I was lucky enough to visit Istanbul as the first stop on a much longer backpacking trip around Western Turkey but the time I spent there made me realise just how perfect it is for a weekend getaway.
Luckily for the whistle-stop traveller, most of the city’s iconic sights are all situated within walking distance of each other and can be easily visited within a couple of days.
Here’s my Top 5 …
- Hagia Sofia
This striking building has had many incarnations through its lifetime. Initially constructed as a church in 539AD, after almost 1000 years of service it was then converted to a mosque in 1453. Now a museum, it attracts visitors from far and wide to admire its vast domed ceiling, intricate mosaics and historic relics.
- The Blue Mosque
Famous for its 6 minarets (the only mosque in Turkey with such a claim), it is hard to miss the Blue Mosque situated directly across the park from Hagia Sofia. It is known as the Blue Mosque thanks to the delicate blue and white tiles that adorn the walls.
- Basilica Cistern
My favourite thing about this site was the story of how although the Cistern was built by the Romans in 532 AD, it was long forgotten and was only rediscovered in the 1545 when historians learned that local people were fishing through the floors of their houses. On investigating, this ancient water system for the royal Topkapi Palace was unearthed and now its dimly lit depths are revealed to visitors.
- Topkapi palace
The home to generations of Sultans and their royal families, the palace is a must-see example of the opulence and extravagance of bygone empires. It is a vast network of richly embellished rooms and collections of treasured artworks and military memorabilia.
- The Grand Bazaar
Stuffed with glittering lanterns and flowing silks, heaps of aromatic spices and delicate beaded jewellery, the Grand Bazaar is of course a tourist trap, but it is a tourist trap that I feel you have to visit. As long as you are prepared for the heavy incense-laden air and sellers pushing their wares at you as you wander through the maze of stalls, you can get some beautiful souvenirs for knock-down prices and love every minute of it.
TOP TIP: What to wear
As two young women travelling together, something that worried us before we travelled to Turkey was what to wear so as not to offend locals. We found that wearing long sleeved shirts and long skirts or trousers around the Grand Bazaar and other tourist attractions we were not hounded so much to buy things or bothered by local men. We also always carried headscarves with us for visiting any mosques or holy places. However, this was just what we found that we felt most comfortable in, Istanbul has embraced a lot of European customs and you will be find that around the tourist areas you will not stand out in short shorts and vest tops.