Istanbul is a vibrant city with too much to do in a short amount of time. Our 5 days in Istanbul was simply not enough, no surprises there. But what we did manage to pack into a few days in Istanbul were all highlights for us. Let’s start from the top.
The Blue Mosque
The Sultan Ahmed Mosque is a historic mosque that was built from 1609 to 1616. The mosque is popularly known as the Blue Mosque for the blue tiles adorning the walls of its interior and is probably the most iconic building in Turkey.
It was only a short walk from where our hotel was located and a view we witnessed every day. It was stunning. We never managed to venture inside, but we did capture some lovely snaps of the outside.
I’ll be honest. I am not a fan of bathing and only recently enjoyed it for the first time during our stay in Istanbul. Still, there was something about a public bath I couldn’t quite bring myself to do. So in the matter of research for all our readers I sent my better half out to investigate the Turkish bath phenomenon.
A Turkish bath is a variant of a sauna and to get the ultimate experience we had to visit Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Hamam. This hamam was built in 1556 and was used as a public bath until 1910. Can you imagine? Modern restoration began in 2008 and after 3 years and over AUD$9 million (insert Dr Evil style little-finger-to-the-mouth) it was restored to it’s former glory with over 160 gold-plated bath bowls, 50% silk & 50% cotton bathwraps, 100% olive oil soaps and 130 employees.
The Turkish bath starts with a relax in a room (known as the warm room at 38 degrees) that is heated by a continuous flow of hot, dry air, allowing the bather to perspire freely. Bathers may then move to an even hotter room (known as the hot room at 47 degrees) before they wash in cold water. After performing a full body wash and receiving a massage, bathers finally retire to the cooling-room for a period of relaxation.
Here’s Josh’s first-hand experience:
The only way I can describe this to someone who hasn’t tried this before is to think of this as a combination between a sauna, bath and massage all rolled together. It was the first time (since I was a baby) that someone else had washed me, and while it was a little strange at first, I got used to it. In fact, I felt squeaky clean for days afterwards. Once the initial awkwardness passed of sitting around in just a towel, the whole experience became much more relaxing. The staff member assigned to me was very experienced and professional. He was a muscular, burly chap with a clean shaved head and appeared a little intimidating at first, but as we conversed I realized he was very friendly and courteous. A gentle giant, just like me. I just went with the flow, that’s the best way to approach it. And by the time the session was finished, I felt completely tranquil and relaxed. It is something worth trying at least once – you never know, you might come back for more.
The Bosphorous or Istanbul Strait is a body of water that forms part of the boundary between Europe and Asia, although both sides being the same country (Turkey). While originally we planned to sail the Bosphorous all the way to the Black Sea, the times for boat departures were just not fitting into our busy, limited schedule.
So instead one night we headed down to the bridge overlooking the Bosphorous and enjoyed a walk past the many restaurant vendors begging for patronage before stopping to eat at one.
The specials are, of course, mostly fish, but we managed to find a non-seafood dish for our family.
It’s a busy spot at night with lot of ferries coming and going. We were told the official public vessels are the best and as it happens the cheapest, but just check the times before you go.
Taksim Square, situated in the European part of Istanbul, Turkey, is a major tourist and leisure district famed for its restaurants, shops, and hotels. We originally had decided not to stay in Taksim, because of the riots that had occurred several months prior.
However the day we visited was just marvellous. We took the tram/train from our hotel all the way to the square where the kids chased birds for a while.
Then we started the downward walk from the Square back to the Bosphorous. It was a lovely walk through a pedestrian mall with loads of restaurants and shops.
Josh even found a pair of shoes, which had evaded him throughout Israel and Turkey since the one question we ask is always answered with a “no” – Do you have size 15?
We stopped for lunch in a little alcove, which was serene and quiet away from the hustle and bustle of the street.
After lunch we continue to the bottom where we climbed back on the train to head home.
The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, with 61 covered streets and over 3,000 shops which attract between 250,000 and 400,000 visitors daily.
It really is a site to behold. I stood in the midst of the hustle and bustle and just watched the people swarm around me, beside me, past me. The shop keepers yelling out to draw attention to their wares, the occasional mad scooter dashing between the pedestrians, the Turkish Delight slowly softening in the hot sun, the bizarre lanterns flashing light from every corner of the market.
We only brought one thing at this market, Turkish delight, but still spent many an hour wandering its streets and gawking at all the business.
I would highly recommend a visit even if it is just for window shopping.
Countless eloquent guidebooks have been written about all the interesting things to do in this ancient city. But if you have a short time to visit and want to pack in some uniquely Turkish experiences that you won’t see anywhere else, then these 5 are a perfect place to start. But whatever you choose to do, one thing is for sure. This city will leave you wanting more.