Turkey and Istanbul have never been on our must visit list, but since it’s right next to Bulgaria and we go there almost every year we decided to finally give it a try ( that was back in 2012 ). And wow, we were very impressed and we loved our short visit. It’s sad that circumstances happening there right now have declined the tourism, but at the time we went there it felt extremely safe and welcoming. You need at least 3 days to experience this culturally rich and ancient city full of mixtures of old and new.
For us getting there was easy, we took a quick bus ride from Plovdiv, Bulgaria to Istanbul and from there we flew back directly to USA. One of us is a Bulgarian passport holder and the other one is US passport holder, so we didn’t need a visa to get in the country. Getting around there is as easy as it can get and locals are always willing to help you if ever get lost. We used their metro and tram to get in and out of the bus station and the airport and everywhere else we walked.
Quick tip: There is a direct flight from LAX to Istanbul with Turkish Airlines . We use that as a connection stop on our way to the Maldives this past year, 2016. So it’s actually a very convenient stopover to explore the city if you are going to some other destination.
The TOP experiences in Istanbul
1. Topkapi Palace. A gem of colors and history from the 15-19th century that has been home of Ottoman sultans for almost 400 years. It’s one of the must see places in Istanbul so you better get there when it first opens door at 9am. Wandering back in time through the Harems and admiring the jewel-filled Treasury is a must experience but make sure you have time to also walk through the palace’s courtyards and enjoy the city views.
2. Aya Sofya. One of the most beautiful and impressive buildings, build in the 6th century by the decree of Justinian I of Constantinople. Originally build as a church until 1453 when Sultan Mehmed invaded the city and turned it into a mosque. It’s one of the greatest example of Byzantine art and it’s turned into a museum now.
3. The Blue Mosque. The construction of the mosque was ordered by the young sultan, Ahmet I. He was only 19 years old but he wanted a more beautiful and impressive building than the Hagia Sophia. The mosque is still active now days.
4. The Grand and the Egyptian Spice Bazar. It is one of the oldest and largest markets in the world. The vibrant colors and exotic smell of spices would make you lose track of time. Great place to buy gifts and spices from all over the world. The best time to visit is in the morning hours between 08:00 and 09:00am.
5. Ferry Cruise on Bosporus. The Bosporus divides Istanbul on two parts: The European and The Asian. Taking the cruise and enjoying the view it’s definitely worth doing. We took the shorter cruise one way only and got off after the second bridge and then found our way back. It’s quite a long walk so we jumped on the tramp for a few stops and got off at the Taksim Square and walked the Istiklal Caddesi all the way to Galata Bridge.
Dolmabahce Palace from the Bosporus cruise.
6. Try a traditional Turkish Tea and Coffee. Even if you aren’t a tea drinker you should try their tea that you sip out of a tulip-shaped glass.
7. Don’t miss the famous Turkish delight treats and desserts. You can’t resist to these delicious flavors even if you don’t have a sweet tooth. Forget the free sugar diet for a few days, you don’t get to eat this everyday so enjoy it.
8. Enjoy the Turkish food. You will be in food heaven, even for vegans we had plenty to eat. The streets of Istanbul are full of charming restaurants, kebab stalls for the meat eaters, cute coffee and tea shops, fruits and juice stands just to name a few.
9. Enjoy walking around the city and explore. Walk around the city and experience it’s culture, architecture, vibrant colors and the Turkish hospitality.