Every year, Istanbul attracts thousands of different kinds of travelers. Be it pilgrims, backpackers, and luxury tourists, this city is the perfect place to tick off two continents in one
written by Marbee Shing-Go additional text by Vida Zorah Gabe photographed by Erron Ocampo an exclusive partnership with Turkey Tourism, Turkish Airlines, Travelon, Skyroam Ph, and FujiFilm Cameras special thanks to Erhan Balaban, Kaan Yilmaz, Darwin Bañez, Rosario Juan, Maan de la Cruz, and Mikko David
Istanbul, this alluring city of seven hills, which has quite a number of attractions, is understandably diffcult to resist. Once known as Constantinople (named after Roman Emperor Constantine the Great), Istanbul takes pride in its rich history, one of its greatest tourism draws. It was the ancient capital of many empires—from the Roman, to the Byzantine, to the Ottoman eras. It is also where renowned British author Agatha Christie wrote her world-famous novel Murder on the Orient Express.
Its heaps of iconic destinations, wide variety of savory and delectable cuisine, and rich culture are just three of the many reasons that make this city an irresistible draw to both tourists and travelers.
The best thing about Istanbul, is that it can let you cross out two continents in one trip as it is the only city in the world that straddles two continents—Asia and Europe—making it a perfect bucket list destination.
DSCF1045A street musician plays for tips along Istiklal Street / photo by Erron Ocampo
TN_Turkey_-7A vendor selling simit, a Turkish pretzel popular for breakfast and snacks / photo by Erron Ocampo
TN_Turkey_-19Salman Abi, a Turkish shop owner, proudly shows off the handmade carpets and kilims ( at tapestry-woven rugs) being sold at his shop, the Vezirhan Carpets / photo by Erron Ocampo
DSCF0368-EditBaris Taspinar, a Turkish tour guide shares one of the many gorgeous views from the Topkapı Palace / photo by Erron Ocampo
DSCF1007A waiter shows off a selection of cold meze (small dish appetizers) / photo by Erron Ocampo
FullSizeRenderShopping for colorful lamps at the Grand Bazaar / photo by Marbee Shing-Go
TN_Turkey_-5A little girl gleefully chases after pigeons in a small square at the Ortaköy area / photo by Erron Ocampo
TN_Turkey_-21aLocals playing backgammon at an alley in Istanbul / photo by Erron Ocampo
Museum-hopping in Istanbul
Istanbul is not an ancient capital for nothing, and its countless culture-centered institutions indicate that its history cannot be enclosed in just one facility. So when in Istanbul, don’t forget to visit its museums.
One of the recommended stops when you go museum- hopping in Istanbul is the Hagia Sophia Museum. What used to be both a church and a mosque centuries ago is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site which showcases artifacts from the eras of Ottoman and Byzantine. A short walk from Hagia Sophia stands Topkapi Palace—one of the city’s premier museums—which houses a collection of ornaments that was once owned and used by Istanbul’s 15th century sultans and harems.
DSCF0176The Hagia Sofia / photo by Erron Ocampo
DSCF0375Interiors at Topkapı Palace / photo by Erron Ocampo
DSCF0387Patterns adorning Topkapı Palace / photo by Erron Ocampo
TN_Turkey_-23aThe interiors of Hagia Sophia / photo by Erron Ocampo
Spice Market and Grand Bazaar
While Istanbul is known for its cultural richness which attracts history enthusiasts, it can also resonate with shoppers through its Spice Market and Grand Bazaar. The former, also known as the Egyptian Bazaar, is the best place to buy edible and organic items such as Turkish delight, dried fruits and vegetables, tea, fragrant oils, and of course, spices. The latter is the biggest old covered bazaar in the world. How big is the Grand Bazaar? It has 60 streets occupied by over 3000 shops which, in totality, can accommodate up to 400,000 visitors daily. Built between 1455 and 1461, the Grand Bazaar has been such a global phenomenon that it was listed number one among the world’s most-visited tourist a ractions in 2014, with over 90 million annual visitors. It was also featured in several Hollywood films, such as the 2012 James Bond film, Skyfall featuring Daniel Craig, and the action film Taken 2 starring Liam Neeson.
