In this latest installment from guest contributor Navjot Singh, a well-known British author, journalist and photographer, we are guided through the city of Istanbul. Be sure to check back in with us for some more insightful reviews from Navjot’s travel exploits.
The city of Istanbul, with a population of just under 14 million people, is a fusion of overloaded senses. I suppose Istanbul can be classed as the Shanghai or the Mumbai of Turkey, because it’s not the capital city, yet it’s a very culturally and historically vibrant place to visit. There is so much to do and see. If you are a photographer, you could be here for days, weeks, or even months and still find some different inspiration every day.
Touring the City
Being a stranger in the city, I decided to explore its sights and smells without a map and with a camera in my hand. I have always found getting lost to be the best way to familiarize myself with a new city.
Some of the things that I noticed only a few hours after landing in Istanbul were the beautiful crimson skies in the evening, the cats wandering around everywhere (Istanbul is the city of cats), the very hospitable Turkish people, the smell of roasted chestnuts, beautiful mosques towering the skyline with their minarets (there are over 3,000 at the latest count), hazelnuts, fresh pomegranate juice, fish kebab meat by the Galata, and the call for prayer five times a day.
A well-planned trip of Istanbul can ensure that the historic parts of the city are seen in just 48 hours. If you start early in the morning, at around 8am, then the following attractions can all be experienced in one full day. Although I would recommend that they are seen in the same order as written: Byzantine Hippodrome, The Sultanahmet (Blue) Mosque, Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarnıçı), Ayasofya (Hagia Sophia Museum) – closed on Mondays, Topkapi Palace – closed on Tuesdays, and the The Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Hamami (Istanbul’s best Turkish bath).
I would also recommend setting aside one more day to experience the Bosphorus River Cruise, Grand Bazaar, Egyptian (Spice) Bazaar (both bazaars are closed on Sundays), and the nightlife near the Galata Bridge as they are all connected, including the ferry piers for the river cruise. The old city is full of life. It is busy, but there is no hustle & bustle, and everything and everyone seems to be in perfect harmony.
If like me, you plan to spend more than 48 hours in Istanbul; your final day can be spent on the other side of the town. Here you can experience the Dolmabahçe Palace (closed on Mondays and Tuesdays), and the Beyoğlu (Pera), which showcases the romance of 19th-century Istanbul. You should also check out the Cicek Pasaji (Flower Passage), and Nevizade – a small street of local pubs and tiny restaurants.
Recommended Places to Eat
For a city that is known for its fresh seafood, thick yogurts, heavy meats, and out of this world desserts, Istanbul does not disappoint when it comes to food. It all really depends on what kind of food you want. If you prefer to try fresh seafood from the nearby waters, then dine at the fine New Galata Restaurant situated under the Galata Bridge. For those wishing to eat like a real Ottoman Turk, then head to the Asitane Restaurant near the Kariye Museum, where all of the recipes derive from the Topkapi Palace. It’s not just about kebabs, you know? There is plenty of flavor from nice crunchy Turkish salads, richly thick yogurts, and plenty of exotic fruit drinks.
Where to Stay
Istanbul hosts some of the best hotels in the world. There is something for everyone – ranging from hostels for backpackers (nestled away neatly in the famous Sultanahmet area), to the upper pillars of luxury in the form of The Ritz-Carlton, Istanbul. The latter towers over the European side of the city, and overlooks the border between the old and new city, and provides eye watering views of the Bosphorus River, and the Dolmabahçe Palace.
How to Get There
There is no better way to fly to Istanbul than with Turkish Airlines, which has been voted as Europe’s Best Airline for 2012 by Skytrax, and is the major operator out of the city’s busy Ataturk Airport. Turkish Airlines flies to over 200 destinations around the world.
To learn more about Navjot and his travels, be sure to check out his website: www.navjot-singh.com.
Featured Image: Grand Bazaar (Navjot Singh)