Even In the Wake of Tragedy, Four of the Many Reasons to Visit Istanbul

Istanbul, Turkey-5464The recent terrorist attacks have once again put the world on edge.

Finding oneself caught in the haze of fear and destruction, or worse, part of the body count, no longer seems like a distant concern. If feels like an ever-present possibility.

The reality: the likelihood that any one person will be a victim of such horror is still statistically very small. You’re more likely to get hit by a car or fall off a ladder in your own backyard (assuming you have one, of course).

Everyone has their own threshold for risk and that’s fair. But if you’ve already made reservations, or were considering a trip to Turkey but now you’re on the fence, my two cents: go.

Not only will you have an amazing adventure, your patronage will help a country that’s in need. The attacks, besides the havoc they wreaked on the victims and their families, have effected thousands in Turkey as tourism collapses. Businesses and families have already been devastated and it will only get worse. So consider a visit as far more than just your own enjoyment, think of it as a way to help those in need and a F-U to those who would have it otherwise.

As a traveler, you couldn’t ask for a better time to visit Turkey. Sights that were often glutted with tourists are now wide open. You can drink in the Hagia Sofia or the Grand Bazaar as if they were there just for you.

View to the Galata Tower, Istanbul, Turkey-5068

View to the Galata tower from the west bank of the Galata bridge

In honor of Istanbul, one of the coolest cities I’ve ever been to, I thought I would repost a little ditty (with some new pics) I wrote a couple of years ago after a wonderful stay. Hopefully it will inspire you to move forward with any travel plans you’ve made or perhaps inspire you to go.

At least think about it.

Istanbul is a visceral mix of history, religion and modernity that demands exploration.  While there are many reasons to love Istanbul, the following are at the top of my list.

1. It’s the home of the magnificent Hagia Sophia

Rüstem Pasha Mosque – it’s colors and designs were some of my favorite

The view of the Hagia Sofia belies it’s enormity

Hagia Sofia, Istanbul, Turkey

The closest modern structure that could give you a sense of the sheer size of the Hagia Sophia is a football stadium

Imagine walking into a building that is so beyond your expectations that it takes you a minute to comprehend. That is the experience I had with the Hagia Sophia. It is without a doubt one of the most spectacular places I have ever been. In the 6th century A.D., the Hagia Sophia was built as a cathedral and remained so for 900 years until 1453 when the Ottoman empire seized the church, transforming it into a mosque. Five hundred years later in 1935, the Turkish government turned it into a museum. It has survived earthquakes and partial collapse, war and politics, and hopefully it will stand for another 1400 years.

Hagia Sofia, Istanbul, Turkey

Hagia Sofia, Istanbul, Turkey

When you enter, you feel like you’re a Lilliputian in Gulliver’s Travels the room is so big.

When you first enter the main area through its large metal doors, the sheer size of the Hagia Sophia is overwhelming—it seems built for giants not humans. Throughout the building’s massive gold and blue interior, Christian icons formed by elaborate mosaics are combined with Arabic symbols. According to my guide, when the Hagia Sophia became a mosque everything Christian was hidden under plaster. Later when the government turned it into a museum the relics were uncovered and restored and left juxtaposed to the existing Muslim decor. It’s and odd but wonderful religious jumble that does justice to the many layers Hagia Sophia’s rich history.

A famous Deesis mosaic of A famous Deesis mosaic of Jesus, The Virgin Mary and St. John the Baptiste

A famous Deesis mosaic of Jesus, The Virgin Mary and St. John the Baptiste

2. The Galata Bridge’s sweeping views of Istanbul and its famed fishermen

A view of the Galata Bridge - underneath are restaurants and souvenir shops. Photo/Wikipedia

A view of the Galata Bridge – underneath are restaurants and souvenir shops. Photo/Wikipedia

Istanbul, Turkey

View from the Galata bridge of the waterfront where cafés, food vendors and souvenir shops line the shore.

In addition to the wonderful views of Istanbul and the Golden Horn over which it spans, the Galata bridge is like Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, it’s equal parts native hangout slash tourist attraction. While typically anything touristy gives me pause, the bridge is worth a visit.  It’s a fantastic place to people watch, and though I was unable to go myself I hear it’s especially nice at sunset.

