Seven things I know about Istanbul

Hi Frugalistas!  This was meant to be a short guide to Istanbul.  But despite having spent four days there, I feel so ill-equiped write it.  Sure I went to the “big three” sites of Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace and the Blue Mosque.  Sure, I went to the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Market.  A Bosphorus cruise was a given.  I woke every morning to sound of the call to prayer at the Blue Mosque, and I ate street food and lokum (Turkish delight).  But I just don’t feel qualified to write a guide to Istanbul – it’s just too rich, and there’s just too much for that.

But this is what I do know about Istanbul:

1.  In Istanbul, cats rule

cat in Istanbul being patted, travel, travel tips, travel planning

Another friendly local

I’ve already posted about the cats in Istanbul.  In Istanbul, cats rule.  Restauranteurs and shop keepers feed them.  Tourists pat them and photograph them.  The cats are on a good thing, and they know it!

2.  The food is beyond amazing

travel, travel tips, travel planning, plates of Turkish food at brunch in Istanbul

Amazing blogger breakfast

Whether it is a simit (a bread knot somewhat like a German bretzel) from a street vendor or a three course Ottoman banquet in a fancy restaurant, Turkish food is beyond amazing.  And don’t even get me started on the sweets!  My favorite meal (so far)?  A brunch I had with some fellow bloggers – Turkish preserves, cheeses, salad, hot dishes – so much, and just so good!  For delicious street food, I thoroughly recommend the simit with Nutella – yum!

travel, travel tips, travel planning, a street stall outside the Spice Market selling simit

A street vendor selling simit

3.  Architectural features are everywhere

It doesn’t matter whether it’s a tiny shop selling sweets and drinks, or just a random Roman wall, architectural detail is all around you.  Look, and you’ll find it!

travel, travel tips, travel planning, an old door in the Galata area of Istanbul

A random door in Galata

4.  Some of best Turkish decoration and art is in the mosques

travel, travel tips, travel planning, painted ceiling decoration inside the dome of the Blue Mosque

Detail inside the Blue Mosque

Most mosques are quite modest from the outside, but inside is another story.  Glorious art adorns the walls and ceilings.  The carpets are special, and feel sumptuous underfoot, and the stained glass windows dazzle in the sunlight.  The Rustem Paca mosque takes it up a notch with charming Iznik tiles in all shades of blue.

Even if you aren’t into architecture or art, I defy you not to be dazzled.

5.  The Bosphorus is probably the most fascinating waterway in the world

Regular readers will know I love water.  I actively seek it out wherever I can.  Istanbul was therefore a match made in heaven for me, and the Bosphorus was a must see.  And it didn’t disapppoint – large container ships, fancy yachts, humble traditional fishing boats, and stunning waterside architecture, it had it all.

travel, travel tips, travel planning, a container ship, yacht on the Bosphorus, with the bridge to the Asian side of Istanbul in the background

Life on the Bosphorus

I can’t wait to go back and explore it further!

6.  Hagia Sophia is truly breathtaking

travel, travel tips, travel planning, a panoramic view of the interior of Hagia Sophia

The grandeur of Hagia Sophia

I was looking forward to visiting Hagia Sophia.  I’d admired photos of it online and in books, and I couldn’t wait.  I don’t know about you, but I do always wonder if I’m going to be disappointed in these grand must-see sites.  Will it be much smaller?  Will it be dull?  Or will it just disappoint in its ordinariness?

Hagia Sophia was even more beautiful than I could ever imagine.  Not just the main downstairs area, but the upstairs galleries, and the mosaics.  To die for!  I was left speechless with its beauty.  While I did take loads of photos, this was one place where I’m so glad I just put the camera away, and absorbed and enjoyed.  Awe-inspiring!

detail of a mosaic of a cross in Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, travel, travel tips, travel planning

Mosaic detail in Hagia Sophia

7.  Istanbul is friendly for solo female travellers

I felt safe in Istanbul.  Sure, carpet salesmen and tourist touts are everywhere, but generally, I found them respectful and harmless.

The young man outside Hagia Sophia who was young enough to be my son and pleaded “but Madam, you have such beautiful hands!” as he tried to sell me a cruise was hilarious!  The carpet salesman in the Grand Bazaar did need a brusque “leave me alone!” when he approached me for the THIRD time.

travel, travel tips, travel planning, Agia Sophia from the Hippodrome at night, Istanbul

Enjoying the Hippodrome at night

Walking in busy areas at night was not a problem.  Dining alone was comfortable.  I felt safe and secure at all times (taking the normal precautions of course).

I’m visiting Istanbul again later this year, and I can’t wait to learn and experience more of what it has to offer.  Maybe then I’ll be able to write my guide!

If you know Istanbul well, what would you recommend to other travellers?


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14 Comments on “Seven things I know about Istanbul”

  1. jpilkington09 03/02/2014 at 8:50 am #

    I still haven’t made it out to Istanbul but it seems to be becoming increasingly popular. Glad to see you had such a great time – has it made it into your favourite European cities?

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 03/02/2014 at 2:04 pm #

      Definitely, John! I’ve already planned my return. I’d rank up there with Paris and Barcelona in my top three European cities – it exceeded all my expectations in every way.

  2. Lady, Relocated 03/02/2014 at 10:30 am #

    Thank you for sharing. I especially appreciated #7. Good to know you felt safe, that’s always a concern traveling solo as a female. I can’t wait to visit Istanbul soon!

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 03/02/2014 at 6:51 pm #

      You just need to take the same precautions as you would in any big city, and in any touristy area. I hope you enjoy it!

  3. Pamela 03/02/2014 at 4:05 pm #

    Totally agree with all of the above, Istanbul is a wonderful place to visit. In addition, found a visit to the underground cistern an interesting experience. All the old Graeco-Roman columns that they cannibalised from other sites to hold up the roof. There are some wonderful historic old Turkish baths as well, not far away. Of course if you have time – a visit to Gallipoli, especially for Aussies and Kiwis.

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 03/02/2014 at 6:54 pm #

      Yes, Pamela, I did make it to the underground cistern and also found it very interesting. The hammam is also a must do as far as I am concerned, and their architecture is also wonderful. I still have Gallipoli on my list for a future visit.

  4. Zof 03/02/2014 at 6:39 pm #

    Yes! I totally second that!

  5. Katie Featherstone 14/02/2014 at 9:44 pm #

    Nice to hear that you felt welcome as a solo-traveller. I’d go to Istanbul just for the food- it looks amazing!

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 18/02/2014 at 6:23 am #

      The food is amazing, but like most things in Istanbul, I didn’t get to try so much of it!

  6. Nic 18/02/2014 at 3:34 am #

    One of the most beautiful features of Istanbul are its decorative stained glass buildings that can be found throughout the city. It is truly a wonderful place to visit.

  7. Henry Ranger 20/02/2014 at 3:45 pm #

    I aint never thought about going to Istanbul, but your pics make me want to go! What an incredible place. I love the stained glass man! That were really something.

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