Have you ever wondered what it would feel like to stand on two continents? Do you wonder if you would feel the pressure of the two different cultures pressing upon you from both sides if you did? Or maybe simply nothing would happen as it’s just a geographical border created by us humans. The best answer to this is to just check it out for yourself, and Istanbul is one place you can do so.
Istanbul is where the border of two powerful continents - Europe and Asia - runs through the middle of this ancient city. And that is not even the main attraction. For thousands of years, Istanbul has served as a capital for some of the greatest civilizations in the world and has seen the fall of them as well.
So history, religion and art geeks, brace yourself! Formerly known as Byzantium, or later Constantinople, Istanbul still contains a lot of traces from its past. And you are about to discover them all in this 3-day journey through Istanbul in Turkey.
Before you begin your journey, it is important to do your research before travelling to any new country or city by reading up on its culture and customs, especially as a solo traveller or if you're travelling with kids. Winters in Istanbul can also be quite cold, so do bundle up you and your family nice and warm!
There are also several great places to eat at in Instanbul, so do have a look at some reviews for places before you head to a restaurant for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Why not begin your historic adventure where it all started in the Sultanahmet District, which is Istanbul’s Old Town and the place where the Greeks first colonised the city. The old town is a peninsula that is surrounded by water on three sides. The area is home to some of the oldest and top attractions of Byzantium and Constantinople, such as the famous Hagia Sophia and the Ottoman Topkapi Palace.
For those who seek breath-taking monumental architecture and incredible interior design, the Blue Mosque won’t disappoint you. It may not be the oldest building you will see today, but it still gets most of the credit for making Istanbul so photogenic. This 17th-century temple still serves as a mosque on a daily basis despite being a popular tourist attraction. The unofficial name of the mosque came from its blue-tiled interior.
The history of the temple is as old as the history of the city itself. Built as a Christian Greek Cathedral in the 6th century, then transformed into an Ottoman mosque, it now serves as a museum that provides a great history and architectural lesson to visitors from around the world.
The Cistern may be the oldest structure you will see today. The form the visitors can see today was completed by Emperor Justinian in 532 AD. According to ancient stories, the Cistern could have contained gardens. The long, dark underground passage is filled with almost 400 columns. The spooky atmosphere of the Cistern must have attracted many artists, and for those of you interested in pop culture.. the 1963 James Bond’s scenes were set here.
Despite the blue tiles of the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace may be the most colourful building you’ll see today. The palace was built in the 15th century and for a long time, it served as the main residence for Ottoman sultans. It also contained some administrative buildings as well. Today, it plays the role of a museum by providing visitors with colourful stories of times from the Ottoman Empire. In the museum, you’ll discover what the sultans lived like and explore many interesting pieces of art.
Today, you will move away from the Old Town, but you won’t leave behind the old stories. You’ll follow the path of some of the greatest pieces of monumental architecture ever found in Istanbul, which will result in you being amazed by the Romans' building skills and the colours of the Ottoman Empire. It is going to be a day full of walking as most of the monuments on the list are about a 15 minutes’ walk apart. For those who are not fans of walking, Istanbul has well developed public transport.
Ready to feel like a resident of the Ottoman Empire? Make your way through the narrow passages of this 15th-century Bazaar. It is very easy to get lost in the atmosphere here. The “grand” part is not just a name as the Bazaar covers over 60 streets and features about 4000 shops.
If you don't think that the Romans were the masters of architecture, then the Aqueduct is one of those features that might change your mind. This still-standing Roman structure decorates Istanbul's roads, like a collision of modern and ancient times. The construction of the Aqueduct ended in 4th century AD and was the main water system then as it provided water to all of Constantinople.
The Ottoman Empire architects must have loved the colour blue. Visit the Rustem Pasha Mosque to see how many beautiful patterns can be created with mosaic tiles, called “Iznik tiles”. The mosque features about 80 different patterns, and the main ones are centralised around geometric and floral designs.
Süleymaniye Mosque is the landmark you can see from nearly every part of the city. It is one of the best-known monuments and definitely a must-see in Istanbul. Again, the Mosque was built during the Ottoman Empire Period, and is the second largest in the city.
The Bosphorus Strait is a natural waterway that divides Asia from Europe. Today, you can move a little away from the old town by following the Strait, through some of the ‘relatively’ modern Istanbul monuments, to finally arrive at what was promised at the beginning of this Itinerary...the collision of two continents.
In the 19th century, this Palace must’ve been a sign of modernity and change as Sultan Abdül Mecit I moved the court to this building from the Topkapi Palace. It was built to provide luxury and comfort for the Sultan’s family, and to this day, its suites and apartments attract Istanbul visitors from afar.
The Dolmabahçe Palace also houses the National Palaces Painting Museum, which features about 200 19th-20th century paintings that have both Turkish and international origins
This Mosque, despite being fairly small and relatively new compared to those you've seen before, it is still worth visiting for multiple reasons. First, it is located in Ortaköy where art galleries, cafes and night clubs make it one of the most popular spots to visit for both tourists and residents. And second, the waterside location of this temple gives you an amazing viewpoint for the next and final attraction on this itinerary - the Bosphorus Bridge.
Istanbul has a total of three bridges that connect the two continents, but Bosphorus Bridge was the first one and remains the most famous. The huge suspension bridge, officially known as 15 July Martyrs Bridge, was completed in 1973 and is over 1.5 km long and 30 meters wide. And now you have seen how and where the two continents meet.
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