• Inside of a Mosque, Istanbul

Istanbul, the perfect Middle Eastern Destination

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?

Istanbul seen from Galata Tower

Istanbul seen from Galata Tower

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.

Istanbul, from headscarfs to shorts

Istanbul, from headscarfs to shorts

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.

Inside of a Mosque, Istanbul

The captivating Islamic art of Istanbul

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.

Turkish candy at Istanbul

Turkish candy at Istanbul

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!

The Golden Horn of Istanbul

I wasn’t expecting to find dragons in this city!

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.

The mosques of Istanbul, Turkey

The mosques of Istanbul, Turkey

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.

Ataturk, father of Turkey

Ataturk, father of Turkey

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: Sirkeci Mansion, Heirloom Istanbul, Cheers Hostel and Downtown Istanbul Hostel.

PS. You can make a booking for this and more properties via our Booking.com affiliate link of Wonders!

Same price for you and a small pocket money commission for this website of yours.

Sweet deal, uh?

Sirkeci Mansion, boutique hotel in Istanbul

Sirkeci Mansion, boutique hotel in Istanbul

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!

Want to know more about Turkey? Here’s some related articles:

Istanbul, the perfect Middle Eastern destination

Pamukkale, Turkey’s weirdest wonder

Cave Hotels, the hidden luxury of Cappadocia

Freedom! The Hot Air Balloons of Cappadocia

The 7 Wonders of Cappadocia, a self guided tour

Sailing around Fethiye’s 12 Islands

Selçuk and the Byzantine Castle of Ayasuluk

Should you let terrorist attacks change your travel plans?

Until next time, my friends!

The best things to do in #Turkey #MiddleEast #Travel

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The best things to do in #Turkey #MiddleEast #Travel

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January 30th, 2016|Categories: Asia Travel|Tags: |
Raphael Alexander is a Nomadic Digital Marketer and Travel Influencer who overcame the chains of the local economy and found a way to achieve his dream of having a professional life while traveling the world non-stop. His goal in life is to inspire the people of the world to unleash their full inner potential. A perfect day for him includes exotic animals, ancient pyramids, breath-taking waterfalls and tasty tacos. Lots of tacos.


  1. Expat Eye January 19, 2014 at 3:12 pm - Reply

    I was there for NYE last year – beautiful city!

    • Raphael Alexander Zoren January 20, 2014 at 12:38 am - Reply

      Whoa! I can only imagine the amazing fireworks over at the Bosphorus river, it must have been amazing! 😀

  2. Kristin January 19, 2014 at 8:00 pm - Reply

    I agree with you, Istanbul is a truly wonderful city! I used to travel there on business many times, and right from the start I fell totally in love with this city. It’s a shame that people have so many prejudices against the country and its people. I’ve gotten to know the people there as incredibly polite and welcoming.
    Beautiful pictures. Glad you were having such a great experience!

    • Raphael Alexander Zoren January 20, 2014 at 12:41 am - Reply

      Exactly! Turks are some of the most friendly people on Earth (after Mexicans, of course!) and it’s a shame that movies like “Midnight Express” have damaged the international image of this amazing country.

      • Alev January 31, 2016 at 9:05 am

        thank you for your positive comments unfortunately when I say I am Turkish first thing people respond to me is Midnight express . I just want to scream hey it is just movie . Once more thank you.

  3. Laurie Satran January 20, 2014 at 6:58 am - Reply

    This is great! I am considering going there in March. This makes me more excited! Thank you!

    • Raphael Alexander Zoren January 21, 2014 at 12:02 am - Reply

      Take a lot of pictures and don’t forget to try the real Kebab!! Let me know if you need any specific advice! 🙂

  4. Journeys By Jill January 20, 2014 at 6:43 pm - Reply

    Istanbul is definitely on my list. Thanks for the tips.

    I agree that people need to look past the scary news reports. We treasured our trip to the Middle East. The Egyptians were some of the loveliest, most hospitable people we have had the great fortune to meet. Travel and form your own opinions. It’s an amazing world.

    • Raphael Alexander Zoren January 21, 2014 at 12:10 am - Reply

      I believe that it’s the case of vocal minorities of bad people giving a bad image to their country. Istanbul and Mexico City aren’t really more dangerous than the average American city.

  5. The Miss Adventure Journals January 20, 2014 at 7:19 pm - Reply

    I would love to see Istanbul one day. I have been to Turkey a couple of times when I was about 12. I got hassled so much I swore I would never go back. That was in the package holiday areas and it was many years ago now. I have many friends who like you loved Istanbul

    • Raphael Alexander Zoren January 21, 2014 at 12:14 am - Reply

      I heard about those tour packages, actually, I believe they are quite famous in the UK, every summer a friend from Scotland traveled to some unknown Greek Island resort to relax, get tanned and party a lot 🙂

  6. crystal May 2, 2014 at 3:24 am - Reply

    I think it is one of many so much essential data in my opinion. That i’m pleased understanding your own report. Even so wish to feedback with some widespread problems, The web page flavour is great, your posts is definitely superb : Deborah. Good job, many thanks

  7. Brianna May 10, 2014 at 11:21 am - Reply

    I’ve visited Turkey but I have yet to explore Istanbul. I found Turkey a fascinating mix of Europe and the Middle East.

