Updated April 2020.
It’s Faraway Friday, and this week we’re jetting off to exotic Istanbul! If you’ve talked to me about my most and least favorite places I’ve visited, Istanbul does not make the most favorite list. Turkey was an amazing country to visit, however, and Istanbul did have some high notes. If you find yourself in Istanbul, here are 10 reasons to enjoy the city across two continents!
10. The Grand Bazaar
The Grand Bazaar is an experience to have, but for a non-shopper like me, it was overwhelming. So overwhelming, in fact, I didn’t even think to take any pictures! A tip: keep your money easily accessible to you but not to pickpockets (a money belt is a good option, as are hidden pockets in scarves, on the inside of your shirt, or in your bra for the ladies.
9. The Skyline
Istanbul has some imposing and impressive skyline views. The mosques with their minarets are very dramatic against the sea and especially the sunset.
8. The Call to Prayer
The first time I head it that first afternoon I was in Istanbul, it was startling! Turns out there was a minaret right out my hotel window! But once I got used to it, I found myself embracing the true Turkish experience. This is a minaret, which announces the call to prayer several times per day.
7. The Egyptian Obelisk
This obelisk was originally one half of a pair created for Pharaoh Theodosius of Egypt in the 15th century B.C. From there, this monument has had a complicated and trying history. In fact, it has shrunk by almost 30 feet and traveled from Egypt to Athens to Constantinople! It’s worth a visit and a photo op.
6. Ottoman Palaces
The Ottomans built many palaces for their Sultans from the 15th to 19th centuries. We visited the oldest, the Topkapi Palace. It was beautiful and well-preserved, and is now a museum. You can even visit the harem!
5. Tile Work
The tile work in all of Turkey was impressive, but most so in Istanbul. Everywhere we looked–floors, walls, ceilings, etc.–we saw beautiful, intricate painting and tile work. I wish I could have brought some home with me!
4. Hagia Sophia
I’m about to blow your mind. This building was the Roman Empire’s first Christian Cathedral, dating from 537 A.D. In 1493, it was converted into an Ottoman Mosque. It is beautiful, inside and out, and It is absolutely a site to visit while you’re in Istanbul. Ladies, you will have to be covered, including your head, when you visit (scarves are provided free of charge if you forget). Everyone will have to take off their shoes.
Essential info: How to Respectfully Visit a Mosque
3. The Blue Mosque
The Turkish name for this structure is Sultanahmet Camii. This is still an active mosque, and while visitors are welcome, non-worshippers will be turned away for half an hour during each of the 5 daily calls to prayer. It is free to enter, so don’t let anyone trick you into paying. Please be respectful, cover yourself (including women’s heads), and everyone will have to take off their shoes.
2. Cross Two Continents
As a traveler, this is a very cool thing to do! While Istanbul, Turkey, technically straddles Europe and Asia at the Bosphorus Straight, it’s culturally and ethnically so different from either of them. Definitely take a boat ride around the Bosphorus and visit two continents in mere minutes!
1. Christian Murals
This was the most surprising thing about Turkey. I was shocked to see paintings of Jesus and his disciples inside the mosques in Istanbul. For one thing, mosques are Islamic places of worship. For another, why would the powers that be keep them uncovered and preserved? I learned that all the historic mosques were Christian churches before Islam became the official religion of the region, and they do value all of their history in Turkey.
Want more? Check out all my recommendations on my Turkey Page!
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