This time last year I was walking down a cobblestone street in Turkey on a whirlwind study abroad trip focused on city planning and heritage preservation. Our guide, a city planning professor and native Turk, showed us the landmarks and hidden gems of this beautiful and bustling city on that straddles both Europe and Asia. He hustled us through tiny, crowded streets, showed us the magic of the Turkish food cart, and taught us how to cross the street like a Turk (no need for traffic signals; you just hold your arm out as you walk into the street and hope for the best). My childhood friend Celia and her husband are headed to Istanbul soon for several days on one of their mini vacays. They can do that because they live abroad for the time being…jealous? Yea me too. Having spent some time in Istanbul, she asked me for some of my favorite spots, so I thought I’d share them with y’all too.
This behemoth beauty was once a byzantine church, Ottoman Empire mosque, and is now a museum for the Turkish republic. The interior architecture, mosaics, and decorative details are incredible. Hagia Sophia is one of those buildings where you are constantly looking up…there are endless things to see.
More Hagia Sophia
This is the largest of the cisterns in Istanbul and was once used by the Ottomans to supply water to Topkapi Palace. This site is so unique because unlike the rest of Istanbul, it is so quiet beneath the ancient streets. It is a popular attraction, but people were much quieter down here than on the busy street above. *Fun Fact: a scene from the James Bond film From Russia with Love was filmed here.
The Blue Mosque
Across the main square in Istanbul is the Blue Mosque or Sultanahmet Mosque (named for the young sultan who commissioned the structure in the 17th century). Unlike Hagia Sophia, this grand building is still an active mosque. It is known as the Blue Mosque because of the thousands of blue tiles that adorn the incredible interior, and like Hagia Sophia, the chandeliers create a mysterious yet beautiful glow throughout the space.