A few years ago, I had the chance to visit a city I’d been obsessed with since I was a teenager. My best friend’s dad would often go there on business and return with the most beautiful gifts. Turkish delight covered in snowy sugar and pretty strings of evil eyes.
I’d heard it was the only city that bridged two continents at once and imagined how fascinating that culture must be. The place in question was Istanbul.
A city full of unbelievably beautiful architecture that’s lived through a fascinating past.
I want to share with you the highlights of my trip. I stayed in the heart of Istanbul for a week and saw as many sights as I could manage but it won’t be long till I return to see the rest.
The Blue Mosque
The Blue Mosque is the most iconic landmark of Istanbul for good reason.
It cuts an impressive figure with towering minarets and cascading grey domes.
The interior is just as pretty, decked in reds and royal blues.
Lit by sprawling chandeliers suspended from the ceiling and stained glass windows that let the light flood in.
One of the most peaceful places of worship I’ve ever been in.
Bright and opulent Hagia Sophia is the original jewel of Istanbul. It started life as a cathedral; the grandest of its time, where royalty were crowned.
Over hundreds of years, the cathedral was destroyed and rebuilt many times in conflict until it finally changed hands and was converted into a mosque.
Today it’s officially a museum celebrating the fascinating history that brought two religions together under one roof. Exploring this marble and mosaic palace is a great way to spend an afternoon and get to know the city’s past.
The Basilica Cistern
The Basilica Cistern is a fresh water reservoir built for royalty in ancient times.
Remarkably, this colossal water chamber is completely underground, held up by 336 pillars, most of which are made of marble. Today, it’s no longer in use and the water is filled with fish.
The descent to the chamber is a plunge into darkness until that first magnificent glimpse of what lies beneath.
Glowing pillars that stretch as far as the eye can see.
An eerie sight at first. Even more so when you come across the carved head of Medusa with snakes for hair, whose glance – according to legend – turns flesh into stone.
Pictures don’t do it justice.
The Grand Bazaar
Busy and bustling, the Grand Bazaar is a warren of curiosities.
Not everything on offer is worth buying but like Aladdin’s cave, there are treasures to be found.
You can’t go wrong with a souvenir of spices or tea but it’s far more exciting to haggle over carpets!
Or Turkish lamps in every colour under the sun.
Or vibrant hand-painted ceramics.
Whatever you choose, the haggling is half the fun.
Fish sandwiches at the Galata Bridge
Never mind 5-star restaurants – the tastiest lunch in Istanbul is to be had at Eminonu Square near the Galata Bridge. Fishermen on bobbing red boats conduct a brisk trade of fried mackerel sandwiches, called Balik Ekmek, for 5 lira a piece.
Crispy mackerel, chillies, onions, greens and lemon. Doesn’t sound like much but completely addictive. I’d eat mine too quickly to ever get a picture.
It’s a super casual affair where the eating is done al fresco. On a stool under a tent if you’re lucky, but more likely perched on the steps with a view like this:
Behind the square, the Galata bridge bustles with life. A steady stream of traffic on top and a steady stream of pedestrians on the cafe-lined promenade below.
And ofcourse, the ubiquitous line of fishermen trying their luck.
The Prince’s Islands
A short boat ride away, the Prince’s Islands make for a refreshing break from the bustling city.
With no vehicles on the islands, they offer fresh air and greenery, as well as the chance to see beautiful horses run free.
Though most of them aren’t quite so lucky. The islands are full of old-fashioned carriages waiting to whisk you off your feet.
But the pretty winding roads along the coast are made for biking.
So for the first (and probably last) time ever, I braved a tandem bike. Bike hire is easy and affordable on the islands and well worth the effort when you’re treated to scenery like this:
For those who like their feet firmly on the ground, there are little boutiques and cafes to explore as well. A good day out for all.
Istiklal Caddesi is an eclectic stretch of shops, restaurants and bars in the Beyoglu district.
With so much to see and do, you could easily spend a day lightening your wallet on this avenue and the surrounding maze of streets.
As always in Istanbul, the architecture doesn’t disappoint.
And you never know what you’ll find around the corner.
The Galata Tower
An absolute must-visit for the most incredible views of Istanbul. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.
On my visit, the Bosphorus river was impossibly blue and the sun never stopped shining.
But even on a grey day I imagine it would be stunning.
The waterfront promenades are full of people walking and the Bosphorus Bridge is beautiful enough for a postcard home.
Whatever you do, take a cruise down the river at sunset.
You don’t want to miss a view like this!
Okay I’ll be honest. Unlimited access to baklava was the main reason I wanted to visit Istanbul.
Don’t underestimate how hooked you’ll get while you’re there. Sweet shops line the streets and yes, they’re straight out of your dreams.
Golden glittering mountains of sticky, sweet, flaky pastry.
Some of them drizzled in chocolate.
Some sprinkled with pistachio.
All drenched in syrup.
My kind of paradise.