Istanbul Was Constantinople
People of a certain age always think of the song Instanbul and the lyric - "Istanbul was Constantinople" when Instanbul comes up in conversation. When you actually travel there it's hard to keep the song out of your head. The hustle and bustle of the remarkable city is certainly captured in the rythm of the tune.
The history of Instanbul is long and storied. Many books have been written about it. We will simply focus on the places you must not miss if Istanbul is one of your destinations.
This large city is divided by the Bosphorus River. The east part of the city is in Europe and the west is Asia. This split personality is prevalent in many aspects of the Instanbul culture. This ancient city has strong ties to its history and culture but also offers all the modern amenities of any large urban city. Home to over 13 million people and stretching over 2,000 square miles this metropolis cannot be fully explored in just a day or two.
The city of Istanbul is rich in culture. Its people are warm and eager to share their treasures. Be sure to experience all the tastes and smells it has to offer.
A few important points to remember when traveling around Instanbul. As always when traveling, know where you're going. Instanbul can be daunting. There is a lot of traffic and many people. If you can afford to hire a guide doing so will save you lots of time, energy and frustration. You will be amazed at how many tourists there are visiting. Cruise ships arrive daily and passengers descend upon all the top attractions quickly. Perhaps surprisingly tourists come mostly from places other than the U.S. - American tourists number only some 500,000 annually. Even so, it's usually easy to find someone who speaks English. The most unusual thing is that most taxi drivers don't seem to know how to get to many places so be sure you have a map or someone to help explain your destination.
Here's some of the do-not-miss attractions in Instanbul:
Topkapi Palace Home of the Ottoman Sultans the palace is located on the cape of the peninsula where Constantinoble was founded. The palace takes several hours to visit and history buffs could easily spend days exploring here. It's important to note that several of the important historic sites are in this area and can all be explored on the same day if you're mindful of your time and arrive at the hot spots before the cruise ships. The hand-crafted tiles and many rooms including the harem rooms and the treasury are not to be missed.
Hagia Sophia This site was first a Byzantine church, then Ottoman mosque and now a Turkish museum. Not as grand as some of the other mosques in Istanbul but because of its historic significance certainly worth a visit.
Blue Mosque The Sultan Ahmed Mosque otherwise known as the Blue Mosque because of the turquoise colored tiles made of quartz on the walls of its interior. One of the most famous sites in Istanbul this mosque is still actively used so please be mindful of the people who are worshipping. While visiting Istanbul you will quickly become accustomed to the call to prayer that happens 5 times a day and is broadcast throughout the city via the minarets of the mosques. Many Muslims still practice their faith and stop for the time of prayer but Istanbul is a very secular city so shops and restaurants are not affected unless it is Friday, the Muslim day of worship. The Blue Mosque and its six minarets and perfect dome are well worth seeing.
Cruise the Bosphorus A ferry boat ride on the Bosphorus is a lovely way to relax after a full day of city exploring. There are many different options available. Grab a Turkish coffee or tea and a simit (a tasty bread ring with sesame seeds sold by many street vendors) and enjoy the beautiful view. The Bosphorus Bridge also features many spots for eating and drinking and watching the river traffic.
Galata Tower For a spectacular view of the city check out the Galata Tower. It was a prison and later an observatory. it was then restored in the 60s to include a restaurant and nightclub - just stick to the observation deck and you won't be disappointed.
Grand Bazaar Long a center of commerce and trade between the East (Orient) and West (Occident) this is where the Genoese and Venetian vendors had their warehouses of brass, copper, rugs and tiles. This famous shopping bazaar is well worth a visit. You won't believe the number of vendors, over 5,000 - each one waiting to haggle with you. Turkish rugs, leather, handbags, books, jewelry, and many gold merchants you name it you can find it in the Grand Bazaar. But be sure to bargain or you'll pay too much.
Turkish Delights Turkish Delights are a candy that comes in many forms and flavors and shouldn't be missed. There are so many tasty Turkish dishes and teas to explore we'll save that for another day. Just be aware that Istanbul is undoubtedly a paradise for the food loving traveler.
Spice Market This 17th century marketplace is still the most visited bazaar by locals for all the fresh spices and ingredients. Spices, dried fruits, nuts, seeds, cheeses and of course Turkish Delight. Right next to the New Mosque on the Golden Horn, this is the place to pick up some terrific souvenirs. If you leave the builidng you'll find even more shopping on the streets around all sides of the building.
Taksim Square Considered the pulse of modern Istanbul, this is one of the busiest spots in the city. From here you can walk up Istiklal Street. Several miles of shopping on this pedestrian-only route is the center of the shopping and nightlife district of Beyoglu. Be sure to stop by one of the chestnut vendors. You'll be happy & surprised to know that they are typically retired police officers who help keep an eye on the tourists safety.
Look for insights on our hotel and restaurant recommendations in an upcoming article.
If you are looking for a destination that will provide you with tremendous cultural, historic and culinary experiences be sure to put Istanbul on your list.