Few cities in the world can boast such a rich, turbulent and fascinating history as this ancient city, previously known as Byzantium and Constantinople. Nowadays it’s a mix of everything, but it still holds the mystique of a place where the oriental and the occidental influences meet, as it has one foot in Europe and the other in Asia, quite literally.
Beautifully positioned on the on the Bosphorus Strait on the Golden Horn harbour (do go on a boat trip or take a ferry across), Istanbul is a city that witnessed many eras and still preserves layers of most of them in its architecture and culture. Here you can see 4th century Valens Aqueduct from Roman times, along with mosques, imposing city walls, obelisks, Ottoman Topkapi Palace, baroque architecture like the stunning Dolmabahçe Palace, that would fit in just as well in Venice or Paris, along with very modern cityscapes.
The prime tourist sight is of course the Byzantine 6th century Hagia Sophia, which actually started out as an orthodox basilica, was later converted to a mosque and now functions as a museum. It’s massive, awe-inspiring dome is considered one of the world’s peak achievements in architecture, but the gorgeous mosaics are also very impressive. Another unmissable spot in my view is the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, better known as the Blue Mosque, as its interiors are covered with blue tiles. If you have some time, sit for a while in the gorgeous candle-lit prayer area. I personally am a sucker for the traditional Ottoman aesthetics, especially the Turkish tilework. What in Australia sometimes passes as “Moroccan” tiles, full of blue flowery designs and flowing lines, are actually from Turkey.
While walking through the old town, a visit to a traditional Turkish coffee-house is a must, as is sampling the tasty local delicacies: pides, boreks, gozleme, baklavas and Turkish delights of course, which come in many different colours and flavours. If you really want to delve into local customs try the Turkish baths or hamams as well, and of course visit the markets, like the Grand Bazaar. It is wise to travel light to Turkey and bring some empty bags!
When booking your trip around the world, make sure to look at airfares to Istanbul, the largest city in Turkey, on your itinerary.
One bit of advice that I have about Istanbul and Turkey in general, is to take your time. There is so much to see, do and appreciate and savour here, that a four day rush job will just not do it justice. Another thing about travelling in Turkey is that it’s quite addictive: exotic, enchanting, full of character and, somehow, always a little mysterious.
Author Bio: Patricia Bieszk+ is a freelance writer and globe-trotting adventurer.
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