Istanbul is one of those cities that leaves everyone who’s been there hankering to go back. But if you’re about to make your first appearance, here are five things you won’t want to miss.
1. Aya Sofia or Hagia Sophia - This is the most breathtaking building in all of Istanbul. Originally built as St Sophia orthodox cathedral in the 6th century, it had the largest dome in all of Christendom and pure gold mosaics on the walls. In the 15th century it became a mosque and Muslim symbols were added. Today it is a museum with artefacts and mosaics dating to its beginning.
2. The Grand Bazaar - This 600 year old market is a maze of 60 covered streets crammed with 5000 vendors selling everything from antique rugs, glass lamps, ceramic bowls, leather coats, jewellery, cushion covers and more. Get your game face on and prepare to haggle - over a cup of hot apple tea. But the quality of goods can be amazing. Remember, the old adage is true, you get what you pay for. Oh, and James Bond rode his motorbike through here on Skyfall.
3. The Spice Market - Start here for your first foray into the world of doing business Turkish style. It's smaller than the Grand Bazaar but no less skill is demanded. You'll find piles of dried spices and tea and plenty of fresh Turkish delight and other shops selling some of what the Bazaar sells. But the best thing is, you can declare your vacuum-packed spices and bring them home.
4. The Blue Mosque - The main mosque in Istanbul, Sultan Ahmed Mosque, is located near Aya Sofia in the tourist area of Sultanahmet. Nicknamed for its 20,000 handmade blue Iznik tiles, this is the mosque that pilgrims try to get to once in their lifetime. The public can enter and take photos. Scarves are provided for women and shoes are carried in plastic bags.
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5. A Turkish Bath - Probably the most eye-popping experience you can have as a traveller. Pay for the works including the bath, massage and hair wash and prepare to leave your modesty at the door as you are scrubbed with a mitt by a middle-aged Turkish woman (in the women's hamam that is), soaped up like a car and sloughed down with bowls of warm water until your skin is soft and smooth.