A transcontinental city, literally, Istanbul stands as one of the most significant locations in history. Positioned as the link between Europe and Asia, the city was the seat of the Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman empires. Hosting the super power of the time for 1,600 years (from 330 to 1922), it is ironic to think Istanbul was the capital of the Roman Empire for 760 years longer than Rome itself! Known as Byzantium, New Rome, Constantinople, and most recently Istanbul; the city’s colored past tells the story that bridges ancient times to modern history.
In this beautiful city on the Bosporus, I (Troy) found myself fortunate enough to be gathered with old friends in celebration of our classmate and mutual friend, Samir, to his now wife, Yasmine. Will let private events stay private, but all-in-all, I am blessed with a great friend, and wish the happy couple the best as they set off on their new life together.
Speaking of friends, as a tag-on to the wedding, Istanbul was planned as a guy’s weekend. Carrie and E decided to stay home for this one, which turned out to be a good decision (lost power, inconsistent hot water, steep hills, vanishing sidewalks, etc.). The city can definitely be a fun place for the family, but may need some extra planning.
Flying solo, I spent the weekend with another great friend, Stevie. We rented an Airbnb flat in Taksim, a residential neighborhood near the Old Town, that enabled us to walk to most of the historic sites and attractions in the city. It was my first airbnb experience and overall turned out to be a great fit for our needs. The location allowed us to experience Istanbul like locals – including lively music drifting through the air at night! Having an apartment with living space was also a huge perk for catching up in a more relaxed environment.
Working around the wedding schedule, Stevie and I were able to find about two full days to explore the 5th largest city proper in the world (home to 14.2m people!!). We quickly discovered that the traffic in Istanbul is TERRIBLE. We are talking an hour cab ride to go 3 miles through the city – that’s walking speed for those doing the math. Plan accordingly and bring walking shoes!
My recommended must see, and a guaranteed instant highlight, is a visit to the Hagia Sophia. This landmark was built as a Christian church in 537 AD (when Constantinople was the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire) and stood as the largest Christian cathedral for 900 years. It was converted into a mosque within hours of the city falling to the Ottoman’s in 1453, and then secularized into its current use as a museum in 1935. The impressive structure inspires awe and curiosity as it is the only religious site I have seen with both Christian and Muslim symbols built in.
In the immediate area, the next best highlights are the Blue Mosque and Basilica Cistern; both within ear-shot of the Hagia Sophia and definitely worth the (surprisingly fast) lines. For the panorama junkies out there, I can recommend the Seven Hills restaurant for lunch. It is located between the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque. It has OK food and is a bit expensive, but wow, this rooftop restaurant has the best views of the city you could ask for! From here, it’s a 15 minute walk to the Grand Bazaar, where endless aisles of goods ranging from gold jewelry to pashminas are waiting to be explored. Alternatively, if shopping isn’t on the itinerary, or spring is in the air, head north for 5 minutes to Gulhane Park, which has more tulips on display than you can imagine! For a final stop on the way home, check out Mısır Çarşısı (the Spice Bazaar) near the Golden Horn (the inlet separating Old Town from “New” Town). Just be warned that there is no such thing as a “small” amount of spices for sale here!
Last but not least, make sure to refuel at a local doner kebab shop. We saw more of these than we could count but our favorite one cooked their own flatbread. Delicious!
Istanbul is definitely a walking city, so be sure to get out amongst the crowds to truly experience it and absorb its beautiful scenery.
Thanks to Stevie for putting up with me for the weekend and to everyone in town for hosting us in such a great city. Also, thanks to my beautiful wife for letting me high-jack her blog to share my experience.
Bonus Life Lesson: When arriving to a wedding early, hunt for the cake room (YUMM)!!!