  8. avi August 2, 2014 at 9:59 am - Reply

    Turkey is an amazing country, but there are big problems there for its people that most tourists are completely oblivious to… see https://www.facebook.com/turkishresistance

  9. Dehan çömez September 22, 2014 at 3:50 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the article. I am talking as a Turkish you can write about traditional drinks and foods such as rakı- antriditional alcoholic drink and efes beer 😀 Also “ayran” as a non-alcoholic drink. And if you haven’t tried yet you should taste kokoreç, fish from the bosphorus with rakı and all kind of “mezes” and some meat balls maybe. Hope you are enjoying İstanbul. Have a great time!

    • Raphael Alexander Zoren September 23, 2014 at 12:54 am - Reply

      I really loved the Raki!!! It’s incredible how strong it is and yet leaves no hangover haha 😀

  10. Jenna September 23, 2014 at 1:56 am - Reply

    I would love to visit Turkey–it looks so beautiful! I love the photo of the guy making Turkish candy!

    • Raphael Alexander Zoren September 23, 2014 at 11:44 pm - Reply

      It’s really tasty to the point of being addictive! I also love the Turkish delight pastries!

  11. Hannah Logan September 23, 2014 at 6:59 am - Reply

    Istanbul has been on my list since a friend of mine studied abroad there- it looks stunning!

  12. Alli Blair September 23, 2014 at 8:45 am - Reply

    I went in 2011 to Istanbul and loved it also 🙂 My favourite was the Grand Bazaar! I wandered through there for hours and admired all the spice mountains and trinkets!

    • Raphael Alexander Zoren September 23, 2014 at 11:48 pm - Reply

      I was surprised by all the high end brands found inside the Grand Bazaar! I wasn’t expecting to find so many jewels!

  13. Serena Chiarle September 23, 2014 at 12:13 pm - Reply

    I’ve never been to Istanbul, but here you gave me quite some further reasons to visit it.
    It must be a very interesting city, with its own unique meltin pot of cultures.
    And yes, it must also be a place that can give us a chance to truly understand Islam – the “good” side of it, as we often tend to mistake real Islam with its extremist parties.

    • Raphael Alexander Zoren September 23, 2014 at 11:49 pm - Reply

      Yes, the melting post aspect is a very important one as it’s right next to Greece and Bulgaria and has a considerable number of expats from all around the world working and living here!

  14. Megan Claire September 23, 2014 at 3:09 pm - Reply

    I would love to get to Instanbul – it’s been making all of the lists lately for best city in the world!

  15. The Crowded Planet September 23, 2014 at 4:00 pm - Reply

    Love Istanbul! I visited 4 times and can’t wait to go back!

  16. Lauren | Justin Plus Lauren September 23, 2014 at 10:21 pm - Reply

    Thanks for explaining all of this! I didn’t realize how Turkey was secular and debating about aspects of religion is encouraged. I think that’s really cool! I would love to visit the mosques there.

  17. Antonette Spaan September 24, 2014 at 12:21 am - Reply

    I’ve always thought that Istanbul is a definite must visit city, without having been there! I once had the chance to go but no money and have always regretted since… one day!

  18. John September 24, 2014 at 1:15 am - Reply

    We’re headed there in two days, so this post is quite timely and is getting me excited! Thanks for the primer. Can’t wait to experience this city!

  19. Christine Messina September 27, 2014 at 12:54 pm - Reply

    Great tips on what to see/do! Love the photos too. Now I want to have Turkish candy 🙂

  20. Priti January 30, 2016 at 9:37 pm - Reply

    Thank you for the insight into Istanbul, it looks like a really interesting place – Definitely want to go there and check it out! 🙂

  21. Mrs Suvi February 1, 2016 at 3:40 pm - Reply

    I was there for one whole week meeting a friend I hadn’t seen for 15 years. It was amazing (both the meet up and the city). Love your photos, brings back the memories 🙂

  22. Emrah April 12, 2016 at 1:03 pm - Reply

    Dear Brianna I have been living in istanbul since I was born (1979) There are places that I have never been in Istanbul. I still couldn’t explore Istanbul yet.
    Dear Raphael Thank you for your thoughts about our city. Saving money is the most important thing in travel. Everybody can write to me to get opinions of hotels and places to visit. I will be glad to help you.

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