Istanbul is a city that is not bound by a specific season; it can be explored whether in the summer sipping on gin and tonics or during the chilly winter months where the famous Turkish tea (especially Turkish apple tea – my favourite!) becomes an hourly staple.
I decided to travel to this wonderful city at the coldest time of the year – in December over New Years. I got to experience one of the most wonderful things in Istanbul: it actually started snowing! Even though nobody knew how to drive or manoeuvre around snow, which seems like a foreign concept for Istanbul natives, it definitely added a unique element to the whole experience.
If you are planning to stay and visit Istanbul, which I would highly recommend, its better to find accommodation in the old part of the city. Since it is the only city in the world which is spread across two continents (Asia and Europe), there’s a lot of places to stay and even more places to see. However, the old town provides sites dating back to the Roman Empire (the Basilica Cistern – a must see!), from Constantinople (visit the Hagia Sophia and the Archaeological Museum of Istanbul to get your fix on the ancient capital of Greek Orthodox) to the Ottoman Empire, one of the greatest empires at the turn of the century and its only capital (Topkapi Palace is one of the old administrative centres of the Ottoman Empire – filled with jewels galore!).
With such a breadth of history to discover spanning decades of different empires, Istanbul is truly a magnificent mish-mash of Greek Orthodox, Christian, Ancient Roman and Muslim cultures – a place unlike any other in the world. Providing a back drop to this cultural experience is also the magnificent Blue Mosque, which contains the most number of minarets on a mosque in the world: 6 to be exact if you didn’t know. It truly stands out as a symbol for Istanbul, where you can listen to the call to prayer from its powerful speakers and stand at the bottom of its grandeur.
If you’re not as much of the history buff, its also worth taking a pit stop in Istanbul for its amazing food, bazaar hammam experiences.
Turkish food is all around incredible – from their desserts dripped in sugar and honey (baklava!) to their assortment of platters and sauces (I personally recommend their goats cheeses, hummous spreads and rice wrapped in grape leaves), it truly is a mecca for both meat lovers (lots of lamb!) and vegetarians/vegans. My hotel that I stayed at offered a rooftop view of the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia all with traditional authentic Turkish Cuisine – check out the Armada hotel for an amazing meal.
The ever-famous Grand Bazaar, also in the old city, is one of the biggest bazaars in the world and truly is a maze in itself. If you love shopping, discovering spices, or simply care for a stroll around a unique marketplace I would not pass up the chance to see it.
The hammam on the other hand was an interesting experience to say the least. It’s not what you would expect from a “spa” treatment: be prepared for a proper scrub down on a hard marble table in a traditional Turkish bathhouse. However, it is a unique Turkish experience, and one that should not be passed up. I would recommend the Sulemaniye Hammam – it used to belong to Sultan Sulemaniye who regularly visited for his royal hammam treatments!
Istanbul is a unique city that offers cultural delights, provides an incredible historical backdrop unique to the city, and also gives a big modern city feel all at the same time. It is an incredible place that I would highly recommend, a place that you should not shy away from. I learned a lot and garnered an immense respect for Muslim culture, as well as experienced some breathtaking historical sites that I will remember forever.
So go on, book a flight and take some time to discover Istanbul!
IMAGE CREDIT: Leandro Centomo