Istanbul is a city where you can literally experience the best of both worlds of both Europe and Asia. It is known historically as Byzantium and Constantinople and is now the most populous city in Turkey. It is also the country’s economic, historic, and cultural center. An interesting fact you might not know about Istanbul is that it is a transcontinental city in Eurasia. It has a European side where the commercial and historical center lies and it has an Asian side where a third of the population resides. These two are separated by the Bosphorus strait. If you are wanting to visit to Istanbul, planning is key to ensure that you cover all that needs to be visited in this very unique city.
Really, what is a tour to another country without tasting its food? When in Istanbul, one of the foods you have to try is the kebab! What’s so special about it? Well, first off you’re going to be eating kebabs in the city where it all started. Kebabs can be found anywhere around the world, sure, but there’s nothing quite like eating it in the country where it all began.
You should also try the unique specialties to be found in the city including, the Kokoreç. This is a sandwich with lamb intestines. Reading this description is enough to make you pause, but it tastes insanely delicious.
Visit the Hagia Sophia
The Hagia Sophia is unique all on its own because it has served up to three different religions since it was built. Hagia Sophia, also known as the church of Divine Wisdom, started off as a Pagan temple. After that it was turned into a mosque. You can even touch the Weeping Column where it claims to have healing powers, drink from a well in the great hall, or even see the Tomb of Queen Sophia. Don’t dare touch the Tomb though because legend says the whole place will tumble down if any so dares to touch the tomb!
Go Shopping in the Grand Bazaar
You better get your wallets and your bargaining skills ready when you visit the Grand Bazaar! This is a great place to buy trinkets or souvenirs for your home or as gifts. There are so many things you can buy and see in the Grand Bazaar including jewelry, leather, and traditional Turkish food. You don’t even have to buy anything while here because walking through the alleys can be scenic enough. You can also get a professional tour guide for your Grand Bazaar visit if you want to make the most of your visit to this place.
Climb the Historical Tower
The Historical Tower has served as light house, an asylum, a defense tower, an observatory, and even a launching pad for the first ever human to fly on his own. How cool is that? This tower has since been standing in 528 and is a famous landmark in the city of Istanbul. You might not be able to climb the Historical Tower, but if you stand from below you can look up to have an outstanding view.
Swim Between Asia and Europe
You don’t have to dive into the Bosphorus strait to do that. You can opt for something a lot better, say in the Suada. Saudi Istanbul, also known as Galatasaray Island, can be described as an island between two continents. It gives guests a unique beach experience and is the picture of glamorous Istanbul. Here, guests can sun themselves, swim in the Olympic sized pool, taste delectable international dishes, enjoy the 360-degree panoramic views of both Europe and Asia, and dance to the famous poolside parties hosted here. Boats will take guests to and from the mainland all throughout the day.
Descend the Basilica Cistern
Descending into the Basilica Cistern is like a horror movie waiting to happen. It’s just like it, but it’s not at all scary. You have to walk carefully on wooden planks to get around and you’ll see koi swimming in the water amidst the old columns. There’s also two mysterious statues that bear the head of Medusa. If you’re not creeped out by this, it’s definitely a place to visit.
Cross the Asian Side
While most of the attractions and events can be found in the European side, the Asian side also has its own unique places to visit. You can get to the Asian side, also known as the Anatolian side, by way of the Bosphorus Bridge. You can also choose to ride the ferry. One best place to visit in the Anatolian side is Çamlica Hill where you can enjoy fantastic views of the city at the very top. A stroll along the Bagdat Caddesi will lead you to many restaurants and shops. Take a tour of the Beylerbeyi Palace or check out the items on sale at the markets in Kadiköy.
Go on a Quiet Getaway
The Prince Islands is the best place to go on a quiet getaway in Istanbul. This is made up of a chain of nine islands, but only four are most visited because the remaining five are small and mostly residential. There are a lot of historical buildings here still standing. You can look at the beautiful homes or sit and dine in the cafes. Best of all, motorized transport is not allowed on the islands. If you want to get around, you can walk, cycle, or ride a horse and carriage, the last being the best option.
Take a Bath in a Hammam
Granted there are a lot of hammams in Istanbul, especially in hotels, but if you want to go to the real deal, you can go to the Cagaloglu or the Çemberlitai Hamami. A hammam is a Turkish bath. It has been a traditional that has been around for thousands of years. It’s not only a place to cleanse, but also a place to socialize. It’s much like the onsens in Japan. The naked people taking baths are not the attraction, but the baths themselves. There is a variety to choose from and different temperatures to go with it.
When to Visit Istanbul
If you really want to enjoy Istanbul, the best time to visit is between the months of September and November. During this time, there aren’t too many crowds and the rates drop as well. Best of all, you get to enjoy spectacular weather.
Where to Stay in Istanbul
There are a lot of wonderful places to stay in Istanbul. You don’t want to get the first familiar name of a hotel you know. The best thing to consider when choosing a hotel is where you want to be near in – historical sites, lively entertainment, or posh living? The hotels in Sultanahmet is a great choice for tourists who want to explore the historical places of Istanbul. The nightlife, shops, and street food are all abuzz in Beyoğlu. If you’re into that, then the hotels in the area are your best bet. Lastly, if the pull of the luxurious life is too strong, you should stay in hotels starting with Intercontinental, Hyatt, and Hilton in Taksim.