Istanbul is such an eclectic mix of the east and west, the old and new, the traditional and modern, that it will amaze you that something like this can exist, and that too in perfect harmony! There are many things that make Istanbul unique and below are my top 9 picks –
1. Beautiful architecture
If you are fond of history and art, Istanbul will truly captivate you. Visit the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and be truly amazed by the intricate craftsmanship. Though I am not much of a monument person, I was quite impressed with the sheer beauty of the Blue Mosque which was built by Sultan Ahmet to calm the Gods. I ended up skipping Hagia Sophia (had a great lunch calling plus there was an entry fee 😀 )
2. Turkish tea or coffee
Walk around the cobblestone streets of the old city and chill at a sidewalk café sipping Turkish tea or coffee. There is something about this experience that is so authentic, you will want to do it again, AND again.
3. The chaos of the bazaars
Let loose the shopper in you at the Grand Bazaar or the very famous Spice Bazaar. The grand bazaar is very famous for carpets, leather, ceramics and jewelry but I found it to be a tad too expensive. If you pride yourself on your bargaining skills, then you may end up buying some goodies. Don’t be surprised by shopkeepers at the Spice Bazaar trying to make conversation and lure you into their shops. My dark hair and eyes gave me away and I found multiple shopkeepers asking me if I was from ”Hindustan” professing love for Bollywood and Shah Rukh Khan.
People are generally very friendly, almost all our cab drivers were very interested to know where we were from, guide us and indulge in general chit-chat. I also must add that this is a city of good looks, everywhere I looked, streets, cafes, parks, all I saw was extremely hot men and women. And if you see women covered from head to toe in a burkha, you will find as many women wearing shorts, dresses and very hip clothing! Like I said, Istanbul is a city of surprises!
Head out to Taksim square and get absorbed in the more European side of Istanbul with chic people, bars, music and the likes. The place was packed and as the night wore on and people started dancing on the streets (which I also joined in 🙂 )
If you want to indulge in your bold side, try the Turkish bath or the Hamam. A Turkish tradition which is over thousands of years old, the Hamam is a public bath, also meant as a platform for socializing. You will probably have an attendant scrubbing you and walking you through different rooms of sauna, steam et al. The baths are separate for both men and women (generally!) and everyone will be typically nude. Didn’t expect this from Istanbul? Me neither.
Try the Rakı, which is an aniseed-flavor spirit, and a go-to drink for all celebrations .It is quite strong so is usually diluted with water which makes it turn a milky white, hence it is also called as Lion’s milk.
Think dessert and the one thing that stands out is the Baklava. Though there are many variations available, the traditional one with layers of thin, crisp and sweet pastry, filled with nuts and dipped in syrup is what I loved. I strongly recommend that you DO NOT miss this sugary treat.
9. Galata bridge
Walk over to the Galata Bridge in the evening to catch the sunset and sea gulls while you try a. fish sandwich. Spend some time at any of the multiple restaurants lining the bridge with a cup of Turkish tea and Hookah.
Some of my captures below –