Top Ten Tuesdays – Things to Do in Istanbul

The following is a guest post.

The next guest post in my “Top Ten Tuesdays” is about the beautiful city of Istanbul, Turkey. My guest writer, Kirk Shackelton, had the pleasure of visiting from London, and as you can see below, he truly enjoyed his stay.

A giddy excitement overcame me as I sat on the short flight that had left London three hours earlier, heading towards a place that had long been the object of my travelling desires. My destination was Istanbul, a megacity which occupies an exclusive fascination in my mind alongside Sydney and Rio de Janeiro as cities I mistakenly think are capitals. This I learnt only from the in-flight travel magazine twenty minutes before landing… talk about doing your research and being prepared! Nevertheless, I am a staunch believer in unprepared travel – it makes the whole thing even more exciting, and creates a whole series of surprises. Here are the top ten things to do in Istanbul:

Sultananhmet
Explore Sultanahmet
The historical centre of Istanbul boasts many of the city’s biggest attractions, and few tourists can avoid spending a significant proportion of their visit here. Nor should they wish to. Take in the splendour of the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, the Basilica Cistern, the Istanbul Archaeological Museum, the Byzantine Hippodrome, the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum and Topkapi Palace. And don’t forget to take a deep breath first!

Sail the Bosphorus
Like most great cities, Istanbul, Turkey’s largest metropolis, focuses upon a large body of water – the Bosphorus. This strait separates the landmasses of Europe and Asia, connecting the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara, and is the vein from which Turkey’s capital city grows. There are numerous public and private ferries departing from Eminönü that take passengers up and down the channel and offer a unique perspective on the city, from palaces and Ottoman mansions to sleek cafés, restaurants and bars.

Bosphorus Bridge
Cross to the Asian Side
Istanbul is a city of two halves, one European and the other Asian, and no visit is balanced without experiencing both. Getting to the Asian Side is simple – just jump aboard one of the ferries that frequently crosses the Bosphorus, or walk across the bustling Galata Bridge. Once on Asian turf, there’s plenty to see, including Beylerbeyi Palace, Maiden’s Tower and BaÄŸdat Caddesi.

Visit a Mosque
Istanbul’s skyline is dominated by the slender minarets and bulbous domes of its numerous mosques, graceful places of worship that feature prominently in most people’s travel itineraries. Not only are they a visual spectacle, the calls to prayer which sound five times a day provide an audible backdrop for the city. Unsurprisingly, Istanbul is home to the most mosques in Turkey, including many which are famous throughout the world, such as the Blue Mosque and Suleymaniye Mosque.

Brave a Bazaar
To get a sense of how Istanbul was a few centuries ago, visit one of its bazaars. These ancient shopping malls teem with vibrancy and life, and are the perfect place to pick up a souvenir from your time in Turkey. The Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar are particularly popular, selling a plethora of spices and sweets within a cauldron of noise that is an assault on the senses. Remember that haggling is a way of life here – don’t be scared to negotiate fiercely.

Smoke Nargile
Ever since the Ottoman Empire in the 17th century, nargile smoking has been a popular form of socialisation and relaxation for Turks of all ages, and those seeking to immerse themselves in Istanbul’s local culture should not miss the opportunity to try it. Numerous nargile cafés drape the city in smoke flavoured by tobacco that is mixed with molasses, having been filtered by a basin of water and sucked through a winding hosepipe. Originally from India, nargile smoking has become deeply ingrained in Turkish culture.

Princes' Islands
Discover the Princes’ Islands
The Princes’ Islands aren’t the personal properties of a group of princes, as you might be forgiven for thinking, but rather a chain of nine islands that lie off the coast of Istanbul, in the Sea of Marmara. They offer relief from the casual chaos of Istanbul, free from cars and replete with cobble streets and quiet waterfront restaurants. Don’t miss the opportunity to take a ride in one of the islands’ famous horse and carts, which are the best way to see all that these picturesque places have to offer.

Attend a Whirling Dervish
Whirling dervishes are deeply spiritual displays that ooze elegance and magic, featuring a group of dancers clad in white skirts that flare outwards as they spin with their arms raised upwards and consciences aligned with God. The ritual is a celebration of existence, and a deeply personal experience for those who witness it during their visit to Istanbul, with many establishments across the city making this possible.

