I had a great time on a recent trip to Istanbul. Besides the crazy cab drivers, Istanbul is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever visited before. The beauty of the country immediately smacks you in the face as soon as you leave the airport with ocean views and flowers sporting from the curb. You also are immersed into the history of the country as well with old forts around the airports. I was not sure what to do when I arrived but with the help of my tour guide (click here for tour guides website), I was able to run through many attractions in a matter of a few days. Here’s my top ten list of must see places and restaurants. If you’re making an Istanbul itinerary, this blog post will be beneficial.
10. Galata Tower
The Galata tower is an iconic symbol of Istanbul which can be seen from a lot of points within the historic district and the Asian side. The tower is beautiful however not easily accessible as it lies on top of a hill with many narrow roads leading up to it. I stayed in the historic district so traveling was hectic. I took the tram to the end of Galata Bridge, there after I walked up the hill until I reached the Galata Tower. The hill is steep and it took at least a half hour but it was a great walk.
A long the path was beautiful scenery and there is a lot of shopping around the tower. You will find plenty of cheap shopping too. Skip the Grand Bazaar and come here shopping instead. The Grand Bazaar is interesting to see in person but it’s way over priced. You’ll find great souvenirs bargains in the Galata neighborhood. Check out more of my pics of Galata Tower by clicking here.
9. Taksim Square
You want to get a sense of modern day Istanbul? Come out to Taksim square and you will be able to sit around the square and enjoy the beautiful views of the clouds soaring above while taking in the bustling neighborhood. The area is on top of a hill and you will see beautiful residential neighborhoods from the side streets while shopping. Also there is a lot of shopping, restaurants, bars, and BAKLAVA in the Taksim area.
I love Baklava and middle eastern sweets. Their are plenty places here to fill your belly. I liked how there was a good amount of American fast food restaurants, all of which did not use pork products. As a Muslim, I don’t eat out much because foods are not halal but I was able to nosh American style fare without any regrets.
We came here after visiting the Grand Bazaar (total waste of time). I did not care for the bazaar at all. We walked here from the Grand Bazaar which was about a 15 minute walk.
This is a beautiful mosque and I recommend coming here to watch the sunset. The Mosque is on top of a very tall hill and has beautiful views of the Bhosporus and Istanbul.
The mosque is also beautiful inside and has a architecture similar to other historic mosques in the area. Click on the following link to see more pics and info about this attraction.
I could come here again and sit outside to enjoy the view of the city. Simply Amazing.
7.Corlulu Ali Pasa Medresesi (Hookah)
This used to be a school hence the term “medressesi” which means Islamic school. Out front is an actual grave which is like a historic cemetery(think that’s cool though). I’ve never seen anything like that before.
Beside it’s definitely old school rugged. It’s has some tourist but mainly a Turkish hangout spot and I like that. It’s nice to get closer to the culture.
As for the hookah, it’s top notch. I loved it. The tea was delicious as well. I had the apple tea and that’s the first time I tried it. Very delicious!
6. Fuego Restaurant
We came here for the clay pot meal. This is lamb that is cooked in front of you within a sealed clay pot. When it’s finished they break the pot and pour out the meat. The meat was sooo tender & juicy. Other items we had here such as the fresh pomegranate juice was amazing as well. Great restaurant within a few minutes walking of Hagia Sophia.
5. Blue Mosque
There was never a dull moment and I could have honestly stayed in Istnbul for weeks and still find new places to discover. One of my favorite places to visit during my stay was the Sultan Ahmed Camii. a.k.a the Blue Mosque. No one in Istanbul calls it Blue Mosque and it dubbed the nick name from tourists because the domes are blue.
Mosque is located in the Historic District within walking distance of other popular attractions such as Hagia Sophia, Topkapi palace, and the cistern. Plus there are great restaurants and hookah around there too.
We went in the morning and it was crowded but not overly crowded. My tour guide said that its extremely busy during summer season and I visited right before that season so I was good.
Note: If you’re Muslim you may also pray inside. They close during prayer hours so be aware of the prayer times. You’ll easily spend 1-2 hours just walking around outside and inside.
4. Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia has a long history. It was once a church and than a mosque. This mosque though is only a Museum unlike the blue mosque which actually still has prayer service.
The mosque looks nice from far away but as you approach its charm kinda wares off. Than when you get inside your captivated again. The colors are intense and catch your eye immediately.
The church symbols were covered after the conversion of the mosque however when it was converted into museum the layers that covered are removed and you can see the historic Paintings of Jesus and or Mary. It’s very beautiful because inside the main hall of the Museum are large paintings of Islamic names that are on poster boards hung around the center. To see the mixture of Islam and Christianity in one place is beautiful.
Hagia Sophia should be a must on your travel itinerary. I will go back again when I return.
3. Bosphorus Strait
Hop on a boat and sail across the waters…………………..
We took a cruise from the historic district to the Asian side. We went around sunset and the views were amazing! I loved watching the sun come down over the city. You see another side of the Asian and also European side from the boat cruise. I recommend everyone to take a cruise over the strait and see a different side of the city.
2. Istanbul’s Asian Side
You did not truly experience Istanbul until you have visited the Asian side. Take a boat ride and sail across the Bosporus straight and enjoy the views along the way. The Asian side has plenty of great markets and is a great choice for foodies. Take a walk around and you’ll find fresh simit, olivies, bakeries, street food, and a store that sales pickled everything – seriously it has every vege you can imagined pickled and it tastes good.
There are also markets for fresh spices (skip the spice market – it’s cheaper here).
And incredible restaurants as well serving some of the best Turkish food I had during my stay.
1. Karakoy Gulluoglu
Located on the European side and close to the Bosphorus port from the historic district, this Sweet spot will satisfy every and any craving of baklava that you have or ever had in your life point blank period. I’m not joking when I say that this baklava had me at hello. I dived right into the freshly made baklava. It came with a side of cream similar to what we call kista in Arabic. Also a bowl of goat milk ice cream. Goat milk ice cream has a flexible, stringy, chewy like texture. Its incredible though. I wish I could go back now just to live in this moment again.