May 26, 2011

Istanbul: Mini Guide

If you’re a first-time visitor to Istanbul, there are some sights that are unmissable: the view from a ferry across the Bosphorus, Hagia Sophia, the Grand Bazaar and a hammam.

There are many ferry operators on the Bosphorus, and the most popular for day trips is the one that departs from Eminönü daily at 10.35am from June to September and costs about £4 return (turn up at least half an hour early to get a seat). The final stop is Anadolu Kavağı, just under two hours away, but Ortakoy is a good stop for a drink or meal en route (see below), or you can enjoy freshly squeezed orange juice on board.

Hagia Sophia, a one-time cathedral, basilica and mosque bears architectural features of all of three. Go upstairs to see the crumbling and elegant gold-leafed mosaics and a view from the balcony of the vast central hall and haunting archangels. It costs about £8 to enter and the best time to go is when it opens at 9am.

The Grand Bazaar is an Aladdin-inspired dream of bright carpets, aromatic spice, twinkling jewellery and persuasive salesmen. You will be offered Turkish Delight (lokum), which is at its best in its home country. There’s also nuts, tea and nougat tasters on offer - a veritable afternoon tea at no charge.

One of the best shops for classy souvenirs is Abdulla, famous for its Turkish soaps, sometimes packaged in a fez. There’s also good quality towels and linen. Head to Sofa for antiques and jewellery, and Erdun Collection for lanterns.

Then it’s time for a hammam (Turkish bath) - most are unisex but there are a couple that have mixed sessions, however if you go for one of these it’s unlikely to be a historic establishment - best to go to the relevant section then meet up after to compare stories of steam, scrubbing and massages. Try the Cagaloglu hammam, one of the oldest in the city and dripping in marble.

Read more on Skyscanner: Istanbul: Mini Guide


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