Istanbul – That wondrous city that sits at the end of the line before Europe officially becomes Asia, a ‘must-see’ on my own list of life goals and it wasn’t one to disappoint.
Here’s a list of reasons why I think Istanbul will definitely become one of your favourites if you ever end up there yourself:
1. The Galata Tower
In one form or another since the 13th Century there has been a tower standing in the vicinity of the current Galata Tower. The current stone structure is a defining feature of the Istanbul skyline and gives 360° degree views of the city from its viewing deck that circles the top of the tower.
I am going to go as far as saying that visiting Galata Tower should be a non-negotiable if you ever find yourself in Istanbul.
Hot Tip: Try and get up to the viewing balcony of Galata Tower right before they close it to people who aren’t using the restaurant. Once you’re up there, they won’t ask you to leave and you can watch the Sun set over the city as it begins to glow from its lights all to the sound of the day’s final call to prayer ringing out from the many Mosques. I guarantee that will be a moment you will remember for a long time to come…
2. Helpful Locals
Whether it be needing someone to show you how to steer around the extra keys on a Turkish Keyboard so you can log into your e-mail account to find out the address of the hostel you booked, trying to find your hostel that’s tucked away in the back alley’s of the Beyoglu District, or getting the best value meal from a restaurant owner who prefers being called ‘Uncle’, you will not be far from a local that will more than go out of their way to help you.
3. The Hagia Sofia
ANY conversation I’ve had in the past with someone whose brains I’ve picked in regards to their experiences in Istanbul, definitely involved the mention of the Hagia Sofia and was usually described in the same breath as the words “incredible”, “Definitely don’t miss seeing it” or “OMG its like totes amaze-balls!”
…yes, the hipster was right – IT’S TOTES AMAZE-BALLS!!!… ahem…
The Hagia Sofia stood as the world’s largest cathedral for almost a thousand years, becoming a Mosque when the Ottoman’s took Constantinople and adding features to it like it’s minarets. It was turned into its current role as a museum by Ataturk in 1935 which has lead to the recovery work on much of the original Christian artwork that was plastered over after the arrival of the Ottomans.
It is an unmatched example of “clashing cultures”, and like Rick Astley, I guarantee it won’t let you down.
4. It Has a Rocking Hostel Scene
Turning up to my first Hostel in Istanbul I was met at the front counter by the unforgettable character that is Mehmet: “Where you from!?” “Sydney, have you got a bed for me?” “YEAH! No Wucking Furries MATE!!!” - By the way, Mehmet’s the Manager………..
A clear result of its popularity with budget travelers, Istanbul boasts some of the best hostels I’ve ever seen and this is mainly because the people running them add one vital ingredient: Effort.
Both Hostels I stayed at in Istanbul (The ‘Chill-out Cengo’ in Beyoglu and ‘The Orient’ in Sultanhamet) were both professionally run and maintained, ensuring that their guest’s stay at the hostels are a positive addition to their overall experience in Istanbul.
5. The Blue Mosque
Officially known as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, this amazing fusion of architecture, design, art and culture (still used primarily as a place of worship) is Istanbul’s Grand Mosque. You will definitely find yourself having a few speechless moments while wandering its grounds and prayer halls.
6. It isn’t Thessaloniki
7. Beyoglu District
On the European side of the city, Beyoglu finds itself separated from the old city by the ‘Golden Horn’ River. As a result of being the home to European Traders and Embassies over the last few centuries, you could easily mistake Beyoglu for any other trendy shopping district in Western Europe. The main road through the heart of the district is home to the world’s oldest and still-functioning electric tram, which you will be sure to get a glimpse of as you stroll this, the entertainment, art, and nightlife hub of Istanbul.
8. The Bazaars
The infamous Grand Bazaar and Spice Markets are the perfect place to scratch the Culture itch while in Istanbul. Sure some of the plastic “made in China” items sold at a lot of the market stalls today aren’t quite the same as the ones items that travelled there via the Silk Road on camel back hundreds of years before, but these markets are great places to take in the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of a place that has been used as a trade hub for countless generations.
You might want to consider carrying your ‘No! I don’t want a carpet!’ whacking stick whilst visiting here…
9. The Basilica Cistern
Learn how to correctly use the exposure setting of your camera (and take a tri-pod if possible) and get here as quickly as you can – well actually, it’s underground so get there whenever it best suits your itinerary… Either way, the former water storage structure (built to supply the Royal Palace) is an incredible sight you shouldn’t miss.
I’ve found that when you start travelling for extended periods, there are a few Cities and places that you just stumble upon while en route to the different locations on your travel itinerary. Most of the time these places exceed your expectations, mainly due to the fact that you didn’t have any expectations of those places to start with.
This definitely wasn’t the case for me in regards to Istanbul. I had been dreaming of visiting Istanbul for years. I arrived there waking in my carriage on the overnight train from Greece to the sight of this bustling city, glowing in the Sun that was beaming off the Bosphorus. It was simply more beautiful than I could have ever imagined and the following days I was there didn’t befall this initial impression. I guess this has a lot to do with the simple appreciation and internal high-fiving that comes from finally walking through a place and its sights that you’ve read and wanted to see for so long.
Leaving Istanbul so soon may have been a lot harder if I didn’t have the same level of anticipation of what the rest of Turkey has to offer…
Have you been to Istanbul? I’d love to hear any tips from your trip as I’m sure to return to this incredible City!