Istanbul is the gateway to Asia from Europe. One half of the city is considered Europe, and the other half is considered Asia. Separating the two sides of the city is the Bosphorus Straight. We spent several days on both sides of the city.
Istanbul is an unbelievably massive city, and one must accept that going in. You could spend your entire life in Instanbul and never see every part. As it is, trying to comprehend the parts you do see is enough work. Walk around. Get lost. Find your way home.
WHAT TO SEE IN ISTANBUL, TURKEY:
When you picture Istanbul, picture the city in 3 parts: the European half - new, the European half - old, and the Asian half. The old and new parts of the European half are separated by a body of water called the Golden Horn. The European and Asian halves are separated by the Bosphorus Straight. Does this make sense? No? Okay, well, here is a map.
The new part of the European half has a lot of shops and restaurants, and a couple of sights. The old part also has a lot of restaurants and shops (well, duh, its cosmopolitan city) but a TON of sights. Don't fret - you don't have to work hard to find stuff to do in Istanbul.
We stayed in Beyoglu and it was a great location. It was about a 20-30 minute walk to the old part of the European half (the part with all the stuff you want to see). The walk itself is nice because you get to see a lot of the city, and pass a lot of shops. Honestly, I don't think we ever walked over the Golden Horn without stopping to shop along the way. Nicely done, Istanbul.
İstiklal Street runs through Beyoglu and although it is very crowded and very touristy, it is also very convenient for sight seeing. On one end is Taksim Square (not sure why this is a sight... it's literally a metro stop and a Starbucks). The other end of İstiklal winds down through Karakoy (via Galip Dede) and meets the Galata Bridge. The Galata Bridge spans the Golden Horn and brings you to the old part of the city. The bridge itself is pretty cool, and a lot of locals fish off the side of it.
Beyoglu has a lot of shops and restaurants that are fun to browse. All the trinkets are pretty similar to the stuff being sold in the Grand Bazaar, but Sahne Sk is worth walking down. Be prepared to be straight up harassed by people with menus standing outside of restaurants. They will literally beg you to come in and eat.
We spent an entire day exploring mosques in the old part of the European half. I am going to mention names and let the places speak for themselves.
Rüstem Pasha Mosque:
This mosque is renowned for its tile work. Take a look.
This mosque is massive and has very beautiful gardens.
The Blue Mosque:
This mosque is startlingly beautiful.
You've heard of this mosque. Take a visit and learn about its incredible history.
THE GRAND BAZAAR
Honestly, the Grand Bazaar is an amazing and massive old market with many things to look at and buy. It's also a place to practice your haggling. Just go and get lost. Make sure you get that 'thing' you can't stop thinking about. It will become a memento of the city you will have for the rest of your life! I still wear my evil eye ring every day!
Also, be sure to check out the Spice Market. It is right across from the Galata Bridge. The Spice Market is an amazing place to stock up on cheap and unique spices, teas, Turkish candy, and a million other things.
I don't have any pictures, but also be sure to:
- tour the Topkapı Palace
- chat with a friend or read a book in Gülhane Park
- see the Valens Aquaduct
- eat a traditional breakfast
- drink apple tea and eat pide
- drink Turkish coffee
- wander around and get lost
SUNSET FERRY RIDE TO KADIKOY
When you finally decide that it's time to move on to the Asian half of Istanbul, take a ferry over the Bosphorus Sea! Look up the Karakoy to Kadikoy ferry timetable and pick a time that will have you out on the sea during the sunset. Enjoy a cup of tea as you glide over the Bosphorus. This was a top experience of our entire trip because it was so beautiful... plus being with my best friends didn't hurt. Oh yeah, make sure you go to the bathroom before arriving at the ferry station.