The historic part of Istanbul is filled with rich and diverse culture - from Byzantine, Roman and Ottoman. Istanbul is in every aspect a city like no other on earth! One leg firmly planted in Europe and the other in Asia, divided by the sea of Marmara and the Golden Horn.
Do not miss a visit to the Basilica Cistern. The mystical grandeur of this architectural wonder with it's impressive columns is absolutely breathtaking! The orientation of the two Medusa heads (one placed upside down and the other one sideways) has been a question of much discussion. The Basilica Cistern was built in the 6th century AD by Byzantine Emperor Justinian. The cistern provided water to various properties.
Escape the heat and marvel this absolute gem in Sultanahmet!
The Hagia Sofia museum/church (Ayasofya) whose name means "Holy Wisdom" in Greek was built in the 6th Century AD. The Hagia Sofia is extremely rich and diverse in history, culture and architecture - from Byzantine Basilica (Greek Orthodox) to Mosque and since 1935 a museum.
The building with all it's grandeur both inside and outside is truly spectacular and not to be missed! The tombs at the back of the Hagia Sofia are also very interesting to see.
It is lovely to sit in the park next to the Blue Mosque on the benches with magnificent views of the illuminated minarets of the Blue Mosque in the evening. Men are not allowed to wear shorts and women's head, shoulders and knees need to be covered before entering the Blue Mosque. Shoes must also be removed and bags are provided at the entrance to put them in.
I can strongly advise all women travelling to Istanbul to keep a scarf (pashmina) in their handbags. Not only do you need it when entering Mosques but it can be handy if you want to feel a little more "covered" while travelling in Turkey.
Do not miss the "footbaths" on the park side of the Mosque.
The Grand Bazaar is one of the largest covered markets in the world with 60 streets and 400 shops that has been an important trading center since 1461.
The Bazaar is within 15 minutes walk from the Hagia Sofia & Blue Mosque. Follow the tram line straight up and you will find the covered market on your right.
Yes, it is crowded with tourists, pushy salesmen and thousands of shops but with the right attitude and a sense of humor a visit to the bazaar can be fun (haggle for prices) and a unique Turkish experience.
Take a picture of the entrance (numbered) where you enter the bazaar to make sure you won't get lost!
My husband and I did not stay far from the Arasta Bazaar (Eresin Crown Hotel - proven to be an excellent choice) which is well worth a visit. The Arasta Bazaar consists of one street with shops on both sides. The quality of the goods on display are a cut above the rest in comparison to many other overpriced shops in the Sultanahmet district.
Do not miss the Topkapi Palace! The Topkapi Palace was once the primary residence of the Ottoman Sultans for approximately 400 years - fascinating and intriguing! The Palace is situated behind the Hagia Sofia, within a 5 minute's walk.
I can strongly suggest to stay in the Sultanahmet area as it is within walking distance to all the historic sites and gems that Istanbul has to offer.
Do try the Ottoman cuisine at one of the many restaurants in the area. Cooked with love and care and bursting with flavor!
Buy bottled water at supermarkets/cafes for it is much cheaper than at the stands surrounding the popular attractions. Wine can also be bought in supermarkets/cafes at reasonable prices. For those of you that do not know - liquor is very expensive in Istanbul.
Do your research thoroughly before you visit Istanbul. It will help to better understand the rich and diverse history and culture that lies in the historic areas of Istanbul.
We fell in love with Istanbul during our visit in June 2013. Two and a half days were not nearly enough to explore all the gems this marvelous city has to offer! On the other hand, it is a very good excuse to visit Istanbul again as soon as possible!
We cannot wait to go back!
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