Why do I like Istanbul? I have been thinking about the answer to this question over the past several weeks. I was in Istanbul three weeks ago, for a week. I’ve been there six times before. The first time it was back in December 2002 and the last visit, before the current one, was in June 2015.
My memories from the initial visit are very vague. But, I remember that I was fascinated and that I wanted to go back. The subsequent visits were also very enjoyable, especially as each time I went with different friends. Interestingly, every time when I was leaving Istanbul to go back home, I wanted to stay longer as I felt that I hadn’t seen and done enough.
That is why I started my current travel across Turkey in Istanbul. I spent a week there and managed to see many new things. I’ve seen the most famous sites before, but I visited all of them again in addition to many other – for me – new sites.
So, to try and answer the question why I like Istanbul, I can divide the answer in three parts:
- History and historical sites
HISTORY AND HISTORICAL SITES
In Istanbul, history is everywhere. Clearly, I am referring to the old part of the city. Residential areas are of no interest, the same as in any other city.
The most famous sites, like magnificent Hagia Sophia, are the focal point and attract most interest. Surely, a nearly 1500 years old temple with fascinating history is of immense value for the world’s patrimony.
But, what I like in Istanbul is that you find fascinating historical sites everywhere. They may be less famous than the most famous sites or they are perhaps completely overlooked. But, their significance and historical and artistic value is not less important. The area between Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque is full of less known structures and monuments. You may pass by and not pay much attention because you would be totally captivated by main sites.
One of them, very close to the Blue Mosque is the German Fountain. It was constructed in the gazebo style to commemorate the second anniversary of German Emperor Wilhelm II’s visit to Istanbul in 1898. The fountain is beautiful and in many other cities it would be a prime attraction. In Istanbul, you may or may not notice it.
Or when I went to see Fatih and Sultan Selim mosques, I came across the Dülgerzade Mosque, in Fevzi Pasha street.
Of course, I immediately noticed that it was an old mosque. But, only after I had approached the entrance, I saw a sign showing that this small mosque is from 1482. You will not find this beautiful mosque in usual tourist guides. Regardless, it is a more than 500 years old construction, which is simply amazing.
Another example from that same area is the Kizilminare Mosque. It caught my eye because it was constructed in 1521. That was a year in which Suleiman the Magnificent conquered Belgrade. Southern parts of Serbia were already under the Ottoman rule, but Belgrade resisted until 1521.
It is also a very small mosque, nearly 500 years old. And you could easily pass by not thinking much of it, while it certainly has an immense historical significance.
It’s like that all over Istanbul. Beautiful wooden houses from the Ottoman era in a photo below are in the historical area near the Yavuz Sultan Selim mosque, in Sultan Selim street.
I went to that part of Istanbul for the very first time. I visited the Yavuz Sultan Selim mosque and I also wanted to visit the Fethiye mosque. That mosque is famous because it was the Pammakaristos church before the Ottomans converted into a mosque, the same as it happened to Hagia Sophia and many other churches.
Unfortunately, the mosque was under renovation, it was completely covered and it was not possible to take a single meaningful photo. Well, I will go back there when I visit Istanbul next time.
That area is approximately 30 minutes walk away from the most central parts of old Istanbul. Still, it was like being in a completely different city. It was glaringly obvious that it is a very traditional area. There, I could see a lot of people dressed in a traditional attire.
Even shops look different there. In a photo below, you can see modest women clothing, in line with tradition and religious beliefs.
But, as you walk some 10 minutes back to Fevzi Pasha Street, it is already a different world. Shops display more modern and not so religiously constrained clothes.
When you walk along various streets and parts of the city, you come across many other magnificent Ottoman historical sites. But, as they are away from the most central area, they seem to be overlooked. Şehzade Mosque in a photo below, from 1543, was on the way to the historical area that I described above. There were no foreign tourists whatsoever visiting this particular site.
And that’s exactly what I mean, we get totally captivated by immense structures and we overlook smaller and less famous sites. Maybe, that’s also because there is so much to see and we can’t process it all.
Valens Aqueduct is very near the Şehzade Mosque. Built in the 4th century, it was the major water-providing system in Constantinople. Again, as it is not in the central area, I suspect that not many people see it, perhaps only if they happen to travel on the road that passes under. And even then, they may not notice it. Historical monuments and sites like this one are everywhere and that is one reason why I like Istanbul.
When I say shopping, I don’t necessarily mean that you have to buy anything. Although, several times I went to Istanbul with a big empty suitcase and returned back home completely loaded. I still have a lot of staff that I bought in Istanbul in the past. It means that I don’t have to buy anything for a long time.
I mentioned in my previous post that the best area to stay in Istanbul is Beyoğlu, especially anywhere around Istiklal street.
Istiklal street is the main pedestrian street in Istanbul. All shops and restaurants are open until midnight. In the old part of Istanbul, most businesses close at 6pm and that area is pretty dead afterwards. That’s why I always choose to stay in Beyoğlu. Usually, I explore the old part of Istanbul all day, then I come back to this lively and vibrant area for the evening.
