Istanbul,Turkey is the largest European city with 20 million inhabitants. The city is located on both the European and the Asian continents with the Bosphorus running in the center.
This is the second time I have visited Istanbul. The first was five years ago with a friend. My husband and I chose this fabulous city to celebrate our wedding anniversary and my birthday. He has never been there.
The seaports are busy with boats coming and going and the shoreline and skylines along the water are dramatic and beautiful. There are mosques and minarets everywhere you look and because of that, when the call to prayer happens, it resonates loudly and hauntingly throughout the city and is quite beautiful and exotic.
We were there for 6 days, but I feel like I could take 6 weeks, or maybe 6 months to learn about this city. During that time, we stayed pretty close to the historic center Sultanahmet.
We had a fantastically located hotel which was recommended by a friend, and was cheap, clean and had a nice breakfast included. It was called the Side Hotel and Pension. We stayed in the pension side. It is about a 3-minute walk to the square located between the Blue Mosque and Haghia Sophia and Topkapi Palace.
Using the Eyewitness Top 10 guidebook, we managed to see/do 7 of the 10 things that they recommended and we thoroughly enjoyed every one of them. We visited the Blue Mosque. It is for restoration, which was a huge disappointment for my husband, but he took it in stride. We were able to enter the courtyard.
Hagia Sophia was a church for 1000 years and then a mosque for 500. In 1935, it became a museum and it is incredible.
The Topkapi Palace was the home of the Ottoman Dynasty. The gardens that surround the buildings of the palace are incredible. Tulips and millions of hyacinths made an incredible perfume.
The Grand Bazaar is huge and contains everything your heart desires. It was so large, that I much preferred some of the smaller markets around. I particularly like the Egyptian Bazaar, which is less touristy, and more locals frequent it.
We visited the Basilica Cistern, which is underground and beautiful. Parts of it are also being restored which was a slight distraction.
One of my favorite things was the Turkish bath or hammam! We chose Cemberlitas which is historic, although a little touristy. For about $45, I had a bath (scrubbing bubble bath) and half hour massage.
There are separate sides for males and females. Inside this ancient structure, it is easy to let yourself get lost in time and your imagination runs wild with the history and beauty of the rituals there. I don’t have any photos of that event though!
We cruised the Bosphorus for a day and stopped on the Asian side for a seafood meal. Using the BIG BUS, hop on/hop off system is a great way to acclimate yourself to the city and see things that you might not otherwise be able to. There is an audio guide in many languages and it’s well worth the money.
Eating in Istanbul is relatively inexpensive and the food is delicious. There are lots of grilled meats and fish and fresh vegetables. Their “mezzes” or small appetizer plates make it very convenient to try lots of different things.
Istanbul has taken the place as one of my favorite cities in the world. It is exotic, yet modern and filled with history and culture. Stay tuned to learn more about certain important sites!