Turkey, with its charming capital city of Istanbul is the new to-go European destination for Indians. One indicator that a city has ‘arrived’ on the tourist scene is when it gets its own shopping festival – the first edition of the Istanbul Shopping Festival begins on the 6th of June, and the plan is to rain discounts on tourists till the 28th of June. So, let go of those purse strings and go crazy in Istanbul. After you are done burning a biggish hole in your pocket, remember to keep time to explore one of the largest cities in the world – steeped in layers and centuries of history.
Some of Turkey’s iconic sights – Taksim Square and Galata Street have been used as location for the just released Bollywood flick – Dil Dhadakne Do.
1.Topkapi Palace : A palace of the Ottoman sultans for about 400 years, Topkapi Palace which is now a museum, is large, beautiful and full of stories of past intrigues. Surrounded by about 5 kilometers of walls, the palace serves as a good view point for the Golden Horn, the Bosphorus and the Sea of Marmara.
2. Hagia Sophia Built as a church, converted into a mosque and now a museum – the Hagia Sophia with its massive dome has been there and done that. The Hagia Sophia Museum, in its present avatar, has undergone massive restoration which has given the structure some of its original Christain mosaic work back.
3. Blue Mosque or Sultan Ahmed Mosque Another Istanbul icon, the Blue Mosque gets its name from the blue tiles on its interior. Made in the 17th century, it is still a functioning mosque. One of Istanbul’s most photogenic structures, it also has the distinction of being one of two mosques in Turkey with six minarets.
4. Suleymaniye Mosque : A 16th century mosque, the Suleymaniye Mosque is the largest of the Istanbul mosques. It sits imperiously on one of Istanbul’s seven hills. A landmark of the city, the mosque was commissioned by Suleyman the Magnificient, and does complete justice to his moniker.
5. Basilica Cistern : The Basilica Cistern is the largest of the many cisterns that are to be found beneath Istanbul. A Byzantine structure, it was constructed in the 6th century during the reign of Emperor Justinian I. It is a very interesting visit, given the fact that many of the columns used to construct it are from ruins of ancient temples. The moisture laden atmosphere actually makes a summer visit quite pleasant.
Basilica Cistern : Basilica Cistern under the Stoa Basilica, provided water for the city. SHOP
1. Grand Bazaar Possibly the oldest bazaar in the world in mall style, the Grand Bazaar is a mid 15th century wonder. Lose yourself in the labyrinth of stores that sell just about every kind of artifact and handicraft – the Grand Bazaar has the capability of keeping a keen shopper occupied for longer than planned. The street shows and exhibitions of the Istanbul Shopping Festival are going to draw shoppers in by the hundreds, and the Grand Bazaar is where the serious ones should be headed. Grand BazaarTurkish lamps on display in the maze that is the Grand Bazaar.
2. Egyptian Spice Market The Egyptian Spice Market with its spices, antiques and knick knacks is another draw for the hordes that the Shopping Fest will attract – and rightly so. The aromatic stalls set up by one spice dealer after the next call to be explored. And what trip to Istanbul is complete without your personal stash of spices?
1. Walk around Istanbul If you like exploring cities the old fashioned and calm way, then take a leisurely walk along the Golden Horn. Stroll around and stop when the fancy catches you – it is beautiful, this inlet from the Bosphorus. There are also walking and cycle tours organised by guides who will keep you glued with their stories as you are escorted around the ancient streets of the Old Town. Ask to be taken to places that are not tourist magnets – any Istanbul local worth their coffee will know a few. Golden HornAn aerial view of Golden Horn Bay
2. Soak in a hammam Turkish bath time! Most of the historical baths or hammams are to be found in the Old City around Sultanahmet, and as clichéd as it may sound, no Turkey trip is complete without a good soak. Of course you can get one in a hotel, but the real experience would be had in a traditional hammam. Imagine a warm and hot room, a cooling room and a delicious massage as you decide on the dates for your Istambul visit!
3. Visit the nargile cafes in Tophane Another quintessential Turkey experience is an evening at the nargile or water pipe cafes that dot the neighbourhood of Tophane. Find this funky hangout by following your nose – the smell of flavoured tobacco is a tell tale. Treat yourself to local tea and snacks along with the nargile.
4. Cruise the Bosphorus One of the best ways to see Istanbul is to get a deck seat on a boat that cruises along the Bosphorus, dividing the city between Asia and Europe. Your cruise gives you views of Ottoman wooden houses, palaces, bridges and castles. A good time to take the cruise is in end May, when the Judas trees on the hills along the Bosphorus are in full pink glory.