Straddling the Bosphorus Strait between Europe and Asia, İstanbul is etched with thousands of years of history, bearing the marks of the Ancient Greeks, the Persians, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Turks, and the Silk Road traders who've lived here over the centuries.
When visiting one of the world's richest cities in terms of cultural heritage, 48 hours is hardly enough time to even scratch the surface. That being said, it was just enough time for me to get a taste of what İstanbul has to offer: incredible architecture, great food, a fresh art scene, and shopping in some truly one-of-a-kind markets. And although I wish I'd had more time, let's just say I'll be back.
Sultan Ahmet Camii in Turkish (The Blue Mosque) is definitely one of the places you have to see, regardless of how much time you have in the city. With its six minarets dominating the İstanbul skyline, this is one iconic structure that's hard to miss. The inside of the Sultan Ahmet Mosque reveals why it is also called the “Blue Mosque”! Make sure to spend enough time to really take in the beauty and immensity of the place - and all those intricate blue tiles adorning the interior.
Just down the road from the Blue Mosque is the Basilica Cistern, a "sunken palace" that lies beneath the surface of İstanbul's streets. Originally built in the 3rd and 4th centuries AD as a commercial center, it was later repurposed as part of a water filtration system. Within the cistern, you can also see a sculpture of the head of Medusa. It's said that it's upside down in order to cancel out the power of her stare...but then again, it's also said that it was simply rotated to fit the space of the column above it. I guess you'll just have to give Medusa a stare and decide for yourself!
Ayasofya-i Kebîr Cami-i Şerîfi (Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque)
Another of İstanbul's most renowned and impressive structures, Ayasofya-i Kebîr Cami-i Şerîfi (Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque) was once a Christian church but was transformed to a mosque in the year 1453 under Sultan Mehmed II. Just a stone's throw from the Blue Mosque, it pairs nicely with the latter to dominate the skyline of old İstanbul. Don't forget your selfie stick! Good news: on nearly every corner in İstanbul, someone's ready to sell you this must-have accessory. And it'll come in handy - as you can see, everywhere you turn there are amazing images to be captured, such as this one of the Blue Mosque from an upstairs window in Ayasofya-i Kebîr Cami-i Şerîfi (Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque).
The multicolored marble and mosaics of Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque 's walls extend right up to the towering main vault, which, when first constructed, was the biggest, tallest, and most impressive dome in the Byzantine Empire.
The detail of Ayasofya-i Kebîr Cami-i Şerîfi (Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque) could have you walking around the place for days. Even the doorways on your way out have you standing still in your tracks.
An İstanbul street scene
The streets of İstanbul are a mixture of modern and old buildings, both of which offer tons of opportunities to buy delicious street food and local wares.
Shopping in İstanbul
Shopping opportunities in İstanbul are abundant: small shops and vendors greet you around every corner. From Ottoman antiques to the hip Turkish brand Mavi - it's all here.
Crossing the water
Make sure your İstanbul bucket list includes crossing the Golden Horn for a trip over to the Karaköy district. This part of İstanbul is one of the city's most happening areas, and it continues to grow with new shops, rooftop bars, and boutiques.
The Galata Tower is another İstanbul icon - you'll find it in the buzzing Karaköy/Galata district. Constructed in 1348, it was the tallest building in the city for many centuries. Head to the top for unparalleled views of the metropolis.
Sitting down for Turkish tea
An afternoon break for some Turkish tea is a must. Everywhere you go, you'll find people sitting down to çay. In fact, Türkiye has the highest annual per capita consumption of tea in the world.
İstanbul is a cat lover's dream. Everywhere you turn, you're likely to find a friendly feline rubbing up against you.
The Golden Horn
Daily walks by the water were a highlight of my trip. Spanned by five bridges, the Golden Horn is the primary Bosphorus inlet in İstanbul. It's also known by its modern Turkish name, Haliç.
Colorful Balat is İstanbul's traditional Christian and Jewish quarter. Its ice cream-colored buildings hug hills so steep you almost feel like you're in San Francisco.
It’s best you are in good shape to make your way up the streets of Balat. An up-and-coming design district, tours of the area were a main event at last year İstanbul Design Biennial.
İstanbul is home to the Grand Bazaar, one of the oldest and most expansive covered markets in the world, but that's not the only game in town. Welcome to the Spice Bazaar, in the neighborhood of Eminönü!
Goods on sale
Just a small assortment of the things you'll come across while shopping in and around the Spice Bazaar. If you've learned the art of bargaining, it'll come in handy here. You'll get better prices the further into the bazaar you venture.
How the Spice Bazaar gets its name
Spices, sweets, nuts, and dried fruits can all be found at the Spice Bazaar.
A vendor at the Spice Bazaar
Of course, it's much more than just spices.
Shoes of every hue can be purchased here. Other popular buys include carpets and kilims (flat tapestry-woven rugs), leather goods, textiles, antiques, and jewelry.