Photo by Kizel Liverpool
OK so before I start, here is a little bit of background on the city. Istanbul is in Turkey, right between Europe and Asia, but you probably already knew that. However, did you know that it was once Constantinople, capital of the Roman Empire and that it is over 3000 years old? Istanbul's history, culture, delicious cuisines, and friendly residents have drawn travellers to its metropolis for centuries. Today it is the 10th most travelled to city in the world. What all this means is that you've chosen an amazing place to visit; so let's make sure that you do it right shall we? I've compiled a list of 8 things that you absolutely MUST do while in Istanbul and the best part about it is, that you can do it all in less than 24 hrs! Let's begin with breakfast!
1. The word "Breakfast" in Turkish is "kahvaltı" which when translated word for word into English means "before coffee". Therefore, when in Istanbul, skip the coffee and opt for traditional Turkish tea (black) for breakfast with Simit on the side. Simit is a bagel-like bread that can be eaten plain, with cheese and/or with butter. It's cheap (2 Turkish Liras (TL)) and available as street food everywhere in Istanbul so it's the perfect breakfast to eat while on the go. However, don't forget to take a picture of it and post it on your Instagram as no one will ever know that you ate it (Just kidding! There will be plenty of times for photo ops in Istanbul so just enjoy your simit).
Photo by Kizel Liverpool
2. Now that you've had breakfast, it's time to visit the infamous Sultan Ahmed Mosque, also known as the Blue Mosque (you can go ahead and pull out your camera now). This site is absolutely stunning. It is called the Blue Mosque because of the abundance of hand-painted blue tiles the architect Sedefkar Mehmed Agha Biçakciu used to decorate its interior and it's definitely worth the visit. Since it is both a fully functioning Mosque as well as a site frequented by tourists, it is important to choose the time of your visit wisely. I suggest in the morning around 10:00 AM, in between prayer times. Also, please note that this mosque (like most) has a strict dress code in full effect. Men, that means you must wear long pants and an appropriate t-shirt/button-up/polo. Women, your hair and shoulders must be covered and your pants or skirt must reach somewhere below your knees. If you don't have the right garbs to enter, don't worry, the mosque will provide you with clothing.
3. Next stop: The Hagia Sophia! You cannot leave Istanbul without visiting the Hagia Sophia (aka Ayasofya Museum). It is history itself! This magnificent historical landmark has existed for almost 2000 years. It was first built during the reign of Constantine as a church for Christian worship but hundreds of years later it was converted to a Mosque by Sultan Mehmet. Although It was rebuilt several times during its lifetime, its original Byzantine architecture -- regal marble floors, pillars and spectacular mosaics -- remains to this day. After Istanbul was secularized, it was converted to a Museum and it'll cost you around 40 TL to see inside but it's worth it!
Photo by Kizel Liverpool
4. At this point you are probably getting a bit thirsty and can use a bit of a pick me up. This is the perfect time to try the freshly squeezed pomegranate juice (approx. 5 TL) readily available from street vendors all over the city. Not only is pomegranate juice super yummy, but it is also considered a superfood, known for its many health benefits, and it's definitely not something you're going to see in abundance back home (North America) so you better try it while you're in Istanbul.
5. Now that you've had a moment to rejuvenate yourself with delicious pomegranate juice, it's time to visit the popular Grand Baazar and Spice Market. Whether or not you intend on buying anything, you must go to these two markets for the experience. The markets are located beside each other and they are both extremely large (over 60 blocks with 5000+ shops). The Grand Baazar offers clothes, jewellery, imitation handbags, lamps, carpets, scarfs, and textiles, while the Spice Market sells... well... spice; hundreds of different kinds of spices as well as fresh loose leaf teas. Both markets are full of colour and life. Vendors are constantly beckoning you to come to their booth and you will hear lines like, "looking is free" or lines that are meant to be funny like, "would you like help to spend your money on something you don't need" or "this pepper is so spicy, it's perfect for your mother-in-law!" Hey, maybe it’s not so funny but still, they try and it's all good fun when you're there.
6. At this point you're probably hungry so it's time to eat. Generally speaking food in Istanbul is delicious so you can pretty much walk into any restaurant and find something great on the menu. But, just this time, skip the guesswork and head to 360 Cihannüma Panorama Restaurant. This is not just any ordinary restaurant. It is one of the best restaurants in Istanbul and it comes with a spectacular view of the city. It’s going to cost a bit more but I promise you, it’s worth it! My only recommendation is that you make a reservation before you go, either online or by phone.
7. Now that you’ve eaten, it’s time to relax by taking a cruise along the Bosphorous. A short cruise takes anywhere from 1.5-2hrs and a full cruise will take approximately 6 hrs. I recommend the short cruise, especially since you’re only in Istanbul for a day. However, regardless of which tour you take, this is an activity that you simply must do when in Istanbul. It goes along the European and Asian sides of Istanbul and gives you the opportunity to see the city line and its most famous landmarks. However, for many tourists, knowing which cruise to take can be overwhelming because there are many tour companies to choose from, some legit, and others, not so much. Here is the basic breakdown of what is available. There are public ferry rides that leave almost every hour but can be crowded, private tour companies for smaller groups, semi-private water taxis that charge by the mile, and luxury yachts that will take just you and your group. My suggestion, if you don’t mind crowds, is to take the public ferry. It’s the most inexpensive option and it runs along the same line as luxury cruises, so you would get the same views, for a fraction of the price (approx. 35 TL). The closest station to you would be the Eminönü ferry station. You can buy your tickets there. Also, fun tip: Take some bread with you onboard so that you can feed the birds on your journey. This is not only fun, but it can make for some pretty amazing photos as the birds dive in for food from your hands.
8. After you’ve finished the Bosphorous tour, you’re probably exhausted and ready to call it a night, but don’t do that just yet. You shouldn’t leave Istanbul without visiting a traditional Turkish Bath, or what the Turks call a Hammam. A hammam is where you go to have your entire body detoxified, scrubbed, massaged and rejuvenated. This deep purification process has been present since the Byzantine era and was adopted from the Romans into Turkish culture. Today, there are many hammams located across Istanbul frequented by both locals and tourists alike, but there are two in particular that I highly recommend: Aga Hamam and the Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Hamam*. These hammams are amongst the oldest in Istanbul and offer a unique experience that you can only have in this city so don’t miss out.
By now the sun has set, you’re feeling refreshed from your deep scrub and bath at the hammam and your camera roll is full of the pictures you were able to take today. It’s time to rest. I hope that you enjoyed your 24 hours in Istanbul. If you plan on staying longer in Turkey, stay tuned for my next blog where I talk about what to do if you’re in Istanbul for only 5 days. Bon voyage and until next time! - Kiz
[*Due to Covid-19, some of the places mentioned in this article may be temporarily or permanently unavailable. Please check the links provided for the most updated information.]