Istanbul: Historically known as Constantinople, this city embodies the perfect mix of Asia and Europe in terms of architecture, art, entertainment, culture and landscape.
Built on the edge of two continents; it is one of the most popular tourist destinations of today. Divided into two by the shimmering Bosphorus Sea, it is the city that many historians, artists and poets have written about.
Summer 2013 took me to Istanbul, and I was stunned to see the city that has preserved not only the ruins of one civilization but withholds all the remnants of its previous rulers. Yet, it is still a modern day city that thrives on its night life, shopping streets and traffic jams.
The European and Asian sides of the city are connected by two bridges, and every time I crossed it I could not help but be amazed at the beauty surrounding me and the contrast between the two sides. In a span of just 30 seconds I would go from Asia to Europe. The European side is where a majority of the popular tourist destinations are located, the Blue Mosque, Haghia Sophia, Top Kapi Palace, Taksim Square etc. The Asian side is equally fun filled and lively, however, which is why I would urge all tourists to visit both sides and judge for themselves.
Shopping. First on the list was the famous Bagdat Street, which not only has amazing restaurants but also massive outlets for both local and international brands. Always alive with bustling crowds, it is a great place for shopping in contrast to Istakhlal Street which is right next to Taksim square on the European side of Istanbul.
This street is filled with international brands, live music, bars and clubs. If you are looking to have a great time and a host of shopping too, these two streets are the places to be especially on weekends. As far as the traditional merchandise and souvenirs go, Grand Bazaar and Spice Market are the perfect spots. The Spice Market is filled with aromas of spices and flavored Turkish chai’s, and just about every shopkeeper will make you try their Turkish delight, so make sure you leave your sweet tooth back home.
The Grand Bazaar, apart from being the most traditional market of the city, has the most stunning stone jewelry. You can find almost everything there, cheap knock off bags, famous Turkish lamps, pashmina and cashmere shawls and so much more. However, just like our local markets, be very vigilant. Your Pakistani bargaining skills will bore high rewards here.
And as if streets and ancient markets aren’t enough, Istanbul has an even larger variety of shopping malls. The best one being Istinya Park, anyone in the mood of spending the day at the mall, this place is a must visit.
Food : For all sorts of foodies, Istanbul is the place! Not only will you find stalls of Turkish delicacies lined up on the streets, but you will also discover small shops of mouth watering treats like mixed fruit waffle ice cream. First up, you must try the famous traditional Turkish “donor sandwiches”, which are available at every shop.
I feel obliged to warn all fellow Pakistanis, however, that the traditional food is slightly bland, therefore always ask for extra ketchup and mayo. Now, for your fancy-shmancy fine dining, Bibik is a must visit! A huge street, it is lined with restaurants right on the Bosphorus ranging from the very fancy to medium fancy. If you get lucky, you might even find a table right at the edge to enjoy a splendid meal and the Bosphorus on your right side.
My favourite restaurant of all was Kitchenette, this splendid French cuisine which has branches all over turkey. The deserts over there, particularly the crème brûlée was to die for.
Tourist Attractions: Anyone who visits Istanbul and fails to visit Sultanahmet seriously missed the point. For a trip down memory lane, I visited the Blue Mosque, Bascilica Cistern, Aya Sophia and Top Kapi palace. These places are all located in close proximity, in Sultanahmet area which is on the European side.
The whole avenue can leave a person stunned; the buildings are well preserved and are screaming stories of the past. Other than the museums, you would find multiple restaurants, hotels and shops in the area, so you can spend morning till night there and won’t get bored for a second. Lastly, for all Sufi lovers, you must visit the swirling dervishes show. Even though this show happens in many theatres, my recommendation would be to visit the Hojha Pasha Dance theatre, which is located near Sultanahmet.
Night life: In Istanbul, a night out in the city is compulsory. Istanbul is known to have some of the best clubs in Europe, particularly “Reina”. Reina is a restaurant located on the Bosphorus, right beside the Bosphorus bridge,that turns into a night club at 12. So after a lavish meal, you can loosen up, dancing in open air underneath the glittering lights of the Bosphorus bridge. Another, amazing experience is the night cruise of the Bosphorus on a yatch. The yatch goes around the Bosphorus and you can see all the lights of both sides of the city. However, be wise to carry a jacket because it does get chilly at night time on the yatch, even if you are visiting im the summers. Another fun activity is going to a sheesha bar at taksim, most of them have live music and dancing. Sheesha, known as “Nargile” in Turkey, is a common past time for many turks, and therefore most sheesha bars are lively at night time.
Fun, fun and more fun! As if all this isn’t enough, there is so much more! Visit the brand new theme park called Vialand; it is massive and also has an amazing shopping mall. The theme park has multiple rides, including a free fall, roller coaster and haunted houses. Since it is located on the suburbs of the city, it has one of the best views of Istanbul.
Other activities that you just cannot miss include the day time Bosphorus cruise and a visit to Princes islands.
All in all, I feel Istanbul is more than what is anticipated; underrated and thoroughly beautiful. My advice: it is the perfect location for summers!
It may be slightly hot in the morning but the evenings are always pleasant and the city has numerous adventures in store. So what are you waiting for? Start saving right now, and plan a trip to Istanbul!