Istanbul is the city on which civilizations and empires have been built. It straddles Europe and Asia and its location on the Bosporus Strait has made it one of the most coveted cities in world history. The Bosporus Strait, after all, links the Black Sea to the Sea of Miramar to the Aegean Sea and to the Mediterranean. In the days of old, trade from the Silk Road, the Middle East, and from Russia all passed through Istanbul. Napoleon Bonaparte once said that “If the Earth was a single state, Istanbul would be its capital.” Having played host to the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, and the Ottoman Empire, the Istanbul is a treasure chest of ancient ruins, cultural heritage sites, and opulent displays of art and wealth. It is also a great place to soothe at a Turkish Bath, shop for useless things at a bazaar, and sample some famous Turkish Delight while sipping some equally celebrated Turkish Tea.
Most of Istanbul’s touristy attractions are found at the old center of Sultanahmet, which is south of the Golden Horn at the tip of the peninsula. The attractions here include the Aya Sofya Cathedral, the iconic Blue Mosque (or Sultan Ahmed Mosque), and the Topkapi Palace. The Blue Mosque is the famous, post-card cube mosque that is roofed with ascending domes and semi-domes. The Topkapi Palace was the imperial residence of three centuries of Ottoman emperors.
Other famous sites include the Hagia Sophi. This basilica is much older than the Topkapi and the Blue Mosque, and dates back to the 6th century. It was constructed by Emperor Justinian I of the Byzantine Empire, and it is considered to be one of the greatest buildings in history. The Basilica Cistern is also an interesting site. It is a giant underground cistern built by Justinian to provide the city with water during sieges or wars. The Hippodrome and the Galata Tower are also worth visiting. The former served as a chariot race track during the Roman and Byzantine era. The latter is located across the Golden Horn to the north and provides panoramic views of the city. It was used by the Ottomans as an observational tower.
Istanbul, however, is not just experienced through one’s eyes. Touch, taste, and sound become important senses for the eager shopaholic or party-goer. The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul is said to be the world’s oldest shopping mall. There are close to 4,400 shops on this walkway. Whereas the wild at heart may dance and drink away at the Beyoĝlu or Nişantaşi, both packed with lively cafes and bars. The nightlife in Istanbul is no doubt superb.
If you’re in need of a break from all the walking, shopping, and partying, heading over to one of Istanbul’s hammams (or Turkish Baths) to break or end one’s tour of the city would be a good idea. There are a few notable baths in Istanbul. The Suleymaniye Bath, constructed in 1550, is a historic bath that still remains operational today. It is mixed-sex, which means the whole family can enjoy the experience together. Other baths in Istanbul include the Cağaloğlu Bath and the Cemberlitas Bath.
Before you visit Istanbul, you should be prepared and forewarned about the city’s scam-artists and pickpocketers. Locals invent and employ various money-making schemes. Some establishments may quote prices in Lira and then switch to dollars or euros after the good or service is consumed. Also, there are pseudo night-clubs that charge overpriced bills for drinks. Many scams also involve locals acting all nice and offering to treat you out or pay for your drinks, only to deny ever making such an offer upon arrival of the bill. Hotels have also been known to jack the bill up when it came time to pay at the end of a stay, so be wary of places that refuse to accept payment early on in a stay.