Istanbul has long been on my list of dream cities to visit. So when the day finally came when we booked our 15 hour + flights across the pond, I've been reading, researching and daydreaming ever since. Turkey is an interesting country, in that it's really situated between two worlds -- Europe and Asia. Any guidebook you pick up will throw out phrases like "Paris of the East" or "gateway between east and west" and as cliche as it sounds, it's actually quite palpable while you're walking around the city.
There's an undeniable European flair with the architecture and bustling cobblestone city streets while at the same time, 5 times a day, you can hear the melodic call to prayer trill through the city at any of the many mosques situated on top of their many hills. I loved seeing the two worlds, conservative and modern, both collide and coexist in such a beautiful way. It really is mesmerizing.
While we had about 6 days in the city, I have to say I only really got a taste of everything Istanbul has to offer -- all the more reason to return soon, right? Here's a rundown of my personal highlights from this portion of our trip:
1. Blue Mosque and Aya Sofya: These two must-sees are situated right next to each other, but you definitely should give each a few hours to really experience properly. The Blue Mosque was my first time actually entering a mosque at all and I was in complete awe of the dome architecture and the tile work. Plus, we opted to stay in the visitor section during the prayer hour, which was amazing to witness in person. The Aya Sofya and it's mosaic work and large scale medallions with different verses and names from the Quran had me entranced.
2. Topkapi Palace: Before landing in Istanbul, one of my must-sees included the Harem, which is situated in the sprawling Topkapi Palace, once inhabited by sultans and their families. The floor to ceiling tile work is absolutely breathtaking here. I didn't want to leave.
3. Grand Bazaar: Definitely worth setting aside a few hours for this, as it's easy to get lost in the hustle and bustle of the many shops here. We had fun poking around the different Turkish carpet shops and eyeing some jewelry but ultimately ended up stocking up on Turkish Delight.
4. Spice Bazaar: Right next to the Grand Bazaar, I have to say this was my favorite of the two. It felt a lot more local as more families were roaming around, as opposed to tourists and I loaded up on different teas and spices here to enjoy back at home.
5. Hamam: I can't recommend this enough! Hamams are a traditional Turkish bath experience, where you go through a series of different hot, sauna-like rooms, alternating between cold and hot water to cleanse before being washed down and massaged by one of their bath attendants. I literally left feeling so relaxed and glowing.
6. Turkish Towels: There are shops all over the city selling Turkish towels and I may have picked up more than my fair share throughout the trip. They're perfect as actual towels but also large enough to double as picnic blankets, beach towels and even blanket throws on your bed.
7. Turkish Cats: Personally, I loved spotted all the cats around the city, roaming the streets like they owned the town. (And they kind of do!)
8. Bosphorous Cruise: While it is a bit of a tourist trap, I have to say this is the best way to experience the Bosporous, especially at sunset.
9. Turkish Tea + Coffee: We were expecting to drink way more Turkish coffee, but the tea actually became much more part of our every day routine. We stopped off at little tea houses every chance we could. I loved it so much I picked up a bag of Turkish tea leaves at the Spice Bazaar before heading home.
10. Galata Bride at sunset: Istanbul has numerous bridges that close the gap between the European and Asian sides, but the Galata Bridge at sunset has to be my favorite. It's lined with fishermen at all hours of the day and has some fantastic views of the Yeni Mosque and the Rustem Pasa Mosque.
11. Serdar-I Ekrem: This suggestion came from a reader on Instagram and I'm so glad I ventured here! I have to say, if I had to pick a neighborhood to live in Instanbul, I loved this area. Between the artisan shops and boutiques, adorable cafes and tucked away alleys, it felt very West Village meets Pacific Heights.
12. Whirling Dervishes: I've seen numerous photos of the Whirling Dervish ritual so it was such a treat to actually experience it in person. It's a spiritual performance, in which the dervishes spin countless times in unison, the idea being to bring them closer to God. To say it was mesmerizing, would be an understatement.
Stay tuned for the second part of our trip, Cappadocia, coming up next week! As for the outfit shots above, check them out in full detail here and here.
This post was in collaboration with The RealReal. As always, all opinions and styling are my own. Thank you for supporting posts that keep This Time Tomorrow's doors open.