If you are planning your first trip to Istanbul, I would recommend at least 3 days to allow yourself enough time to explore this magical city. Istanbul, a perfect mash-up of East and West, holds a special place in my heart. I love the mix of old and new, the traditional and the trendy, the ancient and the modern. Here’s my list of top 5 places that you must visit in Istanbul:
1) THE GRAND BAZAAR IN ISTANBUL
I found myself getting lost in the beautiful maze of streets and passages inside the Grand Bazaar. The bazaar has about 5,000 shops that feature beautiful items such as jewelry, carpets, spices, antiques and hand-painted ceramics. It’s hard not to get lost in this chaos, so try to remember where you entered before wandering around. And you also need to sharpen your bargaining skills before plunging into shopping spree at this lovely market.
2) BLUE MOSQUE
Due to the fact that Blue Mosque is a working mosque you need to plan your visit carefully, as the mosque is closed to sightseers during their daily prayer times for Muslims (and they pray about 5 times a day!). You can go to Blue Mosque’s website to check out their schedule for prayer times. All visitors must remove their shoes and all women must cover their hair. If you forget to bring a scarf with you to cover your hair, don’t worry because you can find lots of street vendors selling scarves right outside the mosque.
3) EGYPTIAN SPICE BAZAAR
When you enter the Spice Bazaar, take a deep breath and you can smell that wonderful rich aroma of the exotic East. Spices, dried fruits, cheeses, sausages, jams, nuts and seeds, Turkish Delights and other edibles fill most of the shops. My greatest joy in Istanbul was sampling and shopping for the best Turkish delight! I did learn the best kind are not pre-packaged shiny-looking boxes sold by stores or the ones tourists can find easily at the airport for souvenirs. Those are too sugary, powdery, and dry! The authentic Turkish Delights are the ones made fresh and cut in front of you, some even elegantly covered with dry edible flowers or fruits. Be sure to keep an eye out for these exotic authentic Turkish Delights at Spice Bazaar!
4) HAGIA SOPHIA
The Hagia Sophia was once a house of worship that served several religions over the centuries. It was a Roman Catholic church and then became a mosque in 1453, remaining that way until 1931, when it was closed. It reopened as a museum in 1935. It is the most famous for its mosaics depicting various religious scenes. It is the most-visited site in Turkey so you should consider buying an Istanbul Museum Pass to avoid the ticket line.
5) PANORAMIC RESTAURANT, ISTANBUL
The restaurant has incredible 360° views of Istanbul; most notably Aya Sophia and the Blue Mosque. It’s an experience not too be missed! We have the perfect view of the Golden Horn from our table. The Golden Horn geographically separates the historic center of Istanbul from the rest of the city, and forms a natural, sheltered harbor. The food here is decent, the price is reasonable, and the staff are friendly. You can go up to their rooftop and take some amazing pictures of the magical Istanbul at night-time.
Besides these top 5 places that you must visit, there are so many other interesting activities that you should also consider, like drinking traditional Turkish tea in elegant tulip-shaped glasses at any outdoor cafe or inside any bazaar, hydrate with freshly squeezed pomegranate juice from street vendors, sampling Turkish delights, bargaining for the finest cashmeres and pashminas, listening to the call of prayer between the Blue Mosque and Sophia Hagia, the list goes on! Istanbul is one of my favorite destinations and can’t wait to come back to this magical city one day.
Have you ever been to Istanbul? If you have any additional tips for our readers or questions please leave these in the comments below.
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