Middle East Travel Turkey

Istanbul: The City of World’s Desire must-see bucket list

Where east meets west, Istanbul is a vibrant city with a lot to show for it. From Byzantium to Constantinople to Istanbul as we know it today, millions flock to the City of World’s Desire for its gorgeous mosques, centuries’ old bazaars and incredible food.

Hagia Sofia

Re-built in the 6th century during the Byzantine Empire, the mosque was originally a pagan temple built over by Constantine I in 325. While it’s had many versions and rebuilds, it only took six years to construct what it is today. The mosque has stood as is for more than 500 years – existing as a museum for a while – and is visited by nearly 10,000 people per day. It is the fourth largest church in the world.

Hagia Sofia is free to visit. The mosque will close for both the midday and late afternoon call to prayer.

Blue Mosque

Directly across from Hagia Sofia is a much younger but well-known mosque, Sultan Ahmed Mosque, also known as the Blue Mosque. Constructed during the Ottoman-era, the Blue Mosque has around five million visitors per year. Inside the mosque is a central dome as most of the walls and ceiling are covered in thousands of Iznik tiles and painted floral motifs.

All visitors must take off their shoes before entering the mosque and women must have their knees, shoulders and head covered. Men must have knees and shoulders covered. Some areas of the prayer hall are designated for men only.

Turkish baklava (to go)

Delicious square morsels of pastry, butter and pistacchio, baklava is a dessert in this part of the world (Greece is also known for its baklava) These pastry shops are a dime a dozen in Istanbul and for good reason. From what I could tell, most shops had a takeaway window to make it an easy pit stop on a long day of sightseeing. Those with nut allergies can skip this one but just know, you’re missing out.

Cleanse at a hammam

You’ve never been truly clean if you haven’t had a Turkish bath – or so they say. The Turkish bath, or hammam, became widely popular in the 17th century during the Ottoman Empire and was used as a place to prepare for prayer. Now hammams are used for relaxation.

A traditional hammam includes a steam room, exfoliation/scrub and a foam massage. Just as one would bathe in the nude at home, a hammam is no different, so if you’re timid about being naked, know this before you go.

Basilica Cistern

Slither your way below ground to check out one of the largest and most impressive cisterns in Istanbul and was the city’s water filtration system. Pillars hold the ceiling up as statues reflect in the few feet of water that remains. It gives major Chamber of Secrets vibes.

Topkapi Palace

Topkapi probably isn’t like other palaces you’ve been to, but it is equally as grand. The Palace was home to all the Ottoman sultans over a period of nearly four centuries.

Unlike European kingdoms, there isn’t one large indoor area with a garden at the back. Instead, gardens are a focal point of the three main zones in Topkapi, which create a border around the lush grounds.

Give yourself at least two hours to roam about. You will need to have knees and shoulders covered for some rooms. Entry costs 750 Turkish lira.

Galata Tower

Great views will be had for those who climb Galata Tower, but no need to worry it’s only 146 steps. The tower is located in the European Zone of Istanbul across the river from the mosques mentioned above. The tower provides a 360-degree view of the city and is a lovely spot on a hot day to catch a breeze.

Try Aryan

Imagine this, you’re sitting at dinner and the tables around you are all drinking milk with the meal. Well, it’s not milk. But it is Turkish. Aryan tastes like milk with a lot of salt that I would consider to be an acquired taste. It wasn’t my taste but to each there own. Give ita go.

Grand Bazaar

Spend an entire day at the Grand Bazaar if you choose and bring your bartering A-game. It’s one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, with 61 covered streets and over 4,000 shops. The market is quite enchanting but be prepared to ask to try and ”take a look” at hundreds of things. Most vendors will take cash or card.

Where to stay: the Old City

For a budget friendly option, a few minutes walk from the mosques, book Tan Hotel. It’s nothing particularly fancy but the rooms were nice and the location was unbeatable.

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