The time I spent in Istanbul was nowhere near enough to explore the city and all its wonders. I tried to cover the most famous attractions within the day of my stay so that the next time that I visit Istanbul, I will be able to focus more on the local experience than the sightseeing. Here are few of the amazing places that I had the chance to visit:
‘Bazar’ is the word for market. Grand Bazar of Istanbul is one of the oldest covered markets in the world. It has more than 60 streets and more than 3000 shops selling jewellery, hand-painted ceramics, carpets, embroideries, spices, and various antique items. The narrow streets of the bazar were flooded with tourists and sales boys standing outside each shop, shouting their hearts out to attract customers into their shops. It was funny how they kept changing their languages depending on the type of tourists who were passing by. I heard someone saying ‘‘Namaste’’ (Hello in Hindi) to me as I walked past the shops. The Bazar has four main gates and is closed on Sundays. To get to the Grand Bazar, one can take a tram to Beyazit, Üniversite, or Sirkeci. The Grand Bazaar is a 15-minute walk away from the Aya Sofya/Blue Mosque area. Make sure that you bargain a lot before agreeing on a price because being a tourist hub; the owners often tend to rip off the foreign customers.
The Blue Mosque (also known as ‘Sultanahmet Camii’) is one of the most famous and beautiful mosques in Istanbul. The mosque is covered with blue tiles on the outer as well as interior walls which justifies the name. Following the traditional architecture of other mosques in the city, it has a tomb of the founder, a madrasa, and a hospice. The building is still used as an active mosque and is also open to tourist visits. Being an active mosque, there are rules regarding the dress code which have to be followed when you enter the mosque. Check the prayer timings before arrival because the mosque is closed to visitors during the prayer timings. Make sure that you are fully covered and take off your shoes before stepping into the mosque. It is a beautiful building both from the inside as well on the outside. The glittering decorations and artwork inside the mosque takes one back to the Golden Arabic era and is undoubtedly enchanting.
The reason I was in Istanbul was because I wanted to see the one and only Hagia Sophia. It’s definitely the face of Istanbul and even Turkey overall. An amazing fact about the Hagia Sophia is that it has been regarded as precious ever since the day that it was built. It was first regarded as a Church, then a mosque and finally as a museum. Hagia Sophia has always been one of the most important buildings in Turkish history. I would suggest buying the tickets from the vending machine to avoid a big queue at the entrance. A vending machine ticket costs 40TL (10£) and gives you a quick entry by skipping the process of waiting in a line. I went through a lot of effort and journey to see the Hagia Sofia and I was glad that it didn’t disappoint me for a single moment. Half the building was under maintenance due to which I didn’t get to see the entire beauty of it as I had wished but that was just 10% of what it had to offer. The golden interiors were enchanting. The huge tombs, ceilings covered with massive chandeliers were all a magical sight one can’t take off their minds. Traces of Christianity are still preserved on the top floor of the building. I spent more than an hour, clicking lots of photos and reading up archives about the history of the building.
If you love food (especially spicy delicacies!), then this is the perfect place for you to visit. The aroma of rich spices fills the air the moment one enters the bazar. The varieties of colourful spices and famous Turkish delights make the bazar look like an absolute rainbow of food items. Thousands of shops sell spices from all over the world and many of which are of weird, exotic origins (I hadn’t heard of them in spite of being from India which is famous for its spices!). It’s one of the oldest markets in the world and is a covered market just like the Grand Bazar. There are thousands of restaurants just outside the bazar where you can get a taste of the delicious cuisines using the same spices which you just witnessed in the market.
Bosphorus Cruise from Eminonu:
This cruise is one of the most underrated things in Istanbul which gets overshadowed by the numerous other adventures which Istanbul has to offer. The cruise is offered by multiple private as well as government companies and is unique in its own way because Bosphorus is an internationally significant waterway separating the Asian and European counterparts of Istanbul. So basically when you are on this cruise, you have Asia to one side and Europe to the other. You also pass underneath two major bridges which connect Asia and Europe. It’s as awesome an experience as it sounds. The Bosphorus tour takes 1h30min and costs 12TL (2.5£). You can take it from Eminönü, Üsküdar, or Kadıköy. Please check their official schedule for updates. Trips from Eminönü occur pretty much every hour. There are other forms of the same cruise available for varied timings such as a full day, half a day, 6 hours, etc.
Wander Around the city:
The best way to explore a city like Istanbul is to get lost in the chaotic streets of the city, walk around and explore the unexplored paths. The city is well connected and extremely interesting to walk around. One can cover a lot of area just by walking. I walked during most of my time there and ended up seeing some wonderful things, experiencing the local vibes, having tea with total strangers, learnt their dance steps and did many more interesting things. These are the experiences no travel blogs or magazines can ever tell you about so to experience these, you have to have the spirit of a true wanderer. The city is full of beautiful ancient Islamic architecture; night clubs and heart-warming people so don’t make the mistake of just being another tourist in the city. Be an explorer. Be a wanderer.