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Istanbul for beginners – a guide for a first-time stopper by the intercontinental

Istanbul is an absolute must-visit city at least once in a lifetime. Whoever you ask about Istanbul, everyone will tell you that one visit is not enough to feel this vibrant megapolis, and after the first visit, you will always want to come back again and again.

Istanbul is a magnet that attracts thousands and thousands of visitors every year. I was not an exception. But one should choose wisely what to visit the first time as it’s almost impossible to see everything in a few days. So, I made my choice and here is my beginners’ guide to Istanbul:


Old IstanbulHagia Sophiaand the Blue Mosque are not to be missed out. My dream come true was Hagia Sophia. It’s for a reason that the temple is transformed into a museum and is a symbol of all the historical and religious layers kept there. The building is magnificent from the inside as well as from the outside. No particular rules to follow to enter inside, just skip the queue by buying your ticket online):

The Blue Mosque is located on the opposite side of Hagia Sophia, but there are tourists’ entrance hours to be respected as is a house of worship after all. As I was motivated to visit the Blue Mosque too, I had to wait till the early afternoon to take a tour inside.

To kill the time, I visited the Yerebatan Cistern and the columns with Medusa headsat the bottom as well as admired cistern’s inside set in the movie and the book‘’Inferno’’by Dan Brown. I passed by Arasta Bazaar, went to the sea and saw the remnants of theByzantium wall. The wall is mind-blowing when you think about how old it is and the way it survived weather conditions, wars, earthquakes and the marks of time!!! If you want to travel in time, this is the monument to visit!!!!

Island Escape – If you want to escape the megapolis for a day and go on an idyllic island, ferries are going back and forth to the Princes’ Islands. The biggest one is Büyükada where you can have a fayton ride (horse-drawn carriage) and admire the beautiful houses and gardens in the Mediterranean style. You can have a seafood lunch or dinner or have a relaxing Turkish coffee with a view of the sea. For the ladies, buy a tiara made of flowers or sea garments as a symbol of Büyükada island. Tip for a great Büyükada adventure – check the ferry timetable in advance, otherwise be ready to become an islander…

After the sightseeing tours, it was time for some food, tea, and coffee.

Well, well, well, say goodbye to your diet when in Turkey. You’ll eat a lot of bread, Turkish delights and some unusual stuff. What I’ve never expected to taste was ‘’Kokoreç’’ – a lamb intestine sandwich. Doesn’t sound appealing to you? – well, try it as it’s a part of Turkish street food discovery. Döner kebab (wrap/ or plate with lamb and some vegetables, Köfte (meatballs traditionally made of lamb), Güveç (vegetable stew), işkembe (tripe soup) and other Turkish dishes have to be ticked on the list as well ):

Turkish people digest and relax over a cup of tea or coffee and Turkish delights after a feast meal. Plenty of choices for sweets lovers – Sütlaç – rice pudding; kadayif – dough soaked in syrup and topped with a layer of clotted cream; künefe – layers of kadayif cemented together with sweet cheese, doused in syrup and served with a sprinkling of pistachio. Well, I am not talking about baklava as everybody knows this heavenly delicious Turkish dessert. All this with a strong Turkish tea or coffee is a real ritual for the senses!!!

Turkish delights
Turkish bread

I introduced some fun activities on my Istanbul list too – Istanbul Aquarium and Istanbul Sapphire. The first thing to keep in mind is that both attractions are located in remote areas from the city center and you have to think about logistics here. Istanbul Aquarium is located in Florya district near the old Ataturk International Airport. It’s a great and fun place to visit with themes going from the Black Sea towards the Pacific and the cute fish living there. The Aquarium offers experiences as swimming, feeding, and diving with some extraordinary marine creatures. Amazing place for all the ages. However, if you prefer to skip the Aquarium and embark on more adrenaline adventure, Istanbul Sapphire is the place. What can you do there? – go to the observation deck and take the stunning panorama, be a part of 4D movie experience and ‘’fly’’ in a helicopter over the city!!! You did not enter Aya Sofya, neither the Blue Mosque – you can do it virtually. Mind-blowing experience!!!!

Can’t wait to head to Istanbul? 

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Author and Photographer: Julia Dimova
Author and Photographer: Julia Dimova

More Pictures of our Istanbul tour