Istanbul: The Transcontinental City

Sunset over Istanbul

The last couple months have been pretty crazy so I decided to take a vacation once the dust started to settle at work. This year already saw me do big trips to Europe and to Latin America and so I wanted to do something different.

I ended up deciding to go to the Middle East.

I went to the Middle East a couple years ago when I went to Dubai, and I’ve always wanted to go back. There were direct flights from Toronto to Istanbul and I’ve also always wanted to go to Istanbul so I decided to make that my gateway city to the region.

Hagia Sophia x Breakfast
A view of the Hagia Sophia from the breakfast table.

Istanbul is an absolutely beautiful city.

Sitting on both sides of the Bosporus, it’s the biggest city that exists on two continents. In this case, it’s Europe and Asia and when you walk through the city you can really see that Istanbul really is a city that embodies the intersection of cultures.

Certain parts of the city have these small, quaint, and colourful buildings that look like they could be out of any other traditionally European city. But the main distinguishing feature of Istanbul are the myriad of Ottoman styled mosques with their giant domes and tall minarets.

Istanbul from the Galata Tower
Istanbul from the Galata Tower.

In general, I think that religious architecture is incredibly fascinating and beautiful. But the mosques in Istanbul are really something else. It’s hard to put into words how beautiful these mosques are.

For one, they’re enormous. Not only are the bases of the buildings large, but they also have these giant domes and it’s mind-boggling as to how people from hundreds of years ago managed to even construct these things.

The amount of detail that goes into the buildings is incredible as well. There are so many intricate details carved into the stones and there’s so many wonderful patterns layered into the interior of the mosques.

Each and every single one of these mosques are a giant piece of art and it’s just so amazing to experience in real life.

The Hagia Sophia
The Hagia Sophia.

When people think of Istanbul mosques, the two that people normally think of are the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. Both of these guys are actually right across from each other at Sultanahmet Square and it makes for a really cool area.

The Hagia Sophia is the older building and so it doesn’t look as nice as the Blue Mosque from the outside, but it’s understandable considering how it was built 1500 years ago. Regardless, the Hagia Sophia is an incredibly cool building since it started off as a church and then got turned into a mosque, and so the inside of it has elements of both faiths.

In Islam, depictions of religious figures aren’t allowed which is why you probably don’t have an image of Mohammad in your head. Jesus, on the other hand, is depicted incredibly often in Christianity. This means that the Hagia Sophia is decorated with a mix of Christian murals and Islamic symbols, which is so cool.

The Inside of the Hagia Sophia
The inside of the Hagia Sophia, beautiful even with the renovations.

That alone makes it one of the most unique religious buildings I’ve been to but even if you disregard that element of it, it’s incredibly grand and beautiful.

The Blue Mosque is beautiful from the outside but it was under renovation on the inside so it didn’t really look that great. On the other hand, there are so many wonderful mosques in Istanbul like the Nuruosmaniye Mosque, Süleymaniye Mosque, and the Ortaköy Mosque that you have no risk of not getting your mosque fix in.

The Süleymaniye Mosque
The Süleymaniye Mosque.

Outside of mosques, Istanbul has a lot of really cool areas to check out as well. Honestly, Istanbul is such a large and old city that there are just so many things that you can see or do. I was there for like five days and I definitely think there’s so much more I could do.

Being a port city spanning two continents, the city has a lot of busy piers and harbourfront areas where you can see the city. There are short ferries you can take that bring you from Europe to Asia and vice versa which is kinda nice. Reminds me a bit of the ferry in Hong Kong between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island except you get the novelty of saying you took a boat to go between continents.

Another boat ride I took that I would recommend is the Bosporus cruise. There’s a bunch of them that are offered but there’s essentially just two routes, one that goes halfway down the Bosporus and another that goes most of the way down.

Under the Bosporus Bridge
Under the Bosporus Bridge.

The main differentiating factor here is the amount of marketing and who it’s marketed to. The one you see the most is the one advertised to tourists and it’s something ridiculous like 30 Euros for the boat ride. Sure, you get a dinner in there, but that doesn’t seem like a good deal.

I, on the other hand, went and found a more local cruise which only costed 25 Liras, which is almost a tenth of the price. There’s no food included but there’s a nice and cheap cafe on board and you have a chance to check out the restaurants at Anadolu Kavağı when you get there. The weather wasn’t super cooperative when I went but it was actually pretty worth it, especially considering the price.

The cruise also brings you to the Bosporus Bridge, which is a bridge that literally crosses continents (I’ve seem to seen a lot of famous bridges this year..). There’s no pedestrian footpath on that bridge but you can get under it in the water and you can also get this sick view of it by Ortaköy Mosque.

It’s especially nice at night there since the mosque is beautifully lit up and you have the bridge in the back.

Ortaköy Mosque at Night
The Ortaköy Mosque at night, featuring the Bosporus Bridge.

Like I said, there’s so much to see and do in Istanbul that if I wanted to write about everything this post would end up being like twice as long as it currently is. You have literally everything from pedestrian streets like İstiklal where you can find some nice restaurants and shops and incredibly old markets like the Grand Bazaar.

Both of those places are always filled with people and it really makes the city feel incredibly lively. Definitely worth visiting.

I’ve seen a lot of beautiful cities in my time but I think that Istanbul is in the top three with the likes of Prague and St. Petersburg. It also helps that it’s not as touristy as Prague but still has enough of that going on that it’s still very accessible.

Overall, I think Istanbul is a fantastic city. There’s still so much more for me to see and do there that I would definitely not mind another trip over there. Plus, since Turkish Airways (great airline btw) has direct flights from Toronto to Istanbul, it can also be a transport hub for me. Maybe next time I’ll check out other parts of Turkey as well!

Author: Gary

Explorer, Creator, Gamer. #IDKAIST MSc and #UOITGameDev Alumni.

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