Istanbul Travel: the Hits and Misses

April 24, 2013
Istanbul Travel: the Hits and Misses

If you plan to visit Istanbul and hit up all of the major tourist attractions and sites in the city, let me forewarn you: not all of them are must-see places. In fact, many have much better alternatives that are worth a visit.

Istanbul Travel: the Hits and Misses

HIT: Ayasofya

This Byzantine church-mosque converted on the orders of Sultan Mehmed II who conquered Istanbul in 1453. The apse, frescoes and mosaics are stunning along with the gigantic chandeliers hanging down.  The Virgin Mary fresco over the apse is stunning, and unlike the other art works, has not been restored.

The interior is dark but looking inside the prayer hall will take your breath away. Be sure to check out the second floor for a different view of the prayer hall by walking up the cobble walkway, which seems like a long way to hike because the building has no stairs. A beautiful and impressive structure, Ayasofya, or Hagia Sophia, is worth the visit.

HIT: Basilica Cistern

Located right across from the Sultan Ahmed (or Blue Mosque) and the Ayasofya is a one-of-a-kind place that once held the city’s water supply. Dark and impressive are the columns that support the cistern ceilings. Also, make sure to check out the medusa head at the back of the cistern. This is one of my favorite attractions and because it is located underground, it gives you this eerie feeling as you walk across the wooden. pathways crisscrossing the cistern.

MISS: Grand Bazaar

Just a short walk away from Sultan Ahmed and Ayasofya is one of the greatest disappointments of Istanbul.  Large and overcrowded, filled to the brim with tourists and stalls selling tourist goods, the Bazaar failed to impress me.

It is a good place to bargain but expect high prices and being rip offs. It is better to find a smaller bazaar to shop where locals shop. Though it will be less impressive, it will also be cheaper and you will not be turned off by the many vendors there.

HIT: Sunday Bazaar in Ortakoy

Selling mostly jewelry and scarves, the Sunday Bazaar is right next to the Bosphorus where you can take a one-hour boat tour. Make sure to try the awesome waffles from one of the many stands in Ortakoy, which will leave you feeling stuffed, as well as the stuffed baked potatoes, on which you can load as many ingredients as you want. Also, try the fried mussels that are ever so delicious.

MISS/HIT: Spice Bazaar

Located in the district of Eminonou, the Spice Bazaar is noisy, crowded and full of tourists. While the mounds of spices are impressive as are the Turkish delights, it is smaller than the Grand Bazaar. Yet, there is a large, local-filled garment district located in the back streets of the bazaar where you can find any type of clothing.

HIT: Kadikoy and Uskudar

On the Asian side in Kadikoy and Uskudar, there are impressive food markets, which are less touristy. There are some nice, small mosques located in Uskudar while Kadikoy is trendier and a place for all types of shopping including a large book market.

Most of the books are in Turkish but you may find a few books in English. There are many ferries that depart from the European side that either visit Uskudar or Kadikoy.

HIT: Sultan Ahmed Mosque

A large, impressive, and beautiful mosque located right next to the Ayasofya is worth a visit though it is not the greatest mosque experience on earth. There are separate lines for Muslims and visitors, and visitors are not allowed to enter during prayer times.

In addition, the visitors’ entrance line can be quite long and there is a strict dress code. You must cover your hair, remove your shoes before you enter and sometimes they will give you a hard time if you are wearing tight clothes or even stockings so it is best to wear pants or a long skirt or to use one of the blue wraps that they give you to cover the lower section of your body. I would definitely visit this mosque only once.

HIT: Eyup Sultan Mosque

If you do not like touristy places, long lines and want a more personal experience visit this mosque in the Eyup district that overlooks the Golden Horn, the main waterway that intersects Istanbul and flows into the Sea of Marmara. The mosque is small and beautiful, and it is a pilgrimage site for devout Muslims.

Nearby you can hike or take the cable car lift to an overlook, where you can enjoy a gorgeous view of the Golden Horn, along with some some cay at one of the many cafes located up there as well.

MISS: Topkapi Palace

This large place, located right next to the Archaeology Museum, was not as impressive as I thought to be. It was a rainy day and I did not go inside the harem which charges a separate entrance fee. The rooms are small, and it can get quite stuffy inside when it is filled with tourists.

The imperial jewels and the swords collection are stunning and some of the rooms are neat, but the architecture is not very impressive and I thought there would be more to see there. I apparently missed some of the collections there including the library and the clock room.

HIT: Taksim and Beyoglu

The Time Square of Istanbul is home to the Islak or wet burger, which is a favorite food to eat after partying at the many clubs surrounding Istiklal, the main street of Taksim. Rabbit fortune tellers, political demonstrations, tourists, brand-name shopping, and the street tram can all be found there. You can also shop for souvenirs, listen to traditional Turkish while drinking raki and eating mezes and seafood in one of the sidestreet restaurants. It’s also a great place for people watching.

Also, the area is not dangerous unless you head to the nearby neighborhood of Tarabasi, which is a lower-class neighborhood located off Taksim. Make sure to visit the Asian side because it is less touristy and much
quieter than the European side.

HIT: Karakoy

If you like hipster places or need to buy fishing equipment, electronics, jet skis, fishing pools, sunglasses or fish, then Karakoy is the place to go. Located on the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn, it is is the tram stop right before Eminonou. There is some trendy, hippy, and overpriced shopping on the winding streets near the Galata Tower area home.

You will get a workout from climbing these windy side streets that lead to the Galata Tower, and at the end of the way, you will get a panoramic view of the city near Taksim. There is also a very small Jewish Museum located there and some old churches as well. Just be aware that Karakoy is not the safest place
at night as it is known for prostitution.

Enjoy your travels!


Istanbul Travel: The Hits And Misses

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