Istanbul is a tale of two cities. Straddling Europe and Asia and divided by the strait of Bosporus, the former capital of the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires is the only metropolitan city that has its foot on two continents, with the old city sprawled over European territory and the modern, residential areas established on the Asian side. Considering its massive size, a timeframe of 24 hours can hardly do any of the city’s gems any justice at all, but it is sufficient to scratch the surface and instill a curiosity for more. It is an enchanting city, fusing the history of several cultures, languages, religions, and eras together and establishing itself as Turkey’s economic and cultural epicenter.
Formerly known as Constantinople, Istanbul is a city of contrasts, and not just in a geographical sense. Discover a synagogue, an orthodox church, and a mosque all erected in the same vicinity. Witness a man atop a horse, pulling a cart, and weaving in and out of traffic while a sea of luxury imported cars zoom by. Watch retired old men sitting and playing cards in quaint tea houses, while modern business women strut by in short skirts and suits, sipping their Starbucks coffee. Shop around in vast stylish, glass-fronted shopping malls or haggle at one of the old beautiful underground bazaars.
Have your camera on hand and be ready to shoot because everything will be picture-worthy.
1) Start your day with a traditional Turkish breakfast at one of the many waterfront cafes before introducing yourself to contemporary Turkey at the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art a few steps away.
2) Stroll through the expansive Grand Bazaar and buy a wide array of spices, jewelry, hand-made crafts, carpets, and other trinkets.
3) Marvel at the regal splendor of the Hagia Sophia and the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (the Blue Mosque) and soak up the magnificence of Islamic architecture and Turkish history. Discover other historical landmarks around the Sultanahmet Square like the Basilica Cistern and the Egyptian Obelisk.
4) Saunter through the quaint alleyways of historic Old Istanbul (Stamboul) and witness the restrained mystique of the East blended beautifully with the pronounced boldness of the West.
5) Pay homage to the former Sultans of the Ottoman Empire by visiting the Topkapi Palace and walking through the former corridors of power.
6) Pick up a döner kebab for a quick tasty lunch on the go from a roadside vendor.
7) A trip to Istanbul is incomplete without stopping by at one of the many pudding and sweet shops along the way and sampling mouthwatering Turkish desserts like baklava or Sutlac (Turkish rice pudding).
8) Whisk over to the other continent by ferry and admire the beautiful skyline along the Bosphorus.
9) Take a late-evening break before dinner to wash off the grime from the day at a traditional Turkish bath, or hamam. Complete your session with a cup of strong Turkish coffee and a real Turkish delight.
10) Visit the stunning Ortaköy Mosque at night and watch the mosque come alive with a dazzling light show and serene evening prayers. For the best views of the mosque and the Bosphorus Bridge, make a trip to the Banyan Restaurant, an open-air rooftop restaurant that overlooks the Bosphorus strait.
11) Polish off the night with cocktails and other jet-setters on the rooftop terraces of Vogue or 360° Sky Lounge. Enjoy beautiful panoramic views of the city, dance to the latest electronic tunes, and mingle with the city’s glamorous denizens.
12) Head to the buzzing areas of Taksim or Beyoğlu, the nightlife hubs of Istanbul for late-night drinks and dancing. You may even be able to find venues that showcase the cultural Turkish dance of belly dancing, or göbek dans.
With more time on your next trip, be sure to include Galata Tower and Dolmabahce Palace.
I’m Nyssa. I started The Cultureur in August 2012, almost a decade after contracting the travel bug while on a Model United Nations conference in Russia and Finland.
And from there, when I took the first step in solo international travel and decided to study abroad in college,
there was no looking back, and I ended up living, studying, working, and volunteering in 6 countries (the U.S., the UK, France, Iceland, India, and Germany) and traveling to 50+ others.
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