Why do I like Istanbul? I’ve been thinking about the answer to this question over the past several weeks. I was in Istanbul for a week, three weeks ago. I was in Istanbul six times before. The first time, it was 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 there 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’s why I started my current travel across Turkey in Istanbul. I spent a week there and managed to see many new things. I had 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 my 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 every other city.
The most famous sites, like Hagia Sophia, are the focal point and attract most interest. Surely, this nearly 1500 years old temple, with a 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 and perhaps they might be completely overlooked. But, their significance and historical and artistic value is not less important.
The area between the Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque is full of less known structures and monuments. You may pass by and not pay much attention, because you are totally captivated by the 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 the 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 the 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 was from 1482. You will not find this beautiful mosque in your usual tourist guides. Regardless, it’s more than a 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 the 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. 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 the photo below are in a 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. The Fethiye mosque is famous because it was the Pammakaristos church before 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 when I visit Istanbul next time.
That area is approximately half an hour away from the most central part of old Istanbul. Still, it was like being in a completely different city. It was glaringly obvious that it’s a very traditional area. There, I saw a lot of people dressed in a traditional attire.
Even shops look different there. In the photo below, you can see the modest women clothing, in line with tradition and religious beliefs.
But, when you go back to Fevzi Pasha Street, it’s already a different world. In Fevzi Pasha street, 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.
The Şehzade Mosque in the photo below, from 1543, was on the way to the historical area that I described above. I didn’t see any foreign tourists at this particular site, while it’s as beautiful and historically significant as the very popular Blue Mosque. And that’s exactly what I mean, that’s precisely why I like Istanbul.
We get captivated by the most popular structures and we overlook smaller and less famous ones. Maybe, that’s also because there is so much to see in the city and we can’t process it all during one visit.
The 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’s 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 the aqueduct. But even then, they may not notice it.
Historical monuments and sites like this one are everywhere.
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 stuff that I bought in Istanbul in the past. Well, 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 near 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. I usually 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 go for a walk along this street. Images and sounds are mesmerising. But, it can get too busy sometimes, with too many people, but that’s also part of its unique charm.
On the way to the historical area, from Istiklal street, you should normally pass through Yüksek Kaldırım street. It is another historical street, full of shops and it’s 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 stuff. Çadırcılar street, next to the Grand Bazaar, is where you will 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 everything you want. You may even be tempted to buy things that you don’t need and that you 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 sections you can 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.
Certainly, these colourful displays look very attractive and are very different from how such items are sold in supermarkets across western Europe.
The abundance and variety of everything on offer is mind blowing.
And that’s exactly why I like Istanbul. I like the smells, colours and images that every time stimulate my imagination.
I normally buy cashew nuts, walnuts and almonds in these markets. 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 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 the Turkish cuisine and its flavours.
Another reason is that the food in Istanbul is good. There is almost no concept of fast food, the way it exists in the 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 fast food type of restaurants. These restaurants offer home-made cooked food. The food is already prepared, you take what you want, you pay and eat. It’s 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’s 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 of my hotel, in Meşrutiyet street.
It is the same type of a self-service restaurant. The food was excellent!
But, my favourite place is the 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 the Turkish people eat. I know that the food is good, as otherwise I am sure that Turks wouldn’t eat there. I avoid touristic restaurants at any cost.
I would also 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 to have Turkish coffee and something to eat. I went there for the first time during my first visit to Istanbul in 2002 and every time since then. It’s an excellent place where you can stop and 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 for people coming from western European countries, it’s now cheap.
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 received 4 liras for 1 pound. This time, it’s 7 liras for 1 pound. Admittedly, prices have probably also gone up, but not as much as the Turkish lira had devalued.
I know, it’s a selfish reason, but that’s the way it is. It was also why I chose to travel across Turkey, in addition to reasons that I have already mentioned.
Finally, as you can see in the 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, in the middle of the great metropolis. It is so soothing to see that and it makes me reflect and relax too.
Then, there are also images of the city that goes about its daily routine, with boats constantly arriving and departing.
Above all that, there are spectacular images of a bustling and colourful city, that captivate my imagination regardless of how many times I’ve seen it before.
There is so much to see and do in Istanbul. It’s 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, Istanbul is a perfect place, in my opinion.