Istanbul, is a major city in Turkey. The 5th largest city in the world also happens to be the gateway to Asia and Europe across the Bosphorus Strait. Istanbul with all its beauty simply oozes history. The Turkish people are the heartbeat of a city that comes to life after dark. I recently spent an incredible week in Istanbul with a friend, and would love to share our Top 10 Cool Things to do in Istanbul. But first check out Things you need to know before visiting Istanbul.
10 Things to do in Istanbul
1. Bosphorus Tour
Straddling two continents, Istanbul is a city divided by the arrow waterway known as the Bosphorus. We were fortunate enough to go on the Bosphorus Tour. It’s an incredibly beautiful and peaceful experience. As we departed, we were amazed by the large amount of jellyfish in the water. Something we had both ever witnessed. You can hop on and off at the various stops, but we opted to stay on-board and enjoy the tranquility of Istanbul while sipping on Turkish tea.
2. Hagia Sophia
The Hagia Sophia is considered one of the most beautiful buildings in the world. The building that was once a church and a mosque, is now one of the most visited museums in the world. One can visit the Hagia Sophia daily to see the mosaics, high ceilings and elaborate chandeliers. Make a point of adhering to the dress code but should you attire not be appropriate, they do have a counter where you can loan skirts and scarves for instance.
3. Istiklal Avenue
Visited by nearly 3 million people daily, Istiklal Avenue is the heart of a city that comes to life at night. People stream the avenue in all directions with the occasional car making its way through the bustling crowd. Make a point to hop on the historic tramway which takes you also the way to Taksim Square. Get your shopping on, experience Turkish food from high end restaurants to food carts. There’s also loads of entertainment from movies to visiting Madame Tussauds to nightclubs.
4. The Blue Mosque
The Sultan Ahmed Mosque is Istanbul’s most famous site and is considered the top thing to do in Istanbul. A visit to Istanbul would not be complete without experiencing the beauty of the Blue Mosque. The name comes from the blue tiles surrounding the walls of the mosques interior. Bare in mind that this is a functioning mosque so visitors are expected to adheres to the rules. Long pants should be worn and women must have their shoulders and heads covered.
5. Topkapi Palace Museum
The Topkapi Palace is the biggest and one of the most popular sites to visit in Istanbul. It can in fact be seen when you take the Bosphorus tour. The palace was the political center of the Ottoman Empire between the 15th and 19th centuries, until they built Dolmabahce Palace by the waterside. The palace is massive and requires a full day to fully experience the beauty of the Topkapi Palace Museum. We spent some time at one of the restaurants overlooking the black sea. Idyllic to say the least and a moment worth having.
6. Grand Bazaar
The Grand Bazaar is a must visit, but I have to admit that I have mixed emotion about this tourist attraction. It is indeed an exciting shopping. Our tour guide stated that there were 42 entrances and more than 5,000 shops covering 60 streets at the Grand Bazaar. My research however yielded different information. The fact remains that the Grand Bazaar is massive and is a labyrinth of streets. I must be honest that the Bazaar was somewhat of a let down in terms of the shopping experience. One needs to know ones prices before bargaining with the locals. Similar items can be found in almost every street. The Grand Bazaar is however ideal for taking pictures and getting a feel for the people of Istanbul.
7. Eat where the locals eat
You can book many dining experiences in Istanbul, but the best way to enjoy Turkish cuisine is to eat where the locals eat. That remains a rule of thumb when traveling the world. We certainly ate our way through Istanbul. Highly recommended is the endless supply of Turkish delight, baklava with pistachio ice-cream and kumpir. Eating in Istanbul is a feast for the senses. Try the freshly squeezed pomegranate juice or variety of Turkish teas found just about everywhere.
8. Shop the Egyptian Spice Market
The Egyptian Spice Bazaar in Istanbul, is one of the largest bazaars in the city. Shop all thing Turkish at the bazaar, especially spices and tea. One other item we purchased was crystals that you add to boiling water, which you insane to help relieve headaches. I honestly regret not buying more as it works incredibly well. We preferred the Egyptian Spice Market to the Grand Bazaar and found pricing to be better. Its located directly next to the Bosphorus Strait so plan to visit both places on the same day.
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9. Get a tattoo
Both Colleen and I are both collectors of travel tattoos, so when in Istanbul get a tattoo. It’s a really cool way to celebrate an epic vacation. Colleen opted for the hamsa. It is a palm-shaped amulet popular throughout the Middle East and North Africa and commonly used in jewelry and wall hangings. I on the other-hand decided on a wanderlust hot air balloon. It was in preparation for our second destination, Cappadocia also in Turkey.
10. Induge in a Turkish Bath
You cannot visit Istanbul without experiencing a Turkish Bath, especially after a long day of sightseeing, but that’s exactly what happened. Seeing at we got tattoo’s in Istanbul a Turkish Bath was out of the question. The Turkish Bath, aka hammam, is still considered somewhat of a social event. A typical hammam features a steam room, washroom with heated marble slabs and plunge pool. The standard treatment is a scrub and soap massage to rid dead skin. Several hammams offer additional services, as well as shuttle services, so its best to ask your hotel to enquire. Just a heads up! Turkish baths aren’t for everyone . Some people love it and some not, but I figure its work ticking off on that bucket-list.
What did we miss ?
We only spent a few days in the city and I know there is so much more there, I’m sure you have some favourite things to do in Istanbul that we didn’t get a chance to do ourselves. Visiting Istanbul felt like we had visited many cities. There are so many things to do in Istanbul that you will want to go back again and again.
Leave a comment on your favourite places we should visit in Turkey.