Istanbul is a beautiful city and a great time capsule. The city has been a cultural hub during the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. There’s a lot to see but here are my favourite spots and the best part is that they’re all within a thirty minute walk:
Start your walk at the Grand Bazaar. Built in the 15th century, this is one of oldest malls in the world and has about 3000 shops. The bazaar is a maze and you could easily get lost but it was a lot of fun to wander around and see the jewellery, carpets, clothing, and art available. I did try to bargain for a carpet but walked away empty-handed because the price was still outside my comfort zone. The selection is overwhelming and the process can be a little intense.
Walk east from the bazaar for about 10 minutes and you’ll arrive at the Basilica Cistern which once served as a water reservoir and filtration system for the city including Topkapi Palace. The cistern dates back to the 6th century and it can store up to 100,000 tons of water. The inside has long slender columns (336 to be exact) and a vaulted brick ceiling. The columns are mismatched which means that they were probably recycled from other abandoned buildings. The place is beautifully lit and the visit is accompanied by music.
About 350m from the Basilica is Hagia Sophia. Now a museum, it was first built during the Roman Empire as an Orthodox Church and although painted over, it still preserves some paintings from its Christian era. In the 15th century during the Ottoman Empire it was converted into a mosque and it’s still decorated with sayings from the Quran. The landmark also displays beautiful tile work.
A close walk from Hagia Sophia is the Blue Mosque. The mosque is a great example of Islamic artistic expression. The surroundings allow to be a quiet observer to some of the daily habits associated with the Muslim faith. We watched men washing their feet at the lined outdoor fountains in preparation for prayer.
A kilometre away from the mosque is Topkapi Palace, another must see landmark. The palace was home to Ottoman Sultans for about 400 years and it was complete with mosques, a hospital, library and bakeries. It is said that at its peak the palace hosted up to 4000 people. We only paid general entry and skipped the harem quarter which costs extra. The palace is impressive with beautiful tile walls, colourful glass, gold and silver decor.
Last but not least make your way to the Spice Market where you’ll find anything from spices, clothing, nuts and all kind of delicious snacks.
I hope you get to visit and enjoy this wonderful city.