Istanbul is one of my favourite cities, and I love to share it with people. With layers of history, vibrant culture, warm hospitality and mouth-watering food, Istanbul's frenetic pace is an enjoyable assault on the senses that you won't want to miss.
Most visitors spend their time in the area known as Sultanahmet, the triangle of land jutting into the Bosporus strait, where the ancient city of Constantinople was built on seven hills. Topkapi Palace perches on the promontory overlooking the strait, with the picturesque minarets of Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque peeking up from behind. It is here that the old city first came to life, where the city was created and defended and raided and invaded over the centuries. Istanbul's multiple layers of history can be found in this compact area of land: ancient Greek, Roman, Arab, Ottoman and Western influences are layered one on top of the other.
It's nearly impossible to choose one starting point to begin. However, the iconic Hagia Sophia -- the famed church constructed by emperor Justinian in 537 AD, is a worthy starting point. Serving as the high church of state functions for several centuries, it was later converted to a mosque under Ottoman rule before becoming a museum and national treasure under Ataturk's westernising influence in the 1920s.
Across the plaza lies the splendid Blue Mosque, so-called for it's blue glazed tiles. An unusual six minarets grace the courtyard: legend has it that the six minarets were constructed after a miscommunication from the sultan between the Turkish words for 'six' (altı) and 'gold' (altın).
Most tourists stick to the Golden Horn area of the city; however, true Istanbullus spend most of their time across the Bosporus in the more residentially developed Asian side. The ports of Kadiköy and Uskudar are the modern manifestations of Chalcedon and Chrysopolis, ancient cities where decisions were made about the fate of the Christian empire. Take the ferry across the Bosporus and enjoy cheap eats along the waterfront, sipping your Turkish coffee while watching the sunset over the opposite continent.
If food is your passion, then Istanbul is your pleasure. Soft morsels of Turkish delight, scented with rose water, pistachio or cherry will melt in your mouth. Fresh churned ice-cream from street vendors in Ottoman-era costume will sweeten the palate after the bitter grounds of a thick, Turkish coffee. Savour the spicy, garlicky sucuk sausage on your breakfast plate -- alongside a typical breakfast spread fit for the sultan himself. Crisp, nutty baklava sold by the kilo, or the soft, caramel-browned sesame rings known as simit make fantastic afternoon snacks. And don't forget the kebabs -- which bear no resemblance to the after-clubbing greasy pita pockets found in the UK: no, true Turkish kebabs come in all forms and flavours, the essential element being grilled meat. Every region has their own kebab variety: from the fatty drippings of the skewered Tokat kebab to the spicy mince of an Adana kebab, every vendor claims to have the most authentic taste, but it's up to you to decide which one you like the best.
When Istanbul's pace gets a bit overwhelming, tranquil reprieve can be found on the lush Prince's Islands. An hour's ferry journey from Kadiköy, these half dozen islands in the Marmara sea are a holiday away from your holiday. The clip-clop of horse-drawn carriages resounds through the small villages clinging to the coastal paths on the slopes of lush, green hills. Sitting on the beach on any of the Adalar (islands), you get a remote view of Istanbul's sprawling density across the water, while enjoying the tranquility of an era gone-by.
With so much history and culture packed into one space, it's no wonder Istanbul is referred to as the "City of the World's Desire". You'll be tempted to stay forever!
Basilica Cisterns, Beylerbeyi Palace, The Blue Mosque, Bosporus ferry crossing, Chora Church, Dolmabahce Palace, Fatih Mosque, Galata Tower, Grand Bazaar, Gulhane Park, Hagia Eirene, Hagia Sophia, Istanbul Archaeological Museum, Maiden's Tower, Prince's Islands, Suleymaniye Mosque, Taksim Square, Theodosian Walls
Joel Bond Travels is pleased to offer extensive guided tours in and around Istanbul, building an itinerary around your specific desires. Contact me today to discuss your requirements, and discover the magic quality of Istanbul today. Nothing compares to the frenetic magic of Istanbul, anytime of year.
- Well-researched, character accommodation
- Flexible touring schedule: see what you want, when you want
- No crowded tour buses or large groups
- Save time, see more with a guide who already knows the area
- Connect: options exist to dine with a local family in-home
- Go deeper: break from the standard tourist circuit and discover more local places
Base rate for guiding services:
£175/day per group
Rates cover guiding services, local transport (private hire, where possible) and entrance to select sites. Contact me to enquire about booking flights and accommodation as well.