Istanbul is one of the vibrant cities of Turkey, which was known by many names such as Constantinople & Byzantium. This is a city where east meets west and this city will surely bedazzle you with its millions of flavours and aroma. A city where you can feel the ancient history is still alive.
Here is our short Guide to Istanbul – so get the idea about what to see & what to do
What to see
Sultanahmet Square : This square is situated right in the middle of all major attractions and was once known as Hippodrome of Constantinople. This square is beautifully maintained and provides ample room for wandering and witnessing some amazing buildings and park setting. Tourist information facilities, cafes, souvenir shops and mode of transports are also available right here.
Blue Mosque: May not rebound to have a colour of blue, but this mosque has earned its reputation because of its blue tiles adorning the interior walls. This mosque was built in 1609 – 1616, during the rule of Ahmed I to reassert Ottoman power. It is a beautiful masterpiece of Architecture which has five main domes, six point three minarets and eight secondary domes.
Note: It’s a fully active mosque, so appropriate dressing is required while entering the mosque.
Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya): A former Greek Orthodox Cathedral which was later converted into a mosque now serves as an impressive museum. It can be described as the best example of Byzantine architecture. The interior of this museum is beautifully covered with mosaics and marble pillars. It’s worth a visit specially if you are an architecture lover.
Basilica Cistern: Basilica Cistern, also known as “Sunken Palace” was constructed by Byzantine Emperor. The cistern provided a water filtration system for the Great Palace of Constantinople and the Topkapi Palace.
This underground waterway is used as a reservoir to store water. It is 138meters wide and 64.4meters long. There are 336 columns and most of the column capitals are either in Corinthian or Doric style. Towards the back of the Cistern, and you will find one upside down Medusa head supporting one of the columns. Not far from the upside-down Medusa head is another facing sideways. It’s quite interesting to know why such ideas were used as the answers are still unknown.
Topkapi Palace: Topkapi Palace which is one of the largest and oldest palaces which once served as a major residence of the Ottoman sultans for 4 decades. This Palace is located on the Seraglio Point overlooking the Golden horn and the Sea of Marmara, with fabulous views of Bosphorus from many points. This Palace now serves as a Museum that showcases the priceless treasures of Ottoman Dynasty.
Galata Tower: Galata Tower also called as Christea Turris (Tower of Christ) by the Genoese – is Gothic Stone tower built in 1348. It has been used as an observation tower by many people of Istanbul throughout history. This tower is the most striking landmarks in Istanbul. It is high cone capped cylinder that dominates the skyline and also gives great 360 degree vista of Istanbul’s historic and modern views. Best time to visit is evening, as it gets crammed up by numerous visitors to witness the stunning sunset view.
Istiklal Avenue: Also known as Istiklal Street, is one of the most famous and happening avenues located in historic Beyoglu district of Istanbul. It is very crowded during weekends and lightly crowded during weekdays. It is 1.4 Km long pedestrian street which houses very interesting boutiques, restaurants, chocolatiers, music stores, bookstores, art galleries, cinemas, theatres, cafés, night clubs with live street performances and much more. The avenue is surrounded by Ottoman era buildings as well as Art Deco style buildings.
To experience a different way of exploring this avenue is the world’s second-oldest subway station, generally referred as Tunel (The Tunnel) a tram which started in 1875 and still in great shape.
One should never miss this avenue as it is worth experiencing.
Where to Shop
Grand Bazaar: Grand Bazaar is enormous in size and the oldest covered markets in the world, this maze like network have over 4000 shops and around 300000+ visitors. The Grand Bazaar was founded in 1461 by Fatih Sultan Mehmet, after he conquered Constantinople in 1453. You will find everything from fashion and jewellery items to home decors, Classic Turkish ceramics, Dry fruits, Famous Turkish delight & the list goes on. You will meet incredibly friendly shopkeepers who are fluent in your native language, manoeuvre around with your camera, along the narrow streets looking for attractive items. You will find good selection of cafes and restaurants, so you don’t need to leave the bazaar if you want to have a bite. It will give its visitor an unforgettable experience.
What to do
Bosphorus Cruise: – One of the best way to feel the dynamics of Istanbul is to take Cruise ride on Bosphorus. You can’t help but awe-struck by the beautiful blue waters of Marmara. The Bosphorus Strait connects Istanbul through Asian and European continent making it one of the few cities in the world.
The full day tours can be arranged by hotels or via tour companies, but we preferred a local experience which took 2-2.5hours through Turyol ferry that departs regularly from Eminönü Kadıköy between 10:00am to 7:00pm. We showed up little early than our time just to get good location and enjoy the views as the ferry can get crowded, although it was not at all crowded and made the tour more comfortable. The ferry took us around important sights, navigating along Asian and European coasts. You also get an audio guide which can make life much easier identifying historic structures.
The views were simply breath taking and will make your experience worthwhile. Istanbul has incredible skyline and witnessing it from Bosphorus allows you to glance at this city from many different perspectives.
Whirling Dervishes Performance: Whirling Dervishes also known as Sema ceremony is one of the most important heritage of Turkish Culture as a tradition. It is a religious dance form which is performed to express emotion and achieve wisdom from God. This dance form was founded by Mevlana Celaleddin-I Rumi.
The spinning of Dervishes or the movement represent the agitated state of the soul and as the turns becomes faster the dervishes appear to go into trance.
You can witness this beautiful spiritual Journey of Dervishes at Hodjapasha Dance Theatre, the performance is held every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at 19:00 hrs.
Note: many tourist flocks to see this dance form, so it’s better to buy ticket well in advance.
How to commute?
Istanbul has one of the excellent public transport systems. There are numerous ways to travel within the city like buses, metro buses, trams, funicular, cable cars, ferries and sea taxis. These transport facilities are linked together and the best thing is that all these public transport has single payment system called Istanbulkart which is an electronic card – one card can be used by multiple users. There are many ticket booths where you can get these cards and are easy to top up.
If you are looking to commute from Airport there are especially run airport bus called ‘Havataş’, which travels between the airport and Cumhuriyet Caddesi near Taksim Square. You can check the Bus schedule on their website http://www.havatas.com/default.aspx
Muze pass/ Museum pass: If you are a historical lover then you can check out most of the museums in Istanbul, with this card you will be able to visit the historical and cultural treasures of Istanbul for free and without standing in a queue. The card is valid for 3 days to 5 days and costs 85 TL and 105 TL respectively.
The validity of card starts from the day of your first visit to museum. This card not only allows free entry to most of the museums in Istanbul but also provides several other discounts.
Check out more info on muze pass http://www.muzekart.com/en/museum-pass