- Airport – Istanbul Atatürk Airport (IST)
- Currency – Turkish Lira (TRY)
- Language – Turkish
- Population – 14 million
- GDP (Turkey) – $798 billion (18th overall)
After wrapping up a great visit in Cappadocia in January 2016, my next Turkish destination was Istanbul and I absolutely loved it. The people are among the warmest in the world, and the city offers an incredible blend of history, culture, and food. Boasting a population of more than 14 million and having served as the capital of the Byzantine AND Roman empires,
Istanbul’s rich history, and vibrant culture make for a great trip. More than 12 million foreigners flocked to Istanbul in 2015 alone to experience the delicious cuisine and historical sites that date back more than 1,000 years! See below for your go-to activities during your stay.
Explore the Grand Bazaar
More than 500 years old and known to contain at least 3,000 shops, The Grand Bazaar is not only the world’s largest market but according to Travel+Leisure it is ranked as the #1 world’s most visited tourist attraction! This puts it ahead of both New York City’s Times Square and Beijing’s Forbidden City!
Handmade Turkish Ceramic Plates on display at The Grand Bazaar
Take a stroll down the many paths and enjoy the variety of Turkish spices, ceramics, carpets, leather goods and more. Get your bargaining on by starting with low offers and not being afraid to push back. If you’re hungry, grab a local Turkish kebab and be sure to try the delicious tea blends including apple, pomegranate, chamomile and rose.
The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul covers more than 60 streets with its 4,000+ shops
Check out the Blue Mosque
The Sultan Ahmed Mosque, known by many as the Blue Mosque for its colorful tile-lined interior, is a piece of history that belongs on your itinerary!
Built in the early 17th Century during the rule of Ahmed I, this mosque stands next to the Hagia Sophia since the Sultan Ahmed wanted an Islamic place of worship that would be even more impressive. Apparently the Sultan wanted the mosque built so badly that he even helped with the work, only to pass away one year after it was finished, at the age of 27. Be sure to check out this beautiful mosque during your stay.
Ceiling at the Blue Mosque
Visit the Hagia Sophia
Built in the early 6th Century AD and having stood as the largest cathedral in the world for nearly 1,000 years, the Hagia Sophia is a must-see during your trip. The church is located right next to the Blue Mosque so keep that in mind when planning your itinerary. In the mid-15th century, the Hagia Sophia was converted to a mosque but today is a museum. While the Blue Mosque entrance is free because it’s still currently in use, be prepared to spend 30 Turkish Lira or approximately $10 (USD) to enter.
The Hagia Sophia, built in 537 AD
See the Galata Tower at Night
Situated close to where we stayed during our time in Istanbul, the Galata Tower is located in Beyoglu and is beautiful when lit up in the evenings. Make your way to the top to get a fantastic 360 view of the city, or you can opt to walk the streets of Galata surrounding the tower. Enjoy and take in the view!
Walk Across the Galata Bridge
Historically a bridge that connected traditional Istanbul with foreign non-Muslim inhabitants, the Galata Bridge today is where local Turks gather to relax and fish for fresh seafood. Since we stayed near Taksim on the other side of the bridge, it was a fun walk to see the fishermen and visit the fish market at the end of the bridge on our way to the Bazaar on the other side.
Turkish cuisine is a delicious blend of a variety of rich cultures including Greek, Middle Eastern and Ottoman. While Turkey is a vast country and the food varies by region, Istanbul does an excellent job in capturing the diversity of spices, stews, fish and more. Make sure to try all of the below and more during your stay, especially given the low prices relative to Western Europe and the US!
Drink Turkish Tea – during your stay in Turkey make sure to try Turkish tea served in its traditional hourglass cups. It is typically prepared with a two-layer teapot where one boils the water and the other brews the tea. Be careful though, the tea glass containers can get hot!
Try Turkish Baklava at Karaköy Güllüoğlu – easy to find and buzzing with locals, make sure to stop by Karaköy Güllüoğlu for a delicious baklava treat. The pastry is made of several layers of filo, chopped nuts and honey, and is the perfect end to a Turkish meal during your stay.
Eat Lokma – For those looking for another delicious snack, pick up some lokma, another traditional Turkish dessert. You can find stands at the base of the Galata Bridge as well as on the streets throughout the bustling city selling it.
Grab a Pomegranate Juice – As you walk the streets you’ll pass by carts that make freshly squeezed juice of different varieties. Grab a pomegranate juice which will give you a great dose of fiber, Vitamins C and K, and other rich nutrients!
Have Turkish Doner Kebab at Dönerci Şahin Usta – Try this Grand Bazaar gem to experience some delicious doner while you’re in Istanbul
Spend a Weekend in Cappadocia
Located in Central Turkey and only a short flight away, Cappadocia is a beautiful ancient town that also offers incredible hot air balloon rides. Make sure to check it out!