift from the medieval period of Ottoman history to the twentieth century.

Beylerbeyi Palace: Built in 1865 by Sultan Abdülaziz, Beylerbeyi Palace was the new summer palace of the Ottoman Empire. Located on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, the palace also entertained many visiting monarchs drawn from across the world. However, it also marks a sad chapter in the decline of the Ottoman Empire. The last Ottoman Sultan to hold absolute power, Abdulhamid II was imprisoned here after he was deposed in 1912, till his death six years later.

Galata Tower: At the junction of the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn is the medieval Galata Tower. First established in 1348 as the Tower of Christ in Constantinople, the Ottoman Sultans would use the structure as an observatory to spot fires across the city. At the time when it was built, it was the tallest structure in al Istanbul. Today, it still offers tourists the most spectacular views of the city, with a panoramic perspective stretching as far as the eye can reach. In addition, a wonderful array of coffee shops and rental apartments have sprung up around it making it the perfect place for you to camp out while you discover the city of Istanbul.

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Our Tip: The cafes around Galata Tower are also the perfect place for you to catch breakfast on the go. Watch out for Dukkan Galata, which serves you a variety of breakfasts throughout the day, influenced by Turkish cuisine.

Spice Bazar: Built in 1664 and located at the southern end of the Galata Bridge, the Spice Bazar was originally set up to fund the New Mosque Yeni Cami. But among locals, it is still better known by its Turkish name of Mısır Çarşısı, or the Egyptian Bazar. The market got its name because in days of yore spice travelled from India and Asia through Egypt to be sold in this famed Turkish bazar. Still attached to the Yeni Cami, you can expect to stumble on its maze of pathways after the Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque, before the Grand Bazar. Like in the old days, you know you have found it when the old all-pervading delicious smell of a hundred different spices fill the air.

Istanbul Archaeological Museum: Unlike the museums of other great cities of the world, this does not offer you a greater insight into Istanbul and its history. But it has a special place among museums because of its rare collection of sarcophagi, or stone coffins from ancient Egypt, Rome, and Greece. The area also houses the Museum of Ancient Orient and the Tiled Kiosk Museum.

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Our Tip: The Museum of Ancient Orient is a fascinating experience and in fact could be the place where you spend the most time. Start there and continue to the Istanbul Archaeological Museum followed by the Tiled Kiosk Museum. Once you finish your visit to the museum, we would recommend a meal at The Last Ottoman. It is both spectacular and, in every sense, a Turkish delight.

WHAT TO DO
While Istanbul’s many renowned sights draw us to the city, it is its experiences that we carry away with us. We recommend four experiences in Istanbul, which are unlike anything you will experience anywhere else in the world.

Bosphorus cruise: A Bosphorus cruise is the best way to experience Turkey’s waterways. It also gives you a different look at some of Turkey’s famed monuments. While most of these provide food and entertainment, especially in Covid times, a private cruise is a unique experience. Watch out for the weather and try to plan this along with a Bosphorus sunset.

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Food walk: One of the best ways to experience the culture of a city is through its food and this is also true of Istanbul. The city has scores of culinary experiences and food walks, and it would be true to say that you have not completely experienced Istanbul till you have also explored its cuisine. We recommend the Taste of Istanbul Food Tours. It’s a great way to explore the history of the city and discover its hidden gems through the city’s culinary tradition.

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Rooftop cafes: As a city of spectacular views, Istanbul’s rooftop cafes are a special experience. Spending an evening at one of these locations is highly recommended for yet another perspective of the city.

The whirling dervishes: Turkey is also the resting place of the poet Jalal ad-Din Rumi, better known as Melwavi in Turkish, and no city celebrates his legacy more than Istanbul. Today, this culture of Sufism lives on in the famed performance of the whirling Dervishes.

What to eat: Turkish cuisine is diverse and rich. It has also integrated cuisine from around the globe. Turkish pide is in fact simply another form of pizza. The doner kebab is also reminiscent of the Greek souvlaki. But for typical homemade food, there is traditional Turkish rice and beans. Eggplant is also a part of Turkish cuisine. Wash it all down with a traditional Turkish coffee, some kebabs and baklava. All of these are an indispensable part of any Turkish culinary experience.

