Istanbul is a city that can boast some of the world’s most important historical buildings. From rich history to vibrant culture, the city has a lot to offer. We stayed in Istanbul for two months and it was an experience we will never forget. It’s a very dynamic and colorful city, formerly known as Constantinople, for many centuries it was the capital of various empires which contributed to the wealth of beautiful monuments, stunning views and tasty treats that will appeal to everyone.
Istanbul is one of the largest cities in the world and has two international airports, which are a considerable distance from each other. Therefore, it is important to plan your trip well in advance and check which airport is closest to our accommodation. Remember that taxis in Istanbul have different rates, depending on the hour, day and month we are in. The taxi driver may also ask if we prefer to take a fast route, which includes a toll motorway for which you will also have to pay extra. You can also choose a slower route without toll motorways, but there is a risk that you may get stuck in a traffic jam. An alternative may be public transport, such as metro or bus, which are convenient, cheap and quite well organized, but can be crowded. Therefore, it is good to plan your trip carefully, paying particular attention to the airport you will be landing on and transportation options to your accommodation, to avoid unnecessary stress and unpleasant surprises.
Of course, like us, we did not check these things before arrival. It turned out that we landed at an airport more than 3 hours away by taxi from our Airbnb. This was of course an extra cost that could have been avoided if we had planned our stay a little better. On top of that, the taxi driver couldn’t find the address we gave him and dropped us off a few streets earlier claiming that this is the place. We found a small café in the area and asked for help in finding the address. It turned out that local people are very nice and helpful, even if they don’t understand what you are saying to them. One man took our phone number to the Airbnb owner and called her from his own mobile. She explained to us in which direction we should go and came to meet us.
The owner of our Airbnb turned out to be an exceptionally friendly person. From the first moment, she did everything to make us feel at home and were satisfied with our stay in Istanbul. A few times she surprised us by bringing us local delicacies, helped in ordering food for delivery, and even took us on a tour of Istanbul. She not only devoted her time but also her acquaintances, inviting her friend who turned out to be a guide in Istanbul, thanks to which we saw and learned much more than if we had done it ourselves. In addition, she not only advised where to find the best prices and which products to avoid but also negotiated the best prices for us. Thanks to her, we always felt confident when shopping or in a restaurant and did not worry about being cheated. When leaving Istanbul, she ordered a taxi for us and specially got up early in the morning to negotiate a lower price for transport in advance, and of course, to say goodbye to us. Her selfless help and kindness contributed to our very positive opinion of Istanbul residents. She was a model of hospitality and cordiality, which made our stay in Turkey even more unforgettable.
We stayed in an Airbnb in the Avcilar district. It’s not a very touristy place, but because of this, we could observe what real life of local people looks like. We even had a chance to see a young couple and their guests getting ready to go to a wedding, and all the festivities associated with it. Another curiosity were “window shopping”, where a car with vegetables, or other products stopped between residential buildings, and local people lowered a basket with money on a string, after which the seller checked the amount and loaded the appropriate amount of product into the basket.
The apartment consisted of two bedrooms, a large living room connected to the kitchen, a bathroom, a large hall and a huge terrace. The bedrooms were small but sufficient, and the beds were very comfortable. The bathroom had a rather small shower cubicle, definitely for two fatties like us, but somehow we managed.
There are several shops and restaurants nearby, and it is also quite close to bus stops, which run very often and in all directions, so getting around such a huge city as Istanbul is not that difficult. The Airbnb owner lent us her card for buses and metro. It works a bit like a prepaid ticket for all public transport. At each station, there are stations where you can check the status of the card and top it up if necessary.
Of course, Turkish cuisine is also one of the biggest attractions of Turkey and it is worth trying its specialties during a trip to Istanbul. The most popular Turkish dish around the world is kebab. It is a type of meat that is grilled on a vertical spit and served with vegetables and sauces.
Another popular dish in Turkey is pide, a kind of pizza that can be found in many restaurants and cafes. Pide is a thin pastry that is filled with meat, cheese, and vegetables. This delicious dish is often served with a salad of tomatoes and cucumbers and yogurt.
Turkish cuisine offers many different delicacies. It’s worth trying mezze, a snack served with hummus, olives, and vegetables, and borek, a pastry with cheese and herbs.
As for sweet treats, Turkish cuisine is famous for baklava, a pastry with nuts and honey. This dish is very sweet and sticky, but it’s definitely worth a try. Other popular sweets include lokum, a kind of jelly with honey and nuts, and salep, a hot drink made from milk and orchid root.
