Although Istanbul might not be the first destination you think of when planning that special holiday, you might be surprised at just how much it has going for it. Lucy Mullinger reminisces on her time spent in the capital of Turkey.
Istanbul is one of the cheaper cities to fly out of on your way back to Australia or New Zealand, which makes it a good stopping off port to rest before that big trip home. With only two days to spare, we weren’t expecting much of our trip to Istanbul, in fact we planned on just relaxing in our hotel.
On arrival at the airport, our taxi driver waxed lyrical about how romantic Istanbul was. I thought it was just a local being loyal to his home town but when we arrived on the outskirts of the city, it was truly plain to see just how wrong I was.
Istanbul is the largest city in Turkey and it sits alongside the Bosphorus which connects the Sea of Marmara to the Black Sea. What makes Istanbul special is that it is split into two continents. On one side of the Bosphorus is the Asian side of Istanbul and on the other, is the European side.
Look further and you will see the Golden Horn which is a harbour where a lot of the action takes place. From here you can get boats to take you along the coast and you can watch as fishermen try their luck at catching a variety of fish including sprats and pilchards off the side of the Galata Bridge.
Seeing the Sights:
The Hagia Sophia is a former Greek Orthodox church which went on to be a mosque and is now a museum. It was built in 537 and is one of Istanbul’s main sights to see.
Across the pretty park you will find the Blue Mosque which doesn’t look particularly blue from the outside but is beautiful from the inside. Prepare to dress up for the occasion.
Women are expected to cover their heads, arms and legs and men are expected to cover their legs and arms also. If you do forget to do so, there are clothes and scarves that you can wear once you arrive inside.
If you want to take a romantic stroll through the parks of Istanbul, you will be pleased to see it is full of beautiful, tall trees, pretty flowers and bright and colourful wildlife.
The Grand Bazaar is a lot more upmarket than we expected and it includes over 60 covered streets and thousands of shops. From what we could see, the shops were pretty expensive and we decided it was better to buy our souvenirs further out of the tourist Mecca but it’s still an amazing experience to experience one of the largest and oldest covered bazaars in the world.
We stayed at Sirkeci Mansion which is situated only a few minute’s walk from everything including the mosques, the water front, the grand bazaar and the metro, so it was the perfect place to stay for us.
Although it is a luxury accommodation option, it is definitely worth every cent. Rather than looking out for a local Turkish hammam (spa), you can go downstairs and use the hotel spa which has traditional taps and the option to get a massage and hammam for a good price.
The hotel also has an indoor pool and a sauna. Obviously we spent a lot of time downstairs after walking for miles throughout the day.
Another added bonus to staying at Sirkeci Mansion, is that you get a traditional tea every afternoon which consists of Turkish treats and teas. You also get a special gift each night you stay.
To find out more, visit the website here.
Whether you choose to tack Istanbul on to part of your Europe travels, like we did, or you make a complete holiday of it, Istanbul truly is a beautiful spot to visit with something to excite even the most weary of travellers.