10 Reasons Why I Fell in Love with Istanbul | Lady & her Sweet Escapes

Apr 1, 2016

10 Reasons Why I Fell in Love with Istanbul

I have this huge crush on Istanbul for years. Needless to say, it turned into a love affair when I finally got to visit a couple of months ago. And when it was time to say goodbye, just like a girl truly madly in love, I suffered from separation anxiety.

How can somebody be so crazy about a city? Before you judge, please allow me to explain. Here are 10 reasons why I fell in love with Istanbul, probably the same reasons that will finally make YOU book an Istanbul-bound flight as well.   
Reasons why I fell in love with Istanbul

1. Because it is one of the few cities in the world straddling two continents

Istanbul sits in a very strategic location. It is a bustling metropolis where two continents meet. One part belongs Europe, the other to Asia, but connected together by a busy waterway known as the Bosphorus.

There was a day when Ed and I spent the morning in the touristy shopping street of Istiklal Caddesi in the European Side, then had the afternoon basking in the simplicity of Kadikoy Market in the Asian side. It was a joy experiencing both strikingly different worlds in the same day. But there was one special day when I found myself in between! We hopped in a TurYol boat and cruised in the Bosphorus Strait for two hours - a short and cheap transcontinental journey that made me fall in love with Istanbul so much more!    

The Bosphorus Bridge: the bridge that connects Istanbul's European side and Asian side 
a view of Europe. Bosphorus Strait and Asia from Galata Tower
a view of Europe. Bosphorus Strait and Asia from Galata Tower

2. Because there is history in every corner

Istanbul used to be the capital of three great empires - Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman. These empires left astonishing marks all over the city! There are over a dozen at Sultanahmet District alone - highlighted by The Blue Mosque, one of the most notable works of the Ottoman Era. Opposite Blue Mosque is Hagia Sophia, a basilica built by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I and later on converted into an imperial mosque by Sultan Mehmed II. Also in the vicinity is the Serpentine Column, erected by the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great when Istanbul was the center of the Roman empire. 

Ed and I planned out an Old City DIY Walking Tour based on the major attractions we wanted to see and eventually stumbled across lesser-known historical landmarks in every turn. There are a lot of them! It was like time-traveling without leaving the present.  

The Blue Mosque Istanbul Turkey
The Blue Mosque
the magnificent dome of Hagia Sophia Istanbul Turkey
the magnificent dome of Hagia Sophia

3. Because it is legendary

Istanbul is a city of legends! It is in the Bosphorus that Jason and the Argonauts sailed when they searched for the Golden Fleece. It is in the Golden Horn that Hera passed through and gave birth to Keroessa. I was a fan of Greek Mythology back in high school, hence seeing the places I only once read in the mythology pocket book I borrowed from my cousin was surreal. 

But wait there's more! I heard there are 400 legends and 100 fairy tales behind Istanbul. No wonder why this metropolis looks mystical to me!

The Golden Horn Istanbul Turkey
The Golden Horn 
The Bosphorus Istanbul Turkey
The Bosphorus

4. Because it is photogenic

Ed and I are not seasoned photographers, but we do love to take photos. Istanbul is such a delight to the camera lens. It is vibrant, full of life, in all angles! We never had to search for Instagram-worthy spots as Istanbul is flawless through and through. We couldn't stop clicking at the skyline dominated by minarets, at the busy streets packed with so much character, at the waterways which are naturally blue and at the remarkable architecture that mirrors the city's rich history! 

the Old City's picturesque skyline Istanbul Turkey
the Old City's picturesque skyline 
the Galata Tower in the midst of a vibrant metropolis
the Galata Tower in the midst of a vibrant metropolis 

5. Because it is bursting with colors

Oh, Istanbul's colors! There are splashes of bright and beautiful shades everywhere, be it in the bazaars, or in a neighborhood, or in the skies! 

The Turkish lamps in technicolor in Grand Bazaar and the spices in yummy palettes in Egyptian Bazaar brought me to a halt in the crowded alleys. The pastel-toned homes in Balat and Fener had me wishing I could live in such a colorful community even just for a day. The sky that is painted with a soft yellow hue at sunrise was drenched in blue at mid-day. It was then radiantly filled with a golden glow at sunset. Witnessing the transition me feel extra-thankful to be alive in this wonderful world!

Turkish Lamps
Turkish Lamps
Ladder Street in Balat
the Ladder Street in Balat
Sunset in Istanbul
Sunset in Istanbul #NoFilter

6. Because of my noticeably glowing skin after hammam

I love to be pampered, but honestly, I had second thoughts of getting a Turkish Bath. I have never bathed in a public bathhouse and never had someone doing something I can do for myself. But as they all say, it is a Turkish tradition not to be missed, so I shook off the negativity and gave it a go. 

