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Istanbul 101

iStock_000054752084_SmallOne of the world’s largest cities by population and the cultural and financial centre of Turkey, Istanbul is one of the most exciting places to be, and for good reason. Views of the water, breathtaking architecture, incredible food—we’ve got all the reasons you should make Istanbul your next holiday destination. Get ready to fall in love.

The Grand Bazaar
Over 5000 shops spread out over 60 streets, more than 50 restaurants, a dozen mosques…how’s that for the shopping trip of a lifetime? Add in the fact that the bazaar is over 500 years old and you’ve got yourself a retail experience like no other. Frequented by locals and tourists alike, the Grand Bazaar is a bargain hunter’s dream come true. Featuring everything from rugs and textiles to jewelry and spices, the biggest challenge is always finding room in your suitcase to haul all your treasures back home. Expect an exciting sense of chaos and prepare to get lost which is all a part of the fun.

Sultan Ahmed Mosque
Also called the Blue Mosque, in reference to the 20,000 plus blue tiles that line the interior, the Sultan Ahmed Mosque is a massive architectural marvel that was completed in 1616. Because it’s an active mosque, there are times of the day that are restricted to visitors for 90 minutes at a time. The call to prayer takes place 5 times a day so it’s important to know when it’s happening in order to avoid disappointment. There is no admission fee to visit the mosque but there are rules regarding clothing and shoes. Women must cover their hair prior to entering the mosque and shoes must be removed by everyone. Take some time to brush up on the dress code and general guidelines and then prepare yourself to be dazzled by the incredible beauty and detail you’re about to take in.Blue Mosque at sunset in Istanbul, Turkey, Sultanahmet district

Turkish Baths
No trip to Istanbul can be considered complete without a visit to the Turkish baths. Cemberlitas Hamami, considered to be one of the originals, was built in 1584 and continues to provide some of Turkey’s best spa services to this day. While it’s possible to go to the DIY route and opt for self-service, it’s recommended to pay for the whole experience which can be as basic as a wash and massage to something more indulgent like aromatherapy treatments and facials. Before heading to the baths, take a little time to read up on the procedures and get an idea of the general etiquette surrounding the experience which will make the whole process a lot more relaxing.

Cruise the Bosphorus
There is a lot to do in Istanbul so it’s perfectly understandable that you may forget to take advantage of certain attractions. Don’t let a cruise of the Bosphorus be one of them. The best way to take in the magnificent sights is to book a tour with Sehir Hatlari, the officially recognized ferry company in Istanbul. Offers of private tours may be tempting but they’re typically overpriced and there are no guarantees to what you’re going to get. Sehir Hatlari offers several cruise options including shorter options for time-pressed tourists, full excursions, and incredible night trips that are almost surreal in their beauty.

Istanbul Coffee Shops
Let go of any expectations you may have of grabbing a Venti to go and get ready for the coffee experience of a lifetime in an Istanbul cafe. While globally recognized chains have already begun staking claims to street corners, it’s still possible to experience the authentic Turkish coffee experience, provided that you know where to look. Bypass shops offering extensive menus that range from pizza to cocktails and look for spots that offer freshly roasted beans, ground to order, prepared traditionally without fuss or pretense. If you’re not sure where to start on your java hunt, head to Fazıl Bey which consistently serves up some of the most incredible coffee you’ll ever taste.

Istanbul Dining
Turkish food is good. Really, really good. Ask anyone who’s visited Istanbul and chances are good that they’ll have a list of restaurants that they swear you absolutely have to try. While it may be next to impossible to fit everything in, you’re not likely to be disappointed by the majority of spots you try. In the warmer months, it’s worth trying to find a terrace or rooftop patio which offers spectacular views of the city and river that tend to make even the simplest ingredients taste that much better. Indulge in traditional Turkish breakfasts, stop for kebab, sample as much street food as you can, and don’t forget to try the seafood.

images ©istockphoto

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