June 28, 2014

Top things to do in Istanbul

In honor of summer and all the fun things associated with it - 4th of July holiday, vacations, and sunny weather depending on what part of the hemisphere you live in, I wanted to do a July series on my favorite vacation destinations.

Istanbul was one of the cities I visited in Turkey during my honeymoon last year, and it was truly an exotic, memorable trip that I'll never forget.  What surprised me the most about this trip was the extreme depth and richness in history of this country.  If you think Roman history is ancient, Turkish history goes much further and it was astounding to see the level of artistry humans had as far back as the 1400's.    

I could go on and on about Turkey, so I better cut to the chase...If you've only got a couple days in Istanbul, here are some activities and sights I recommend in no particular order:

*Visit the Blue Mosque.  You're required to take off your shoes and women must cover your hair.  They provide you plastic bags to keep your shoes in and if you're female and happen to forget to pack a scarf, they'll provide you with one as well.

*Bosphorus River Cruise - This is a nice alternative if you're still suffering from jetlag or just want to relax after a long day of sightseeing.  Also you get beautiful photo ops of Istanbul that you otherwise wouldn't get on land.

*Visit the Hagia Sophia.  This was once a church, then became a mosque, and is now a museum.   The architecture and mosaics are truly breathtaking and inspiring. 

*Visit the Topkapi Palace Museum.  This sight will keep you busy for hours with many courtyards, buildings that were once libraries, imperial courts, rooms that house relics and artifacts, and so much more.  There's also a few cafes where you can sit and enjoy some Turkish coffee with views of the Bosphorus.

*The Grand Bazaar - The name says it all and is one of the world's earliest trading centers and today is a shopper's paradise with a plethora of Turkish goods.  Sadly, we didn't have enough time to thoroughly explore the bazaar, but I will most definitely make another trip to make up for it.

We booked our Turkey trip through livingsocial.com and although we had a few reservations about doing it, I'm so glad we did because it was well worth it.  The deal was affiliated with Keytours and our guide Recep was amazing- saying that he had a wealth of knowledge is a major understatement; he spoke non-stop.  It was a very well organized trip and we saw more sights and covered more cities than what we otherwise wouldn't have been able to if we had traveled on our own.

I have to admit though, if I had to do it all over again, I would have either booked my flight to Istanbul a couple days before the tour actually started, or a couple days after.  It's such a whirlwind itinerary that oftentimes you're not left with plenty of time to explore on your own, or by the time you arrive at your hotel at the end of the day and venture out at your own leisure, most shops are closed by then.  

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