Updated: Jun 5, 2019
It was very cold and I did not have much of an option. It was either to tour with freezing rain or see the sights during the warm weather, but endure the crowds during the summer.
I went prepared for that kind of weather; I have told you before that I always research before traveling about the language, the culture, the weather, and the legal system. That led me to pack extra clothes and a long, long-sleeved dress with a scarf to enter the mosques.
Istanbul is a very rich city in history; from the epoch of the Greeks of Megara to the Republic of Turkey today. Those of us who went to law school in a civil-law system know a lot about this region as we spent 4 semesters learning about the Rome and Byzantine Empires, but a little less about the Ottoman Empire.
Each corner of Istanbul has history. Thus three days are not enough to go explore all the monuments—even if walking around the entire day.
In this blog you will find where to go and a plan for each day.
As for accommodations, I think the European side is better. You can find very good hotels near Taskin Square as well as stores to shop and a myriad of restaurants to dine in. The Taskin is safe enough to walk around.
Hagia Sophia: it was a church, then a mosque, and then transformed by Ataturk into what it is today: a palace/museum. In the morning it looks like a great, aged building. At night, however, the lights and gilding of the decorations are best appreciated for its distinctive appearance.
—>Fun fact: the mihrab (niche that indicates the direction of Mecca) has a different angle compared with the image of Mary & baby Jesus on top of the dome. The reason is that the mihrab’s direction is towards Saudi Arabia (Mecca); the image of Mary and Baby Jesus, towards Israel (Bethlehem).
Blue Mosque: One of the most beautiful mosques in the world. Its real name is the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, but people know it as the Blue Mosque because of the handmade ceramic tiles that line the walls.
—>Fun fact: the lamps have hangers to put the ostrich eggs that were used during that period to ward off the spiders—which are protected in Islam because a story tells that they saved the life of the Prophet Muhammad.
Grand Bazaar: if you want to buy things, do not plan for less than 2 hours. There are too many products. I bought a set to serve tea and they even wrapped it up for me. The secret of shopping in Istanbul is not to show your level of interest in an item and once they give you a price, offer to pay 1/5. Turks do not get offended. They are true negotiators.
Topkapi Palace: This is a giant palace and served as a place of residence in the fifteenth century for the Ottoman sultans. There are several museums within this place. The palace is divided into four gardens, but several buildings. There is a part of the complex where the sultan's women lived and it is called the harem. To enter, it is necessary to buy another ticket, but it is worth it.
—>Fun fact: In one of the pavilions there is an Imam (a person who presides over the prayers in Islam) on call reading the Qur'an. For 500 years, the Qur’an has been read continuously—yeah, without interruption—in this place.
Bazaar of Spices: it is also known as the Egyptian Bazaar. It is a little smaller than the Grand Bazaar, but it has better prices because tourists do not shop there as much. Therefore, the bargains are better.
For dinner, there is a safe neighborhood, albeit a bit luxurious, called Harbiye.
Byzantine Hippodrome: it is today a square where the chariot races were held to entertain the emperors. There are three monuments, one of which looks like a snake-shaped column that was rescued and brought from Delhi.
There is a truck of corn in each corner, I made a quick stop to get warm and continue my tour.
Cisterna Basilica: is the largest cistern in the world. It is also called the Submerged Palace, because it was built under Istanbul during the Byzantine era. The cistern distributed water to the Grand Palace of Constantinople and the Topkapi Palace after the Ottomans conquered the area.
Do not forget to try the Turkish Delights. If you do not like them the first time, you want to try them again later on your trip. They are the most popular sweet in Turkey and there are hundreds of flavors.
Fun facts about Istanbul :
1. It is know as the city of Mosques.
2. It is not the capital city. The capital is Ankara.
3. It’s the only city in the world located on two continents.
4. The first tulip bud grew in Istanbul, not in the Netherlands.
5. If you take a tour, your guide will take you to shops that he chooses because he has a deal with the shop-owners: you buy and he gets money. Feel free to tell him that you do not want to be taken to places for shop. It is a total waste of time.
I hope this guide is useful to you. For a gallery of pics visit my highlights in Instagram.