We’re coming to the end of the year, and plans for 2019 are getting underway, so you’re probably thinking about your holidays and getting them booked in before everybody else does. If you fancy somewhere ‘a little bit different’ and even if you’re pushed for time, then a visit to Istanbul for a long weekend break or even a week could be exactly what you’re looking for.
A fantastic city where East actually does meet West, Istanbul connects Asia, and unlike any other city in the world, it is split between two continents. It encompasses the past, the present, and the future and brings different cultures and people together.
Not only this but it is also is great to visit almost any time of the year. While it can be hot and humid in July and August, it is also quiet as locals leave for the summer, however, on the downside, some restaurants and bars will close or slow-down. September and October are generally clear and sunny making it ideal to explore the city on foot while still being warm enough to and eat outside.
Sounds great, doesn’t it? But now you must be wondering what you can actually do while you’re there. Well, you’ll never be bored, that’s for sure. The city rich in culture and wonder and has so many highlights it’s hard to condense them down into one place, but if you are short on time or you just want to make sure you see the best and don’t miss anything then take a look at this fabulous list of must-do things for an amazing time in Istanbul.
The largest of Princes’ eight Islands, Büyükada can be reached by boat and once you’re on the island motor vehicles are forbidden, meaning that visitors have to explore the island on foot, by bicycle or by horse-drawn phaeton carriages – how lovely!
There are many companies offering tours to and around the island, so it’s definitely worth checking these out. There is an excellent Princes’ Island Tour which can be booked through Viator and on this tour you will be transported around by horse and carriage, and a guide will teach you about the island’s history including why motorised vehicles are rarely seen. This tour also provides you with plenty of time to relax on the island’s beautiful beaches as well as time to admire the island’s Ottoman-era mansions. Other tours include trips to the tiny hilltop church on the island which boasts a magnificent panoramic view and a café in its garden that serves wine, chips and sausage sandwiches which is all part of the “classic” Agia Yorgi experience.
As one of the largest and oldest covered bazaars in the world, the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul is 30,700 square meters and boasts a total of 64 streets, 22 entrances, and 4,000 shops. Imagine all the presents you could get for your friends and family!
Once the commercial centre of Istanbul, the Grand Bazaar is a city-within-a-city and today contains a police station, a pharmacy, a post office, branches of most major banks and a tourist information centre. It is definitely one of the best places to go and experience Ottoman-era Turkey.
This enormous palace was the Imperial residence of Ottoman sultans for almost 400 years and is now a large museum. Most of the palace is inaccessible, but it’s still very much worth a visit and don’t forget to look up at the mosaics.
The Bosphorus Strait connects the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara and is an internationally significant waterway located in north-western Turkey as it forms part of the continental boundary between Europe and Asia.
Hagia Sophia Museum
The Hagia Sophia is easily one of Istanbul’s most impressive sights and is often referred to as the eighth wonder of the World. It was once the world’s largest building and was seen as the engineering marvel of its time as it is said to have “changed the history of architecture.”
Boasting stunning mosaics such as the glittering 13th-century Deësis mosaic of Christ with John the Baptist and the Virgin Mary, it shows the meeting of both Islamic and Christian religions.
This fantastic little neighbourhood has been named one of the 50 coolest neighbourhoods in the world by Time Out magazine. With hundreds of new bars, cafés, restaurants having opened in the last few years, this really is a must-see.
The largest of several hundred ancient cisterns that lie beneath Istanbul, this cathedral-sized underground chamber is approximately 138 metres by 65 metres which is about 9,800 square metres in area and capable of holding 80,000 cubic metres of water. It was designed to service the Great Palace and its surrounding buildings, but the chamber was closed when the Byzantine emperors relocated from the Great Palace. A must-see, the ceiling is supported by 336 marble columns, but be prepared for the fifty-two stone steps which you must walk down to enter the cistern.
Off the beaten track
While it’s very important to see the well-known attractions, it is also a really good idea to get an authentic flavour of a city by going off the beaten track once in a while. You can really see how the locals live and discover food and sights that you wouldn’t have done otherwise. The best way to get a real feel for any city is a walking tour and one of the best ones in Istanbul is the Istanbul Fener Balat Walking Tour where you will discover the hidden gems of Istanbul.
Whirling Dervish Show
Finally, if you want a bit of entertainment, then you can’t go wrong with a cultural evening of choreographed spiritual dancing accompanied by traditional music and Persian chanting. Held at the Hodjapasha Dance Theater, the dervishes elegantly twist and turn in their white flowing gowns in this age-old performance and before the show you have the chance to enjoy a Turkish delight and a drink at the bar.