Sandwiched between Europe and Asia, Turkey, and, in turn, Istanbul, have so much to offer a traveler. Istanbul is the country’s largest city and dates back centuries. It served as the capital to many empires and played a pivotal role in the spread of Christianity – it became an Islamic country after the Ottomans took over in 1453. It plays a strategic part in the trade as part of the Silk Route, but more people are also flocking to this beautiful city, a tourist’s paradise. It has many heritage sites and boasts that it is one of a few metros that are growing fast economically.
The city is located in the northwest and is divided into different quarters by history and economics. Visitors can take in the Asian, European, and Anatolian aspects of culture and see how the city has evolved over centuries. Istanbul is blessed with a Mediterranean climate and plenty of micro-climates due to its unique location.
Tips for first-time visitors to Istanbul:
There is so much to see and do for first-time visitors that there are a few must-do tourist attractions. Here are a few:
• The most famous mosque in the world is the Blue Mosque. It has six minarets, and the main chamber is beautifully designed as well. Visitors are barred during prayer hours.
• The Topkapi Palace is another place to visit because it has religious relics like the staff carried by Moses, David’s Sword, and treasures like jewelry, to name a few. It is also one of the largest palace complexes in the world.
• The Hagia Sophia Church, built in the 6th Century, is a must to visit – the building has a fascinating architectural history.
• Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar has so much to offer that people can get lost in it for hours. This supermarket has been the locale for many movies, and even if one is not an avid shopper, there is much to see and do – also to soak in the atmosphere is a pleasure.
• The Underground Cistern is close to the Hagia Sophia Church and built at the same time. Check out the columns holding up the ceiling and also the upside-down Medusa carved at the base of a column.
• The Istanbul Modern Museum is another must-visit spot – located in a warehouse situated on the Bosporus River, the Museum houses some works by Turkish artists over 200+ years.
• The Great Palace Mosaic Museum is located right behind the Blue Mosque and is yet another must-see. It has many mosaics from the 6th Century and offers a lot of information about restorations done in different eras.
• The Sadberk Hanim Museum is one that houses the private collection of a prominent Turkish family. One-half of the Museum is located in a restored mansion and has a magnificent collection of tapestries, Islamic art, Ottoman costumes, and much more. The other half houses and archeological collection of artifacts from different times – Roman, Hellenic, and Byzantine, some dating as far back as the 5th Century.
• The Corlulu Ali Pasa Medresesi is an excellent spot to unwind and drink some Turkish coffee and tea. Adventurous souls can try smoking flavored tobacco in hookahs, and one shouldn’t miss the antiques and décor of the courtyard.
• The Spice Bazaar is another spot to visit and take in the ambiance. Another essential stop on the Silk Route was when spices and other items were bought and sold. Must see, and one shouldn’t miss all the beautiful aromas.
• Istiklal Street can rightly be considered the microcosm of this city’s diversity and cosmopolitan nature. Check out the place.
One more spot that has to be included on the itinerary is a tour of Prince’s Islands.
This little chain of islands in the Sea of Marmara offers the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. Only four are open to the public and provide a peaceful and quiet retreat. There are no motorized vehicles, and visitors can enjoy the pine forests and old Victorian cottages. There are many private princess island tours in Istanbul, that can help with a stay or just a day trip.