The street is very interesting, colourful and full of life all day long. Every day after dinner, I would go for a walk along this street. Images and sounds are mesmerising. Sometimes, it can get too busy with too many people, but that’s also a part of its unique charm.
On the way to the historical area, you should normally pass Yüksek Kaldırım street. It is another historical street, full of shops and very interesting to see and explore.
But, the real shopping is in the Grand Bazaar and the Bazaar Quarter. Everything else pales compared to that part of the city.
There, the abundance and variety of goods on offer is astonishing. There are a lot of fake designer goods on offer too, much cheaper than the real staff. Çadırcılar street, next to the Grand Bazaar, is a place where you can find a lot of fake merchandise.
But, what I like about Istanbul and Turkey in general is that the country has a very strong textile industry. It means that you can also find a lot of good quality and very reasonably priced clothes. You just need to have a bit of patience and you can find anything you want. You may even be tempted to buy what you don’t need and don’t want.
The Bazaar Quarter consist of many narrow streets and all of them are full of shops and places to eat.
In my opinion, this is the best and the most interesting part of the city where you can go for an endless walk. As I said, you don’t need to buy anything, the experience of seeing all that around you is more than enough.
That area is divided and in different parts you buy different things. There are whole streets dedicated to just one item, such as underwear or socks or kids clothes. There are areas where you can only buy food items.
These colourful displays certainly look very attractive and are very different to the way such items are sold in supermarkets across western Europe.
The abundance and the variety of everything on offer is mind blowing.
And that’s exactly why I like Istanbul. I like smells, colours and images that captivate my imagination.
I normally buy cashew nuts, walnuts and almonds in these market. I also bought dry figs and apricots in the past. They were always delicious.
One more reason why I like Istanbul is food. Turkish food is similar to the Serbian food. Or if I say it differently, Serbia was part of the Ottoman empire for nearly 500 years, thus many Turkish dishes are exactly the same as Serbian dishes. So, I am very familiar with flavours and tastes.
Another reason is that food in Istanbul is good. There is almost no concept of fast food the way it exists in western European countries, where big corporations dominate the food market with their inedible ultra-processed products that they are passing for food. Turkish people eat properly made and cooked food.
What I normally do and what I did during my latest stay in Istanbul, I go to the Turkish version of fast food. But, these are restaurants that sell home-made cooked food. Food is already prepared, you take what you want, you pay and eat. It is fast, cheap and delicious and you eat healthy unprocessed and good processed food.
I came across the Balkan Lokantsi Self-Service on my way to the Topkapi Palace. This restaurant is in Ankara street. It was very busy when I was there, which means that the food is fresh, as it rotates quickly. It is an excellent place where you can eat for 20 to 25 lira.
Another place where I went was the Beyoğlu Halk Lokantasi restaurant. This place was almost opposite a hotel where I stayed, in Meşrutiyet street.
It is the same type of a self-service restaurant. Food was excellent!
However, my favourite place is Ehlitat Lokantasi, in Balo Street. This place is in one of the side streets to Istiklal street.
It is always busy and you can choose from a big variety of meals. I strongly recommend this place, you will eat well and for little money.
In reality, what I like is to eat in places where Turkish people eat. I know that the food is good, as otherwise I am sure they would not eat there. I avoid touristic restaurants at any cost.
I would like to mention one more place in this post. That’s because I go there every time when I am in Istanbul. It is the Çiğdem Patisserie, very close to Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, in Divan Yolu street.
I usually go there for Turkish coffee and something to eat. I went there for the first time during my first visit to Istanbul and every time since then. It has been opened since 1961. It is an excellent place to stop and to have a rest.
SOME OTHER REASONS WHY I LIKE ISTANBUL
Right now, Turkey is a very good value for money. Turkey was affordable in the past too, but I would say that for people coming from the western countries, it is cheap now. Unfortunately for the Turkish people, Turkish lira has lost a lot of value against main currencies over the past several years. Last time when I was in Turkey, I got 4 liras for 1 pound. This time it is 7 liras for 1 pound. Admittedly, prices have probably also gone up, but not as much as lira has devalued. I know, this is a selfish reason, but that’s the way it is. It was also one of the reasons why I chose to travel across Turkey, in addition to reasons that I have already mentioned.
Finally, as you can see in a photo below, when the day is nearly finished and when I cross the Galata Bridge to go back to the hotel, I see images of people fishing right in the middle of the great metropolis. It is so soothing to see that and it makes me reflect and relax too.
And then, there are also images of the city that goes about its daily routine, with boats constantly arriving and departing.
And above all, there are spectacular images of the bustling, colourful city that captivate my imagination regardless of how many times I’ve seen it before.
There is so much to see and to do in Istanbul, it is impossible to convey all aspects of the city in one post. The historical area of the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for a good reason. For people interested in history but also in having a good time, in my opinion, Istanbul is a perfect place.