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After a lovely trip to Rome and Florence, we found ourselves in between Europe and Asia, right in the heart of Istanbul, Turkey. A stop-over, courtesy of Turkish Airlines, gave us 72 hours to explore the beauty, culture, and food of one of the world’s top travel destinations.
We arranged an airport pick-up service with our chosen accommodation for the next three days, White House Hotel Istanbul. Service is A-plus at this charming boutique hotel and its location right at the Sultanahmet District makes it the perfect starting point of our Istanbul walking tour.
We had lunch at a random restaurant on the main road (where the Tram Line 1 goes through) of the Sultanahmet District. No trip to Turkey is complete without trying an authentic Lamb Doner. And let me just say, it’s nothing like what I had tasted back home, it was better!
After lunch, we decided to walk around the Sultanahmet District, enjoying the nice fall weather. Since it’s still early in the afternoon, we went ahead to visit the Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya).
Address: Sultan Ahmet Mahallesi, Ayasofya Meydanı, 34122 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey
Operating Hours: 7 days a week, Summer (Apr 15-Oct 30) 09:00 – 19:00 / Winter (Oct 30-Apr 15) 09:00 – 17:00
Entrance Fee: 40 Turkish Lira
Suggested Tour: Istanbul Classics Tour
Istanbul’s most iconic landmark, the Hagia Sophia was the biggest church built by the East Roman Empire in Istanbul.
It was once a Greek Orthodox Christian Church, then a Mosque. It now stands as a museum and is currently Istanbul’s most visited tourist attraction.
We spent a good hour marveling at the beauty of Hagia Sophia’s interiors.
Let the photos speak for themselves.
There is also access to the Upper Gallery of the Hagia Sophia and from here you can enjoy a nice view of the Bosphorus River.
The Comnenus Mosaic (1192) is located in the eastern wall of the south gallery. We see here the Virgin here, holding Christ on her lap. On her right side is Emperor John II Comnenus and Empress Irene on the left.
The Empress Zoe Mosaic (11th century) is also on the eastern wall of the south gallery. Christ Pantocrator is in the middle and with him are Constantine IX Monomachus and Empress Zoe.
Views from the upper gallery are even more magnificent!
After our visit, we went out to enjoy the rest of the afternoon at the park. We skipped the Blue Mosque today and instead opted to visit it along with the other tourist attractions the following day.
If you are wondering where is the most ideal location to stay at when in Istanbul, my suggestion is to choose any of the hotels in the Sultanahmet District. We were so happy with the location of our hotel because it’s within walking distance of most of Istanbul’s must-see sights! It is also pretty close to the Sultanahmet station of the Tram Line 1 which made it very convenient for us to go around Istanbul if we want to.
Another plus is that there are plenty of restaurants, confection shops, and cafes in the area, you’ll never run out of options on where to eat. Just please avoid fast food joints. Unfortunately, the quality and service of these international fast food chains in Istanbul were the worst I’ve experienced ever. Eating at a local restaurant will give you a thousand times better experience. Anyway, authentic Turkish food is so delicious, usually generous-serving size and it’s also very reasonably priced! Eat that instead!
Since the night is young and we want to make the most out of our 72 hours, we took the tram and headed to Istiklal Avenue, Istanbul’s prime shopping street. We spent a good hour walking along the busy street and just enjoying the nice, cool weather.
We stopped by at a local restaurant and ate some doner (again!) and kumpir (baked potato). Basically, you can choose any topping you want for your kumpir, such as corn, olives, salad, etc. There’re about 20 different toppings you can choose from!
It’s only been one day and yet I am completely mesmerized by Istanbul’s beauty!
Please check back soon for more of my stories about Istanbul!
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