Istanbul was love at first sight. The culture, the beauty, the friendly Turks, the food…Istanbul was a hidden gem for me and I highly recommend anyone considering visiting this city.
We LOVED our hotel and all it had to offer. It was called the Boutique Adora Hotel. The staff was SUPER friendly and the hotel was perfectly located. The rooms were absolutely adorable.
What’s great about Istanbul is that a lot of the sites are in very close (walking distance) proximity to each other.
As a tip, anytime you do want to use a “Taksi” (taxi), have your hotel call to negotiate a rate and when on your own, ask for the rate up front…otherwise, you’ll likely get taken advantage of.
We loved Topkapi Palace but our favorite part was the Harem where somewhere between 300-500 women lived. The ceilings were beautifully detailed and the gold was so brilliant and the ornate colors were spectacular.
Dolmabache Palace – We only went to see the harem as this Palace is cash only and we didn’t have enough cash on us. My favorite part was the Grand Ballroom. It was BREATHTAKING. Photos are not allowed.
Hagia Sophia is one of my top 3 churches (next to Westminster Abby and La Sagrada Familia). The church used to be a christian church which was then converted to a Muslim church. Today it depicts both religions within the church in the most beautiful way. There is Hebrew on the wall along with mosaic’s of Jesus.
The Blue Mosque is still an active church just across from Hagia Sophia. You could see men and boys washing their feet at the washing basins prior to entering. They don’t allow tourists in during prayer time. The Mosque will also provide long skirts to wrap around exposed legs and they will also ask you to cover your shoulders. You will also be required to take your shoes off prior to entering. The original architect was killed because he said the plans were impossible and the sultan didn’t like that answer. Eventually someone was able to carry out the plans and the Blue Mosque was born. Apparently it was possible!
The underground Basilica Cisterns is where Medusa’s heads are. It’s an eerie dark area but beautiful with the spotlights on the pillars. There was even an area where you could dress up as a sultan or a princess. We of course had to take advantage of this and played the part well.
The Grand Bazaar is…well, GRAND! Lots of peddlers selling goods, spices, everything! You can buy anything here from antiques and spices to all depictions of the evil eye. Be prepared as these get very busy. DO watch your pockets and purse and DO negotiate prices!
The Spice bazaar is similar to the grand bazaar but with spices. You can also buy Turkish Tea here, all at very reasonable prices.
Turkish Bath – This was by far the most bizarre experience we ever had but I highly recommend doing it for the experience. We went to the Suleymaniye Hamam at the recommendation of our hotel as it was more “conservative.” We headed to the bath where they gave us “swimsuits” to put on which were basically a one-size-fits-nobody bikini top and shorts as the bottoms. We entered into the bath area with other people where it was steaming hot and sat in this steam room for about 45 minutes before we were called for our “bath.” The masseuse (always a man) scrubbed us with these giant bubbles and did somewhat of a massage. The experience was followed by dumping freezing cold water on your head…which, trust me, you want as the bath room itself is very hot! This Hamam will also pick you up from your hotel and drop you back off. It was about a 2 hour experience.
Head over to Taksim Square where the nightlife is bustling. We found one bar that had a live band singing Turkish music. There are many bars like this all around the Square.
You will see Chestnut stands on nearly every corner. They have a very distinct taste (that I don’t care for) but definitely worth the try!
Other recommendations made to us
Bar 360 – “Great evening dinner and dance – with AMAZING views”
Ritz Carlton for a drink – great view of the Bosphorus towards the Asian side.