Istanbul, Turkey : One of the most beautiful cities in the world

We had visited Istanbul for a whole week ages ago in August 2015 before the birth of this blog. It is hands down one of the most beautiful cities in the world with the perfect balance of culture, architecture, friendly people and mind-blowing food. When we prioritized writing about the city, the social unrest had ratcheted up. So we reserved this post for when we thought it’d be (perceivably) safer again. We believe the time has come. Apologies in advance for the length of the post.

Reasons to visit

  1. Architecture
  2. Food & drink
  3. Museums
  4. Turkish Experiences
    • Seeing the Whirling Dervish
    • Visiting a Turkish Bath
    • Shopping at bazaars
    • Cruising the Bosphorous

1. Architecture

The first thing that hit us while taking a taxi into the city from the airport was it’s domed skyline made up by the many mosques. Each one we visited had a distinct feel to them. The Blue Mosque is on every Istanbul traveller’s list but its worth visiting others like the Sulemaniye Mosque.

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Interiors of the Blue Mosque, more pics below

General clothing rules: Covered shoulders and legs. Women need a headscarf. The Blue Mosque provides disposable missing pieces for those who need them. Prayer times are reserved for worshippers only but you can sit in the grounds and take in the views during that time.

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Another must-visit is the Basilica Cistern (built 532 AD), also in the Sultanahmet area but underground. It looks hauntingly beautiful with its reflections.

2. Food & Drink

We followed this Guardian list and a 9gag post about what to eat and came to the conclusion that Istanbul and Kolkata are tied #1 for the best city in the world for food. We also ate loads of cheap fruit to keep us cool (stuff you can’t get in the UK). Do read our “Things to eat in Istanbul” post to get the full scoop (including best kebabs, turkish delight, baklawa and desserts)

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Eat all the food, how many can you recognize? Comment with the answer below.

Most meals will be accompanied by Cay (ie Turkish tea). On hot & sweaty days, nothing will rehydrate you like Ayran. Try out Turkish coffee and the local alcohol Raki to round up the local drinks.

3. Museums

We visited the Topkapi Palace Museum, Hagia Sofia museum & the Archeology Museum, all of them were really good and deserve 2-3 hours atleast. If you’re short on time and can see only 1 museum, make it the Hagia Sofia. It was both a mosque and a cathedral so you get to see some very unique interiors. Plus it’s grandeur took our breath away inspite of the construction works.

Tip: We clubbed the Topkapi museum and Archeology museum for the same day as they’re next to each other (they’ll take a big portion of your day). Do not miss the beautiful Bosphorous views from the edge of the Topkaki museum.

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Let’s explore the Topkapi palace

Tip: The Museum card is a really good deal for museum buffs costing 85 TL for 5 days.

4. Turkish Experiences

Seeing the Whirling Dervish

Thanks to the brilliant Turkey Travel Planner website, we found out about Silivrikapı Mevlana Cultural Center which is a weekly religious congregation that meets on Thursday. The evening begins with a discourse, a prayer session (which quite moved Dalek), a light yet hearty dinner and ends with a Sema (whirling dervish). Even though the whole session is in Turkish, far from Sultanahmet & not as authentic as the open-sky ceremonies in Konya, we think the experience is worth it (atleast better than the shows put on in the city centre we think, slightly cheaper too).

Visiting a Turkish Bath aka Hamam

We visited the Turkish baths called Aga-Hamami est 1454. As you may have guessed it is very traditional and we couldn’t take pictures past the lobby.  The experience itself was unique, the genders were separated and taken into this domed room full of natural light and a big hot marble slab in the middle. Till the masseuse comes in, you can choose to bathe in cold water, lie on the hot stone slab or alternate between them.

Then the masseuse appears and does a bath ceremony by soaping up a muslin cloth whilst forming bubbles and giving you a good, soapy scrub. It is quite an experience being given a bath by a stranger as an adult but it was done respectfully and with some fun (ticklish people, beware). After washing off the soap, you can choose to stay in the room for as long as you want or end your session by sipping hot Turkish tea in the lobby area. Highly recommended at an affordable 70 TL pricetag.

Shopping at Bazaars

We did visit the Spice Bazaar and Grand Bazaar (the latter is a labyrinth). You can pretty much buy anything you may need between the two. Here’s what we bought.

  • Black Turkish tea
  • Iranian saffron (the same price per gram as 18K gold)

We bought a spice mix & a Turkish flute (called Ney) from local stores and they were of impeccable quality at a much lower price than the Bazaars so buyer beware. We also bought some exceptionally high quality meat in the Fatih area which is full of meat shops (fun fact: some butchers were big fans of Bollywood movies).

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What’s your style of drinking tea?

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The spice of life

Cruising the Bosphorous

Outside of the multiple boat trips we took which are part of the local transport system, we also went on a Black Sea cruise run by the ferry company for a mere 20 TL to see the beautiful city in dying light as well as in the night (info from TTP).

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These views from the cruise remain unparalleled through the trip

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Isn’t the silhouette beautiful?

Getting in and around

Getting in: Turkey has a e-Visa scheme for Indian citizens with long-term first-world visas (yeah!!) so entry was easy for the Yolek household. We flew Turkish that gets really good airline food on the way back from IST. Look out for the many whistle-stop Istanbul tours that Turkish offers to make the most of an IST layover.

Getting around: Buy an individual Istanbul Card for everyone in your party if you’re heavy public transport users (like we are) because the transfer fare does not work correctly for multiple users on the same card. This caused us a loss of many a TL.

Tip: If you’ll be choosing to mostly stay in the Sultanahmet / Taksim area then just buy one card, load it with around 5 TL per person per day. We do not know of a day ticket.

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Parting shot of the Galata tower

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6 thoughts on “Istanbul, Turkey : One of the most beautiful cities in the world

  1. delphinethebabbler says:

    Absolutely breathtaking! This is such an informative and wonderful post. I’ve been wanting to visit Istanbul for the longest just haven’t gotten around to it yet. All this photography is definitely tempting me! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • yodandalek says:

      Many thanks for the appreciation. We don’t think the pictures do the city justice, it can’t capture the sounds or the smell of kebabs wafting through the air. We truly believe it is one of the best cities we’ve ever visited and hope you do make the trip ☺

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment!

      Like

    • yodandalek says:

      For me, it is impossible to choose a single city / country where I agree 100% with all mainstream political views / cultural differences. Hardly a reason to not travel IMHO, that’s just how the world is.

      While the visual beauty of Istanbul is undeniable, the city’s soul is almost tactile, you feel it with every azaan and with every meal. Cannot wait to visit Turkey again. ❤

      Like

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