Turkey

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!

    • That’s very kind of you to say. Travel is meant to be an adventure and it’s hard to have an adventure if everything is neat and tidy and expected. Thank you for checking out the blog. I hope you return.

  2. “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 Turkish person living in İstanbul, these kind of comments restore my faith in humanity. Wonderful guide, too! You definitely get Istanbul’s whole vibe.

  3. Très beau pays à visiter. Merci pour la visite. Du beau et encore du beau. J espère qu il n y aura plus de putch dans ce pays. Ça serait dommage de ne plus pouvoir visiter ce merveilleux pays. Et délices à manger.

    • Wow.. you’ve made my day, truly. What a lovely compliment. Thank you for taking the time to read the piece and I’m thrilled that you would consider going to Turkey. 🙂

  4. It’s hard to live in a world where you can wake up everyday and hear of a new tragedy. I’ve had my reservations about going to Florida in September because of the events that have gone on there and the gun crime that is so very real in the US but feels very far away from me in Scotland. I take this post on though and you have inspired me to continue to fight against the terrorism and not let it affect things I really want to do and enjoy! Thank you for sharing and I’m sure I’ll visit Istanbul properly at some point!

    • Hi Katie –
      Thank you very much for your thoughtful comments. It’s not easy, working past all the terrible things that happen in the world. I just have to keep reminding myself that for every tragedy, there are millions of good moments being experienced and shared. They just don’t get the press and social media the awful things do. 🙂

      • Exactly! As long as there’s enough good to counter-balance the bad there’s still a fight to be won! Terror can only win if people give up, and it will if people neglect the countries tourism by not visiting these places in most need! But I agree – good moments need to be given the same if not MORE publicity!

  5. Great post and stunning pics! Istanbul is such an amazing place, I can’t agree more. We all need to go out and continue to visit all those great places. Don’t let those creeps put fear in our hearts!

  6. “Not only will you have an amazing adventure, your patronage will help a country that’s in need.”

    Very, very true. I was in Istanbul for less than 24 hours, but the people made such an impression on me.

    I’ll never forget hearing the evening prayers sounded throughout five different speakers in the city center and thinking for a split-second that the world was ending. As soon as I realized what it was, I was amazed that I was able to go somewhere with such different cultural practices from what I was used to. And yet the people there were so kind, so generous and excited to speak with me. In the end, we shared so much.

    It is an absolutely beautiful city, one definitely worth visiting—especially in this time of need.

  7. I agree. Istanbul is not to be missed. One of my favorite experiences when my wife and I cruised there recently was hearing the mystical calls of the muezzins from nearby minarets nearest in early morning.

    On another subject, I am curious about how you go about doing podcasts with your travel blog? I might try this method soon.

  8. It’s incredibly sad what happened in Istanbul but life continues and it doesn’t impact how beautiful the city and the people are. I really want to go and visit next year 🙂

    Matea xx

  9. And how about Ortakoy, Besiktas, Moda, even Kunzguncuk and its little streets? I was in Istanbul this march, staying in Galata, and I missed the IS suicide bomber on Istiklal Caddesi by a couple of hours. I shall return this August, because Istanbul is too beautiful, and the Turks too much of a nice people, to be stayed clear of.

    Besides, as you rightly said, you run a higher risk to be killed by some deranged colleague, neighbour or random loonie. Especially if you live in the States.

  10. Needed this. My wife and I are going to Istanbul in a couple of weeks. We had to weigh up whether to go through with it after concerned messages from family. We have decided to go using a similar line of thought to what you wrote. It was reassuring to read that other people share those same views. Thank you.

    • You’ll find it extraordinary. Make sure you have travel insurance (not out of fear of attack but in case flights or travel arrangements are postponed/canceled beyond your control). Also enroll in the Smarter Travel Program so that the embassy knows you’re in town. I do this everywhere I go, not just places that have had “issues.” It’s just covering all your bases. https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/go/step.html/

      Please let me know how your trip went when you get back. I’d love to hear how it went.

      • Hi Alex!

        Will you please send me the link via my Contact link at the top of the blog. I’m in the midst of traveling back to the U.S. but would love to read it on my stopover in Moscow! Thank you.

  11. I totally understand what you’re trying to point out. On the other hand, why would you go to Turkey, a country that can be potentially attacked (I know, the chance is slim, but still) when you can explore tons of other beautiful cities?

    • Of course, there are wonderful cities everywhere but if Turkey is a place you wanted to go, had planned to go to, I suggest still going. Everyone has to do what they’re most comfortable with. But in truth, the chances are very slim that any one person will get caught up in an attack.

  12. Beautiful post, i love reading stuff like this, its so uplifting and to see people care, regardless of the horrible things happening, that’s just amazing. Id Definitely go. Your post is very inspiring. x

  13. Thank you for this wonderful article! We’ve been once in Turkey so far (Antalya) and we want to travel again to Turkey espacially Istanbul is on our bucketlist.
    Many greetings from Germany, Britta

  14. I have been to Istanbul multiple times (last time was over 10 years ago) and I loved it everytime, my favourite place is the bazaar, walking there for hours and hours and being able to get anything from sweets to massive golden jewlery to souvenirs

  15. Gorgeous photos. The shot of Rüstem Pasha Mosque is breathtaking! Turkey remains near the top of my travel wish list, I can’t wait to visit someday. I appreciate you highlighting the wonders of the Istanbul in contrast to the headlines of fear we are seeing.

  16. You’ve sold me on dondurma: my youngest son melted ice cream all over himself today. Chocolate ice cream. Total mess. Non-melting ice cream should exist globally!

    I would love to visit Turkey some time. Everyone I know who has been has loved it there. We had actually been discussing a family holiday there when we lived in the UK but decided to wait until the kids were a little older. Some day I will get there.

    Terror incidents don’t put me off traveling. While I would never pick an active conflict zone as a travel destination, I don’t have any fear of traveling to places that are potential targets. Life is too short to life in perpetual fear. I drive a car a few times a week without letting the risk of doing so cripple me so why let the much more negligible risk of finding myself caught in some sort of terror attack limit my horizons? I also think that if we let our world’s shrink, if we don’t experience other countries and cultures, see other cities, meet new people, then we are letting the terrorists win.

  17. I have an offer to teach in Istanbul for 9 months which I was very excited about. After the recent attacks, I was quite hesitant to go. Because of your article, I now am 100 percent sure of going! Thank you!

  18. Your photos are stunning and your words are inspiring. We’ve been talking about going (it’s at the top of my husband’s bucket list) and while it may not happen for awhile, you have said it so well: While it makes sense to be prudent, none of us should live our lives in fear. Disaster can strike at any time, in any place.

    • Yes, it’s the world we live in and it’s up to use to really you are time to enjoy that life. Thank you for your kind words. I think you’ll really love Turkey, whenever it is that you’re able to visit.

    • Hello! How are you? The ‘BLOG’ is very COLORFUL and INFORMATIVE. It’s a ‘SHAME’ we have to ‘LIVE’ life in a BOX. I HOPE this ‘BLOG’ will CHANGE people’s OUTLOOK on LIFE and TRAVELING. We shouldn’t have to LIVE in ‘FEAR.’

Would love to hear from you!