A city shared across two continents, the sparkling waters of the Bosphorus, a skyline dominated by minarets and skyscrapers, the striking juxaposition of the ancient and modern world – this and more makes the magic of Istanbul. Add to that its more subtle glories like the extensive market places, the incredible food and the warm hospitality, and it’s little wonder that this city has long been at the top of my travel bucket list.
Our day in Istanbul started as bright and early as possible. With only 8 hours to explore this fascinating city, we hit the ground running and made our way into the heart of the old city. The morning was spent exploring the Blue Mosque and the directly opposing Hagia Sophia. Without a doubt, these are the two most impressive religious sites I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting and their immensity and intricate architectural details were more incredible than I could have ever imagined. No matter how much time you have to explore in Istanbul, these two sites cannot be missed!
Sultan Ahmed Mosque (The Blue Mosque)
After the splendors of the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia, we made our way towards the colourful and chaotic Grand Bazaar. Before entering the maze, we stopped to try some traditional Turkish tea. As a tea fanatic, I was especially excited to try the Turkish apple tea and I am happy to report that it did not disappoint. This warm tea tastes like a delicious version of warmed apple juice and is a big part of Turkish hospitality – shop owners often share a cup with their customers, which is exactly what happened when we first tried this amazing tea!
While sipping our warm cup of goodness, we learned about the ancient craft of carpet weaving and watched as a woman weaved a beautiful carpet before our very eyes. It was incredible to watch how fast she worked and the stories behind the patterns created throughout history were fascinating to learn.
The afternoon was spent weaving our way through the Grand Bazaar. The market is incredibly vast, and a good three hours should be put aside for wandering the lane ways, watching the artisans work, differentiating between the treasures and the tourist traps, drinking lots of tea, comparing prices and trying your hand at the art of bargaining. It is a lot of fun and a must for anyone travelling to Istanbul, but be aware that it is quite crowded and keep a close eye on your bags and belonging. We were warned about pickpockets, so I packed a lot of our valuables (like my camera) safely away and carried my backpack close to my chest.
The day finished with one of the most beautiful sights in the world – sailing out on the Straits of Bosphorus at sunset. The Bosphorus Strait divides the two continents of Europe and Asia and sailing past the Ottoman palaces, castles, domes and minarets was the perfect ending to an amazing day in Istanbul.
Is Istanbul on your travel bucket list? Join the conversation in the comments below!