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Things To Do In Istanbul
The classic East meets West is really what the city of Istanbul signifies. Located at that junction where River Bosphorus divides the continents of Asia and Europe, Istanbul itself is sliced into two sides; and yet holds its own when it comes to culture. That is why it is perhaps one of the most beautiful cities of the world, breathing in the scent of all its past glories and present gravitas. For travellers and tourists, you have so many things to do when you visit Istanbul, from sightseeing to palace tours to ferry rides between Asia and Europe. Read on to find out about each in detail.
Take a Turkish Bath
The Turks didn’t bathe everyday in the old days, but had specific cleansing routines for one day of the week (usually Sunday). This, coupled with lack of in-house plumbing and drainage led to the formation of Public Baths or Hamams in the Turkey of ancient times. What started as a necessity has today become a luxury; the cool, white and blue tiled interiors of spacious bathhouses, suffused with saunas, spas and fragrant oil massages. These communal baths are offered by most hotels in Turkey, especially in Istanbul. You must try the Aga Hamami, Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamam and Ayasofya Hürrem Sultan Hamam in this city. The Four Seasons by the Bosphorus shore also offers some relaxing massages and baths.
Mosque and Palace Tour
The symbol of Istanbul itself is the Aya Sofiya Mosque, with its huge dome and minarets that flank its grandeur. For a city that is steeped in mosques and palaces such as these, a tour is must-do. So when in Istanbul, take aside two days for just an expedition through the Hagia Sofiya/ Aya Sofiya, Topkapi Palace, Dolmabahce Palace, Yildiz palace and many others. The mosques here include the great Blue Mosque, Sulemaniye Mosque, Mihrimah Sultan Mosque and Yeni Valide Mosque (both in the Asian side of Istanbul). You will be astounded at the sheer beauty and grandeur of each of these monuments, what with all that rich heritage seeping through their walls to you.
Haggle in the Bazars
Istanbul was one of the most oldest trade posts of Turkey, due to its unique location straddling the two continents. Merchants and traders from all over the world came to do business here; Indians, Arabs, Syrians, Egyptians etc. Today the city’s markets do great business too, as well as double up as tourist attraction. Visit the Spice Bazaar or the Egyptian Market for a haggling in spices, nuts and dry fruits along with coarse, Turkish coffees and teas. Go to the Grand Bazaar for everything that is inherently Turkish, from shawls to woven carpets, tapestries to lanterns and glass chandeliers, head scarves to silk fabrics and linens. Remember one thing though, be ready to unleash that Indian bargainer in you as haggling is a necessity when buying; and even amuses the vendor to tug the price.
Strolls by the sea
Istanbul is sliced by a river and kissed by a sea; what better way to enjoy a holiday in this city than picnicking by the river and fishing by the sea shore? The Black Sea or Kara Deniz is an ideal spot for long, idyllic strolls and sitting on lean-tos for a quiet sunset. The Istanbul City Port is where you can enjoy this too. People also choose the Bosphorus side promenade to walk, throw a fishing rod for amusement or just watch seagulls squeak and mull across waters. One of the most local things to do here is buy a couple of pretzels (simit) from local vendors and feed the seagulls, all the while snacking on some yourself. For serious fishing you must go to the Galata Bridge. If you are fond of beaches, you can also head to Burgazada (in Princes Islands) and enjoy the sands, lushness and churches.
Hunt down Cafes in Galata
The Galata neighbourhood is a famous place for sightseeing, dining and strolling near the Bosphorus on the European side. First head to the Galata Tower and enjoy majestic views of the whole city from its rooftop. There is also a restaurant on the top if you wish to dine. Coming down to the neighbourhood, Galata is home to a great scene of cafes, ice-cream (dondurma) shops and stalls selling Turkish items. Some of the best cafes here are Galata Konak Cafe, Old Java Coffee Roasters, Velvet Cafe and İstiklal. Then there is Eminonu, a waterfront square nearby that operates as a ferry terminal and houses a number of pretzel and tea vendors along with open air dining cafes, flea markets, benches and a meeting area. There is also a tram stop here. Galata Bridge is also nearby, where you can go for fishing and photography tours.
Visit the Asian side of Istanbul
The Asian side of Istanbul is mostly residential, seeing as the European side is filled with heritage buildings and hosts many a business centres and markets. Üsküdar is one of the oldest and widespread neighbourhoods of Asian Istanbul, touching the river Bosphorus. You can go to see Kiz Kunesi or Maiden’s Tower here, walk across the maze of many cafes, clubs, graffiti painted walls and dynamic districts of Kadıköy and Karakoy areas, shop in Bağdat Street and have a nice picnic at Heybeliada. Fenerbahçe is another great waterfront area, a marina with quaint breakfast bars and restaurants.
Eat until you are stuffed
Istanbul is a foodie’s paradise. In every sense of the word, every foodie of the world will find salvation here. The city not only has incredible meat and non vegetarian options but also boasts of so many vegetarian as well as vegan dishes nowadays. Start with street foods like simit (pretzels with sesame seeds), ekmek (crusty bread sandwiches with kofte/ salads), balak ekmek (mackerel sandwiches) and dondurma (thick ice-cream). Other Turkish delicacies include Pilaf (made of rice, butter and chickpeas/chicken), menemen (masala omelette), kebabs and shorbas. Do also make it a point to drink copious amounts of thick brewed Turkish kahve or coffe, chay or tea and ayran or fermented buttermilk. Local Turkish alcohol is Raki, usually taken with finger food like fish. And to satisfy sweet cravings, there is borek and baklava.