Istanbul is for sure a must-see city not only once in a lifetime, but many many many times afterwards. Despite the fact that Istanbul is located just in 500km from Varna, I’ve never been there. In November I decided that the time has come for me to see Istanbul and for Istanbul to see me ):
As a first-time visitor, I went on an organized trip and decided on what am I going to see in Istanbul.
Day 1: Old Istanbul
The first stop is Old Istanbul. All within walking distance, are locate Aya Sofya, Blue Mosque, Basilica Cistern Yerebatan, the Hippodrome and Arasta Bazaar.
Walkthrough the Hippodrome and imagine Byzantine chariots in racing competitions back at the days.
It’s almost impossible to miss out the Hippodrome and the Egyptian Obelisk that Emperor Theodosius has built up in the centre of the Old part of Istanbul. It looks like the perfect spot for a starting point of the chariots’ races.
Admire Aya Sofya
For me, Aya Sofya was a dream come true. I would be happy to visit only Aya Sofya and nothing else in Istanbul. It symbolises all the civilisations crossing Istanbul and keeps their footprints on the inside as well as on the outside. Aya Sofya is not a house of worship, it’s a museum of religions and civilisations. No particular rules to follow entering the museum, just buy your ticket online to skip the queue ):
Escape the agitation of the Old city in the peaceful Blue Mosque
Blue Mosque – Sultan Ahmet I wanted to build a monument that would rival Aya Sofya. When you enter the mosque, you will immediately see the stained-glass windows and Iznik tiles that are of blue colour and that why the temple is called “Blue Mosque”. Both monuments, Aya Sofya and the Blue Mosque look identical on the outside and on pictures too. Keep in mind that there are strict rules to enter the mosque as you have to respect visitors’ hours.
To kill the time, I decided to visit the largest Byzantine cistern in Istanbul – Basilica Cistern Yerebatan
It’s incredible when you think about that this mind-blowing subterranean cistern was built by emperor Justinian in 532 and is still undisturbed nowadays! Try to figure out Gorgona Medusa heads carved into blocks supporting two columns. The Cistern’s inside was set in the movie Inferno based on Dan Brown’s masterpiece.
After I ticked the main attractions of Old Istanbul, I accidentally found myself hanging around a serene Bazaar called Arasta Bazaar. There were very cute shops where you can buy some souvenirs to bring back home. I don’t really like bargaining and noisy bazaars that why I recommend this beautiful central place.
Drink a Turkish tea with a view
In the late afternoon, I was tired and wanted to get some Turkish coffee or tea. One of a sudden, I saw a lot of rooftop cafes in the Old Istanbul area. It happened that these places provide access to their rooftops from where you can get the best Istanbul Aya Sofya and Blue Mosque panoramic views. I enjoyed a delicious Turkish tea and got some awesome shots.
Day 2: Princes’ Islands
After a hectic day of sightseeing, I wanted to go easy and take the shore. I embarked on a ferry ride to Büyükada – the biggest island of the Princes’ islands. The highlight of the island is to get a fayton ride (horse-drawn carriage) and to admire the Mediterranean houses around. You can have lunch or dinner in one of the numberless restaurants looking at the sea. As a souvenir, the ladies buy a tiara made of flowers or sea garments as a symbol of Büyükada. There are ferries going back and forth from Istanbul to the islands and vice versa. Just check the timetable in advance.
Day 3: Süleymaniye Camii – and Galata district
It’s difficult to make up one’s mind what to see and what to skip in Istanbul, but I am glad I did not skip Süleymaniye Camii. The mosque is stunning! Really beautiful inside. However, the best remains Hurrem Sultan’s tomb as well as the tomb of the Suleyman the Magnificient laying one close to another. I am not going to reveal anything else about this magnificent mosque, just read ”Roxelana” by Pavlo Zahrebelnyi and visit Süleymaniye Camii.
I’ve got two hours after Süleymaniye Camii and decided to stroll along Galata district. This is the bohemian part of the city with Galata tower, little design shops, cafes, cozy streets and young people hanging around. Galata district has bucketloads of atmosphere and the next time I will definetely spent more time there.
After the sightseeing, let’s talk about Turkish cuisine
When in Turkey, do as Turkish do and eat bread, Turkish delights and some unusual stuff.
What new dishes did I taste?
1.Kokoreç – a lamb intestine sandwich. This is the perfect Turkish street food. 2. Döner kebab (wrap/ or plate with lamb and some vegetables) 3.Köfte (meatballs traditionally made of lamb) or 4. işkembe (tripe soup).
Turkish people love to relax over a cup of tea or coffee accompanied by Turkish delights after a meal. The choice is endless here: 1. Sütlaç – rice pudding; 2.Kadayif – dough soaked in syrup and topped with cream; 3. Künefe – layers of kadayif with sweet cheese inside doused in syrup and served with pistachio on the top.
Baklava is the most famous Turkish desert and you will find myriad of variations in the shops and cafes. All this with a strong Turkish tea or coffee is transformed into a real ritual for the soul!
What am I am going to see and experience in Istanbul the next time?
- Baths of Lady Hurrem (money needed here as the entrance fees are pretty high)
- Watch the dervishes whirl
- Embark on a Bosphorus Cruise
- See the Orient Express at Sirkeci Railway Station (hope so)
- Walkthrough Taksim Square
Have you been to Istanbul? What are your top Istanbul places to visit?
Thanks for reading!