Yogurt is a very popular food product in Turkey, which is often served as an addition to various dishes, but also as a standalone snack. Airan, also known as ayran, is a popular drink based on natural yogurt, water, and salt. It is an ideal drink for hot summer days, and a good way to replenish electrolytes after a long walk around the city.
In Turkish culture, yogurt also has cultural and social significance. Many families make yogurt at home and pass on recipes and techniques from generation to generation. It is an integral part of Turkish cuisine and it is worth trying it during your stay in Istanbul.
Another thing that we really liked in Istanbul is the architecture. The city is home to some of the most beautiful mosques and palaces in the world. It’s a place that combines the culture and history of two continents – Europe and Asia, offering unforgettable experiences for everyone.
Istanbul has over 2,500 years of history and was the capital of three great empires: Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman. Over the centuries, the city has developed and changed, which is visible in its architecture and gave the city a unique character.
In the 4th century, Istanbul was the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, known as Byzantium. During this period, many monumental buildings were built, such as Hagia Sophia, which was the largest church in the empire. Characteristics of Byzantine architecture are domes, arches, and rich decorations, which can still be admired in many buildings in Istanbul.
The city was also important in Roman times, which can be seen in the preserved ruins of many buildings, such as palaces and aqueducts. A characteristic feature of Roman architecture are massive walls and arches, which provided durability and stability to the buildings.
In the 15th century, Istanbul became the capital of the Ottoman Empire, which brought a new direction in the city’s architectural development. Characteristics of Ottoman architecture are minarets, domes and rich decorations, which give the buildings an elegant and distinctive appearance. Many important buildings were built during this period, such as Suleiman the Magnificent’s Mosque also known as the Blue Mosque or Topkapi Palace, which was the residence of the Ottoman sultans for over 400 years.
Istanbul is famous for numerous watchtowers, which are a characteristic part of its skyline. Watchtowers, such as Galata Tower or Maiden’s Tower, were used in the past for observation and warning of approaching dangers.
Hagia Sophia is one of the most important attractions in Istanbul, and at the same time one of the most beautiful monuments in the world. This temple was built in the 6th century as a church, then converted into a mosque, then a museum, and now it is a mosque again. Its architecture combines Byzantine, Roman and Ottoman elements. The interior of Hagia Sophia simply takes your breath away! High domes, mosaics, columns and other decorations make a huge impression and make you reflect on history and great achievements of humanity. It is said that this building was built as a Christian church at the behest of Constantine I in 325 AD on the foundations of a pagan temple. However, a fire broke out in 404 and the church was significantly damaged. It was rebuilt and enlarged by the then Roman emperor Constans I but again burned down a little over 100 years later. The currently standing structure is essentially a building from the 6th century, although an earthquake caused partial collapse of the dome in 558 (but restored in 562) and then there were two more partial collapses, after which it was rebuilt on a smaller scale, and the entire church was reinforced from the outside.
The Spice Bazaar, also known as Misir Carsisi, is one of the most unique places to visit in Istanbul. It is a real paradise for culinary enthusiasts. The bazaar tempts with its variety of aromas and colors. Hundreds of types of spices, from well-known to exotic ones, are beautifully laid out in colorful pyramids. Apart from spices, at the Spice Bazaar you can also find various types of tea, dried fruits, nuts, sweets, like the famous Turkish lokum, as well as traditional Turkish products, such as beautiful ceramic dishes or lanterns. It’s worth visiting this bazaar not only for shopping, but also for the amazing atmosphere, full of oriental scents and bustling Turkish trade.
One of the things that really stuck in our memory during my trip to Istanbul was the friendliness and hospitality of the locals. Despite language barriers, the people we met were eager to help and made us feel at home. From the vendors at the Grand Bazaar to the waiters in restaurants, everyone was incredibly kind and helpful.
It’s important to note that when visiting Turkey, bargaining is a common practice, especially at markets and bazaars. Bargaining over prices was a very difficult experience for us, but luckily the owner of our Airbnb came to our aid. It was interesting and a bit strange to watch her bargain over prices that to us already seemed reasonable. However, this allowed us to get great deals on souvenirs and other items. We noticed that during the entire bargaining process both sides are very polite and maintain respect for each other. Ultimately, traders are just trying to make a living. However, without help in bargaining we probably would have overpaid quite a lot for almost everything – starting with taxis and ending with a meal in a restaurant.
Our trip to Istanbul was a one-of-a-kind experience. The food, architecture, history, friendly people, and bargaining were amazing, and we can’t wait to go back there again. If you ever have the opportunity to visit Istanbul, we highly recommend taking it – you won’t regret it. With its rich history, vibrant culture, friendly people, delicious food, and unique shopping experiences, Istanbul is truly a city like no other.