Literally bridging the gap between Europe and Asia, Istanbul is a historical city with an incredibly unique atmosphere. While the great romantic cities of Europe are all fascinating places and very worthy destinations, visiting Istanbul is an entirely different experience, and one that most everyone loves. From backstreet markets in conservative neighborhoods to trendy nightclubs on a huge pedestrian boulevard to ancient mosques of incredible beauty to sunny days lounging by the Bosporus, there is a huge variety to see and do.
Istanbul is split in two by the Bosporus strait, with two bridges and countless ferries linking the two halves. On one side lays Europe, and on the other is Asia. This post will focus on the European side, which has more defined attractions, but a visit to the city would be incomplete without some wandering around on the east side. The western part of the city is further divided by the Golden Horn, an offshoot of the Bosporus. The Horn separates Sultanahmet, the ancient city, from Beyoğlu, the center of the modern city. Sultanahmet is where you will find the magnificent mosques, churches, and monuments of ancient history: Aya Sofya, Blue Mosque, Basilica Cistern, the Grand Bazaar, and Topkapi Palace. Each of these deserves its own blog post, but suffice it to say that all are very worth visiting, and you’ll need more than a day to do them justice. Other sites worth visiting are Yemi Camii (New Mosque), Chora Church, and the Galata Bridge that spans the Golden Horn and is famous for its fried fish sandwiches on either side and on the lower level. If you take a bus or ferry up the Golden Horn, you’ll eventually get to the graveyard at Eyüp, where you can see some great Ottoman architecture and a fantastic viewpoint of the city.
Cross the Galata Bridge, and you’re at the base of Galata hill and looking up towards Galata Tower, another great viewpoint and a historical site in its own right. Climbing through the winding cobblestoned streets of this neighborhood is a fantastic experience in people-watching, window shopping, and appreciation of artistic graffiti (if that sounds like too much work, take the two-stop funicular tram that runs underground between the top and bottom). You’ll arrive at the end of İstiklal Cadessi, the main artery of the modern city. With the exception of a rumbling red trolley that runs down the avenue, İstiklal is a purely pedestrian street, and is so packed with Turks and foreigners that it can feel that the entire population of Istanbul is walking through it at the same time. Protest marches and cultural exhibitions are common, so keep an eye out. Clothing stores, bookshops, antique stores, art galleries, restaurants, and a modern mall are the main highlights of the street itself, but exploring the roads that run perpendicular and parallel to it is even more fun. There are countless bars and clubs opening and closing with unique styles and frequent live music acts, many of which are impressively talented.
Following a second funicular or the frequent buses that run from Taksim Square, it’s easy to get down to the Bosporus coastline. Go north along it to reach neighborhoods like Beşiktaş, Ortaköy, Emirgan, and İstinye, known for sumptuous palaces, beautiful parks, historical houses, and the most high society of nightclubs. Wherever you go in the city you’re guaranteed to have a good time.