Istanbul, this magical meeting place of East and West straddles Europe and Asia across the Bosphorus Strait. Its Old City reflects cultural influences of the many empires that once ruled here while also being a hotspot for a booming nightlife and culinary scene, shopping and fun.
I was so lucky to be able to stay at the lovely Hotel Poem, located steps away from the historic Aya Sofia in the old city. Named and designed after artists who visited Istanbul, each and every room is named after a worthy artist that brings forward the lyricism of Istanbul.
The hotel is a wonderful place to get a real sense of the many sides of Istanbul with top notch accommodations with all the amenities, great location and incredible homemade breakfasts. I looked forward to waking up every morning to see what delicious foods awaited me!
I loved that steps from the front door of Hotel Poem, I was able to immerse myself in Turkish culture. In the Sultanahmet district, the open-air, Roman-era Hippodrome was for centuries the site of chariot races, even Egyptian obelisks still remain, this area of Istanbul is steeped in tremendous history. All within walking distance or short cab or subway ride I visited:
- Hagia Sophia – An important Byzantine structure in Istanbul and one of the world’s great monuments, the Aya Sophia was built as a Christian church in the 6th century under the direction of the Byzantine emperor Justinian I. In subsequent centuries it became a mosque, a museum, and now a mosque again. The building reflects the religious changes that have played out in the region over the centuries, with the minarets and inscriptions of Islam as well as the lavish mosaics of Christianity.
- Cistern Basilica – The largest of several hundred ancient cisterns that lie beneath the city of Istanbul, Turkey and is a fun and quick little tour that makes for super cool photos.
- Topkapi Palace – The subject of more colourful stories than most of the world’s museums put together, the palace grounds was home to sultans, ambitious courtiers and beautiful concubines between the 15th and 19th centuries when it was the court of the Ottoman empire. A visit to the palace’s opulent pavilions, jewel-filled Treasury and sprawling Harem gives a fascinating glimpse into their lives.
- Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar – One of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, with 61 covered streets and over 4,000 shops, attracting between up to 400,000 visitors daily and is often regarded as one of the first shopping malls of the world. An enormous maze of shopping, it’s easy get lost in this shopping wonderland. The spice bazaar is the second largest and specializes in a wide variety of spices.
- Ferry to Asian Side – Being that Istanbul straddles 2 continents, it’s a must to take a ferry on the bosphorus over to the asian side of the city. Both sides boast incredible sights so be sure to carve out enough time on your trip to experience them both.
- Galata Tower – One of my favorite parts of town to explore was the hilly and cobblestoned streets of Galata. One of the best views of the city can be found from the observation deck of Galata Tower as well as touring a fun museum within the tower itself that is home to some fun interactive exhibits as well as history of the city.Galata is home to a vibrant nightlife scene as the area is packed with bars, restaurants and great shopping. Istiklal Street is the area’s main retail row and a can’t miss in my book.
The history of the bathhouse goes back to the Ancient Romans and in Turkey, they don’t mess around when it comes to pampering. From the beautiful, heated marble bathroom to their chill spaces and massage rooms, this place is sheer ecstasy.
The hammam bathing ritual is done on a heated marble slab and honestly feels like heaven. The Natir, or lady who washes you, engages in several steps during the service. From the first wash in the fountain to the sponge, honey and bubble scrubs, each leaves you feeling more clean than the last and finally leaving you in a state of pure bliss.
So in this post, I shared the sights of Istanbul. Next week I share the tastes ; ) Stay tuned!
*Special thanks to Hotel Poem, Tripadvisor and Catma Mescit Hamami for such a magical trip!