Turkey was the first non-European country that I visited and I must say that it had a great impact in my way of thinking. I always take great pleasure in getting to know new cultures and religions, and Turkey sure filled my head with both.
Whenever my friends and readers ask me for advice about their Europe itinerary, I always recommend spending at least 4 days in Istanbul, the legendary city that borders Europe with Asia.
Yes, Paris, Berlin and Rome are MUST-SEES but Istanbul? Istanbul is a MUST-EXPERIENCE type of city. Are you ready to explore it with me?
A brief introduction to the Muslim World
If you are like my old-self, you are probably biased by the negative reports that the mass media always say about people who follow Islam as their religion.
First, let me give you the most important piece of advice ever: The Middle East is not as scary or frightening as some movies (and uninformed people who have never visited it) portray it.
Turkey is a perfectly safe country and you shouldn’t feel concerned at all about your personal safety when you visit it. Trust me, you’ll fall in love it the very first moment you land to the exotic lands of Istanbul.
You see, some people take spiritual journeys to India to learn Hinduism or to Tibet to learn Buddhism. And how about Turkey? Well, Turkey is, in my opinion, the best place to learn Islam.
Why is that? Because it is the only Muslim majority country in the Middle East that its entirely secular: Freedom of speech is allowed and questioning doctrines is encouraged.
In some countries of the Middle East you would probably get in problems for asking the wrong kind of question to the wrong person but in Turkey? In Turkey the people encourage you to debate with them and share your own point of view.
Important things to know before visiting Istanbul
You should always be respectful when entering a Mosque, some (like the Blue Mosque) provide a veil to cover your legs in case you’re wearing shorts and covers for your shoes in case you don’t want to take them off.
However (as long as your feet don’t smell!) I strongly suggest you to take them off before entering instead of opting for the shoe covers, simply because the experience of walking barefoot on a splendid Turkish carpet is truly amazing.
When it comes to dealing with the Turks, you should also realize is that just because a person doesn’t look like whatever stereotype you might have about Turkish people, it doesn’t mean that they are not “real” Turkish.
Turkey is a very diverse country in all aspects so don’t be surprised to see a Turkish woman wearing a burka walking right next to one wearing shorts.
More important, bear in mind that doner kebab is Turkish while shawarma is Arabic so don’t go asking for a shawarma while in Istanbul my friends!
How to get to Istanbul from Europe?
As always, there are different ways to reach a destination. The easy way, involving an airplane, and the backpackers way, involving a lengthy bus ride that crosses international borders at 4:00 am.
Turkey has two land borders with Europe: Greece and Bulgaria. The path I chose back in 2012 started in Thessaloniki, which is accessible very cheaply from almost anywhere in Europe thanks to Easyjet.
Once you’re there, you can find tour companies that sell a direct ticket to Istanbul, it is an overnight bus that takes around 6 to 8 hours.
You might also want to take your time to explore Thessaloniki and/or take a bus to Athens (5 to 6 hours) once you’re there. Alternatively, I recommend taking one of the many direct flights that Turkish Airlines offers to Istanbul from Europe’s hottest capitals.
Want to know more about Istanbul? Read this article here at Journey Wonders about the best cultural attractions of Istanbul and stay tuned for more amazing stories from this bustling city of wonders.
Where to stay in Istanbul, Turkey
Accommodation in Istanbul is mostly focused on the European side (mostly around Sultanahmet and Taksim Square) although there are some interesting properties on the Asian side as well. Here’s a list of my recommendations for all types of budget.
Luxury & Boutique Hotels in Istanbul:
Sirkeci Mansion, decorated in Ottoman-style architecture, this hotel is at the heart of the old town, has an indoor pool and a wellness centre offering a Turkish bath and massages.
Heirloom Istanbul, located in the bohemian Cihangir district, Heirloom Istanbul is set in a historical building restored with environment-friendly materials.
Budget Hostels and Guest Houses in Istanbul:
Cheers Hostel, located in the heart of Sultanahmet, just minutes from Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. It offers a terrace bar with views of the Old Istanbul.
Downtown Istanbul Hostel, featuring free WiFi, a terrace and a sun terrace, Downtown Istanbul Hostel offers accommodation in Istanbul, 100 metres from Galata Tower. The property is set in a 150-years-old Ottoman building.
I hope you have enjoyed this small introduction the wonderful city of Istanbul. Don’t forget to subscribe in order to get more awesome updates and tips straight to your e-mail!
Have you ever been to Istanbul? Would you like to? Share your thoughts and let me know what you think of this amazing city!
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Until next time, my friends!