5 Reasons to Visit Istanbul

As a seasoned traveler and an avid explorer of cultures and cities around the globe, my experiences have led me to many remarkable destinations. Yet, I just returned from my first trip to Istanbul, and I cannot wait to return! Straddling two continents, Europe and Asia, Istanbul is not just a city; it’s a splendid tapestry of history, culture, gastronomy, and vibrancy that’s unlike anywhere else in the world.

I was able to explore Istanbul while on an overnight aboard my Viking Ocean cruise itinerary: Ancient Mediterranean Treasures. Having my cruise ship as a hotel put me right at the center of the Bosphorus, surrounded by living history.

Here are my five reasons to visit Istanbul, drawn from my personal journeys and unforgettable moments.

1. A Confluence of Civilizations

Istanbul’s history is a mesmerizing chronicle of civilizations that have thrived and left indelible marks on this city. From the ancient Byzantine Empire to the Ottoman Turks, each era has bequeathed Istanbul with extraordinary architectural marvels and cultural depth. The Hagia Sophia, with its breathtaking domes and Christian mosaics, alongside the majestic Blue Mosque, symbolizes this unique blend of cultures and religions. Walking through the historic Sultanahmet district, I felt like I’m traversing through the pages of a living history book, where every stone and corner tells a story of conquests, faith, and artistry.

2. The Bosphorus: A Liquid Thread of Beauty

The Bosphorus Strait is not just a body of water in Istanbul; it’s the city’s pulsating heart, offering one of the most scenic vistas you could imagine. The sight of the sunset over the strait, with the silhouette of Istanbul’s skyline and the gentle call to prayer in the background, is purely magical. The Bosphorus bridges, especially when illuminated at night, act as stunning symbols of the connection between two continents, cultures, and communities.

3. A Culinary Odyssey

Istanbul’s culinary landscape is as diverse and flavorful as its history. From the aromatic spices that fill the air in the Spice Bazaar to the delightful taste of traditional Turkish delights, baklava, and the iconic Turkish tea and coffee, Istanbul tantalizes the taste buds like no other place. The city’s restaurants and street food stalls offer a gastronomic journey through Turkish and international cuisines. I left the Spice Bazaar with teas, Turkish delights and the need to purchase another suitcase!

Photo by Bobby Laurie

4. Vibrant Bazaars and Shopping

Istanbul’s markets and bazaars are a treasure trove for anyone who loves shopping or just enjoys the thrill of discovering unique items. The Grand Bazaar, one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, is a labyrinth of colors, textures, and aromas. Here, I spent countless hours marveling at the exquisite Turkish carpets, intricate jewelry, handmade ceramics, and the vibrant lanterns that light up the corridors. Shopping in Istanbul is not merely a transaction; it’s an experience of engaging with the friendly locals and understanding the stories behind the crafts.

5. Warm Hospitality and Timeless Memories

Above all, what makes Istanbul truly special for me is the warmth and hospitality of its people. I’ve been welcomed into homes, invited to share meals, and engaged in profound conversations with strangers who soon became friends. The Turkish phrase “Misafirperverlik” (hospitality) is deeply ingrained in the culture, and as a visitor, I’ve felt cherished and valued.

Istanbul is not just a destination; it’s a journey into the heart of humanity’s greatest achievements, a foray into a world where the past and present coexist in beautiful harmony. Whether it’s your first visit or your tenth, Istanbul always has something new to discover, making every trip an unforgettable adventure.