Istanbul Delight: 10 Days of Exploring this Fascinating Turkish Gem
Istanbul Delight: 10 Days of Exploring this Fascinating Turkish Gem - Old City Charms: Historic Sites in Sultanahmet
No trip to Istanbul is complete without exploring the historic sites of the Old City, centered around Sultanahmet Square. As the oldest part of Istanbul, this area is bursting with fascinating remnants of the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires. Wandering these twisty cobblestone streets transports you back through the centuries.
One of the most iconic sites is the stunning Blue Mosque, known for its cascading domes and vibrant blue tilework. Constructed in the early 1600s, it remains an active place of worship today. Visitors are welcome outside of prayer times, when you can marvel at the soaring interior and intricate details. Nearby is the 6th century Hagia Sophia, which has served as a church and mosque over its long history. The enormous dome and towering minarets make it one of Istanbul's most recognizable landmarks.
No visit is complete without entering the sprawling Grand Bazaar, with over 60 streets housing thousands of shops under one roof. Prepare to lose yourself in this maze of glittering lamps, carpets, spices, and more as you take in the chaotic atmosphere. Stop for a Turkish coffee or fresh pomegranate juice as you browse. The similar Spice Bazaar is smaller but also well worth a visit to pick up spices, sweets and souvenirs.
History buffs will appreciate Topkapi Palace, the opulent home of Ottoman sultans for over 400 years, with decadent pavilions and courtyards to explore. Admire Iznik tiles and royal thrones before wandering the expansive palace grounds. Nearby is the Archaeological Museum, one of the world's great museums housing artifacts spanning Turkish history.
What else is in this post?
- Istanbul Delight: 10 Days of Exploring this Fascinating Turkish Gem - Old City Charms: Historic Sites in Sultanahmet
- Istanbul Delight: 10 Days of Exploring this Fascinating Turkish Gem - Bazaar Browsing: Shopping Adventures in the Grand Bazaar
- Istanbul Delight: 10 Days of Exploring this Fascinating Turkish Gem - Mosque Marvels: Visiting the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia
- Istanbul Delight: 10 Days of Exploring this Fascinating Turkish Gem - Asian Shore Adventures: Day Trips to Üsküdar and Kadıköy
- Istanbul Delight: 10 Days of Exploring this Fascinating Turkish Gem - Bosphorus Boat Ride: Cruising the Strait
Istanbul Delight: 10 Days of Exploring this Fascinating Turkish Gem - Bazaar Browsing: Shopping Adventures in the Grand Bazaar
With over 60 streets and alleys under one immense roof, losing yourself in the Grand Bazaar is all part of the Istanbul experience. As one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, this labyrinthine shopping mecca bursts with sights, sounds and scents to overwhelm the senses. Dating back to 1461, it continues to draw locals and tourists alike to hunt for bargains and treasures amidst its thousands of shops.
Wandering this maze of a market without getting hopelessly lost takes some skill. But getting lost is half the fun, especially when you stumble upon hidden corners like the rambling antiques passage full of weathered wares. Let your inner explorer off the leash as you traverse corridors lined with glittering lamps, carpets and crafts. Just be sure to note a few landmarks along the way so you can find your way out again.
When entering the bazaar, pause for a moment to take in the grandeur of the building itself with its 20 massive gates. The domed ceilings tower overhead, with rays of sunlight streaming in from skylights to illuminate the bustling lanes. Stop at one of many tea stalls tucked into quiet corners to sip a bracing glass of tea and soak in the chaotic energy.
Stalls selling every Turkish delight imaginable await around every turn. Stacked spices scent the air with cardamom, saffron and cumin. Vendors call out to lure you into their glittering domains bursting with ceramics, lamps and souvenirs. Bargaining is expected, so brush up on your haggling skills before hitting the bazaar. Prices start higher than you'll end up paying, so have fun negotiating. But not every shopkeeper will come down as much, so know when you've reached a fair deal.
With thousands of shops spanning over 60 streets, the key is avoiding overwhelm. Focus your explorations on a few key areas, like the textile souk near Beyazit Gate to find scarves and clothing. The jewelry section twinkles with gold, silver and precious gems. Leather goods and shoes also get their very own section. And for carpets, head to the massive bazaar within the bazaar, where every hue and pattern imaginable piles up to the ceiling.
Istanbul Delight: 10 Days of Exploring this Fascinating Turkish Gem - Mosque Marvels: Visiting the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia
No Istanbul itinerary is complete without visiting the ethereal Blue Mosque and breathtaking Hagia Sophia, two of the city's most iconic Mosque Marvels. Constructed centuries apart, these magnificent structures dazzle all who enter with sublime spiritual beauty and magnificent architecture.
Widely considered the epitome of Turkish-Islamic architecture, the stunning Blue Mosque lives up to its name with a vast azure-hued interior that stuns upon entry. Gazing up at the soaring central dome encircled by semi domes and grand arches, intricate Iznik tiles adorning the walls, and cascading stained glass windows spilling colorful light is an experience that transcends religion. Built between 1609-1616 under Sultan Ahmet I, the impressive complex with its six slender minarets remains an active place of worship. Visitors are warmly welcomed outside of the five daily prayer times.
