This is the second part of our day-long challenge to see the Best of Istanbul in a Day. Seems like a huge task, but so far we’ve covered the Hagia Sophia Museum, The Basilica Cistern, The Blue Mosque, viewed the ancient Obelisk of Theodosius, and had a feast fit for a Sultan.
Now we continue seeking out the best of Istanbul, with greater attention to finding Istanbul hidden gems. As it turns out, there are many not to be missed places off the beaten track in Istanbul. Let us show you the way!
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Note: There are lots of walks, experiences, and private guided tours in Istanbul that can help you discover Istanbul’s hidden gems with the help of a local expert.
Visiting Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar
We started off after lunch on a walk to Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar. Which, after all that food, was a really good idea. Crossing through the threshold of the bazaar makes you feel like you have just entered a new world. It has high arched ceilings painted in blue and yellow, shops of all sorts covering every inch and bright red Turkish flags decorating the walls.
The entire bazaar area is made up of over 61 covered streets. With 3,000 shops and up to 400,000 visitors a day, it is one of the largest, oldest and most visited bazaars in the world.
There is everything for sale here that you can imagine, including pottery, rugs, fabrics, jewelry, etc. And it’s definitely not just a tourist destination – locals shop for all sorts of items here. For example, it is known to have the best quality and best prices for gold in the city.
If I had room in my luggage, I would have exited the bazaar with one of these lanterns tucked under my arm.
You can find these evil-eye beads all over Istanbul. They are supposed to bring luck and protection, and even those who are aren’t particularly superstitious will have a glass evil eye on their person, in their home or hanging from their car’s rear view mirror.
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Istanbul Back Streets
Ducking away from the shopping crowds, we made our way through the back of the market behind the shops to a building that appeared at first to be abandoned. The interior was slightly dark and dusty, and appeared to be well inhabited by a common fixture on the streets of Istanbul.
The ubiquitous stray cat (often with a tray of food and a makeshift cat bed nearby) were not difficult to spot.
We also found a few of the rooms that were being used by artisans making typical products such as colorful lanterns or rugs.
Then we traveled up a small stairway to this wooden door.
On the other side, we found ourselves on the roof and were rewarded with probably some of the best views we have had of Istanbul. From here you can see Istanbul from every angle – the grit, beauty, culture, and even a little local pride.
Getting the Best Secret Rooftop View in Istanbul
You’d think that with everything that had already experienced in the day that this would be enough, like icing on the cake. But we weren’t finished yet, not even close. How could you leave Istanbul without seeing the Spice Bazaar? And that is exactly where we headed next.
The Istanbul Spice Bazaar
The Istanbul Spice Bazaar (or Egyptian Spice Market) is a party for the senses. The first thing that hits you is the vast number of people who share the space with you. I’d imagine that it remains busy, with tourists and locals alike, from the time it opens until the moment it closes.
The next thing that comes into focus are the wonderful aromas. Freshly ground coffee, fragrant soap, sweet candy, and pungent spice all mingle together and fill the air.
There is the constant urging of shop owners to come over and try their wares. With all of that going on it was nice to have a guide to bring us to one hand-picked store in order to show us the best of the market.
We were offered samples of spice, Turkish tea, and the local favorite dessert – Turkish Delight. A gel candy made with sugar or honey and often nuts.
After all of this it was time for a well deserved break, and as luck would have it, our ride was awaiting.
Private Boat Tour of the Bosphorus
After a bustle of the Spice Bazaar, a relaxing and breezy boat tour of the Bosphorus was really just perfect. We were able to view the European side with its striking mosques, view some of the Sultan’s former palaces along the waterfront and take in glimpses of the Asian side in preparation for further exploration later in our visit.
The kids on our trip especially enjoyed the boat ride – making this a good a great activity for families in Istanbul.
We left the boat ready for another short hike to another one of Istanbul’s best known sights, the Galata Tower. It took a small hike, but the view from the tower are not to be missed.
Ah but wait, instead of queuing up in line behind a mob of tourists to climb the tour, we did one better. Our guide showed us to a rooftop cafe close by where we could rest our feet and order a cool drink. From here we had a uncrowded view of the tower from one side, and the Bosphorus on the other. Very clever!
We sat sipping our lemonade, reflecting on the day. We saw some amazing things, so many that we agreed it would take a while to sort through our photos process it all. It was a full, busy, memorable, and all together fantastic day. Boldly, I will say, we did see the best of Istanbul, all in a day. Would you agree?
Here are some related posts about travel to the the cuisine of Turkey that can help plan or inspire your Turkish vacation.