We have always been drawn to the magical stories of Arabian nights. Whenever somebody mentions Turkey, and specially Istanbul, floods of alluring colors, aromas, textures and tastes instantly come to mind.
Frequently considered the last stop in Europe and the first stop in Asia, Istanbul really does offer you the best of both worlds. With enticing gems around every corner, Istanbul can be the most romantic city in the world or the wildest.
Willing to unlock the ancient secrets of this city, we bought two plane tickets and headed to Turkey’s most vibrant city. With its centuries-old architecture, its traditional hammams and the smell of the spices lingering in the air, the history-laced city overwhelmed our senses in ways we had never felt before.
Journey to the Old City
Sultanahmet, the historical centre of the city, is home to the most renowned attractions including the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Basilica Cistern and the Grand Bazaar.
Our charming hotel was conveniently located right at the heart of the famed district so it definitely helped us make the most of our visit. We traveled in time with visits to magnificent mosques and palaces like the 6th-century St.Sophia (Click here to read my article about this wonder of the ancient world) and the 17th-century Blue Mosque which left us speechless (Click here to read my article about this masterpiece of Islamic Ottoman architecture).
At sunset, we would treat ourselves to an unforgettable afternoon with drinks at the hotel´s rooftop terrace overlooking the city´s mosques and minarets all the way to the Marmara sea.
When we began to feel overwhelmed by all the activity, we recharged with a midday break at one of the surrounding cafés. We loved coming to this terrace because apart from being so cute, there was also a golden puppy that stole our hearts from the very first day.
After lingering over a few cups of Turkish tea, we would while away the hours at the bazaars. Overflowing with spices, carpets and Turkish delight, the largest covered market in the world is definitely a fascinating place to shop and explore.
The first day, we couldn´t help but feeling like a mouse in a maze! But once we got accustomed to vendors’ continual chattering and haggling it was so much fun! Shopping for hidden treasures became our best daytime activity. Click here to read my article about “The Most Unique Souvenirs In Istanbul”.
The 17th century Egyptian Market—Istanbul’s spice bazaar— absolutely amazed us with its jumble of colors. I specially loved the rose-scented Turkish Delight which was beautifully packaged in gift boxes to take home.
Walking across Istanbul’s old Galata Bridge was a delightful way to meet the locals. During the day, the bridge is crowded with street vendors, fishermen and İstanbullus crossing to and from Beyoğlu and Eminönü.
We got lost in the old world charm of literature in a cute bookstore that was tucked down a side street close to Galata. As soos as I walked in, time seemed to stand still. Right opposite to the tiny store, there was a charming cafe where we enjoyed our book and coffee.
Sipping afternoon tea at quayside cafes to savour the view of the ferries and sailboats passing by was possibly one of the most perfect ways to spend the last moments of the day.
Istanbul is famous for its popular desserts. After a high-energy morning of touring, an afternoon stop for a blissful mint tea with some treats was a welcome respite. Beyond delicious, Baklava, is the sultan of sweets. The rich, sweet pastry is made of layers of filo filled with walnut and pistachio nuts and a drizzling of lemon syrup.
My Favorite Restaurants
There are a overwhelming number of fantastic restaurants and local food stalls to be tried in Istanbul. Here are a few recommendations:
House of Medusa Restaurant
This lovely restaurant situated in Sultanahmet had us coming back two days in a row. The garden area is absolutely delightful. The main courses were fabulous but its desserts were to die for!
For a real taste of Turkey, we also tried some “meze” appetizers at this quaint restaurant in the Galata district. Renowned for its delectable, traditional Turkish breakfasts, Café Privato is a favorite of locals and tourists alike.