Asia or Europe, or BOTH?
Istanbul, the most populated city of Turkey straddles Europe & Asia across the Bosphorus Strait. So quite literally, Istanbul has an Asian side & a European side.
Old School Vibes
The old city vibe of Istanbul reflects cultural influences of the many empires that once ruled here. It gives Roman & Greek vibes at every nook & corner!
DID YOU KNOW?
Turkey shares its borders with Greece & Bulgaria, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Iraq, Iran & Syria. This is why you will find a very European & Middle-Eastern crowd here.
Syrian refugees are known to create a tad bit of trouble in extremely crowded areas.
Food Game On Point
With the country’s major income coming from Agriculture (Turkey is RICH in farm lands) & Tourism, it’s no surprise that Turkey’s food game is on point.
It has some of the best restaurants of the world but at a quarter of the price! YES! Even the most expensive eateries in the world turn out to be the cheapest in Turkey!
DID YOU KNOW?
Nusr-Et (aka Salt Bae) operates five branches of his world famous steakhouse restaurant in Istanbul. The restaurants offer lip-smacking food, a lively bar and ambience at only a fraction of the cost of their other international counterparts.
Shopping Game On Point
Proximity to the EU makes Turkey an ideal place to shop for the BIGGG (high-end luxury) brands! R and I bought some high end luxury goods and found the savings to be about 25% (compared to what we get here in DXB) and that’s a whopping difference! So all you brand freaks out there, you gotta fly to Istanbul around the time you intend to make a big purchase. After all,
money saved = money earned!
7 Things To Do In Istanbul-
1. Chill in Beyoglu
Beyoglu is a district located on the European side of Istanbul. It’s a lovely area for walking, shopping, eating and bar hopping! It gives you a quintessential Turkish vibe so it’s a must-visit! Best for mornings and evenings you wish to spend just roaming around without doing anything (very, very) touristy!
2. Camlica Hill
Look, Istanbul is all about views & gorgeous castles so a well planned “#ootd” & “#ootn” is a must! Anyway, this hill is about 260m above sea level which makes it an awesome place to enjoy views of the city, sip Turkish tea/coffee, stroll around and ramble on about life with you travel partner!
Camlica Hill offers panoramic views of Bosphorus River & is adorned with gardens! If the weather God is by your side, this spot can give you an experience to cherish for a lifetime!
3. Beylerbeyi Palace
Beylerbeyi Palace is a jaw dropping summer residence of the Ottoman Sultans that was built in the 19th century! What took me by surprise was the fact that such a heart achingly beautiful palace was their SUMMER HOME!
Beylerbeyi Palace is the most beautiful palace ever (may be ‘cos I haven’t been to many)….or perhaps I am just a sucker for palaces which is why this was one of my favorite places to explore in Istanbul.
What warmed my heart was the way it has been restored & maintained by the country’s government.
I am a big supporter of preserving heritage sites and treating ‘em like a diamond! Countries that preserve their culture end up benefitting in a gazillion ways!
Please make sure you receive a guided tour of this palace as you aren’t allowed to take photographs inside and this palace has a story to tell! Highlights of this palace (hands down) were- a downstairs hall with the huge marble pool used for cooling during summers, bohemian crystal chandeliers and so much more!!!
4. Bosphorus Cruise
I’m one of those travelers who likes to enjoy every city by having it sink in through every mode of transport- land, water & air! This indeed makes me a sucker for city cruises! A regular Bosphorus cruise is a 90 minute ride that happens to be one of the best ways to gawk at Istanbul in its full glory, from the peaks of Sultanahmet’s tourists sites to the famous Ottoman waterfront mansions!
If you’re into cruising then there are way too many cruising options available, all you gotta do is look up & book!
To name a few…
-Short Circle City Boat Tour on the Bosphorus (2.5 hours)
-Istanbul Half-Day City Sightseeing Bus & Boat Combo Tour (4.5 hours)
-Istanbul Brunch Cruise (8 hours)
-Bosphorus Sunset Cruise in Istanbul (2 hours)
-Bosphorus Dinner Cruise with Turkish Night Show (3.5 hours)
-Ottoman Nights Dinner Cruise with Belly Dancer & Turkish Folk Dances (3.5 hours)
…so on and so forth!
5. Hippodrome, Blue Mosque & Hagia Sophia Museum
These are the most touristy things you can do in Istanbul and rightly so! Please make sure you have a guide with you while you’re covering these places because he/she will give you background on each of these places which is too bad if you miss! Every single chandelier, every single painting has a story to tell and a good one… fyi, I’m not someone who enjoyed history growing up but Turkey’s history belongs to the ‘too cool for school’ kinda genre!
Seriously guys, I’m not kidding- do get a guide when you go here!
Oh and guess where we all took a selfie?
This happens to be the (new) exact centre of this humungous museum.
‘New’ because the museum was restored after earthquakes!
If you find this picture lame, blame our guide as he was the one who insisted on taking this photo- again super touristyy! lol
6. Spice Bazaar & Grand Bazaar
These two are overhyped, overpriced & overcrowded! You must not buy items from here as everyone sitting there is going to fool you in one way or another! Best thing to buy here are souvenirs provided you know the art of bargaining! What ticked me off about this place was the crazy volumes of down-market fake luxury goods that were being sold like it’s some matter of pride! A total bummer of a place for me!
7. Hodjapasha (Theatre) – Sufi Dance/Whirling Dervishes Live Show
The Sema Ceremony at Hodjapasha is a spiritual journey of dervishes whirling for divine love. This whirling type of dance is declared as a UNESCO Heritage of Humanity. It’s an experience you should have at least once in a lifetime! You’ll be surprised…. 😉
Fun Fact: This theatre was transformed from a large 15th century hamam (Turkish bath).
Food & Shopping Recommendations in the upcoming blog post!
10 Tips if you’re planning to visit Istanbul
1. Consider staying in areas like – Etiler, Besiktas, Bebek as these are really popular and you won’t end up getting stuck in Istanbul traffic that can make you cringe on a holiday!
2. If you’re a meat eater, you must visit Salt Bae’s restaurant, Nusr-Et (price point of view)!
3. Spice Bazaar & Grand Bazaar items CANNOT BE TRUSTED! If you only want to purchase souvenirs, you will find many places within the city, you don’t have to go to these markets!
4. If you wish to explore the city well, go for guided tours. A guide will take you around really well and share lots of information about the city with you which is worth knowing!
5. You need a minimum of 4 days to explore Istanbul.
6. High-end luxury items must be bought at flagship stores in Istanbul- you will save a great deal on retail because of Turkey’s proximity to the EU + the generous tax refunds for tourists!! Best mall to visit in Istanbul is Istinye Park. It’s really happening!
7. Do not be a fool by leaving the country without indulging in a Turkish bath! It’s AMAZINGGGG & must be done at a posh/reputed place for obvious reasons!
8. Bosphorus Cruise SHOULD NOT BE MISSED!
9. Castles in Istanbul are too die for, do visit!
10. If you are running reallllly short on time, you can skip Hippodrome & Blue Mosque but not Hagia Sophia Museum (even though they are in the same area)!