Surprising is the word that comes to mind when thinking about my trip to Istanbul. I was looking forward to seeing the only transcontinental city in the world, and I expected to have a great cultural experience. What I didn’t expect was the perfect balance of ancient history, diverse culture, and contemporary life. And I have to say that the nightlife scene was the most surprising.
My trip started by checking into the Erisin Crown Hotel in the Sultanahmet District, which is the oldest part of Istanbul and where you will find most of the historic sights, all within walking distance. This hotel is unique and in the perfect location, with very friendly staff. It has a private museum of historic artifacts and amazing views of the city while also overlooking the sea. I had dinner on the rooftop at the Terrace Restaurant and thoroughly enjoyed the view.
The waiter was great and recommended this vintage Turkish wine, which was amazing!
When I was ready to see the sights, I started with the Blue Mosque first because this has been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember. It was stunning! Built in the early 1600’s, it’s considered to be the last great mosque of the classic period. What I found really interesting is that while it has traditional Islamic architecture, it incorporates some Byzantine Christian elements. That’s what’s so fascinating about Istanbul. If you really take in the history, you realize that it has so many cultural influences throughout time, from Greeks to Romans as well as from Christians to Jews to Muslims. And you still see these influences in the historic sights today.
While taking in all the Blue Mosque has to offer from the outside, relishing in its impressive architecture, I got myself ready to enter the mosque…
With its multiple domes, handmade ceramic tiles, stained glass windows, chandeliers, lamps, and so much more, the mosque is breathtaking.
Words and pictures just cannot do it justice. You have to see the Blue Mosque for yourself!
Next, I walked down the Hippodrome, where they use to have chariot races back in the Roman, Hellenistic, and Byzantine era. This area is now the Sultan Ahmet Square, which was very lively with lots of small vendors along the sides. I just had to stop for ice cream.
I ate my ice cream while walking down the square with this great view of the Hagia Sophia.
The Hagia Sophia is another great example of impressive Byzantine architecture and multi-cultural influence. It was built in the 6th century, and was originally a Greek Orthodox Christian Basilica, then a mosque, and now it’s a museum. It has a remarkable collection of mosaics, church objects, stone objects, and so on. No wonder it’s often referred to as the eighth wonder of the world. As I was leaving, I had to stop and appreciate the architecture one last time.
Moving right along, the Topkapi Palace was next on my agenda, and I was so excited to see this expansive museum complex. It was the royal residence of Ottoman sultans before it was turned into a museum. There were so many courtyards, buildings, and rooms to see, I’m sure I spent several hours exploring.
The buildings all looked different and had beautifully decorated rooms with various historical objects, and some even had great views.
I thought the most beautiful rooms were the Harem living quarters. Now this looks like a palace!
Then it was time to navigate the Grand Bazaar, which was so much more than I even expected. I already knew that it was one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, with thousands of shops. But nothing can prepare you for what you actually see.
There are so many hallways, I’m sure there’s no way I covered it all, and every hallway looks different.
One of my favorite shops was this one selling lamps. I was trying to figure out how to buy one and get it back home safely. I would’ve bought the blue one if I could have figured it out.
At the end of my last day in Istanbul, it was finally time to relax and enjoy a drink. I had no idea what I was going to find, but I knew my hotel was on a street lined with restaurants and bars. So, I went exploring with my friend and found a cute little outside bar with live music. We met some Turkish guys, Norwegians, and a couple from Pakistan, and had so much fun, we ended up staying most of the night. The musician was playing Maroon 5 songs but singing in Turkish. I loved it!
We drank Efes beer and Raki, and then even smoked hookah, telling stories and laughing right there on the street until at least 4:00 am. This stop in Istanbul was at the end of a two week multi country trip, and this was by far the most fun I had over those two weeks! I was sitting there thinking…when will I ever get to do this again? I guess my new saying is…when in Istanbul!
My time in Istanbul was unforgettable, and I love that this unique city that I had already heard so much about was still able to completely surprise me. There are so many amazing historic sights to see, the people are very nice and welcoming, and the culture and nightlife may surprise you too. If you haven’t been to Istanbul, you need to see it at least once in your life.
What is your favorite thing about Istanbul, or what are you hoping to see there someday?