Of course your treatment comes first. After all, you are not on vacation. Nevertheless, we want to make sure that you feel at ease and also secretly enjoy the metropolis Istanbul. Even if you are abroad. You can fully enjoy Istanbul on your day of rest. The historic part is 10 minutes away from your hotel. You can discover all the historic hotspots on foot. Everything is within walking distance.
Istanbul is the only city in the world that is divided (or better: connected) by two continents: Europe and Asia.
Blue mosque, Topkapı palace and Grand Bazaar
You may have seen hundreds of photos of the amazing Blue Mosque, Aya Sophia, Topkapi Palace … Visiting Istanbul without putting these world-famous sights on your to-do list would be a shame
Istanbul also makes it very easy for the curious visitor to visit these iconic sites: they are all located in Sultanahmet region, the oldest part of the city. It is definitely worth spending at least one day for this, there is a lot to discover and admire.
Tip: Since you’re in the area anyway, it’s a good idea to dive into the Grand Bazaar right away. The Grand Bazaar is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world and beware: you will soon be here for a few hours.
The market consists of 61 covered streets and more than 3,000 shops. A dream for shopaholics (or a true nightmare, depending on your passion for shopping).
The range is versatile but actually very typical of such, Eastern bazaars: spices, nuts, fabrics, silver, prularia, (fake) handbags and clothing, candy … If you want to buy something, do not forget to bargain, it belongs there.
The Bazaar receives about half a million visitors every day and it is therefore almost always very busy. If it may be a little less for you, then visit the Mısır Çarşısı (or Egyptian Bazaar); less crowded and less large, but certainly just as atmospheric.
The Basilica Cistern
Have you ever seen a stone cry? The Basilica Cistern – also known as the Sunken Palace – and admire this little miracle.
The Basilica Cistern is not really one of the secret spots in Istanbul – there is always a long line of people waiting in front of the entrance, but its fame is certainly overshadowed by the glory of the Aya Sofia, Blue Mosque and Tokapi Palace, and I was there actually surprised by how few people were familiar with this magical underwater world.
What is it all about? The Basicila Cistern is a large underground water reservoir – you even see fish swimming in it! – and one of the largest of several hundreds of similar water reservoirs hidden under Istanbul.
The reservoirs were built by the Romans in the 6th century to provide the city with potable water. Centuries later, the reservoirs fell into oblivion, until an adventurous Frenchman visited Constantinople (ancient Istanbul) in the 1500s. He became fascinated by all the legends about underground temples and palaces and heard strange stories about people who had fish swimming in their basements. Our Frenchman devoted himself to investigating these stories and (re) discovered the Basilica Cistern.
The underground water palace is one of the most atmospheric places in Istanbul. There are around 336 columns to admire, two of which are adorned with the sculpted head of Medusa; one lying on the side, the other upside down. It is tempting to give these heads a special meaning, but research shows that they ended up there entirely by chance; the site was built with old material from other buildings at the time, and the heads were just the right size to support the columns.
And the crying stone? That is actually a crying column; small decorations in the column make it look like it is crying when the stone becomes moist. The column was probably erected in memory of the thousands of slaves who died during the construction of the large basilica.
Eat a Istanbul style fish sandwich
At the fish restaurants under the Galata Bridge you are assured of a beautiful view, but if you want a snack, mix with the locals and enjoy a sandwich with fish that you can buy at the boats at the foot of the Galata Bridge.
All day long fish are baked here on wobbly boats and sandwiches with fish are sold: this Balik Ekmek is a traditional sandwich with fish, salad and onion, that’s all it is.
There are only a few of these boats and the preparation and sale of the fish sandwiches always involves some – pleasant – chaos, but the snack tastes fantastic and the atmosphere is beautiful. There are a few tables where you can eat your fish sandwich, but sitting on the stairs opposite the boats is just as comfortable (among a mass of fish-eating locals!). Moreover, it is also the cheapest meal you will ever have tasted: for a few Euros you are already charged.
And while we’re talking about fish, the Galata Bridge is a popular hotspot for the many fishermen who hang out from morning to night, tell stories about fishermen and hope for a big catch. Nice to see.
Climb the Galata tower
The Galata tower has been many things: a light tower, a defense tower, an asylum for prisoners of war, an observatory … But above all it is one of the most famous sights of Istanbul.
The tower is located in the Beyoglu district and if you take the time and effort to climb up, you will be treated to one of the most beautiful panoramic views of the city.
Fun fact: in 1638 a certain Hezarfen Ahmet Celebi used the tower as a launching platform for … the first human flight. He put on a pair of artificial wings, jumped from the tower and flew all the way from the European to the Asian side, the first intercontinental flight ever!
Would you like additional tips on where you can best eat and walk? Contact us about the many options.