Marvel at the array of 200 stained glass windows diffusing the interior with ethereal light. Admire the tens of thousands of intricate Iznik tiles lining the walls in floral and geometric designs around inscriptions from the Quran. The scale and beauty are humbling, designed to reflect the power and spirituality of Islam during the Ottoman Empire's golden era. While visually mesmerizing, it remains a deeply sacred space with a serene ambiance.
Equally transporting is the breathtaking Hagia Sophia, constructed 1500 years ago as a Greek Orthodox church before becoming an imperial mosque in 1453. Gazing up at the arresting 102-foot wide central dome seemingly suspended by a ring of 40 arched windows feels like looking into the heavens themselves. Sunbeams radiate down to illuminate stunning Byzantine mosaics and Islamic calligraphy in harmonic coexistence.
Wandering through this architectural marvel spanning the ages evokes a sense of the continuity of human ingenuity and spirituality across empires and eras. The scale is dizzying, as your eye travels up the towering walls to culminate in the crowning dome, itself a marvel of 6th century engineering to survive centuries of earthquakes. It's little wonder Hagia Sophia is considered the apogee of Byzantine architecture.
Istanbul Delight: 10 Days of Exploring this Fascinating Turkish Gem - Asian Shore Adventures: Day Trips to Üsküdar and Kadıköy
Though Istanbul sprawls across two continents, most visitors spend their time on the European side, missing out on the dynamic Asian shore. Venturing across the Bosphorus reveals a whole different side of the city, with atmospheric neighborhoods to uncover beyond the iconic Suleymaniye Mosque gracing the shoreline.
Ferries are the classic and scenic way to hop the Bosphorus from Eminönü port, arriving on the Asian side at Üsküdar. Wander the steep cobblestone streets winding uphill to unveil centuries of history, like the elaborate Mihrimah Sultan mosque commissioned by Suleiman the Magnificent for his daughter. The striking Valens Aqueduct slices through the energetic backstreets, hearkening back to the 4th century Roman era. Break for a plate of savory grilled fish by the water with views across to Old Istanbul before continuing your explorations.
Venture further south along the coast to reach Kadıköy, the modern commercial hub of the Asian side. The vibe here feels more relaxed and local, with cafes, restaurants and cinemas spilling onto wide seaside promenades. The winding narrow lanes of the Market District transport you back in time, with nostalgic shops and stalls selling antiques, fresh produce and street foods that lure the hungry.
Follow the wafting aroma of grilled meat to the döner kebab shops near the fish market for the quintessential Turkish fast food experience. Locals flock to Fratelli Café along the water to relax over a coffee, cocktail or hearty Italian fare as the sun sets in a fiery blaze. Barhopping along the sidestreets reveals Kadıköy's hip and youthful nightlife scene. Stop to listen to indie Turkish rock bands or DJs spinning in intimate venues.
Kadıköy also provides easy access via ferry or metro to the Princes' Islands, a chain of idyllic car-free havens dotted with pine forests, charming mansions and monasteries. Büyükada is the largest and most popular for its secluded coves, fin de siècle dining spots and lack of vehicle noise. For the quintessential laidback island vibe, hop on a horse-drawn carriage called a fayton to explore Büyükada's winding lanes and coastline, with plenty of stops for ice cream along the way.
Istanbul Delight: 10 Days of Exploring this Fascinating Turkish Gem - Bosphorus Boat Ride: Cruising the Strait
Gliding along the Bosphorus Strait by boat unveils Istanbul’s beauty as it straddles Europe and Asia, revealing why this stretch of water enchanted everyone from ancient mariners to emperors. Hopping aboard one of the many ferries plying the Bosphorus remains a quintessential Istanbul experience today.
The strategic significance of the Bosphorus dates back millennia, and countless key moments in Eastern Mediterranean history played out along its banks. Alexander the Great constructd a bridge here on his march eastward around 340 BC. Constantine established Constantinople as the Eastern capital of the Roman Empire here due to the Bosphorus' trading importance. And the Ottomans eventually conquered Constantinople partially by gaining control of the strait.
Even now, around 50,000 ships pass through the congested 19-mile waterway connecting the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara every year, making it one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. Beyond its strategic significance, the natural beauty entranced visitors like Pierre Gilles in the 1500s, who wrote of the strait's "truly magnificent splendor".
Today, the most relaxing way to experience that same magic is from the deck of a passenger ferry sailing the Bosphorus. Seeing the iconic city skyline slide by with traces of history crumbling along the shores makes you feel a part of the living history. Grand ornate Ottoman palaces and villas built by pashas and sultans for centuries grace the waterfront. Interspersed between the mansions, you can see everyday apartment blocks and docks bustling with fishermen unloading the day's catch.
The inexpensive public ferries run almost constantly, allowing you to hop on and off as desired. But opting for a longer cruise with guided commentary illuminates the significance of the sights gliding past. You’ll learn tantalizing tidbits like how the Dolmabahçe Palace’s furniture alone cost today’s equivalent of $1.5 billion.