We’ve just returned from a wonderful long weekend in Istanbul, the city where East and West collide. We visited many beautiful mosques, ate some delicious Turkish food and watched the sunset amidst the hundreds of spires that are scattered all over the city’s skyline. Have a scroll to see what we got up to day-by-day.
The stunning Hagia Sophia all lit up at night. Now a museum, this intricately designed building was originally built as a Christian Cathedral in 537AD. It was transformed into a mosque by the Ottoman Empire in 1453 and remained this way until 1935, when it was officially turned into a museum.
Just opposite Hagia Sophia is the city’s most famous structure; The Blue Mosque.
And now we’re inside the Hagia Sophia. The size of the building is quite unbelievable; it’s absolutely huge.
…although hard to capture the scale of it in a photo!
Covered in plaster by the Ottomans as they transformed Hagia Sophia from a cathedral into a mosque, these stunning mosaics were uncovered in 1931 and can be found all over the building. This particular mosaic, showing Jesus Christ with the Virgin Mary to his left and John the Baptist to his right, is believed to date back to the 13th century. Whilst many mosaics have been restored, it is thought that a lot were also lost in the earthquake of 1894.
The stunning chandeliers that dangle from the domes are a fairly new edition to the Hagia Sophia and manage to highlight the scale of the place perfectly. It was very gloomy outside the day we visited, and these beauties really lit the place up.
They are found in both the hallways and the main area of the museum, and we think they’re absolutely lovely!
The perfect view for lunch (and the sun had decided to come out!). The next stop on our first days city tour was to the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, also known as the Blue Mosque.
Whilst it is a popular tourist site, the Blue Mosque still operates as a mosque and men are often seen praying here.
The Blue Mosque was built by the Ottoman Empire and was named after the Sultan Ahmed. It consists of five main domes and six minarets; the only mosque with six minarets in Istanbul. It is believed that the architect who designed the mosque misheard the sultan’s request for gold (altin) minarets, and instead constructed six (alti) minarets. Apparently the sultan was pretty mad about this but, we love the fact this mosque has six minarets – it makes for an easy landmark when you’re looking out from one of the cities many rooftops!
We started our second day of sightseeing with a trip to the Süleymaniye Mosque. We got there early and it was wonderfully peaceful compared to the mosques we’d visited the day before.
The Süleymaniye Mosque is another creation from the Ottoman empire and is the second largest in the city.
To get inside this mosque, we first walked through the beautiful courtyard, which is towered over by the mosque’s four minarets.
The courtyard is perfectly symmetrical and really does look wonderful from every angle. I think everyone was very excited to take a look inside…
The stunning interior combined with the peaceful atmosphere provided us with a truly special experience. The only person inside was a man tasked with hoovering the vast red carpet beneath our bare feet, where soon many men would be praying.
After we were finished looking inside, we wandered back into the courtyard and then out towards the garden area for a better view of the mosque’s stunning exterior…
…where we were blessed with clear skies and wonderful views of the Bosphorus.
From here you have perfect views over the domes of old and the buildings of new on the other side of the river.
After a morning on our feet, it was time to relax at the Cafe Pierre Loti, a restaurant situated atop one of the city’s many hills with perfect views of the Golden Horn and the endless spires in the distance.
So, another afternoon, another mosque to visit. This architectural delight is the Eyüp Sultan Mosque and is considered to be one of the holiest mosques in the city. It is here that Eyüp al-Ansari, a friend of the prophet Muhammad, is believed to be buried.
As you can see, it is a lot busier with people praying than the mosque we’d visited earlier that morning.
Speaking of busy, the next stop on our tour was at the Grand Bazaar! An indoor market with hundreds of stalls selling everything from Turkish delight to beautifully patterned scarves.
As a Saturday night treat, we had booked ourselves a table at Mikla Restaurant and Bar. And this was the view from their rooftop. Do I need to say anything more?
The views from up here were really amazing. And as the sun set, the mosques started lighting up, illuminating the city with their spires.
And as for the food… it was exactly what you’d expect from the World’s 51st Best Restaurant – delicious! I went for the ‘manti’, a traditional Turkish ravioli stuffed with slow-cooked lamb and served with yoghurt.
The next day we were up and onto the boat first thing for our cruise along the Bosphoros (some of us a little worse for wear after over-indulging at Mikla *worth it*). Although it was another gloomy day, the sun was certainly trying to shine through the clouds for us.
And with views like this, it didn’t really matter that the rain seemed ominous.
As we cruised along the river, our eyes were opened to yet more mosques and minarets – it’s no wonder Istanbul is commonly referred to as the city of spires!
Back on dry land (sort of – it was now heavily raining), we went to explore the city’s spice market. Wonderfully presented stalls are around every corner, as are the shopkeepers offering endless Turkish delight as you wander by. An offer that did prove hard to refuse.
Hurrah! The rain had stopped and so naturally it was time for a lovely group photo in front of the Süleymaniye Mosque.
From above the bridge, many local fishermen dangle their rods in the hopes of catching something tasty for dinner. I have to say, they looked like pretty successful fishermen.
For our last dinner together we ventured into Beyoğlu, the city’s most vibrant neighbourhood, to a wonderful little restaurant called Aheste. They have a wonderful cocktail and wine list, and possibly one of the best value ‘tasting menus’ I’ve consumed in a long time.
We started with this amazing array of cold meze dishes; it was lovely to have a taste of so many different dishes. And the best part was – it was bottomless. So you could order as much as you wanted (although we found their portion sizes to be just right).
We continued with more meze dishes, this time hot ones. And obviously more cocktails and wine…
The next day we said goodbye to Istanbul. Although the weather had let us down a couple of times, the wonderful architecture, endless mosques, minarets, and meze, and the astounding rooftop views had cemented this as one of the places we will definitely be returning to. If you want to join us next time, you know what to do.