What a city….and one of the top–rated cities that South Africans have travelled to in the past few years. Istanbul offers an abundance of culture, nightlife, cuisine and history and is divided by the mighty Bosphorus River strait which separates Istanbul between Europe and Asia. Only those who have visited this exhilarating city will know that Istanbul is a melting pot of European and Middle Eastern cultures.
We were lucky enough to visit this vibrant city and would love to share some of our top things to do in Istanbul!
Make sure you choose to cruise along the Bosphorus River, so you can admire this scenic stretch of water as you appreciate the picturesque skyline. There are public ferries as well as private yachts that you can choose between. Glide past Ottoman summer palaces and mansions, and find yourself dreaming of owning one of these beautiful holiday homes one day. Look for landmarks such as the Kiz Kulesi Tower, Dolmabahçe Palace and the Blue Mosque; you won’t be able to put your camera down as there will be so many memories you will want to capture.
Visit Hagia Sophia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site as well as Turkey’s biggest tourist drawcard. This beautiful mosque is around 1500 years old and throughout the years has been used as a church and museum. It continues to be one of the world’s most significant cultural landmarks. We recommend taking a guided tour around the mosque, as you will then have quicker access (the queues can be huge!) and ensure you get all the interesting history from your local guide.
Only a short stroll from the Hagia Sophia is Istanbul’s Basilica Cistern, also known as the ‘sunken palace’. It is an unbelievable 140 meters long and 65 meters wide underground water reservoir that used to service the Basilica above, which no longer exists. It’s like something from the movies, and understandably has been featured in a few blockbusters. Make sure you walk right to the end of the cistern and check out the two eerie Medusa heads.
Stop off for lunch in Ortakoy for kumpir! Say whaaat?! Ortakoy is a beautiful area along the Bosphorus River where you will find authentic Istanbul street food market vendors, coffee shops and traders along cobbled streets. We love it; the buildings are rich in history and some of them have been restored in a magnificent manner. Now to the kumpir! Kumpir is a must-eat street food in Istanbul which is made up of a huge baked potato with a large variety of fillings to choose from. When in Ortakoy it would be silly not to try one. If potatoes aren’t your thing, they are also famous for their waffles!
The Grand Bazaar is Istanbul’s oldest and largest covered market. With an astounding 4000 shops, you are bound to find something you will want to walk away with. When you arrive, it can be quite daunting, as it really is quite massive. There will be multiple traders trying to get you to venture into their shop… it’s a hagglers paradise and our top tip is to never pay the first price they offer. You will able to find everything from the most delicious Turkish Delight, spice and nut stands to Turkish lanterns and carpet stalls. There is also an array of fantastic jewellery and clothing vendors.
One of our favourite areas in Istanbul and a must see is Balat. Balat is the traditional Jewish quarter in the Fatih district of Istanbul. It is located on the European side of Istanbul, in the old city. Try and spend a morning or afternoon here just strolling the streets and taking in the local boutiques, coffee shops and curio stores. There is a vibrant array of colours and a wide selection of quirky, retro, little hidden gems to explore.
Want to see how the locals’ wine and dine? Then book yourself a dinner at one of the restaurants in the very vibey Kumkapi area. It’s super traditional and welcoming, so expect live music and another feast for both your stomach and eyes!
If you are looking for big highstreets with name brand stores and the ‘big city’ feel, then head over to Taksim Square. Here you will find anything and everything you may want but get ready to dodge people left right and centre. Think London’s Oxford Street!
That’s our quick guide to Istanbul and as you can hear, we can highly recommend this exciting city! Contact us for the best Istanbul holiday deals.