Picking up where we left off in Part 1 of our trip to Istanbul, we spend the next two days exploring some more wonders of Istanbul.
First stop for the morning is the spectacular Blue Mosque, or Sultanahmet Camii in Turkish. This is a functioning mosque where the local faithful come to pray five times a day. It has one of the most spectacular interiors I’ve ever seen and is adorned with beautiful blue tiles (hence its name). There is a sense of tranquillity and air in here that is unlike other buildings of faith. As it’s a mosque, you must take your shoes off and women are required to wear a shawl to hide their hair or bare skin. It’s all pretty easy and the staff were very friendly. Entrance is free.
After the Blue Mosque, we headed up through the bustling streets towards Istanbul University, stopping off every so often for a bite of baklava or to check street prices for other Turkish delicacies. We walked through the lovely grounds of Istanbul University to reach some markets out the back and stumbled upon another gem: the Suleymaniye mosque. We spent the afternoon wandering through Istanbul’s back streets, shopping, eating and of course drinking copious amounts of tea.
When you’re done, spend the night out in Taksim square. This large, public square attracts hundreds of locals and tourists with music and other entertainment. You also aren’t short for choices of restaurants, cafes or quick bites (in the kebab form!). Don’t feel like you have to stick to the main streets either; we spotted some really funky (and crowded) venues down many of the side streets. If you are a seafood lover, you should start there. Take your pick and enjoy. There is such a buzzing atmosphere and even despite the rain, it was crowded when we were there.
If you happen to visit when it’s cold and/or raining like we did, or you simply want a nice nightcap, I cannot rave on enough about salep. You’ll find it under the coffee/tea section in most restaurants and cafes and it’s delicious! It’s a thick, almost custard-like milky drink, with vanilla and cinnamon. It’s a nice alternative to a hot chocolate, with a similar texture to Spanish hot chocolates (you know the thick and gluttonous ones that you get with churros… mmmm). I couldn’t get enough of it when we were there, I even had to buy some salep powder to take home with me!
On your third day in Istanbul, head to the majestic Topkapi Palace, where the Ottoman Sultans spent their time lounging in luxury overseeing a vast empire. Enter the palace grounds (45TL including entrance to the Harem) and wind your way through the many gardens and buildings with their Islamic architecture. If you buy the Museum Pass (3 day pass for 85TL), entrance to Topkapi Palace and the Harem is included.
We easily spent a couple of hours here, wandering through the palace grounds and admiring the beautiful blue mosaic patterns decorating the buildings and seeing how the sultans lived during their 624-year reign.
Once you’ve overloaded yourself with culture, head to the café overlooking the mighty Bosphorous River for a Turkish tea and baklava.
Taksim square was so good that we decided to go back again to continue our shopping spree – we had 72 hours after all! Far from what we had expected, Taksim has all of the big brands (Gucci’s, Armani’s, etc) through to ones we are more familiar with (Zara, Mango, Gap, etc). Let’s just say both our bags came back a little heavier….
Being followers, but by no means experts, of the slow travel movement, we spread out our sightseeing over 72 hours. We didn’t see everything Istanbul had to offer though, and plan to return in the future (and hopefully tack on a trip to Pamukkale, to see the Cotton Cliffs, and Cappadocia to take a hot air balloon ride over the amazing rocky plains). If you like your city visits fast and , take a ferry across the Bosphorus and visit the Asian side. There, you will find more sights, restaurants and attractions to fill up your time. Plus, the ferry is said to be an experience in itself.
- Enjoy the Turkish tea (apple was my favourite)
- Try Salep (the Turkish alternative to hot chocolate)
- Enjoy legit Turkish kebabs and food!
- Visit the Blue Mosque
- Hagia Sophia
- Taksim Square
- If you have more time, visit the Asian side, via a ferry over the Bosphorus
- If you have an extended trip, add on a visit to the scenic Pamukkale or Cappadocia