I received a traditional Turkish Bath in a hammam exclusive for ladies in  Cemberlitas Hamami - a historical hammam built by the Master Architect Mimar Sinan for the Sultan's mother in 1584. The tradition involves lying on a marble in a hot room (which will make you sweat), lathering with an extra sudsy soap, and intensive scrubbing (which exfoliates the dead skin). I came out like a new person wrapped in a new soft and healthy glowing skin!  

the historical Cemberlitas Hamami
the historical Cemberlitas Hamami
Hammam in Istanbul Turkey
the hammam essentials: locker key and hammam cloth,  not in the photo: disposable undies and scrub  

7. Because I can master the art of haggling in the bazaars

Shopping has never been a part of our travels. Ed and I would simply purchase a few keepsakes and we're good to go. But I wouldn't deny, the bazaars in Istanbul made me feel giddy on the inside. 

The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul's Old City is a shopping haven with 60 covered streets and 5,000 shops. It is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world. Its labyrinth alleys are flocked by tourists and locals alike in search of best bargains. There is pretty much everything I wanted to bring home - Turkish ceramics, textile, jewelry, leather, trinkets, carpets! Prices are steep initially, so one must be ready to haggle. 

Another famous marketplace is the Spice Market also known as Egyptian Bazaar. It is smaller, less-crowded and less-touristy. As its name implies. most stalls sell spices and herbs. There are food, textile and souvenirs as well. The vendors are friendlier and the prices are cheaper compared to the Grand Bazaar, or maybe it's just me and my haggling skills.            

The Grand Bazaar
The Grand Bazaar
dried fruits at the Spice Market
dried fruits at the Spice Market

8. Because public transportation is efficient and inexpensive

We never rode a taxi in Istanbul as there is always a bus or a train or a ferry going towards our chosen destination. From Sabiha Gocken Airport, we took the Havatas bus to Taksim, then the Funicular to Kabatas, then the Tram to Sultanahmet. I have to say, it is not the most comfortable way to get to the hotel, but we were able to save hundreds of Turkish Lira because of this little sacrifice. 

When we arrived in the city, Ed and I purchased an Istanbulkart (one card for the two of us). It is a smart card for public transportation fare payment, just like the NOL card in Dubai, Oyster card in London. 

Istanbulkart made our travels in Istanbul easy and economical. We used it to ride the train and tram all over the city, the ferry bound to the Asian side, the gondola (cable car) to Pierre Loti, the bus to Chora Church, the Tunel that connects Karakoy and Beyoglu, and even the Nostalgic Tram that runs along Istiklal Caddesi. We roughly spent 100 Turkish Lira on transportation!     

Istanbulkart reloading machine
Istanbulkart reloading machine
the Nostalgic Tram in Istiklal Caddesi
the Nostalgic Tram in Istiklal Caddesi

9. Because of the food, the glorious Turkish Food!

I could have Turkish Food all day, everyday! It is rich, diverse and delicious; influenced by the country's multicultural interactions in the past. 

I jump-started my mornings with Kahvalti - a light yet complete Turkish breakfast. The rest of day, Ed and I not only explored places, but a variety of tastes and textures as well. What we love most about Turkish Food in Istanbul is that wherever we go, be it in a stall along the street or in a posh restaurant, our palates are in for a treat! 

I have shared my 15 favorite Turkish Treats in Istanbul in this blog post: Eating My Way Around Istanbul

Midye Dolma from Karakoy Lokantasi
one of our faves: Midye Dolma from Karakoy Lokantasi
Turkish Sweets from Hafiz Mustafa 1864
Turkish Sweets from Hafiz Mustafa 1864

10. Because Turkish hospitality made me feel at home

Ed and I initially had some reservations about interacting with the locals in Istanbul. We were so keen on avoiding the infamous scams and on (please don't laugh) being "taken". Yes, I'm talking about the movie. But as days went by, we realized how wrong we were to build an invisible wall around us. The locals in Istanbul are so warm and helpful.

Ed and I got lost several times, and there is always somebody ready to help. Language barrier is present, but they surely have ways to reach out - like tracing the walking directions in our map, writing down the bus number we need to take, or simply doing some hand gestures.     

In the restaurants, after a meal, they would offer complimentary tea and devote a little time to chat. In the train, they would smile and ask "Where are you from?". There's always a stranger wishing us a great day ahead, and yes, it made our days even better!    

Istanbul locals in Eminonu
Lovely city, lovely people! How can you not fall in love with Istanbul?

Love this? Watch our Istanbul Travel Video.

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