Like a magnificent phoenix risen from the ashes, Istanbul has had a turbulent past. Previously under the rule of three empires, Turkey now stands tall and proud boasting to be one of the largest tourism destinations in the world.
Having four distinct seasons, we somehow found ourselves there in the peak of winter and in the middle of a blizzard. None the less it was beautiful to see Turkey under a light dusting of snow and it certainly didn’t stop us from seeing all that it has to offer. The capital of Turkey is Ankara, not Istanbul as some might think. Istanbul is famous for its location, its bridges connected to Asia and Europe.
Shopping in Turkey Istanbul.
No trip to Istanbul would be complete without visiting the Grand Bazaar. Over five hundred years old and sprawling over sixty streets offering over five thousands shops, there is a travel curio with your name on it.
The Grand Bazaar has up to 350 000 visitors a day. Items for sale include Turkish lamps (I schlepped a six tear chandelier with me all the way back to South Africa in a back pack), spices, textiles, leather goods, towels and bedding, Turkish rugs, restaurants, sweet treats and of course Turkish Delights.
Haggling is expected, so don’t insult the vendors by offering the marked price. I bought the most amazing tan lamb’s leather jacket. The manikin in the window tempted me and I literally emptied my pockets and wallet to get it, but still at a very good discount.
You will most likely also be approached by a young attractive locals who will try lure you to their family owned back street store. It’s understandable that not being on the main drag they need to lure tourists into their hidden stores trying to sell knock off brand names as originals. These items are often overruns and have all the brand name tell-tale signs. I still have Polo shirts that are ten years old with years of wear left in them. You are not obliged to buy anything, but just be cautious and don’t follow anyone alone.
Taksim Square is another popular shopping district located in Beyoğlu. The infamous Istiklal Avenue is 1,4 km long and offers brand name stores (originals), restaurants, art galleries, nightclubs, bars, theatres, cinemas, and bazaars. It’s open late and the happening spot to be seen.
“Must Do” Istanbul Excursions.
Hagia Sophia and The Blue Mosque – Both Mosques are iconic historical landmarks in Istanbul and are not to be missed. Once inside The Blue Mosque you’ll see how it got its name. Thousands of blue handcrafted tiles adorn the walls. The tiles depict traditional Ottoman patterns with an amazing central dome measuring forty three meters. Both mosques are fully functioning so you will be expected to respect local customs. Silence is observed and knees, shoulders and upper arms need to be covered. Women need to cover their heads, so make sure you have a scarf with you. Entrance is free and donations are welcomed.
Take note that there are also five daily prayer times, so plan your visit around this.
The Basilica Cistern – This is the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns beneath İstanbul. It was built between the 3rd and 4th centuries during the Early Roman Age. Ancient texts state that this basilica had gardens. Inside this sunken basilica, you can find two columns reused blocks carved with the visage of Medusa and the Hen’s Eye.
Hammam’s – this is basically a bath house with sauna’s, steam rooms, cold showers, essential oil massages and salt body scrubs. There are many of them dotted around Turkey each offering a traditional century-old spa experience. Some popular hammams to look out for are the Beyazit and Sulemaniye baths and Kilic Ali Pasha Hamam in Beyoğlu.
On our 2nd visit to Istanbul we tried one. The “Traditional Experience” prices range from $40 – $60 depending on where you go. I have seen some bloggers advertisings the same experience for $3…not sure where they found that as prices are as above in all venues.
Many Hammam’s offer a Spa experience, this you can do anywhere in the world, so stick to the traditional one. It includes a steam room (men and ladies are separated) where you lye on a hot marble slab, followed by a full body scrub, and a full body soap wash. We were “man handled” by older Turkish men (mine was like 85 years old and weighed 60kg’s), so its definitely not a spa treatment with Enya playing in the background, but it was an experience that left you glowingly clean and invigorated.
The Cultural Center – a magnificent landmark featuring some of Turkeys traditional performing arts like the whirling dervishes.
Bosphorus cruise – See some of Istanbul’s most beautiful landmarks on this picturesque boat cruise for a really great price. You’ll see some of the city’s historical sights, its palaces and fortresses.
Food & Drink.
Drink – You have to try Turkish coffee at least once in your life! The strong muddy black coffee shot is definitely an acquired taste. The coffee is very finely ground so you have to let the “mud” settle before taking a sip. A sugar lump can be added to help with its bitterness. If coffee is not your thing then try the Turkish apple tea. Very refreshing and served in the most delicate glass cups. You will see these decorative tea sets for sale everywhere.
Raki is an alcohol made from twice distilled grapes and aniseed. Called “Lion’s Milk” due to its milky color when water is added.
Food – mostly inherited from the Ottoman era. It’s a fusion of Mediterranean, Balkan, Middle Eastern, Central Asian, Eastern European and Armenian. You would most likely upset the restaurateur by asking if Baklava wasn’t a Greek dish. There are many culinary similarities from surrounding countries, so it’s best not to put your foot in your mouth. Just smile and enjoy! The best way to experience Turkish food would be sampling the street food or by ordering a variety of meze’s (small dishes) from a restaurant.
We absolutely LOVED Turkey, albeit it in a snowstorm. The people are very hospitable and friendly, the shopping was amazing, and the food presented a different culinary experience. We’re definitely heading back to see it in warmer conditions.
Planning a trip to Turkey? See our Travel Resource page and start searching for the best flight tickets.
We also found using an international SIM very helpful. Using Google Maps and/or Moovit we never got lost. Install Airalo and get yourself some data. It’s much easier than buying a sim card for each destination and you can monitor and top up data when needed.