Istanbul, Turkey-5070

Decorative tour boats that cruise the Bosphorus and Golden Horn

Fishermen on Galata BridgeIstanbul, Turkey

A man watches his friends’ equipment while they grab some food at a local cafe

Galata Bridge. Istanbul, Turkey-5149

Cafés that line the mezzanine of the Galata Bridge.

The bridge is also famous for the local fishermen it attracts. Some sell their catch at a nearby market but many line up eagerly along the edge, rods in hands and fish in tow, to indulge in a beloved hobby, chat, and a smoke with friends.  Don’t forget your camera, there are a zillion opportunities here you won’t want to miss. When you get hungry there are many yummy food carts and cafés to choose from. If you’re obliged to bring back a few knickknacks to the folks at home, this is one of the many places you’ll find them.

3.  If you love street food and green markets you may never leave

A dondurma street vendor, Istanbul, Turkey

A dondurma street vendor puts on a show. You can’t do this with Haagen Daz!

Green market in Sultanahmet (Old City) Istanbul, Turkey

Green market in Sultanahmet (Old City)

Street vendor, Istanbul, Turkey

Lamb sandwich….Yum!

Throughout the city you’ll find a tasty array of food carts, green markets and shops worthy of the pounds you’ll undoubtedly gain during your visit. I certainly did. Nibbles that contributed to my expanding waistline included roasted chestnuts, fried baked goods that resembled donuts, corn on the cob, lamb sandwiches, baklava and dondurma (a.k.a. Turkish ice cream). Side note: Listen up parents, if you travel with the kiddies, you’ll love dondurma.  It tastes like regular ice cream but it has a slightly chewy texture that resists melting. No more sticky messes that run down your kids’ hands, all over their clothes, and all over you. It’s genius!

Roasted chestnut vendor, Istanbul, Turkey

Chestnuts roasting over an open fire…sort of

Food vendors, Galata bridge, Istanbul, Turkey

These fried donut-like treats were totally addictive

4. Interiors that will take your breath away

Rüstem Pasha Mosque – it’s colors and designs were some of my favorite

Rüstem Pasha Mosque was one of my favorite

Exquisite mosaics, tiles, stain glass windows and chandeliers are commonplace in the many mosques in Istanbul such as the Blue Mosque, Bayezid II Mosque, Rüstem Pasha Mosque and the Süleymaniye Mosque, among others.  Just when you think you’ve seen the most dazzling display, another shines brighter. Not to be outdone, the Topkapi Palace, home of the sultans, isn’t too shabby either. The Chora Museum, once The Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora, and now a museum,  is also worth a spot on your itinerary. It’s one of the finest examples of a Byzantine Church and adorned with some divine mosaics and frescoes.

Istanbul, Turkey-6412

Gorgeous frescoes found at the Chora museum

Topkapi Palace, Istanbul, Turkey-6069

Istanbul, Turkey

Sometimes it’s not the physical that makes an interior so extraordinary. Sometimes, it’s just the peace and spirituality of the moment.

In the distance a woman en, ers the Bayezid II mosqueIstanbul, Turkey-5602

In the distance a woman enters the Bayezid II mosque

Istanbul, Turkey

I wish I had a room big enough to have a chandelier like this.

The multi-domed ceiling of the Beyazid II mosque.

The multi-domed ceiling of the Beyazid II mosque.

Istanbul, Turkey-6044

Ornate patterns, beautiful colors and extraordinary mosaics in the Sultan’s bedroom in Topkapi Palace

Dome in the Chora museum, Istanbul, Turkey-6420

One of the many ornate ceilings in the Chora Museum

Istanbul, Turkey-6052

Another room inside Topkapi Palace, home of the Sultans

P.S. Follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat at @Insatiabletraveler

117 replies »

  1. Soooo beautiful!! Makes me miss Istanbul so much! Can’t wait to get back there. It’s such a beautiful city with awesome vibes and atmosphere. Thanks for portraying it so amazing!


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