What to do in Istanbul

Besides looking for beautiful street art, there is so much to do and see in Istanbul. If you love culture there are a myriad of museums to visit and if you like site-seeing you can take a trip to a few of the historic monuments or mosques in the city or you could wander through the city’s beautiful streets and countless markets. Whilst researching for my trip I knew that there were a lot of things that I wanted to do but as I only has two full days to spend in the city, I had to think strategically about what I could do and see within such a limited amount of time. Here are my recommendations.

Have a Hamam (Turkish bath)

I was determined to spend some time relaxing during my short city break and what better way to do this in Turkey than to enjoy a traditional hamam. I went to Kilic Ali Paşa Hamam which was very conveniently only a short walk from my Airbnb. It’s not the cheapest hamam that you will find in the city (it’s about £40 for the hamam treatment on its own which isn’t bad, but if you are on a tighter budget you can find other hamam treatments for the equivalent of about £10), however, the stunning interiors and excellent service make this well worth the extra money. This hamam establishment is only open to women in the mornings but men can receive treatments later in the day.

Upon walking into the spa I was presented with a delicious quince sherbet drink before I was taken to the changing room to get ready for my treatment. The treatment itself was unlike anything I had ever experienced at a spa. Wearing nothing but bikini bottoms and a towel you are led into a small room by a woman who will be providing your hamam treatment. Your towel is then removed, after which point you are doused with warm water and then made to sit on a hot hexagonal marble stone to dry off before the hamam treatment properly begins.

The treatment itself involves a full body exfoliation with a mitt before your entire body (if you wish you can have your hair washed as well) is lathered with soap and massaged by your therapist. The therapists use a large muslin cloth which is periodically dunked into soapy water to create a balloon shape from which they squeeze out mountains of foam which are used to gently cleanse your skin. As I sat in a corner enveloped by mounds of bubbles, I felt completely calm and relaxed but also somewhat curious about how the rest of the treatment was going to go. All in all it was a lovely, albeit slightly unusual, experience to have someone else give you what is essentially a luxurious body wash. After the treatment was done, I was rinsed from head to toe and led into a low-lit room for a deep tissue massage which I had also booked for myself.

Visit the Hagia Sophia

I had been wanting to visit the Hagia Sophia for some time before my trip to Istanbul and so this was always going to be at the top of my site-seeing list. This site was first built as a church and was subsequently turned into mosque before finally being turned into a museum. It’s possible to see both Arabic calligraphy as well as murals of the Virgin Mary and Jesus (which was presumably covered up rather than destroyed when the site was turned into a mosque) throughout the interior of the building. What I love most about this museum is that it provides a visual account of how Istanbul has changed over the last 1500 or so years and besides this it is just absolutely stunning to behold. No trip to Istanbul would be complete without a visit here.

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Wander around Topkapi Palace

I must admit that I hadn’t done any research on Topkapi Palace before travelling to Istanbul. I wasn’t really planning on visiting, however, when I mentioned that I was travelling to Istanbul a few of my friends informed me that it was well worth a visit.

Once I arrived at the palace, I was surprised at how immense it was. As you make your way around the palace grounds you get a good overview of how the palace was used by the Ottoman Sultans. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most fascinating part of the palace for me were the kitchens. The palace has an array of different kitchens – one kitchen was used solely for making confectionery. I thought that this revealed a lot about the lavish lives that these rulers lived. Another thing I loved about the palace was the tiles which adorned the buildings as they reminded me of the azulejos that I saw in Lisbon.

Stop and stare at the Blue Mosque

Whilst the Blue Mosque is stunning from the outside it is still very much a working mosque and therefore its interior had a very similar look and feel to other working mosques that I had seen before. For this reason, it wasn’t one of the most interesting sites that I managed to visit but I’d still recommend having a look at the exterior whilst you are strolling through the Sultanahmet district.

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Sadly I didn’t get around to visiting the Grand Bazaar or the Asian side of Istanbul during this trip but that’s just another reason for me to come back to this amazing city.

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