If you’re planning a trip to Turkey, chances are you’ll probably find yourself in Istanbul. Not only is it the largest city in the country, it’s also the only city in the world to spread across two different continents.
If it’s your first time there, you’re going to need at least 2-3 days just to soak in all the local culture and visit the important sights.
Offering a variety of educational and cultural experiences, there’s always something for tourists to see and do when visiting the city. Whether you’re a food lover, history fanatic or just looking for cultural vibes, Istanbul has something for everyone. Here are my suggestions…
Pay a visit to the Blue Mosque
The Blue Mosque is one of Istanbul’s main points of interest and why wouldn’t it be? Not only is its crafted exterior a sight for sore eyes, but its cultural significance makes it a popular attraction for tourists whilst remaining a functioning mosque for the Muslim religion. The mosque obtains a strict dress code – headscarfs are to be worn by women at all times and visitors are expected to remove shoes on entrance.
Visit the Hagia Sophia Museum
Located across from the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofia is a mosque-turned-museum where visitors can learn about the history of Istanbul and the origins of the Muslim religion. Enter on your own or ask a local guide outside the mosque to give you the grand tour (I’d definitely recommend doing the latter). Hagia Sophia is also the only place in the world where you can see Allah, Jesus and Muhammed together.
Tip: one of the things you should avoid doing is visiting Hagia Sophia during rush hour. The best time to go is in the evening, just before closing time.
Spend a day at the Turkish Baths
If you’re on the hunt for a cultural experience, try participating in a traditional Turkish bath. After being washed down by a local, you’ll receive a massage and facial to rejuvenate. This experience might not be for everyone but is definitely worth a visit!
Check out the Grand Bazaar
One of the biggest indoor marketplaces in the world, the Grand Bazaar sees over 250,000 visitors daily. With more than 4,000 stores spread over 61 streets, it’s easy to get lost in the hustle and bustle of tourists and locals combined. Selling everything from novelty shirts to Turkish spices, the Grand Bazaar is worth a visit even if you aren’t interested in buying anything.
Tip: it might be a good idea to visit in September, when there aren’t so many tourists around.
Try Turkish Cuisine
If you’re a foodie like me, travel is all about trying local food and Turkey offers up a great menu. Start of with some Pida (pronounced PEE-dae) is a Turkish flatbread often served with minced meat and cheese, followed by a slice of Lokum – traditional Turkish delights that come in different flavours like pomegranate, cherry and even cookies and cream. Wash it all down with a glass of apple tea.
Watch a belly dance show
One of the best things to do in Istanbul at night: head out for dinner and a show and watch local belly dancers perform. Be dazzled by their costumes and their talent and perhaps even participate yourself… if you’re feeling brave.
Take a day trip to Troy
If you’re in Istanbul for a couple of days, Troy is worth an all-day trip to see the countryside and learn about some of the country’s history. Birthplace of the trojan horse, Troy is the perfect place to learn about the medieval times in Turkey and one of the most fascinating tourist attractions.
See the Basilica Cistern
The cistern lies beneath the city of Istanbul and is the largest to be found in the city. Although originally designed to service water to nearby mosques and palaces, the Cistern was once a dumping ground for corpses. Home to the famous Medusa Heads, the Cistern features 336 marble columns and is also the set from the 2016 movie Inferno, featuring Tom Hanks.
Walk through Gulhane Park
Gulhane park is the perfect meeting point for any group, located within walking distance of all major sights. It is home to food carts and historical monuments and every year in spring, the park is decorated in Tulips. Also, if you’re running low on money, this is a cheap and fun thing to do if you have a few hours to spare in Istanbul.
Jump across to Asia
Although Istanbul is considered a European city, Turkey itself is an Eurasian territory with 95% of land considered part of Asia which includes the country’s capital Ankara. Hop on a quick ferry ride over Bosphorus, the narrow that separates Europe and Asia, and step foot in a new continent.