How To Make The Most Of Your Short Time In Istanbul.
36 Hours in Istanbul.
Istanbul, known as Constantinople up until 1453, is a city rich in history and culture. Istanbul is located in Turkey. Turkey is bordered by Syria, Georgia, Armenia, Iraq, Iran, Bulgaria, and Greece.
Istanbul is Turkey’s economic, cultural, and historical center. It is located in Turkey’s northwest corner. It is a transcontinental city with The Bosphorus, a strait, forming part of the continental boundary. As of December 2015, Istanbul’s population is a whopping 14 Million, significantly larger than New York City’s 8.4 Million, accounting for 18.6% of Turkey’s population.
Istanbul’s history begins in 660 BCE when Byzantium was established. In 73 CE, Byzantium became a part of the Roman Empire. In September 324, Constantine the Great became the emperor of the Roman Empire and laid out plans for a Christian city he hoped to replace Byzantium. This city was named Nea Roma, but most called it Constantinople. On May 330, Constantinople became the capital of the empire known as the Byzantine Empire. Constantinople was the largest and wealthiest city in the European continent for much of the Middle Ages. On May 29, 1453, Sultan Mehmed II captured Constantinople and thus, Istanbul was born.
What to See
To say that seeing all of Istanbul in 36 hours is impossible is an understatement. Istanbul is LARGE. You will quickly notice on your way into the city how much area the city covers and how even weeks in the city would never suffice. However, if you plan it out correctly and are efficient, it’s possible to see many of Istanbul’s historical monuments and areas during your visit. I would recommend the following during your short time in this wondrous city:
Hagia Sophia: The Hagia Sophia is extremely significant to Istanbul’s history. It began as a center of Orthodox Christianity and remained so until 1453, when the city was concurred by Ottomans. Following 1453, it was a mosque for 500 years. In 1935, it was converted into a museum of Turkish Republic. In 1985, the Hagia Sophia was crowned a world heritage site by UNESCO.
Fun Fact: Hagia Sophia in English is translated to “Shrine of The Holy of God”.
Sultanahmet Mosque: The Sultanahmet Mosque, also known as the Blue Mosque because of the blue tiles surrounding the walls of interior design, was built between 1609 and 1616. It is impossible to miss in the city as it is quite large (and breathtaking). It is a popular tourist attraction in Istanbul but is still used as a mosque. There are certain rules and customs you must know of and follow before entering the mosque as a tourist. It is closed five times a day to non-worshippers and when entering during non-prayer times, tourists must abide by strict attire regulations. Men cannot wear shorts and women must wear a head covering and have their legs covered. Short sleeves are not allowed. All who enter must take their shoes off. Head covers are available to women free of charge at the entrance, along with long skirts.
Taksim Square: Taksim Square is considered Istanbul’s heart. There is a certain hustle and bustle of the square that is particularly unique to the area and to say that the area is alive is an understatement, it is THRIVING with livelihood and energy at all hours of the day. The area is full of hotels, restaurants, bars, and shisha lounges and is full of people at all hours and days of the week. It is a main transportation hub and destination for both tourists and natives of Istanbul. In Taksim Square there is the Monument of the Republic which commemorates the 5th anniversary of the foundation of the Republic of Turkey in 1923.
Basilica Cistern: The Basilica Cistern was commissioned by Emperor Justinian and built in 532. It is one of several hundred ancient cisterns that lie beneath Istanbul. It is approximately 500 feet from the Hagia Sophia making it an easy joint trip. The cistern features 336 beautiful columns with heights of 30 feet. In the cistern also resides two Medusa heads to “guard” the cistern.
Fun Fact: The cistern was used as a location for the 1963 James Bond film.
What to Eat
A great restaurant to try is the Han Restaurant. It is a restaurant featuring decorative pillows on which diners have the pleasure of sitting on. Gozleme, a traditional Turkish flatbread, is made fresh in the front of the restaurant. The restaurant is not far from many tourist attractions.
The Han, Ottomon Cusine Restaurant: Cankurtaran Mh. Alemdar Cd. Soğuk Çeşme Sk No:26 Sultanahmet 34200 Istanbul, Turkey
While in Istanbul, the following are foods, beverages, and activities to try that will make your time in Istanbul one to remember:
Baklava: a rich, sweet pastry made of layers of filo filled with chopped nuts and sweetened with syrup or honey. It is documented as having an origin of the Ottoman Empire.
Lokum: Also known as Turkish delight, lokum, is a family of confections based on a gel of starch and sugar. It has a gummy texture and there are several varieties in flavor. A must-try for any sweet tooth.
Turkish Coffee: CALLING ALL COFFEE LOVERS. Who doesn’t want a reason to drink coffee? UNESCO confirmed that Turkish coffee is an intangible cultural heritage of Turkey. What makes Turkish coffee different from your everyday regular cup? Roasted and then finely ground coffee beans are simmered, as opposed to boiled, in a pot and served where the grounds are allowed to settle.
Turkish Bath: Get out of your comfort zone and get a Turkish bath! A Turkish bath, known as a hammam, is a method of cleansing and relaxation. The process involves a sauna, a full body wash, followed by a massage. If you go to Aga Hamami, located at Kuloglu mahallesi, Turnacibasi sokak No:4,8, Istanbul 34433, Turkey, not too far from Taksim square, you’ll get tea following your massage. The massage package will cost you about 110 Turkish Lira ($37), quite a deal for what you are getting.
Fun Fact: Aga Hammi is the oldest Turkish bath in Istanbul.
Bosphorous Ferry Ride: The Bosphorous is a natural strait that forms part of the continental divide between Europe and Asia. There are several companies that offer ferry rides down the Bosphorous allowing you to have views of Asia on one side and Europe on the other. The views of the monuments and buildings aren’t too shabby either.
Istanbul after dark is livelier than countless other cities I have been to. People relax, drink coffee and tea, talk, walk the streets, and shisha is very much prevalent. Shisha, smoked out of a hookah, is very popular and native to middle-eastern countries. The word hookah originates from the Arabic word “huqqa”. Hookah is a single or multi-stemmed instrument for vaporizing and smoking flavored tobacco, which is what the term “shisha” means: a syrupy tobacco mix containing molasses and vegetable glycerol. Hookah isn’t for everyone but when in Rome, do as the Romans?
Although your time in Istanbul may be limited, it doesn’t mean it can’t be memorable. Plan accordingly, eat some baklava, get a turkish bath, and as the Turkish say, keyfini çıkarın!