Unwind at a Meyhane
Of the many places to eat in Istanbul, meyhanes are the most authentic. These tavernas, which translate literally as wine houses, serve drinks along with meze and other Turkish foods, often against a backdrop of traditional music which creates an exciting cultural experience for any tourist in Istanbul. Be sure to try raki, Turkey’s national drink, alongside a plate of hummus.

Relax at a Hamam
Turkish hamams have evolved into a global phenomenon, but the best place to visit one is still in Istanbul. You are guaranteed to leave feeling invigorated, purified, and totally relaxed, having been cooked like a runner bean in a steamer through a series of rooms that vary in temperature, beginning in hot rooms that encourage perspiration, before entering cooler rooms that allow the body to relax. This is often followed by a massage.

Kirk was reared in Australia’s Outback before travelling extensively across the globe, eventually settling in London. He is passionate about food, travel and any sport that isn’t cricket, and enjoys driving cattle in his spare time.

Visa for turkey can be applied online.

{ 22 comments }

Jeremy B May 10, 2011 at

Istanbul is beautiful! A few years ago, I would have never considered it. Now, I’ve known a few people that have gone and have heard a lot of great things. And the more photos I see, it just confirms that this is on the list now!

Matt May 11, 2011 at

Yea these photos are great. It really makes me want to visit soon!

Jan Ross May 10, 2011 at

It sounds beautiful and fascinating and I would especially love to visit the bazaar. But, I have to admit, I’m a little intimidated about traveling to that part of the world as a woman. My sister and a friend were warned so strenuously about all the dangers in Instanbul that they finally decided not to even get off the cruise ship there. It’s a shame.

Matt May 11, 2011 at

My personal belief is that most people say things like this about any country they don’t know anything about. I had numerous people tell me that I would be in danger during my previous two trips to Central America. On neither of them was I ever in an uncomfortable or dangerous situation. Whenever someone says “Oh wow, that country is XXX” I simply ask them, “Have you ever been?” Most say no, at which time I usually choose to not listen to their opinion.

inka May 10, 2011 at

Why be intimidated by Istanbul? I live there part of the year, it’s never ending fascinating and it’s such a shame that so much prejudice still exists in our world.

Matt May 11, 2011 at

The real shame is ignorance I think. People make statements all the time about things they don’t know about.

Laurel May 10, 2011 at

I’m really hoping to get to Istanbul sooner than later. I knew it was a bustling historic city, but I had no idea there was so much to see and do there.

Matt May 11, 2011 at

Yea, it really seems like it is a great destination.

David @ MalaysiaAsia May 10, 2011 at

Thanks and I’d love to visit Istanbul one day for the amazing Markets and Mosques. Lots of heritage and culture worth exploring too.

Matt May 11, 2011 at

Welcome!

Ted Nelson May 10, 2011 at

I did not know that Istanbul was not a capital either. Thanks to this post I now know it is Ankara. Looks like a lot of awesome things to experience and the photos look great.

Matt May 11, 2011 at

I had no idea either, haha.

Debbie Beardsley @ European Travelista May 10, 2011 at

Great post full of exciting things to do in Istanbul. I have wanted to visit Istanbul for awhile but after seeing your pics it is becoming more urgent.

Matt May 11, 2011 at

Well I can’t take credit for the pics, but yes, they are beautiful!

Adam May 10, 2011 at

Ahhh, Turkey is at the very top of our list of countries we really want to go to. This is a great list that doesn’t just suggest the normal touristy sites that you read about everywhere. Great stuff, and I’ll definitely be bookmarking it for our inevitable trip to Turkey.

Matt May 11, 2011 at

Yea, the list was written from a locals perspective, so it is a bound to have some off the path stuff!

Christy @ Technosyncratic May 10, 2011 at

Great suggestions! We’ve never had the opportunity to visit Istanbul (hopefully that will change!), but these all sound like really awesome things to experience there.

Michael Figueiredo May 11, 2011 at

I love Istanbul! There are so many things to do and see — it makes a perfect city for a “Top 10” list 🙂

John in France May 12, 2011 at

So pleased to read this article – got to get there, once I can find an excuse to take a group over that way!! Loved your comments about putting down those trying to put you off – “never go to France in July and August” they all say. “Have you ever been?”. That’s a great put down!!!

Matt May 12, 2011 at

I’ll be there this July or August!

Surender Sharma May 14, 2011 at

Istanbul is really wonderful place.I never visited the place but I wish to go on fly…

robin May 16, 2011 at

Turkey is most definitely on my list and has been for some time. One of the great world cities 🙂