Turkey holds a special place in my heart, because of the generous hospitality that the locals offer, despite me being a stranger in this foreign land (Read: Why Everyone Loves Turkey). It lends itself a distinct character because of its heavy Islamic influence, which is probably the very reason why a Euro-trip will not be complete without visiting Turkey.
MUST-GO when in Istanbul:
1. Grand Bazaar
I love the variety and vibrancy of what the shops in here have to offer. Interestingly, when we asked a shopkeeper to recommend a little coffee shop where we can sip Turkish tea and take a break from all the walking, she immediately phoned for the “tea boy” to bring 2 cups of tea over to her shop. We thought she’d misunderstood us, so we tried to explain again, that we wanted to buy tea from a coffee shop. Next thing we knew, she brought out her chairs for us to sit down to wait for the tea to arrive! So there we were, two Asian tourists, sitting by a jewellery shop sipping our teas. Haha!
8am to 8pm
Closed on Sunday
2. Spice Bazaar
You can find all sorts of spices, Turkish delight treats and different type of tea leaves that Turkey is famous for right in this indoor market! It can be overwhelming, with every stall selling almost the same merchandise. It appears to be increasingly commercialised, as if the reason why the market stands is thanks to the steady stream of tourists looking for local souvenirs.
8am to 7.30pm
Closed on weekends
3. Blue Mosque
Blue Mosque is so called because of the blue tiles adorning the walls of its interior. It was built from 1609 to 1616, during the rule of Ahmed I. It is made of Ottoman and Islamic architecture.
8am to 8pm
4. Hagia Sophia
9am to 7pm
30TL (SGD 15)
5. Basilica Cistern
I first heard about the Basilica Cistern while reading Inferno by Dan Brown. In the book, this place is the final destination of Robert Langdon’s quest to find the plague. Langdon described it so well that I can almost imagine the real thing. It got me fascinated at how this “Sunken Palace” can actually exist.
This underground cistern consists of marble columns rising from the water level. The cistern is a rectangular structure measuring 140m by 70m. There are 336 columns, each 9m high. There are 12 rows with 28 columns in each row, 4.8m from each other. This helps distribute the ceiling’s weight equally through the columns.
The highlight of the Basilica Cistern is the 2 Medusa heads that are used as plinths. They are masterpieces of sculpture art in the Roman Period.
There are many myths surrounding Medusa, including the most famous story of how one would be turned into stone if one casts a glance at Medusa into stones. In the Byzantine period, the cistern’s water was used by the imperial palace and residents.
9am to 5.30pm (winter), 6.30 (summer)
9am to 5pm
Closed on Tuesday
7. Cagaloglu Hamam
8am to 8pm (ladies), 10pm (men)
Turkish Baths (hamam) were a public utility in the past because of water shortages. Although most Turkish homes have adequate plumbing today, the baths remain a social institution. Men and Women’s baths are separately housed.
The Cagaloglu hamam was constructed in 1741 and is the last hamam to be built after a long period during the Ottoman Empire.
I went for a Turkish bath in Cappadocia (more affordable too, I must say). Here’s my experience, if you want to know more. The scrub and massage is done on a marble plinth that occupies the centre of a room.
The procedure goes like this:
Strip out of your clothes > Face mask > Steam > Shower > Exfoliating scrub (the Turkish way!) > Body Massage > Swim > Sip on Turkish Apple tea
8am to 8pm (ladies), 10pm (men)
Hamam, Massage: 40€
Hamam, Exfoliating service: 45€
Hamam, exfoliation, massage: 50€
8. Golden Horn
Golden Horn is a major urban waterway and the primary inlet of the Bosphorus in Istanbul, Turkey. Take a cruise down the Bosphorus Strait to take in the sights of this waterway! I caught the sunset here and my oh my, was it breathtaking!
9. Galata Tower
9am to 8.30pm
10. Galata Bridge
Food & streets of Istanbul
Went to this food street across Galata bridge, by the river. From the looks of it, it is a wet market at daytime, and converted to a food street at night.
Finally had a taste of shisha again. Was so thrilled when WL agreed to smoke this with me. Heehaw!
Grilled fish kebab drizzled with lemon. Delicious & one of the cheapest foods around! Fish sold here is so fresh. You can see masses of people just sitting on stools and makeshift tables devouring fish kebabs by the river.
Pigeons aplenty. How repulsive, ugh.
Love pushcart food, for its authenticity and price! 😉
It is little wonder why everyone is enamoured with this city that overspills with vibrance, history and life. Not only do you see people at every turn, you see an outrageous number of pigeons too!
Equip yourself with these know-hows before visiting Istanbul in Girl Astray’s Istanbul guide.
I’ve found this really cool video by commenter Nemanja that shows you what goes on in Istanbul in just 3 minutes!
Are there any other places I might have missed? Comment below!