When I took my holiday to Turkey, it was hard to narrow down the list of places I wanted to visit. However, after a little online research, it didn’t take long for me to decide that Istanbul was a destination not to be missed for several reasons.
Istanbul has a long and fascinating history. It was once known as the country’s ancient capital, Constantinople, until 1923 when it was changed to Ankara.
It is also unique in that it is the only city in the world to span two continents. A bridge connecting Europe and Asia runs over the Bosporus Strait and allows residents and tourists to move freely between the two.
Istanbul is the economic and cultural heart and soul of Turkey, easily making it to my “must-see” list. Cultural activities, traditional foods and breath-taking sites offer plenty for the curious tourist.
I was lucky enough to travel with a Turkish citizen who lived in Istanbul for many years. He took me around and showed me all the attractions one should see when visiting the city.
Since I was on a budget, it was helpful to have someone to point out when the prices were inflated to take advantage of tourists.
With only a few days to spend in the city, I wanted to be sure to make the most of my visit, and luckily for me, my friend ensured we did just that!
It was February during the time of my visit, and the weather was quite cold. We even saw a few days of snow! Because of the chilly temperatures we decided we wanted to stay somewhere that would allow us easy access to some popular sites, restaurants and bars, as well as public transportation.
Taksim Square is considered the city centre and one of the best areas to stay in terms of shopping, eating and accessing multiple attractions.
Perfectly located on a small side street within walking distance of the square, we rented a room in an apartment building that had been renovated into hotel-style accommodation.
I much preferred staying in a neighbourhood as opposed to a popular hotel because the atmosphere felt more authentic. Plus, the windy little roads and traditional Ottoman-style buildings were so quaint and charming!
The famous Istikal Street connects to Taksim Square and is lined with shops, boutiques, restaurants and coffee shops. Every morning we started our day with a stroll down this street. I loved being able to grab a coffee, window shop and people watch all in the same place.
Constructed in 1875, the Tϋnel (The Tunnel) is a historical landmark that can be found at the far end of Taksim Square. The second oldest underground tunnel in the world also functions as a convenient mode of transportation to other parts of the city
This train has only one stop, so it’s more about the experience and less about the destination. Once we boarded the train at Taksim Square, it was just a short journey to the first and final stop, Karakӧy Square.
From Karakӧy, we walked about 20 minutes across Haliç Bridge and made our way to the Grand Bazaar. We gave ourselves plenty of time to wander around and get lost, but to be honest, I left the famous market less than impressed.
I had been expecting more authentic handicrafts and one of a kind knick-knacks. Instead, I mostly saw cheaply made souvenirs and common retail items. My Turkish companion had warned me that the Grand Bazaar is more of a tourist trap than anything else, but I had wanted to see for myself.
We left the Grand Bazaars and walked another 15 minutes to the Spice Bazaar, for which I lowered my expectations. But once I entered, I could immediately see I would not be disappointed. There was stall after stall of specialty teas, nuts, herbs, spices and sweets.
This is the place to sample and purchase a wide variety of Turkish delight; the renowned dessert made from fruit and gelatine, mixed with nuts and brushed with sugar or another sweet flavoured powder. My favourite was a combination of coconut-marshmallow-y flavoured gelatine, pistachio nuts and coconut flakes.
The Spice Bazaars proved to be a great place for gift shopping as well. I bought flower and herbal teas for my Mum and sweets and other goodies for my friends. Overall, the Spice Bazaar was a successful and tasty stop.
Exhausted and satisfied, we headed home to rest up for the next day’s adventure.
Day two started with a wander across Taksim Square and a stroll down Istikal Street. At the end of the road we took a winding right and arrived at our first stop of the day; The Galata Tower.
One of the oldest and most iconic landmarks in Istanbul, the Galata Tower is a medieval building that was constructed in the 14th century. The main purpose of the 67-meter tower was to serve as a look-out tower over the Bosporus Strait. It had several other uses throughout history, but today it is used mainly as a tourist attraction.
The best part? The amazing panoramic view of Istanbul and the Bosporus from the observation deck. They’ve even turned the top floor into a restaurant, so we could sit and enjoy the view with a Turkish coffee.
Istanbul is home to many recognisable landmarks. The Sultan Ahmed Mosque (also known as the Blue Mosque) and the Hagia Sophia are some of the most revered and two of the ones I wanted to see.
We walked less than two kilometres from the Spice Bazaars and arrived to the mosques. Both are within proximity to one other.
Stunning architecture, intricate design and meticulous detail combine to create some of the most breath-taking buildings in the world. They were truly impressive sights and I felt humbled by the size and significance of both mosques.
My whirlwind tour of Istanbul left me loving it and wanting more. Just two days in the city had opened my eyes to all the things it had to offer – and we had only just scratched the surface. I can’t wait for the day that I can return to this awe-inspiring city and uncover even more of its secrets.