Istanbul is one of the most dynamic cities I have ever seen and its amazing geographical spot has made it a city of interests and a main economic, historic and cultural center, the most popular city of Turkey. It is not the capital though, as many people would consider, taking that role from Ankara – the current capital of Turkey.
Istanbul links two continents and two cultures – the west and the east, being at the very edge of Europe. It is a very alive city and the thing I truly love is the commitment of people to their work and life, the never ending energy of creating, building and doing something with purpose. More than 15 million people are living now in Istanbul and that doesn’t count the so many tourists, expats, students and business people who constantly travel there.
What to Do
From palaces, ancient ruins to famous mosques and landmarks, Istanbul has plenty to offer! Like any other big city, there is always great to wander the streets and markets, discovering cafes, local food and busy shops with stylish clothes.
But before exploring more of Istanbul, there are some places that you really need to see!
The Blue Mosque
‘The Blue Mosque’ is actually a nickname to Sultan Ahmed Mosque, built in the rule of Ahmed I between 1609 and 1616. It is one of the most popular landmarks and it is said that the name comes from the interior built with blue tiles. Another story says that many years ago, the sailor who arrived here, first saw the color of the sea reflected in the mosque, so they have started calling it ‘The Blue Mosque’. Whatever is the true story, the mosque is really unique.
Right next to The Blue Mosque lies another impressive landmark, that is now a museum. It used to be a Greek Orthodox cathedral, then it was turned into a mosque and currently is a beautiful museum. The building was built in 537 which makes it even more impressive, due to its massive dome. Back then it was the largest building in the world and an architectural and engineering wonder!
Topkapi was the main residence of the sultans in the 15th century and it became a museum in 1923 with the end of the Ottoman empire. But it was long before that, somewhere in the 17th century, when sultans didn’t care about the place anymore and used to stay more in the Dolmabahçe Palace, along the Bosphorus.
This is one of the most beautiful palaces and the largest at the moment in Turkey. It costed a fortune and you can still see the impressive artifacts, furniture, paintings and the massive gold and crystal decorations, tonnes of gold just in the ceilings! It has 258 rooms and 46 halls, but not all of it is available to the public. You can still wander for hours in the palace and spend time in its gardens that overlook Bosphorus.
Either if you choose to take a long cruise or just a short 90 minutes tour along the Bosphorus, this is a must-see of Istanbul. Just cruising on this amazing canal, separating Europe from Asia is a one-of-a-kind experience, seeing so many buildings and landmarks on both shores, with delightful views of this gorgeously rich area.
The Grand Bazaar is almost the symbol of Istanbul, being hugely popular all over the world. If you have been to Marrakesh, you have tasted a bit of the flavor of Istanbul’s bazaar in their Medina, but I have to say that nothing is like the Grand Bazaar with its beautiful architecture and various sellers and products. It is not only the bazaar to be seen, but the whole area filled with shops and small local restaurants.
This place is absolutely breathtaking, being the largest of many ancient cisterns that lie beneath Istanbul. The place is very close to Hagia Sophia, but take a good look around as when I have visited the first time, with no internet and no map, I have missed it and had to ask someone for directions. When you enter inside, it is almost like you enter a magical ancient place, another forgotten land where Medusa columns greet you. A scene from one of the James Bond films from 1963 was filmed here and the place was used as a setting for various Hollywood films since then.
These are just some of the main attractions in Istanbul, but there are so many more like the Galata Tower, Taksim Square, the many mosques around and many wonderful streets that hide trendy dresses, souvenirs, great food, art exhibitions and so much more. Istanbul is one of those rare cities that can and will surprise you every time you visit it, even if it is at least the 20th time you go there. Enjoy and feel free to comment below your favorite spots in Istanbul!
P.S.: Did I mention that everyone is super friendly? 🙂