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When I traveled to Istanbul , Turkey, a whole large complex of historical sites – including the Blue Mosque, Sophia, Cho Lon and the Spice Market – overwhelmed me.
The locals showed me amazing things. A friend advised us to go to the Basilica, and that was the first time we heard about it. This bizarre underground cave turned out to be a special highlight of our Istanbul tour , because we had never heard of its existence. I’m also glad I got to go to a good hammam instead of following the popular Istanbul travel itinerary and ending up in some luxury western hotel.
Don’t ignore the famous tourist attractions in Istanbul , but also remember that this unique city still has mysterious spots that are worth a visit:
1. Dive into the basement of the Basilica
I’ve been walking past the surface of this ancient cave for days without even knowing it existed. After stepping through an unremarkable doorway and climbing down boringly simple stairs, we came across an old-fashioned underground lake that had been built in the sixth century. This place is full of columns thousands of years old, with a dim space and only illuminated by yellow orange lights. Goldfish swim in puddles of standing water, and you have to step on wooden boards to get through.
You can even hear the sound of dripping water echoing in the cave, and the most unique feature of this Istanbul travel itinerary is, there are two mysterious statues with Medusa’s head. It feels like being in a chilling horror movie.
2. Explore the Asia region
Istanbul is the only city in the world that spans between two continents: Asia and Europe. The Asian side, also known as the Anatolian region, is separated from Europe by the Bosphorus. You can take a bus across the famous Bosphorus bridge, or you can choose to take a ferry. Most of the famous major attractions in Istanbul are on the European side, but if you’ve never set foot in half of Asia, give it a try. If you enjoy shopping, there is a popular market called Kadiköy just for you. Some other interesting activities for you are a tour of Beylerbeyi palace, climbing to the top of Çamlica hill for a panoramic view of the city, and a stroll along Bagdat Caddesi to discover rows of restaurants, cafes and restaurants. shops selling all kinds of goods.
3. Visit the perfect Hamman bath
(There are no illustrations here, because everyone is naked in there!)
Many hotels in Istanbul have hammans, or Turkish baths, but they are not the traditional kind. They were built with Westerners in mind looking for the most comfortable and cost-effective experience possible. Formal hammans are a Turkish tradition for thousands of years, and are used as a place for cleansing and also for socializing.
Most hammans are divided by gender, and neither male nor female are clothed. You’ll be taken through several rooms with different temperatures, and there’s even a hot steam room. You can pay the staff to get a full body scrub massage, which sounds a little weird but is quite comfortable.
We have been to two famous saunas in Istanbul, Çemberlitai Hamami and Cagaloglu. All are great.
4. Go to Prince Island
This island is part of a chain of nine islands off the coast of Istanbul and is a great place to escape the noisy tourist crowds. You only need to spend a day here in the middle of the hot summer months, they have fast ferries from the city to here. Most Istanbul tourists visit the four largest islands, and the other five are relatively quiet and private. You can visit old buildings, eat in lovely cafes and admire beautiful houses. Motorized traffic is not allowed on the island, making it even quieter. You can get around the island by foot, bike or horseback.
5. Take the ferry
A great way to explore the vast city of Istanbul is by boat. You’ll find plenty of boats selling tours to the Bosphorus, but if you want to save money, take the ferry. Fares are much cheaper, and you don’t have to compete for a good photo spot with other loud and rude tourists. You will pass by Topkapi palace, Bosphorus bridge, beautiful castles, mosques, and countless other palaces and castles. You can also get off the ferry, have a meal with fresh seafood dishes and then board the ferry again.
6. Discover Jewish History
Turkey is a Muslim country with an amazing Jewish history. They sell a lot of Jewish heritage tours for you to choose from, or you can go on your own if you want. Jews lived in Turkey for thousands of years, but the population spiked during the Ottoman Empire in the 1400s.
The population grew so rapidly that in 1492 the Spaniards decided to expel the Jews and only the Ottoman Empire would welcome them (because they had extreme business ability and were very rich).
You can find historic synagogues all over the streets around town. In addition, they also built a Jewish museum which is also quite interesting.
The city of Istanbul is huge and crowded, and can be a little intimidating for you at times. But there’s also a fascinating history. No matter how many famous attractions in Istanbul you visit, you will have plenty of places to explore!