Hi Frugalistas! This was meant to be a short guide to Istanbul. But despite having spent four days there, I feel so ill-equiped write it. Sure I went to the “big three” sites of Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace and the Blue Mosque. Sure, I went to the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Market. A Bosphorus cruise was a given. I woke every morning to sound of the call to prayer at the Blue Mosque, and I ate street food and lokum (Turkish delight). But I just don’t feel qualified to write a guide to Istanbul – it’s just too rich, and there’s just too much for that.
But this is what I do know about Istanbul:
1. In Istanbul, cats rule
I’ve already posted about the cats in Istanbul. In Istanbul, cats rule. Restauranteurs and shop keepers feed them. Tourists pat them and photograph them. The cats are on a good thing, and they know it!
2. The food is beyond amazing
Whether it is a simit (a bread knot somewhat like a German bretzel) from a street vendor or a three course Ottoman banquet in a fancy restaurant, Turkish food is beyond amazing. And don’t even get me started on the sweets! My favorite meal (so far)? A brunch I had with some fellow bloggers – Turkish preserves, cheeses, salad, hot dishes – so much, and just so good! For delicious street food, I thoroughly recommend the simit with Nutella – yum!
3. Architectural features are everywhere
It doesn’t matter whether it’s a tiny shop selling sweets and drinks, or just a random Roman wall, architectural detail is all around you. Look, and you’ll find it!
4. Some of best Turkish decoration and art is in the mosques
Most mosques are quite modest from the outside, but inside is another story. Glorious art adorns the walls and ceilings. The carpets are special, and feel sumptuous underfoot, and the stained glass windows dazzle in the sunlight. The Rustem Paca mosque takes it up a notch with charming Iznik tiles in all shades of blue.
Even if you aren’t into architecture or art, I defy you not to be dazzled.
5. The Bosphorus is probably the most fascinating waterway in the world
Regular readers will know I love water. I actively seek it out wherever I can. Istanbul was therefore a match made in heaven for me, and the Bosphorus was a must see. And it didn’t disapppoint – large container ships, fancy yachts, humble traditional fishing boats, and stunning waterside architecture, it had it all.
I can’t wait to go back and explore it further!
6. Hagia Sophia is truly breathtaking
I was looking forward to visiting Hagia Sophia. I’d admired photos of it online and in books, and I couldn’t wait. I don’t know about you, but I do always wonder if I’m going to be disappointed in these grand must-see sites. Will it be much smaller? Will it be dull? Or will it just disappoint in its ordinariness?
Hagia Sophia was even more beautiful than I could ever imagine. Not just the main downstairs area, but the upstairs galleries, and the mosaics. To die for! I was left speechless with its beauty. While I did take loads of photos, this was one place where I’m so glad I just put the camera away, and absorbed and enjoyed. Awe-inspiring!
7. Istanbul is friendly for solo female travellers
I felt safe in Istanbul. Sure, carpet salesmen and tourist touts are everywhere, but generally, I found them respectful and harmless.
The young man outside Hagia Sophia who was young enough to be my son and pleaded “but Madam, you have such beautiful hands!” as he tried to sell me a cruise was hilarious! The carpet salesman in the Grand Bazaar did need a brusque “leave me alone!” when he approached me for the THIRD time.
Walking in busy areas at night was not a problem. Dining alone was comfortable. I felt safe and secure at all times (taking the normal precautions of course).
I’m visiting Istanbul again later this year, and I can’t wait to learn and experience more of what it has to offer. Maybe then I’ll be able to write my guide!
If you know Istanbul well, what would you recommend to other travellers?