“A lifetime isn’t enough to discover Rome” is an expression that also applies to its fellow former Roman capital, Istanbul, a city I found nothing short of magnificent.
I wanted to finish off my Istanbul coverage by recapping some activities that I strongly advise you not to miss. And while I hate the guilt that the word “must-see” tends to ascribe, here are some things to do in Istanbul that I really loved.
Cross the Bosphorus
You truly cannot understand Istanbul if you don’t see both the Asian and European sides so I highly recommend taking the ferry over to visit both. Plus, the views of mosques perched proudly upon hills make for the most beautiful ferry ride in the world.
Shop at the Grand Bazaar
When I travel I crave the frenetic energies of markets so I made sure to head over to the Grand Bazaar, one of the oldest covered markets in the world with more than 3,000 shops. At this enormous market vendors hawk anything from hookah sets to fake Prada bags to beautiful Turkish pottery. Come early for the best deals- and of course, don’t forget to barter!
Drink Black Tea
While many might think that Turkish coffee is the most common beverage in Turkey, nothing is more ubiquitous than black tea, or çay. Served in glass to show off its deep-red hue, Turks drink the piping hot tea at all hours of the day.
Escape Underground at the Basilica Cistern
Need a break from the hustle and bustle of Sultanahmet? Cool off at the Basilica Cistern, which the Romans used as an underground water storage system with a capacity to hold around 100,000 tons of water. Take a moment to breathe as you listen to the sound of water dripping and watch fat carp lazily drifting across the bottom of the pool.
Marvel at the Hagia Sophia
If you only have time for one site in Istanbul (and I sincerely hope you have more), run, don’t walk, to the Hagia Sophia. This Byzantine church turned mosque turned museum packs nearly 2,000 years of history, a fascinating mix of Arabic and Byzantine architecture and a timeless, haunting energy.
Read more -> Finally Laying Eyes on the Magnificent Hagia Sophia
Experience a Working Mosque at The Blue Mosque
If you’re jonesing to see some beautiful Arabic architecture as well as visit a working mosque, head over to the nearby Blue Mosque. I loved beautiful interior of cobalt blue tiles paired with gold Arabic script- and of course, the opportunity to visit my first mosque and learn a little more about Islam.
And while I didn’t have time to see it, I’ve also heard great things about the Süleymaniye Mosque- so make sure to check out a few other mosques while you’re in Istanbul!
Read more -> Blue Mosque Dreaming
While I think the Turks do all meals extraordinarily well, brunch was one of my favorites. Enjoy tangy white cheeses, Jewish-deli style sliced meats, warm bread rolls and ambrosial honey mixed with butter every morning. Really enjoy the honey and butter.
Where to find it: Namli Gurme Rihtim Cad, Istanbul, Turkey (Beyoğlu, Asian side) Trip Advisor
Feast on Lamb
In Istanbul, please eat lamb. While normally lamb is an extremely expensive treat, in Turkey it’s top-quality as well as affordable. And if you don’t eat lamb, fill up on the mezze course of vegetable-based appetizers that come before the meat course- they’re healthy and beyond scrumptious as well.
Read more -> The Best Meal I Had in Istanbul
Indulge your Sweet Tooth
Though I decidedly don’t have a sweet tooth, I loved finishing the meal with anything from pistachio baklava to a humble bowl of pomegranate seeds. Another popular dessert is Turkish delight- which I sadly didn’t try but you should!
Read more -> The Complete Guide to Turkish Food for Foodies
While Istanbul has many incredible sites on offer, it’s also a city in which you should lose yourself in the details. Explore winding allies where colorful rugs hang, hear to the call to prayer, watch the seagulls swoop over the Bosphorus and smell the salty sea air.
Read more -> The Beauty of Doing Nothing while Traveling
Have you been to Istanbul? What did you enjoy doing most?
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