If you are looking for a destination for a long weekend, if you are a city dweller and eager for cultural visits and night activities, Istanbul is made for you! The ancient Constantinople is no longer presented, and it would be very difficult to summarize it in a few paragraphs, as its faces are multiple. With its rich historical and religious heritage, the city exudes an infectious energy. Do not visit Istanbul, live it
Istanbul the European
Istanbul is separated from its Anatolian neighbor by the Bosphorus, the European side of Istanbul is itself divided in two by an estuary called the Golden Horn. A river border that is not only symbolic since it also separates the historical part of the city from its modern part.
Blue Mosque Istanbul is of course full of mosques and monuments, competing of beauty, to visit. Settling in the very modern district of Beyoglu is a good compromise: close to the main tourist sites on foot, it offers a large number of hotels, restaurants and bars where to spend your evenings (and nights!). You will be able to find a room or an apartment to rent around the Galata Tower, a medieval tower of 35 meters high, to visit and from where you will have a panoramic view on the city, or higher towards the Taksim square (which found its peace!). Between these two squares stretches Istiklal, the most famous avenue of Istanbul, which is full of stores that will not disorientate the shoppers: Mango, Zara, H&M … The place resembles in every way, with its paving stones, the great shopping avenues of Barcelona. But it also offers many good places to have a drink or to dine, with or without a view on the Bosphorus.
Going to the old Istanbul to visit Saint Sophia or the Blue Mosque will lead you to cross the Galata Bridge, either on foot or by streetcar. This is where the ferries leave for the Asian shore or the islands (see below). Crossing it on foot is worth the detour, if only to admire the ballet of boats going in and out of the Golden Horn (taking Stambulians to the other side or tourists cruising on the Bosphorus) or to observe the many fishermen crowded together who seem to be there as much for the harvest as for the pleasure of feeding the expert seagulls that swallow in mid-air the small fish they throw them. If you like seafood, have lunch or dinner in one of the restaurants on the docks or under the bridge, the former being cheap and less touristy than the latter.
On the other side of the bridge is the Grand Bazaar, once a typical Turkish market that has become very touristy but still offers a maze of stores frequented by the Stamboulians themselves. Spices, teas, dishes, fabrics… the place is ideal if you wish to bring back a souvenir of your stay in Turkey. By continuing along the quays, you will arrive in the district of Fatih, where a first halt is essential to visit the Topkapi palace built in the 15th century under the reign of Mehmed II and which was until 1853 the urban, principal and official residence of the Ottoman sultans. Today it offers visitors numerous examples of Ottoman architecture and preserves important collections of porcelain, clothing, weapons, shields, armor, Ottoman miniatures, Islamic calligraphy manuscripts and wall paintings, as well as a permanent exhibition of Ottoman treasures and jewelry. A visit to the former harem is worthwhile, although you will have to pay a higher ticket to visit it. The palace is surrounded by a lush garden overlooking the Bosphorus, where it’s nice to stroll and rest in the shade of the trees before continuing the visit.
Not far from there is one of the main jewels of Istanbul: the church of Saint Sophia, or Ayasoya in Turkish for “divine wisdom”. Former Christian church of Constantinople of the VIth century, it becomes a mosque in the XVth century under the impulse of the sultan Mehmed II. The legend says that after the capture of Constantinople, the sultan went to Hagia Sophia and fell on his knees in front of the interior beauty of the building. The church has beautiful mosaics from the Byzantine period, some in excellent condition.
Just opposite stands the Sultanahmet Mosque known in Europe as the Blue Mosque in reference to the sumptuous blue, white and green mosaics that it houses. Built between 1609 and 1616 under the reign of Ahmet I, it was the first mosque surrounded by six minarets and remains the most famous of Istanbul … which has more than 500! After a well-deserved break in one of the restaurants of the district, very tourist but pleasant, you will be able to close your day dedicated to the heritage by visiting the basilica cistern built in 527 and conceived to provide drinking water to the Byzantine imperial palace.