There are cities that make you feel déjà vu as soon as you start strolling through their streets, getting lost in the worlds within. You even feel like “you’ve been there before!” Well, Istanbul is one of those cities. A strange familiarity arises in your heart all of a sudden, this feeling of acquaintance that cannot be explained through logic … Who knows, perhaps you feel like that because it seems as if there are invisible bonds you’ve formed with all the souls who’ve lived on this land throughout the many pages of history …

Istanbul is a unique capital with magic that sweeps you off your feet, its ability to let you experience harmony, chaos and serendipity all at the same time. Even though it is not the official capital of Turkey, it is the capital of my own universe!

You should try to explore it in early hours of the day, and first go to Beyazit. Like the core of each person, the core of Istanbul is in Beyazıt, Sultanahmet, and Eminönü...

The first stop should be Istanbul University with its history going all the way back to the Sahn-I Seman madrasa founded in 1453. This house of science has a beauty of its own since it’s managed to keep its historical texture alive. Located right across from the University, Beyazıt Mosque stands next to the entrance of the Sahaflar Bazaar (Second Hand Book Bazaar). I’ve spent hours right here. I’ve never struggled to find a book I’ve wanted here, it’s just a special venue in which you can submerge yourself in long chats with the old owners of book stores who are like mobile libraries on foot. History lives here and the Sahaflar Bazaar is all about the smell of old books...

You’ll never want to leave of course but time passes quickly and shopping awaits! At the end of the Sahaflar Bazaar is the world famous Grand Bazaar. One of the most surprising things you’ll notice upon entering the bazaar is the various young men calling out for you to buy their wares before repeating their appeals in from 5-11 completely different languages. Shopping in this bazaar is just a different, more enjoyable experience than shopping in malls, with its high ceilings, glamorous lighting and unending wares. Ladies, this especially applies to you! :) Just think of the Grand Bazaar as a mall in which everything you can think of is available and out there for you to explore. You’ll need to really get a feel for its narrow streets, its varied “hans” (markets) because the history of Istanbul has been written over and over again in the Grand Bazaar….

Should you turn left or right when you eventually manage to find the back door of Grand Bazaar which happens to be only one exit out of 22? It’s just like the blue or red pill paradox in the Matrix … I guarantee you that you will not be sorry regardless of whichever path you will take. If you go left you end up in Mahmutpaşa where you’ll see the frantic efforts of brides to be and their mothers indulging themselves in their shopping for the big event and get carried away in a crowded flow of people down the hill. This is heaven for inexpensive and budget shopping.

If you take a right you will be able to find my own secret venue and my favorite spot in Istanbul which is the Çorlulu Ali Paşa Madrasah. Inside the madrasa the Erenler Nargile ve Çay Bahçesi (Erenler Hookah and Tea Garden) welcomes you with its colorful, decorated and authentic lamps all around, the smell of the hookah blends with the smell of fresh dark tea, and linden trees. You can share your bench and breathe in the same air with the most distinguished authors of Turkish literature and there is really no better place in Istanbul to start writing...

The next stop is Sultanahmet Square… The square is visited by people from all nations and walks of life when they visit Istanbul looking for it as “Ahmet” since the full name is difficult to pronounce. This is where Istanbulites become Istanbulites because all of the important events of Ottoman Empire occurred here.

Even if I’d written 100 pages on Topkapı Palace it would still have been insufficient. This palace where of the Ottomans sultans is right next to the square. Suffice it to say that it needs to be seen. I strongly recommend that you take a stroll on Soğukçeşme Street to the left of the Palace’s main entrance and enjoy the old homes with their bay windows and many colors.

Of course I am not going to forget the Haghia Sophia and the wishing column in it. Rumor has it that Emperor of Eastern Roman Empire Justinian cured his killer headaches by leaning on this column. Then the column became the object of all wishes to get married, earn money and so on. Legends, you know …

Some other historical attractions located in Sultanahmet Square are the Basilica Cistern (they say it is magical and puts the spell on you!), the German Fountain and of course the Blue Mosque (originally called Sultanahmet Mosque, this mosque is known as the Blue Mosque because of the beautiful blue tiles in it).

Start walking down the hill from Sultanahmet only to reach Sirkeci Train Station and finally Eminönü Square. You can find infinite flavors of Turkish delight, Turkish coffee ceramics and of course all kinds of trinkets with little blue colored evil-eyes on them at the Spice Bazaar. You shouldn’t miss the opportunity to buy fresh Turkish coffee at the historical Kuru Kahveci Mehmet Efendi while you are in the vicinity! Don’t let the long queue in front of the store prevent you. I’m sure you’ll surprise yourself with how easily you’ll be able to hold conversation with your friends while eating a fish sandwich at the authentic fisherman boat in Eminönü Square! :)

Istanbul is a city that keeps you hungry for more. Neither my humble descriptions nor my mere words or imagination can reflect its grandeur to you. Hopefully you feel the same in this city of never-ending harmonies only to come back for more.

(*) You can use this content as long as you cite this website.


Neslihan Kanlıcaoğlu Demir


Zehra Nur Yurtlugil