Istanbul is unlike any other city: It’s a modern metropolis that sprawls across two continents–Europe and Asia–and a melting pot of more than 2,500 years of history, culture, and famous landmarks. Beyond the history and architecture, the food and shopping are some of the best in the world. There are few cities I’d rank top on the list to return to, but we already have Istanbul on ours. We only had a few days there, but I’d suggest at least a week. I highly, highly recommend you add this one-of-a-kind city to your own getaway list pronto. Here are my tips to make the most of your visit!
IN THREE WORDS: East meets west
WHAT TO DO: Experience the sacred places of the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, get lost bargain hunting in the Grand Bazaar, see the opulent jewels at Topkapi Palace and the stunning mosaics in its famed harem, step into as many mosques as you can but especially Süleymaniye Mosque, go underground into the Basilica Cistern, walk the Istiklal Caddesi at night, visit a proper Turkish hammam
DON’T LEAVE WITHOUT: A cruise up the Bosphorus is an absolute must for sweeping views of the city’s architecture on both the European and Asian shores. And don’t forget a visit to Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamam.
STREET FOOD TO TRY: Doner kebab, simit (salty-sweet Turkish bagels), eggplant mezes
NEIGHBORHOODS TO EXPLORE: Bebek and Nisantasi are young, vibrant and filled with boutiques and restaurants
WHERE TO SHOP: Dhoku/EthniCon for Turkish rugs, Kilim Arts for kilim slippers, Sivasli Yazmaci for gorgeous textiles, Egin Textiles for Turkish towels (all in the Grand Bazaar), and the Spice Bazaar for spices, teas, and Turkish delights
HOW TO GET AROUND: The trams and rail system get you to all the main sights and neighborhoods and are cost efficient. Taxi to/from the airport.
GOOD TO KNOW: Ladies will need to cover their shoulders, heads, and legs when entering mosques. Wear a long dress or skirt and bring a large scarf, or use the robes provided.
WHAT TO PACK: Lightweight dresses, pants, and tops for the summer heat; layers for spring or fall. Comfortable sandals for lots of walking.
WHAT TO BRING HOME: A Turkish kilim rug! Colorful textiles to make into pillows! Turkish towels! Spices, teas, and Turkish delights from the Spice Bazaar! Kilim slippers! We brought home all of these.
WHEN TO GO: Spring through Fall