A few weeks ago I posted about my favorite Istanbul street food. Today I am sharing some other recommendations for Istanbul based on our recent trip, along with some advice on what to try and see if you are there with limited time.
We were only there for two days, and would have needed more time to see it all. We didn’t get to see Topkapi Palace, which was a bummer, since I was excited to see it after reading about it’s intriguing history. That being said, we still had an amazing time, and will just need to go back someday to see more!
Where to Stay
|After a long flight, it was nice to be greeted with strong Turkish coffee upon arrival at Sultan Tughra.|
We stayed at an adorable, historic boutique hotel (found per my usual favorite hotel search tool TripAdvisor) called Sultan Tughra in the Old City part of Istanbul. I’d recommend this hotel and would stay there again in a heartbeat. The décor was traditional and felt opulent, and the service was attentive and friendly. We were greeted with Turkish coffee and Turkish delights while we were checking in. The location was probably the best part: just blocks (an easy walk) from all major attractions in the Old City (Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Grand Bazaar, Topkapi Palace, Hippodrome… I could go on).
|Our first taste of Turkish delight was in the Sultan Tughra lobby while we awaited check-in.|
|Another welcome surprise was this wine and towel display in our room.|
What to Do and See
While we didn’t have enough time to explore all of these in detail (I suppose we will have to take a trip back!), here is a list of some of the key sights in Istanbul:
- Blue Mosque
- Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya)
- Topkapi Palace
- Grand Bazaar
- Bosphorus Strait
- Basilica Cistern
- Taksim Square
|The one-and-only Blue Mosque.|
|The intricate, and lovingly-crafted details along with the soft colors made the interior of the Blue Mosque a treat for the senses.|
|I couldn’t get enough of the amazing carvings and tilework that seemingly covered every inch of the interior of the Blue Mosque.|
|The other major, iconic landmark in Istanbul is directly across from the Blue Mosque – the Hagia Sophia. No longer a place of worship, the grand Hagia Sophia is now a museum.|
|Ongoing restoration inside the Hagia Sophia seeks to remove plaster that once covered the original tilework. Golden yellow is the primary color inside Hagia Sophia.|
|The original tilework is amazingly preserved in Hagia Sophia. My photos do not accurately depict the majesty of this site.|
|Per tradition/superstition, I waited in line to place my thumb (and make a 360 degree rotation of the hand) in the worn hole on the “weeping column” in the Hagia Sophia.|
|This 3,500 year-old Egyptian Obelisk is one of the decorations in the Hippodrome of Constantinople.|
|The entrance to the Grand Bazaar, one of the world’s oldest and largest covered markets. Don’t be afraid to haggle! It is part of the experience, and I found it to be a much friendlier haggling experience than markets in other parts of the world.|
|The aisle in just one of the 61 streets containing 3,000 shops that make up the Grand Bazaar.|
Spices galore, and at amazing prices! I came home with quite a few.
|The Bosphorus Strait at sunset, standing on the European side while looking across at the Asian side of Istanbul. How many cities do you know that span two continents?|
|Bustling Taksim Square! Great for an evening of shopping, fabulous street food, and bars and night clubs.|
What to Eat
Only being in Istanbul for a short time, most of our meals were while sampling the fabulous street food. See my post on my favorite Istanbul street food options here. Other things to try of course include as much Turkish coffee as you can get your hands on, the delicious apple-flavored Turkish tea, and Turkish delight.
Another unique offering at sit-down restaurants is food cooked in sealed, clay pots. These pots are then brought to the table (on fire) and cracked open to reveal perfectly stewed meat, vegetables and sauce. It is served alongside a side dish.
Attire and Etiquette
While Istanbul is a modern city in many respects, some of the places you may wish to visit while there (mosques, for example), are suited to more modest dress. Do note that covering your head is not required for women in Istanbul, and that it is perfectly acceptable to wear your usual stylish clothing look. While many Turkish women choose to cover their hair with a scarf, a large percentage of women you see do not use a scarf while going around town. When visiting mosques, however, your hair should be covered out of respect.
I found this link to be helpful to understand the culture and etiquette in Istanbul. Even though some tourists were dressed in tank tops and shorts, I personally felt more comfortable with my shoulders covered, and my husband felt more comfortable in pants. See my post on Spring/Summer Vacation Style to see the outfits I chose for Istanbul and Cappadocia (more coverage than for the Greek beaches for example, but no less fashionable). At the Blue Mosque they provide coverings for you as needed, but since we were prepared, we didn’t need any additional garments. I had my shoulders and legs covered, and even purchased a lovely Turkish silk scarf at the Grand Bazaar to cover my hair when inside the mosque.
|The Turkish silk scarf I purchased at the Grand Bazaar came in handy to cover my hair for my visit to the Blue Mosque.|
While shopping at stores and in the bazaars, it is common to be offered tea (yum!) or Turkish coffee (double yum!). You should accept the tea or coffee, and feel free to take your time while shopping.
Like most countries you visit, being respectful of history, traditions, and people is always a good idea. Turks were incredibly friendly and welcoming to us, and the city is ripe with ancient history to learn about and appreciate, so this should not be difficult during your visit. The government is secular, most of the residents are Muslim, and over the course of Turkey’s long history it has seen Greco-Roman belief-systems, Christianity, and Islam. As a result, Turkey is very diverse and appreciative of cultural and religious differences.
Next I will cover recommendations from our time in the Cappadocia region of Turkey. Stay tuned to the blog for more!