Travel site TripAdvisor recently unveiled a list of 15 international destinations that seemed to attract Indian travellers the most. Two places in Istanbul figured on the list. We take a look at what else Istanbul has to offer.
Grand Ottoman Empire mosques and Byzantine churches jostle for space with rooftop nightclubs and happening galleries in Istanbul (not Constantinople). In the ‘City of the World’s Desire’, shop for carpets in the Grand Bazaar, take in the wonders of the powers that once ruled it, party with the locals or simply enjoy a languorous ride on the Bosphorus which cuts through the city. Sample the delectable fare, visit a hamam (Turkish bath), watch the whirling dervishes and be transported to another time. With its Asian flavours and European sensibilities, Istanbul, the largest city in Turkey, has the best of all worlds packed in its beautiful, sun-soaked boulevards.
Places to see
There are different ways to feast your eyes on Istanbul and topping the list of ways to do is actually from the top of Galata Tower in Beyoğlu. Built in 1348, the tower once formed part of a sub-city belonging to the Genoese that stretched right down to the Bosphorus. Interestingly, it was from this tower that Hezârfen Ahmed Çelebi flew across the Bosphorus from Europe to Asia in 1638, thus inaugurating the first ever intercontinental flight.
For an insight into the complex system that slaked Istanbul’s thirst in the days of yore, visit the Basilica Cistern, which got water into the city from Thrace, a place in the south-east Balkans. It was built in the sixth century. The cistern that is now fitted with lights and music is a hot spot for tourists. You can see fish flit around the bases of the 336 columns upon which the ceiling rests. Oh and don’t miss the upside-down head of Medusa that forms the bottom of one column, which shows that for Byzantine builders, Roman relics were more than reusable rubble.
Without question, the must-see tag goes to Topkapi Palace — home to generations of sultans and their wives. Why? Adorned with lush green courtyards and delicate kiosks, the Topkapi has a treasury that overshadows the crown jewels besides views to die for over the Sea of Marmara, Bosphorus and Golden Horn; also the secretive harem, a warren of beautifully-tiled rooms that fringes a stunner of a Turkish bath. Visit on a day when no cruise ship is in town to avoid crowds.
Ayasofya Hürrem Sultan Hamam
Çemberlitaş, Cağaloğlu, Galatasaray and Sülemaniye… you are spoilt for choices when it comes to Ottoman bathhouses in Istanbul. However, if you want to have a really royal experience, have a splash at Ayasofya Hürrem Sultan Hamam, where people were allowed only in 2011. This exceptional 16th century facility was designed for the Suleiman the Magnificent’s scheming wife Roxelana. Marble in acres, running water’s sound echoing around magnificent domes, and a massage fit for a sultan: You’ll come out chuffed to bits.
It’s busy on the Galata bridge, but you will not miss the magnificent sight offered by Süleymaniye Mosque, designed by the great Ottoman architect Sinan for Suleiman the Magnificent. Newly restored to its original grandeur, it is considered the finest of the 42 existing mosques Sinan designed for Istanbul. Surprisingly, it still has much of the original complex of social service buildings attached to it. The kuru fasuliye, the Turkish take on baked beans, is quite a hit among the locals and tourists alike.
Things you need to keep in mind
How to get there
Jet Airways, Air Arabia, Ethiad Airways, Turkish Airlines, Emirates and Air India have flights that go to Istanbul from Hyderabad. Some flights have stopovers at either Dubai, Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore or Doha. A trip would cost you around `70,000 per person.
Visa on arrival for a maximum stay of one month for holders with valid Schengen, UK or US visa with a fee of US$20. Currency One Turkish Lira is equal to `31.
Best time to visit
The best time to visit Istanbul is September to November.