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What to buy: Across the world, Turkey is famed for both its carpets and calligraphy. But these may be too heavy to carry back with you or perhaps way over your budget. Some of the other best representations of the country are found in its Turkish tiles, scarves, and jewellery. Look out for traditional patterns reflective of key themes in the city’s architectural designs, such as tulips. They make the perfect gifts for friends and family back at home. You could also carry back some famed Turkish coffee and Turkish delight.

Our Tip: The best place to buy Turkish coffee is the Kurukahveci counter, just off the Spice Bazar. For Turkish Delight, the place to go is Ali Muhiddin Haci Bekir. First established in 1777, the shop has also served the Ottoman Sultans.

Getting around: Uber works in Istanbul. In addition, you could also hail a yellow cab. But most Taxi drivers can’t speak English. So be prepared for them to use Google translator to communicate with you, and it does actually produce an approximation of what they are trying to tell you. However, like most big cities around the world, taxis can sometimes be a rip-off. So, especially if you are staying at the center of the city, I would recommend getting your own Istanbul Kart, which makes it possible for you to use both the tramlines and the ferry. However, in COVID times, you also need a HES code to activate your card. So, be prepared.

Where to stay: It’s best to choose accommodation close to the old city centre as it's near all the tourist sights. The Beyoğlu district is a popular choice. Another great place to stay is in the neighborhood around the Galatta Towers. Not only is it close to a tourist attraction, but the lively neighbourhood will make your holiday a memorable one. Like it did for us!

The best time to visit: Turkey is most popular among tourists in the summer months between June and August. However, if you prefer a slower pace, the months between April and May or September and October could be the best time to visit. The weather is still mild, but the pace is less frenetic. We visited in February and March when Covid-19 restrictions were still in place. So, the weather was cold in a city that had emptied itself of all tourists. But our experience of both Turkey and Istanbul could not have been more complete. Just make sure to dress for the cold and carry an umbrella along for the rain. It’s light enough to walk through, but you will need some protection.

How to get there: Turkish Airlines has traditionally connected Turkey to the rest of the world at the most competitive rates. But especially during the pandemic, Lufthansa offers great connectivity, as it has air bubble arrangements connecting parts of the world that Turkish Airlines may not reach. For instance, Lufthansa can carry you from Istanbul to India, but Turkish Airlines does not have an air bubble agreement with India yet.

Content and photo credit: Christina Daniels

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Istanbul Rating & Reviews

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(455 Ratings and 5 Reviews)
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5 Reviews - Showing 1 to 5
Sunilrparaskar
30 Nov -0001 12:00 AM
A wonderful city. Must not miss Grand Bazaar. Needs at least threed ays for shipping. At least Fifty % bargaining in prices quoted in the Grand Bazaar. Good food easily available. Very good public transport system. Very nicea ND friendly people. No undesired influence of the religion. They welcome the tourists.
Raghini
15 Nov 2018 07:30 AM
excellent
Rakshith
15 Aug 2018 05:24 PM
awesome
MSreddy
14 Jun 2018 04:42 PM
awesome,ihave no words great experience.
Eliasrukhshi@gmail.com
30 Nov -0001 12:00 AM
It was one of the most amazing and memorable trips.We travelled to Antalya and Istanbul. Antalya is a beautiful seaside with hills on ine side. The calm and serenity of the place is just perfect for a relaxing holiday. There are many activities for the adventure seekers like cable ride and scuba diving For the romantic old hearts a visit to the old city Kaleici is a must. The shopers there are many malls with food courts and if course street shopping has its own charm.. Istanbul is an Historic

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17 Jan 2024
5 Secrets Of Enjoying Nightlife In Istanbul

 When we think about a peppy vacation then you cannot miss on to Istanbul as it is a great place which is a complete power package. From roaming and shopping in the streets to enjoying foods in café or having fun at the best of clubs, Istanbul has all for you. For the people who are crazy for nightlife than for them, Istanbul is definitely a worth go as it will provide you with the best of fun. So given below are five secrets of enjoying Nightlife in Istanbul.

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