Since this is the beginning of our 5-part Travel Series on Turkey, let me start this post with my favorite cup of Turkish Coffee. I’ve talked about how I’ve fallen in love with this deep, dark roasted coffee in my April Fave Things. That post is actually the “real” beginning of my Turkey blog posts, but I can’t help mention it here again as this coffee has become a part of my daily routine the whole (almost) 2 weeks I was there. I love the flavor, the aroma, the history behind it and I will also not discount the fact, that Turkish Coffee always comes in some of the most beautiful cups I’ve ever seen! (In this photo, it comes in a polished silver cup, on a silver tray.)
Due to the length of this trip, I’ve decided to break my story on Turkey into 3 parts, to reflect the 3 legs of our journey. This will also help you somehow if you are planning a trip to Turkey one of these days. Sequence-wise, these 3 parts are arranged in chronological order to give you a better idea of what to see in each part of Turkey that we went to.
If you were to base it alone on my Instagram posts, you can already tell how many hundreds of photos I took! So I am warning you: my travel posts on Turkey will be photo heavy!
Let us now begin…
We first went to Istanbul, the largest city in Turkey. Here we stayed at the newly-opened ShangriLa Bosphorus which boasts of a prime location that has a breathtaking view of the Strait of Bosphorus, the deep blue body of water that makes Istanbul so unique, as it divides this city into two continents, Asia and Europe.
In this hotel, we had the best of everything: rooms, service, and food! Oh, the glorious food!
Take a look at some of the most delicious Turkish dishes we had here:
Now going to the sights…
We went to see a whole lot of them, but I’ve narrowed it down to the most important ones, starting with:
1) The Blue Mosque
One cannot go Istanbul without seeing (or having a photo) with the Blue Mosque!
The Blue Mosque is possibly the most famous landmark in Istanbul. It has been standing proud in its original location since year 1616, the greatest period of the Ottoman Empire. It is both massive and magnificent, inside and out, as the Blue Mosque dominates Istanbul’s skyline. There are six minarets all around the structure, shining silver in the sun, piercing the air like rockets about to shoot up!
Built four hundred years ago by Sultan Ahmet I, the Blue Mosque was designed to rival the great church of Hagia Sophia, which is literally just a stone’s throw away to the north.
Due to the dominant blue color of the Iznik ceramics used in its interiors, it became well known by foreigners as the ‘Blue Mosque’.
Outside, on the streets of Istanbul, was the beautiful sight and smell of freshly grilled golden corn! My kids and I would eat this as our snack in between our visits to the many mosques and palaces!
Up next is the:
2) Topkapi Palace
The Topkapi Palace was built in 1478, when the city was called Constantinople. This Palace served as the former home of the ruling Ottoman sultans then. Having been their rulers’ home, the Palace is huge—massive courtyards, dozens of rooms, and elaborate decor. Back then, it was actually considered a city within a city due to its large size.
What I loved most about this Palace were the interiors, mostly made of superb ceramic Iznik tiles, stained glass windows, painted ceiling, and mother-of-pearl and tortoiseshell inlay.
3) The Hagia Sophia is another glorious and stunning architecture in Istanbul, that’s definitely worth a visit. The name “Hagia Sophia“ means the Church of Holy Wisdom. This was first built in 360 AD.
The Hagia Sophia’s history amazing. It was a former Christian church (for 916 years), turned into a Muslim mosque (for 482 years), and now it is officially a museum (since 1935). Architecture-wise, it a beautiful combination of Byzantine and Islamic style. It sits in the old city part of Istanbul called Sultan Ahmet, and it is one of UNESCO’s World heritage sites for Turkey.
The large dome, the Christian frescoes, and the Islamic calligraphy (as seen in this photo) represent the history of 3 cities: Istanbul, Constantinople, and Byzantium.
Despite being one of Turkey’s most visited sites, the Hagia Sophia has a calm, quiet, almost saintly-like atmosphere. Everyone who steps inside is just filled with awe at the beauty and richness of its history and architecture.
Here is a picture of Christian mosaic art that proves that the Hagia Sophia was once used as a church before it became a mosque. Throughout the history of this church, gold tesserae was used frequently to decorate the interior.
Now if you are looking not just for historical sights, but for some serious shopping as well… the next place to visit is:
4) The Grand Bazaar
(I’ve mentioned its “sister” market, the Spice Market, in my April Fave Things.)
This is the bazaar to end all other bazaars. The Grand Bazaar is a massive 60-street marketplace with thousands of shops inside filled with tourists, vendors, and buyers. Let me already warn you that this is not your average shopping experience! The shopkeepers here are not shy about letting you know that they want your money and will do their best to get it.
So, of course, being a “seasoned” shopper, I shopped my way around and bargained like a pro! I went home with dozens of plastic bags filled with some of the most exciting souvenirs!
Spotted some good Shawarma or Döner stands here too! It was the perfect way to recharge after hours of shopping!
And before we end our post about Istanbul, there is another thing that you must do when in this city:
5) The Bosphorus Cruise
As I’ve mentioned in earlier in this post, the Bosphorus Strait is a historically important part of Istanbul, as it links the east and the west, dividing the city into Asia and Europe. Because of such location, many empires in the past have waged war and many men have died to gain control of this strategic strait of water.
Nowadays, Bosphorus is used as trading passage for large tankers and ships.
It is another major tourist attraction of Istanbul, so it is definitely worth taking the cruise around here.
The Bosphorus Cruise is a great introduction to prominent landmarks from a different view. There are many types of cruises and each one offers different time lengths. We decided to just take the one-hour cruise and the kids had a grand time seeing a lot of Istanbul’s green parks, huge palaces, and beautiful mosques from a boat’s point of view.
Whether it is a short 1-hour tour or a day’s trip that goes all the way to the mouth of the Black Sea, the Bosphorus Cruise should be on everyone’s list of things to do in Istanbul!
And this ends our Istanbul part of the trip. Stay tuned to our Part 2 of our Turkey story!
Read about my entire Turkey trip:
Also, read more about my Favorite Things from Turkey.