Istanbul in all its Greatness
So many centuries of history from Byzantium to Constantinople the intrinsic importance of this city is still alive. From its geographic location to the multiple kingdoms and civilizations that influenced the shaping of this town, it continues to shape history between the East and the West.
Let me just start by saying that Istanbul definitely exceeded my expectations. So many photos that I had seen and stories that I had heard about this city, so my expectations were high, it had always been one of my top five cities to visit. This mystical city even impressed me more.
We flew non-stop from New York City (Newark) to Istanbul International Airport (Ataturk) with United Airlines. Once arrived there, the airport is a little chaotic, get your visa upon arrival for $20 and will be good for 90 days with re-entry options. My advice would be that you arrange transportation with your hotel to be picked up at airport.
After looking online we finally found the perfect boutique hotel and stayed at the Witt Hotel Istanbul Suites, in the Beyoglu district. It’s in a very trendy and upcoming neighborhood by Galatta Tower, just across the Bosphorus. Another hotel suggestion in Sultanahmet would be the Sura Design Hotel or even better the Four Seasons Hotel. There are many things to do in Istanbul, five nights are a very good start, but I’m sure you can spend more than a week there and still have things to see.
The best transportation method were our feet, walk and walk, you can walk anywhere, even though we were there during demonstrations in Taksim Square, the place was very safe. You can also use the tram that takes you from Beyoglu to Sultanahmet in a matter of minutes. But crossing the bridge walking is a great adventure, you’ll see dozens of locals fishing from the bridge. Alongside the river were some boat restaurants and merchants selling seafood, but didn’t adventure myself to eat there, just to have a beer or two.
This historic place can take several hours to cover, between the Palace, the Harem, which I highly recommend, and the gardens it took us two mornings to complete. My suggestion is that you buy the 72-hour pass right outside the Hagia Sophia ticket office and with this ticket you can access the Palace and Harem as well, make sure the Harem is included, worth visiting many times.
We’ve seen this building in many movies, like James Bond 007, and it’s even more impressive in person. Make sure you explore inside and go upstairs. We tend to rent the audio tours at museums and this helped much to understand the history and facts on all historic areas in Istanbul. There is so much to learn about the Ottoman and Roman empire here.
Blue Mosque - Sultan Ahmet Camii
Even more beautiful from outside, still operates as a Mosque so make sure that you go by the requested dress code and guidelines when entering the mosque. No worries, right before you enter they will provide you with pieces of fabric to cover your body, males should cover above the knees, wearing shorts right below the knees is accepted and women should cover more.
Amazing! just perfection. It’s so big that you can get lost easily. So much to see, so much stimulation for the eyes, colors, textures, fragrances, lights and more. I thought all merchandise for sale was pretty pricey, let’s face it, all tourists go there, so hold on to your money, don’t shop there and instead look outside the bazaar. The bazaar is so worth visiting for its architecture, livelihood and history. I still remember it and feel transported to another era.
It’s incredible the artifacts and history accumulated in these buildings by the Topkapi Palace. Very impressive seeing the different sarcophagus, including Alexander’s. Explains much of the Ottoman influence in Turkey as well as other civilizations like Greeks and Romans. Then head out to Cemberlitas Hamami, near Blue Mosque, and have a Turkish Bath. Be prepared, it’s a very unique and different experience. Prices are a little on the high end, for a bath and massage would be about $80 per person. No need to bring anything, they will provide you with everything you need. The best part about doing this is to see the inside of this incredible building and you really feel like you go back in time. Be prepared to tip every person that helps you inside, from the masseur to the person that hands you the soap.
When in Beyoglu make sure to visit the Galatta Tower, it’s a beautiful landmark with great views of the seven hills in Istanbul. The city is known to have seven hills and a Mosque on each on them, so the skylight is pretty impressive. The Galatta neighborhood around is very artsy, shops and cafes are open everywhere and have cool architecture and decor.
We had a great experience eating in Istanbul, all food was fantastic, from the middle-eastern to the ottoman influences, all was great. You can find good restaurants everywhere, not so many bars as I hoped, specially in the Sultanahmet area you’ll see how the locals fight to get you into their restaurants. The places where we had amazing food were: Munferit, Sura (at the Sura Design Hotel), Mozaik and Adamar (at the Adamar Hotel) with great panoramic views of the city. In Beyoglu, check out 360, very trendy restaurant that turns into a nightclub late at night and has the best views of the city during the day and night.
Shopping is great in Istanbul, we all want to buy rugs there and we did. I highly recommend Noah’s Ark Rugs, our friend Hamza took very good care of us and helped us find an antique kilim that looks fantastic in our home in San Francisco now.
I can write over and over about Istanbul but this will give you a good idea on how to get around and what to do there. Always ask the locals, they are very friendly people and will help you with suggestions and directions. Just thinking about it made me want to go back to explore more of the many things that we didn't get to see.