DSCF0305Colorful lamps at the Grand Bazaar / photo by Erron Ocampo
DSCF0263Hand-painted tulip-shaped tiles serve as colorful trivets for any table / photo by Erron Ocampo
TN_Turkey_-4Turkish name pins in silver / photo by Erron Ocampo
TN_Turkey_-8Turkish delight, a popular Middle Eastern treat made from starch and sugar, often mixed with nuts and dried fruits / photo by Erron Ocampo
TN_Turkey_-9Dried peppers, eggplant, and chili hung upside down—when hydrated, these ingredients can be used to make popular dishes during the winter months / photo by Erron Ocampo
TN_Turkey_-10Middle Eastern spices / photo by Erron Ocampo
TN_Turkey_-11Silver and bronze tea cups / photo by Erron Ocampo
TN_Turkey_-13Fragrant oils / photo by Erron Ocampo
TN_Turkey_-15Trinkets featuring the Nazar, an eye-shaped amulet believed to protect one against the “evil eye” / photo by Erron Ocampo
TN_Turkey_-18Turkish rugs / photo by Erron Ocampo
Ortaköy Mosque & The sokakta Hayat Var
Istanbul never seems to run out of mosques, but one of the most iconic ones in the city has to be the Ortaköy Mosque. Designed by architects Garabet Balyan and Nigoğayos Balyan, this elegant neo-Baroque style structure was built following the order of the Ottoman Sultan Abdülmecid between 1854 and 1856. The elegant image of the mosque, seen here in the foreground with the contemporary Bosphorus Bridge, perfectly encapsulates Istanbul’s “old meets new” character.
Just near the mosque and the bridge is probably one of the liveliest and most diverse bazaars in the area—the Sokakta Hayat Var. The market, whose name translates to “On this street there is life,” offers shoppers almost everything under the sun—from various kinds of jewelry, clothes, and knick knacks to colorful spices, food and beverage, and many more. A short stroll through the market will take you back to a view of the mosque and the Bosphorus river—along with playful pigeons waiting to be fed by the locals—in a scene that is nothing short of picturesque. Wherever you go in this area, indeed, “Sokakta Hayat Var!”
DSCF0201Ortaköy Mosque / photo by Erron Ocampo
DSCF0091Sokakta Hayat Var / photo by Erron Ocampo
DSCF0115Unique finds at Sokakta Hayat Var / photo by Erron Ocampo
DSCF0212Street at Sokakta Hayat Var / photo by Erron Ocampo
While in Istanbul, don’t miss the opportunity to catch dervishes (members of the Muslim Sufi order) engaged in a whirling dance. An important part of Turkish heritage, the whirling dervish show was originally an act of religious worship known as a Sema Ceremony, performed in an effort to get closer to God through music, chants, prayers, and dance. It has been identified as one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO and remains one of the more popular tourist attractions in Istanbul.
Of Istanbul’s Iconic Monuments
The mosques and palaces of Istanbul make the city a sight to behold for culture and history buffs, as well as pilgrim travelers. There are so many iconic edifices to see here, such as the Beylerbeyi Palace, a former summer residence and entertainment facility for visiting heads of state and royalty, the luxurious Dolmabahçe Palace, with its lavishly decorated 285 rooms and 43 reception halls, and the Süleymaniye Mosque, the city’s largest mosque with blended Islamic and Byzantine architectural elements.
One of the most famous, however, is the Sultan Ahmed Mosque or the Blue Mosque— which is still active for religious Muslims and worshippers. The Blue Mosque is named as such because of its varied hues of blue splashing through its tiles and interiors. Built between 1609 and 1616, during the rule of Sultan Ahmed I, it comprises a madrasa (college) and a hospice. Its elegant ascending domes and six soaring minarets are what make it a popular tourist a raction in Istanbul and one of the most impressive monuments in the world.
Considered as an internationally-significant waterway in northwestern Turkey, the 32-kilometer long Bosphorus is a natural narrow strait that borders Europe and Asia and serves as a separating boundary of Asian and European Turkey. It connects the Black Sea, the Sea of Marmara, and the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas. A ride on a Bosphorus cruise, often overlooked by many, is a worthwhile activity as the cruise passes by so many iconic monuments in the city, such as the Kiz Kulesi (Leander’s Tower) and the Dolmabahçe Palace. Cruises can be taken day or night and can last for a few minutes or take up a whole day depending on the traveler’s preference.
Turkish rug-weaving is a skill that’s been passed down generations from the Central Asian nomads thousands of years ago. In Turkey, rugs are traditionally made by women who weave their life stories and longings into the carpet, incorporating motifs such as those symbolizing luck and fate into the design. Rugs are often made using wool, cotton, or pure silk and are distinguished from other carpets in the region by their use of the double knot. Because Turkish rugs are often colored using natural dyes taken from plants and organic materials such as pomegranate, rhubarb root, indigo, moss, and lapis lazuli, the colors last longer, often withstanding the test of time, with carpets hundreds of years old still retaining their bright colors.