When you tell people who have been to Istanbul, 9 times out of ten, they will say it’s one of their most favorite cities in the world. Maybe it’s the stunning architecture, or it’s unique geography – physically connecting Asia and Europe, or the amazing cuisine and sophisticate urbanites; but there is an intangible magic about the place. Each city I’ve traveled in Europe and Asia has special way about it, but Istanbul feels like home and completely foreign at the same time.
One of my favorite memories is standing on the rooftop terrace of my hotel, looking out over the city and the Bosphorus and listening to the evening ezan. The song-like call to prayer is broadcast from all mosques at certain times of day but in the evening it felt like it filled the air, whirling through the city.
Another sight that I’m glad I didn’t miss (I was reluctant at first) was the Basilica Cistern. I have to be honest, it sounded a bit boring to me, but I found it to be quite impressive, and that was after I’d seen the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia!
A person could spend days walking around the Sultanahamet district. That’s where you will find the Cistern as well as Hagai Sophia, the Blue Mosque, Topkaki Palace and much more. The Grand Bazaar is nearby also, 15 minutes or so on foot.
I stayed at The Witt, in the very hip neighborhood of Cihangir. It’s walking distance to many sights like Taksim Square, Istiklal Caddesi and Istanbul Modern, and also to the Tram which will quickly get you to Topkapi Palace, the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, and the Basilica Cistern among others. Quick not about the Witt, I absolutely loved it! It’s chic, and the rooms are spacious and well decorated each with their own kitchen. It’s a small boutique hotel, so not a ton of amenities, but it had everything I needed an more. And the breakfast (included) was truly amazing.
I hired a guide to take me on a half day tour my first morning in Istanbul.It was a good way to get a feel for the city and how to get around. You’ll want at least 3 days to see some of most common tourist sights blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and the like, and I’d recommend 2 days just to wander the streets of the old city, and the general area around the Witt.
Many of the sights of interest to tourists are condensed into a relatively walk-able area, but there are some sights that will require a great deal of walking or a Taxi ride to find such as Suleymaniye Mosque. Trafic in Istanbul is infamous, especially around rush hour, so it’s best to plan accordingly. I found the Tram to be very easy and comfortable. For the more remote sights I chose to walk, sometimes up to an hour from the old city. I enjoy walking. I find it’s the best way to get a feel for a new city. However, the days I did my most adventurous walking – off main roads on meandering streets – I was with my guide and a few times she even she needed to ask directions which I would not have been able to do (language barrier).
I was alone there, but I think it would make for a superb romantic getaway as well. Like I said, there is something magical about the place.