First Impressions of Istanbul (Turkey)

I visited Istanbul recently as the final destination of my latest trip through Eastern Europe. It was a city I had heard great things about and so I was very excited to arrive. In total I had 6 nights there. These were my first impressions;

A different feel to Eastern Europe

istanbul city centre

Istanbul is a transcontinental city, i.e. a city occupying portions of more than one continent. The Bosphorus Strait running through the city acts as something of a natural border between Europe and Asia. This naturally gives Istanbul an entirely different vibe to anywhere else in Europe because, well, part of it isn’t in Europe! In a way this entire trip for me felt like Eastern Europe followed by Istanbul. The city just looked and felt different on so many levels. However, it also felt quite different to anywhere I’ve travelled in Asia too. I think Istanbul’s geography and positioning on the globe has allowed it to grow into something quite unique over the years.

Byzantine and Ottoman architecture

tourists at blue mosque istanbul

If there was one thing that stood out to me aesthetically in regards to Istanbul it is how beautiful the city is architecturally. Particularly in reference to the city mosques. At last count there are 2,944 active mosques in Istanbul. Many were built during the Ottoman period or were Byzantine buildings converted by the Ottomans into religious buildings. I don’t think I came across one mosque that didn’t seriously blow me away in terms of its beauty. Particular highlights included Mihrima Mosque, the Blue Mosque, and Laleli Mosque.

A visit to the Blue Mosque

blue mosque istanbul

One of the highlights of my visit to Istanbul was visiting the Blue Mosque and in particular being able to go inside. It costs absolutely nothing to do so (although they do welcome donations), and you can really gain an insight into what life as a Muslim is like. For me as a non-Muslim having never been in a mosque before it was an incredibly interesting and educational experience. Where the outside was grand and out-of-this-world architecturally, the inside was very humble in comparison. It really gave you a small insight into what life as a Muslim is like and I’m grateful to Istanbul for allowing me that. Despite not being a religious person at all myself I do believe that openness and education are the keys to tolerance and understanding. Just be aware that if you do visit yourself that you are required to dress conservatively, i.e. you should be covered (as a minimum) on your shoulders and knees (and everything in between!) Also girls are expected to cover their hair. Thankfully the Blue Mosque does prepare for tourists who may not know the dress code and provides basic garments to cover yourself should you arrive without adequate scarfs, skirts etc.

Bosphorus Boat Tour

bosphorus strait istanbul

Probably one of the best (and most under rated) things I did in Istanbul was a boat tour of the Bosphorus Strait. It cost me 12 TRY (£4.04 / €4.70 / $6.25) just by walking up and booking at the harbour and the tour lasted approximately 2 hours. It was easily the best way to get stunning views of Istanbul and for a large part of the journey I felt the need to stop taking pictures and just take it all in. I also don’t think I appreciated how many of Istanbul’s great historical buildings can be viewed along the Bosphorous. Highlights include views of several Ottoman palaces, the Istanbul Modern Art Museum, fortresses, forested hills, and shore villages.

Foodies Paradise

Turkish_Delight

Photo credit; Chris Buttigieg

When you come to Istanbul be prepared to eat, eat, and then eat some more! This place is a foodies paradise! In a slight bit of over excitement at the Grand Bazaar (a market place area full of stalls and tasting selections in Istanbul), I bought 6 large boxes of Turkish Delight to bring home with me! Oops.

turkish teaIf you’re looking for places to eat out try anywhere in the Beyoglu area. Particularly in the streets running off Istiklal Avenue you’ll find a variety of local restaurants where you can indulge in dishes such as Turkish meatballs finishing with a glass of Turkish tea. On Istiklal Avenue itself you’ll find more international restaurants and fast food chains.

For those of you looking for a real locals hangout, something of a hidden gem is Tavanarsi Restaurant. The receptionist at my hostel recommended the place and I was absolutely blown away by the food and terrace location. It’s located at the top of an apartment block on Asmali Mescit street. There is no sign outside. It’s the kind of place you’d only know by word of mouth and if someone gave you directions! You’re more likely to notice the sign of the apartment block itself which is called Emishan Apartment. Don’t be put off by what looks a bit like a dodgy looking apartment block. Enter and take the lift up to the top floor. When you arrive you’ll find a bustling little restaurant with terrace views and amazing food. I had lentil soup and home made ravioli. It was seriously amazing. I highly recommend you check this place out if you’re ever in Istanbul.

#Bunk Hostel

#bunk hostel bed #bunk hostel bathroom

I stayed at #Bunk Hostel for the 6 nights when I was in Istanbul. #Bunk is a real luxury hostel. The rooms and en-suite bathrooms are really hotel standard. The terrace, Jacuzzi, and all round high class décor really gave it a sort of 5 star feel whilst still retaining the budget backpacker prices. Our location just off the main street of Istiklal Avenue was absolutely ideal. Especially if you’re someone who wants to indulge in the local night life, eating out, and shopping – you will love this place. It’s also only around a 10 minute walk to the main area of Taksim Square and about a 20 minute walk down to the Bosphorous Strait. Hop across the strait and you’re in the main touristic area of Istanbul. Pretty much everything was easy to get to/from #Bunk hostel. Prices per night for a bed in a 4 bed mixed dorm room typically start at €30 a night. For a bed in the 4 bed female only dorm it’s usually €35 per night. For a private double room with en-suite bathrooms you’re likely to pay around €100 per night, but in the case of the latter it really is like staying in a high standard hotel.

– There is so much more I could write about Istanbul but there’s just not enough room to fit it all into 1 article! Instead I’ve opted for a general view in this post which will hopefully give you some grounding on what you can expect if you’ve never been before yourself. For me I instantly fell in love with Istanbul and the local people the moment I set foot in the city. When I return to Europe next year after my forthcoming South America jaunt I could seriously see this city (potentially) becoming my European base in the future, but that’s a long time away just now to plan ahead. Regardless, Istanbul is a city I want to see more of in the future and Turkey as a whole is a country I look forward to discovering.

 

– If you liked this article you may also be interested in reading about my First Impressions of Brasov, Romania.

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5 Responses to “First Impressions of Istanbul (Turkey)”

  1. Mark says:

    The Blue mosque architecture looks incredible! Wow! I really need to go here!

  2. I’m headed there in a few weeks!

  3. Nicole says:

    I heard turkey is beautiful. And we LOVE food! So we will definitely keep those streets in mind. 🙂

  4. Roni Faida says:

    I was there years ago and I am looking forward to going back.

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