So now that you know all about our home away from home in Istanbul & some of my first impressions, I’m completely overwhelmed at the thought of the task of telling you more about the sights for fear of not doing it justice, but here goes…
There really are way so many but I’ll touch on the main ones we covered & enjoyed in the 8 days we were there. Oh & pack your walking shoes. This was the most walking I’d done on any vacation by a mile. I don’t recommmend sandals – rather stick to pumps or even better sneakers.
Entertainment along Istiklal Caddesi goes on well into the night
This is the one place in Istanbul we frequented the most, sometimes twice a day! Arguably the most famous avenue/street in Istanbul getting up to 3 million pedestrian visitors a day. This elegant stretch of 3km’s (there is a tram if you’re not up to walking) is lined to the brim with late Ottoman buildings boasting boutiques, bookstores, restaurants, galleries and at night the pubs & clubs come alive.
Taksim Square by night
Located at the one end of Istiklal Caddesi, Taksim Square is the symbolic heart of modern Istanbul & a main public transportation hub & popular tourist shopping spot. It’s also the location of the Monument of the Republic, which commemorates the formation of the Republic of Turkey in 1923, following the Turkish War of Independence. Taksim Square is bustling day & night has been an important venue for political protests during much of its existence as well as gatherings for events such as New Year’s Eve, Republic Day celebrations, or mass-screenings of important football matches and the annual Istanbul Pride.
The Blue Mosque
Inside the Blue Mosque
With over 3000 mosques in Turkey, the Blue Mosque, so named due to the dominance of blue tiles and paint used throughout, is certainly one of its most beloved. A masterpiece of Ottoman architecture, it’s also known as the Sultan Ahmet Mosque, built between 1609 & 1616 & was commissioned by Sultan Ahmet I when he was only 19! The mosque welcomes visitors of all faiths (it was really strange seeing non-Muslim people in a mosque) though some modestly is required.
The Hagia Sofia’s colourful history really piqued my interest, having started as a church (360), converted to a mosque (1453 until 1931) and in 1935 (to date) is a museum. You can still see in places where some of the bells, altars etc. were removed & the mosaics were plastered over & replaced with Islamic features – such as the mihrab, minbar, and minarets added while in the possession of the Ottomans. With its detailed mosaics, marble pillars & famous large dome, it’s one of the greatest surviving examples of Byzantine architecture & for some 500 years was the main mosque in Istanbul. At the time it was built, it was the biggest building in the entire world!
Topkapi Palace, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site is a large palace in Istanbul that was the primary residence of the Ottoman Sultans for approximately 400 years (from 1465) during their reign. This marvel of a royal residence took half us a day to soak up all of its sights & has survived an earthquake (1509) & a fire (1665). Once containing mosques, a hospital, bakeries, & a library within its courtyards, it’s really a city within a city ensuring seclusion from the rest of world for the sultan & his family. There are hundreds of chambers, rooms & secret passage ways, not all of which are accessible to the public. The palace includes many fine examples of Ottoman architecture & large collections of porcelain, robes, weapons, shields, armor, Ottoman miniatures, Islamic calligraphic manuscripts & murals, as well as a display of Ottoman treasures & jewellery (many could not be photographed) – I was ogling for hours.
The Bosphorous Sea
I talked loads about the Bosphorous in my last post. Seeing Istanbul from a ferry & cruising down the Bosphorous was definitely a highlight and the weather certainly helped!
Pierre Loti Hill
About to take the cable car down Pierre Loti Hill – the last time was I did something like this was Table Mountain & I must have been 5!
Pierre Loti Hill is one of the 7 hills in Istanbul. We got to the top of the hill by bus and walked the last stretch up the hill (it was steep but it was worth it!). The story goes that this is where the famous French novelist is said to have come for inspiration & to pine over a lost love over copious cups of tea. We then took a cable car down from the top of the hill with magnificent views. Definitely avoid on the weekend as the spot is a favourite with locals and tourists alike.
Galata Tower by night
The Galata Tower is a medieval stone tower & at 67 meters/9 stories high is one of the city’s most striking landmarks on Istanbul’s skyline. Built in 1348, this cone-capped cylinder affords a panoramic view of Old Istanbul (this is not a city of skyscrapers!). We didn’t go inside but it has a restaurant, night club & of course an elevator! It was first used as an outlook tower over the sea and later used to spot fires.
Grand Bazaar & Spice Bazaar
If you can think it, it’s here….
Gosh where & how do I possibly start telling you about the Grand Bazaar? It’s like The Plaza in Fordsburg (Joburger’s will know what I mean) but on steroids! Yup, it’s not just bigger and better but it’s very organized & there’s more variety (anything from feta to leather handbags to carpets) and you soon learn not to get aggravated by soliciting shop keepers. You can easily get lost here for hours so keep your luggage allowance in mind, be ready to negotiate & as always, cash is king!
Istanbul Modern Art Museum
Ok, so this one was more for the hubby than me but I enjoyed it nonetheless. Istanbul Modern Art Museum is a newish museum of contemporary art of mostly local artists & is located on the Bosphorus Sea. We obviously couldn’t take any pictures inside 🙁 . There’s also a cinema, library & temporary exhibition space. The Museum is closed on Mondays (don’t make the same mistake we did!) & offers free entry to locals on Thursdays.
This is the only mall we visited in Istanbul (I wasn’t joking when I said I was a reformed shopaholic!) & was definitely a more premium one. I was surprised at the level of mall security we endured on arrival – much like airport security including sensors, body scanners, bag checks etc. All the major stores you can think of (except maybe Zara) are at Kanyon Mall and there’s a good selection of restaurants too (though we ended up at Burger King!). The mall’s roof is partly constructed of glass and has an indoors/outdoors feel.
Not at all a heritage site of any sorts but still one of my favourite spots. I spent hours tanning on this floating man-made island owned by a football club and at 70 TL (around R350pp) entry fee this was some of the most expensive baking I’d ever done! The island boasts a host of restaurants & bars with an uninterrupted view over the Bosphorous.
Writing this post really made me reminisce over our (much-anticipated & over too soon!) vacation & really made me miss Istanbul! I’ll be sharing more about the food of Istanbul in my next post and I also need to tell you all about our hamam (Turkish bath) experience but that needs a dedicated post of its own!
Have a wonderful weekend!