5 years, 5 months ago
Words and images by renowned photo blogger Kirsten Alana, exclusively for Trip+ as part of our #housetripping series.
Istanbul is one of the largest cities in the world, with an estimated population of between 12 and 19 million and eight main districts that span two continents, both physically and culturally — it should be on every traveler’s list to visit eventually.
How do you adequately experience such a large, diverse city in one visit? A private city tour is a great place to start! However you choose to structure your holiday, here are some places you should not miss.
Landmarks such as the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, which sit facing one another, almost need no introduction. Both have been featured in films, television shows and as scene setters in novels many many times. Their fame is warranted, for both provide a cultural and historical reference that is difficult to replicate elsewhere in Istanbul.
The Blue Mosque,
as it has become popularly known, is actually Sultan Ahmed Mosque. It is still in use as a place of worship. Built during the rule of Ahmed I between 1609 and 1616, it was given its popular moniker because of the blue tulip tiles that adorn the interior walls. It has one main dome, six minarets (highly unusual for a mosque) and eight secondary domes.
my favorite place to visit in Istanbul, was once a Greek Orthodox patriarchal basilica, then it was an Eastern Orthodox cathedral, and finally a Roman Catholic cathedral before it became an imperial mosque. It was the principal mosque of Istanbul in fact, until 1616 when Sultan Ahmed opened. Construction was begun in 537, continued throughout the different versions, and finally it was opened as a museum on 1 February 1935. Today, parts of Hagia Sophia are still under construction for the purposes of restoration but that hardly affects the beauty to be seen inside. On the very top level, stunning mosaics with gleaming gold tiles can still be seen, bearing religious scenes. Whether one is religious or not, the historical impact of the building is unmistakable.
Of course, what’s incredible about the city doesn’t begin and end with these two mosques. Nearby is the Old City, known as the Sultanahmet, which has a collection of wooden buildings and typical restaurants that should also be on any traveler’s list.
Across the Golden Horn, up on the hill is Galata Tower,
and the accompanying neighborhood, which shares the name, is a colorful area filled with locals, excellent shopping, plentiful nightlife options and many wonderful views from rooftop cafes.
Combined with the neighboring area of Beyoğlu it also shelters Istiklal Street and the adjoining Taksim Square.
İstiklal Caddesi is a prominent pedestrian street and one of the best places in the city to simply roam. This area was the original diplomatic district when Istanbul was the capital of the Ottoman Empire so many embassies and consulates can still be found, of which the British consulate is probably most worthy of a visit. Also, keep an eye out for one of the many Simit carts so that you can try this round, pretzel type bread that is such a part of Turkish food culture.
When you’re looking for a place to stay in the city, this Galata apartment very close to the tower has wonderful views of the Bosphorus and a rooftop courtyard where it’s possible to really understand the layout of this vast city because you can see it all laid out before you.
This apartment, also in Galata, is new and decorated in a modern style. It’s centrally located on a busy street close to trains and other forms of public transportation.
This luxurious and well-appointed apartment packs a lot of amenities into a compact space. Very recently renovated, it features all of the most modern comforts with architectural details such as brick walls that help to preserve the historical importance of the neighborhood it is situated in.
Wherever you choose to stay in Istanbul, take your time getting to know the city. There are secrets and surprises just waiting to be uncovered where Europe meets Asia, all along the Bosphorus.