24 Hours in Istanbul: What to Do, See and Explore!
Last Friday night, my girlfriend landed in Istanbul in what would be a whirlwind trip. Being the boss babe that she is, she had already decided exactly what she wanted to do and see in Turkey’s most populated city. My only responsibility was to help her navigate the crazy unpredictable streets.
And save for a few inevitable hiccups, she had the perfect trip. So, much so that I’ve decided to share her itinerary with all of you. So, if you ever find yourself in Istanbul with only hours to spare, follow these tips and you’ll be sure to have a great trip!
My Friend landed in Istanbul at 7pm, so after getting her settled into her Airbnb, our first step was finding some food! And I knew just the place.
I was introduced to this restaurant by my Instagram bestie Yale_Meets_World . Although it is far from “authentic,” it boasts some of the best views in the city. My friend and I shared some of the more Turkish items on the menu while staring out over the Bosphorus.
We sat on the balcony and caught up on all that had gone on in the nearly two years since we had seen each other in person. We shipped cocktails and laughed at the men who were craning their necks to eavesdrop on our conversation.
After eating, we followed our ear, crossed the street and headed to Cafe De Vore.
If Midpoint lacked in authenticity, Cafe De Vore made up for it three fold. Despite the touristic nature of the Taxsim area, other guests at this cafe seemed to be all Turkish. But it was nice for a change to feel fully immersed. Aside from us, nobody spoke English; despite the fact that in Istanbul, the level of English is actually quite high—especially for people who work in the service area.
However, at the cafe our hosts only knew a few very basic words. Instead of being a hinderance, I actually saw it as an asset. We smiled and pointed our orders and I shared the few words with her that I knew. Cay pronounced “chai” meaning tea and teşekkür ederim which means thank you.
We stayed there until dancing and puffing away until nearly 3 am. We literally shut the place down.
From there, even though it was late, I thought that it was best to take her down to see the Galata Tower and the Bosphorous. Considering the fact that we had only one full day on Saturday, I did not want to leave anything out.
The center point of the Galata district of Istanbul, the tower was actually built by the Genovese in 1348. Galata has long been the monied European region of Istanbul. This area boosts a host of eclectic cafes and shops. Obviously, at 3am, they were all closed, but my friend did happen to snap a picture in front of a synagogue. She wanted to send it to her sister in Panama.
After walking down to the Bosphorus, we decided to call it quits for the night. She had an early appointment the next morning at the Turkish bath.
Is there anything more synonymous with Turkey than the bath? Believed to have been adapted from the Roman Baths, after the rise of Islam, bathing the entire body became one of the two types of ablutions or ritual cleansing.
Built in the 16th century, the Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı was built to serve members of the Ottoman navy. It was closed for seven years for renovations, but has recently reopened. The results are stunning. And according to my girl, the experience is just as fabulous.
One note of caution, however, for all involved—please wear a swimsuit to your appointment. While you may be at a bath, you are not supposed to be nude. So please, be respectful and wear a swimsuit.
Now, that she was clean, it was time to explore the city. The first stop was the Blue Mosque also known as Sultanahmet Camii in Turkish. Built by the Ottoman Emperor Ahmed I in 1609, the mosque derives its name from the blue tiles that line the interior. The islamic design motif horror vacui or fear of empty space.
Unlike in Western Art where there is a focus on prospective, rhythm and balance, in Islamic art, geometric and calligraphic designs are favored. Drawing of people or animals is forbidden. But far from being restrictive, these designs deign to take up all available real estate—leaving very little space unadorned.
Located directly across the from the Blue Mosque is the Hagia Sophia. In the most literal sense, the two major sides of Turkey’s history stand opposite each other in nearly perfect mirror image. While the Blue Mosque was heart of the Islamic Ottoman Empire, the Hagia Sophia Basilica was the center of the Christian Byzantine Empire in a city that was once called Constantinople.
Built in 537AD, the church was once the largest in the world until the construction of Seville Cathedral nearly a century later. It is generally considered a masterpiece of Byzantine architecture. Topped off of course by the “floating dome” in the center of the edifice.
When the Ottomans came to power in 1453, the massive church was transformed into a mosque. And that it remained for nearly 400 years until 1935, when the republic of Turkey was established. The founder of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, turned it into a museum as a way for the new secular nation to honor its dual heritage.
We started to wind down our escapades at the Grand Bazaar. But it 1455 by the Ottomans, it is arguably one of the world’s first malls. And with 90 million annual visitors, it is the most visited tourist destination in the world. Anything you want, you can find it at the Bazaar. Jewelry, towels, soaps and knockoffs of varying degree of quality from every brand that you can think of.
For minimalists among us, myself included, just walking through the bazaar is enough to engage you. There are also tea shops and bakeries within bazaar if you, myself included, prefer to spend your money on snacks than inedible trinkets. Lynette chose to buy some evil-eye ornaments for herself and her cousin.
Next, we headed out to our final adventure of the night.
This for me was the highlight of the day! I’ve been interested in Sufism and the Dervishes for as long as I could remember. And luckily for me, my girl Lynette was as much of a lover of culture as I am and was down to go with me.
The history of Sufism and the Dervishes is far too complex for me to detail here, but the cliff notes are that the dervishes spin as a form of prayer and meditation. As an observer, it is awe inspiring to see them spin continuously with their eyes clothes changing positions without falling or running into each other. It is also relaxing and meditative to watch them.
While there are several dervish “performances,” for a lack of a better term, in Istanbul we chose to visit Hodjapasha. They give daily performances in an old hamam. I joked with Lynette that she had both began and ended her day in the hamam. And while we didn’t have a bath, we both came away feeling spiritually cleansed.
So, that’s it! If you want a fun filled day in Istanbul but you only have 24 hours to spend, try this!
You’ll be sure to have a great time!