Istanbul, the capital of Turkey, is a dynamic and lively city; it is rich in culture and history. It was not to my surprise, that it is likely to edge out the very popular Paris and London in tourists visits, by 2016, as stated by The Master Card 2014 Global Destination Index. Istanbul, had an amazing 11.6 million people to visit in 2014, and that number is steadily increasing as visitors continue to flock to the city once named Constantinople, in honor of the emperor, Constantine the Great. I can attest, as I journeyed through Istanbul solo, that it definitely should be at the top of your bucket list of places to visit!
See its History
Istanbul is a modern city, but still manages to embrace it’s historical past. I stayed in a boutique hotel in Sultanahmet Square, the perfect area to stay in if you’re interested in being close to Istanbul’s main attractions. A few notable attractions and probably the most popular in Istanbul are the Blue Mosque, named for its bluish tiled interior, the Topkapi Palace, and the Hagia Sophia, a well preserved architectural gem, over 1,000 years old. There are several other fascinating landmarks that are a must see as well, some of my favorites are the Basilica Cistern (Istanbul’s sunken palace), Suleymaniye Mosque, the Hippodrome of Constantinople, and the astonishing Dolmabahce Palace. Istanbul truly has an infinite amount of history that is engaging and is sure to keep you in awe.
Experience the Culture
When I visit any country, I always try to adapt to its culture. My day always began with a hot cup of apple or black tea in a traditional tulip shaped glass as I listened to ezan or prayer that is amplified throughout the city, used to call Muslims to prayer 6 times a day. Also, intriguing about Istanbul, was having the opportunity to experience both sides of this beautiful city that sits on two continents, Europe and Asia. The European side is most visited by tourists, since it makes up for the majority of Istanbul and has the most attractions. However, one would be doing themselves a disservice by not visiting its neighboring border. It was the Asian side that I felt I was able to see the daily lives of the Turkish, sans tourists. Visitors of a mosque removing their shoes before entering to pray, children playing kickball in the narrow street of a neighborhood, students on their way to study for Koranic school, and Turkish rugs, music, and jewelry sold from a shop. I was grateful to have a clear vision of the daily lives and culture of the people of Istanbul.
Enjoy the Food
Although, your typical fast food chains are available to you in Istanbul, Mc Donald’s, Shake Shack, and, KFC…to name a few. I implore that you reject your succumbing need of the common hamburger or chicken wing and indulge in the cuisine of Istanbul. There is a vast variety of Turkish dishes to try, one of my favorites was Adana Kebap, strips of lamb are kneaded with local spices and herbs, grilled with fresh vegetables, and served over a bed of rice. I also visited the Beyoglu fish market, it had a variety of interesting seafood to try. If a sweet tooth needs to be satisfied, you are most definitely in the right place. Turkish delights (sugary confections) and my addiction, baklava, sheets of filo (a very thin crust like dough) are melded together with chopped nuts and honey…I couldn’t get enough! Do yourself a favor, if you love savory and well-seasoned food, ditch the diet, and come ready to satisfy your palate in Istanbul. The food is amazing!
Shop Till’ You Drop
Many may not think of Istanbul as a place to shop, and this is one misconception where many are surprisingly wrong. The Grand Bazaar, is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, with 61 covered streets and over 3,000 shops, it is filled with shiny trinkets, sparkling lights, colorful clothing and homeware. But, if you really want to take your shopping to the next level then visit Istanbul’s shopping district, Nisantasi, it is for the fashionably forward with nicely lined pockets…lined with money that is. Visit the street, Abdi Ipekci if you’re looking for the most prominent luxe brands, such as Gucci, Prada, Cartier, and many more. Venture to the Asian side of Istanbul by ferry and visit Badgat Caddesi, it was ranked #4 for the best of world shopping by a Parisian consulting company in 2012, right behind Singapore, Amsterdam, and Luxembourg. There is something for everyone in Istanbul, but one shopping area that I couldn’t get enough of was Taksim Square. However, I enjoyed this area for more than just it’s shopping, it had it all!
Dance the Night Away
Istanbul has a very lively and energetic nightlife! There is no way you can visit Istanbul, without spending a Friday or Saturday night in Istanbul’s Taksim Square. It was also easily accessible by train or a 6 dollar cab from Sultanahmet Square. One of the things I loved most about Istanbul, I easily navigated my way through the city solo. There are over 16 million Turkish that live in Istanbul, so imagine that number plus the thousands of tourists that travel through Istanbul daily. Think New York’s Times Square times 100, yeah that many people! But, unlike Time Square, Taksim Square, is not many blocks of heavily crowded streets, it is mainly one street, Istiklal Cadessi (Independence Ave.) that runs through the area. There was always something to do…the excitement, the fun, the food, the people, the shopping, clubs, bars…everything you needed was right there! Can you believe that my first time ever doing karaoke was at a bar in Taksim Square? Ummm…karaoke is not as easy at looks. Many Turkish locals also come out and display their talents in this area. Fire dancing, music on bongos, and art work is displayed, buckets and hats are quickly filled with Turkish lira (currency) by the many tourists passing through the street. The night life in Istanbul has endless possibilities and plenty to get into, I promise you will not be disappointed!
In short, Istanbul is a wondrous city with so much culture, spirit, and energy. It is a city that has simultaneously managed to maintain its history well into the modernity of the 21st century. It is a city that has evolved, but has not lost its heart and soul. The beauty of it all, I realized as I toured solo through the city, learning the history, experiencing the culture, and meeting the Turkish people, that I became a part of its evolvement as well.
* I found Istanbul to be relatively safe, however pickpocketing is very common. Always keep cash or credit cards completely concealed.
* Be prepared to take off shoes and be properly covered when entering a mosque, also be aware of the times that you may enter to visit.
* Shop around before making a purchase, especially on Turkish rugs, don’t get an overpriced rug. Allow the haggling shopper in you to come out.
About The Author: Pamilla Hiner is a fellow Houstonian living in the D.C. area. She is currently a travel writer and blogger as well as a flight attendant for an American carrier. Her passion is to inspire her readers to travel, and also show them how traveling can be transformative from a personal and business perspective. For more information about Pamilla, visit her on Instagram@thesolotravelmuse