Polya Pencheva: Istanbul is a cosmopolitan city full of unforgettable sights and sensations

(Editor’s note: Istanbul can match any city in Europe in terms of attractions and sensations. They include islands, incredible mansions, or yalılars, and restaurant and shopping districts such as Nisantasi, Beyoğlu and Ortoköy. Here’s just a sample.)

As we all know Turkey, and especially Istanbul, is a popular destination amongst many tourists because … well, because of a bunch of reasons including the great food, spectacular architecture and abundant history hidden on every corner.

To be honest, one of the reasons why I was waiting so impatiently to visit, and I was so excited about this trip was the coffee. I had heard so much about the famous Turkish coffee that I was dying to try it. As a coffee addict, I don’t miss a chance to try something new every now and then. And I have heard marvellous things about the taste of the coffee.

I was not wrong.

Coffee there was heavenly. And I highly recommend it to anyone regardless of the amount of coffee you consume. Or the lack there of.

Istanbul is a preferred destination not only for the above-mentioned reasons but also because it has something different to offer to the traveller.

Here’s my travel post for Istanbul, its quirks, must-sees and things to look out for. And keep in mind there is so much more that a single post can’t possibly cover it all:

Blue Mosque

Expect crowds

Istanbul’s cosmopolitan atmosphere hit me immediately and I would be more than thrilled to go back at the first opportunity. It is one of these cities you need to visit at multiple times in your life in order to experience it completely and take the most of it. And when you’re there, there is never enough time to sample all the delicacies … the baklava, coffee and desserts.

As a pistachio lover I found myself in my dream land of different flavours of baklava, and I just couldn’t get enough.

Okay, where to start.

Sultanahmet square where the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia are is a great place not only to see but also to spend an entire day. Another bonus for me was the great weather that we caught. Having the sun shining adds another layer of the great experience. It also contributes to snapping amazing photos.

When visiting the Hagia Sophia, don’t skip the Blue Mosque because it is almost as impressive as Hagia Sophia. I won’t dive into details about the history of the two buildings because whoever visits knows that Hagia Sophia is a former Orthodox Christian church converted into a mosque. Hagia Sophia was an Orthodox church until the Ottoman Empire conquered Istanbul. It was a mosque till 1935 and a museum till 2020. In 2020, it once again became a mosque.

These spectacular buildings are so different from European architecture. What’s more, I enjoyed seeing every single mosque. In my opinion, they were all magnificent. Regardless of religious beliefs, Sultanahmet’s elaborate buildings with their ornate tiles so interesting to see. You get to tap into another culture and experience it on a totally different level.

Depending on the day you choose to visit, Sultanahmet likely will be packed with people. Regardless, it is more than worth a visit. But always keep in mind that there could be an awfully long queues at the various sites. Just brace yourself with patience and you won’t regret it.

A bit of practical information never hurt anyone.

See it all on the Bosphorus

Something else that shouldn’t be missed while there is taking a boat on the Bosphorus that separates Europe from Asia. Not only it is something that is an amazing as an experience, but the tour guides often are extremely interactive and tell great stories about the surrounding areas and building located near the water. You will be able to see both parts of Istanbul but at the same time while enjoying the sun and feel the breeze.

The whole thing takes approximately 1 hour to 90 minutes. And try to worry if you hear that it would be windy. If you come from a country such as the Netherlands, the “windy” is equal to pleasant warm breeze that will make you enjoy the ride even more.

Moreover, if you’re into coffee and tea, you would also be able to get a coffee and enjoy it on the boat while sunbathing and marvelling at the views.

Photo by Polya Pencheva

Beylerbeyi Palace

Another destination I highly recommend is the Beylerbeyi Palace. The only palace on the Asian side of the Bosporus, it’s a showcase for elegance and the Ottoman’s skills in craftsmanship. It is super-interesting to see the way the Ottoman summer residence was constructed and the different types of furniture and decorations.

Turkey is all about craftsmanship.

You can visit the palace on all days of the week except for Monday and Thursday, and you can either take a guided tour or explore on your own. The entrance fee is 60 Turkish lira, or about 3 euros.

Regardless of which the choice you make, it is worth visiting. Be careful taking photos inside because it is forbidden, and I was surprised when one of the guards scolded me upon entering. Inside, there are guards at each corner of the rooms, so if you do want to take a photo, make sure that nobody sees you.

Somehow, I summonsed the courage and managed to snap one or two pictures. Other than that I didn’t have the guts because I was worried that they would kick me out and I wouldn’t be able to see everything.

Photo by Creative Market

Green space

One of my favourite destinations personally is the Emirgan Park. At first glance, it reminds a bit of Keukenhof in the Netherlands, yet at the same time, it’s extremely different. While Keukenhof is explicitly dedicated to tulips, Emirgan Park has other things to see as well.

For instance, there are many tables, and the park is in the forest so you can also sit there and have a barbecue or a picnic. It is great place to just chill and enjoy nature. I think the best thing about this park is that there is no fee to enter, so you can go as many times as you want and stay as long as you feel like it.

Located in by the Bosphorus in Sariyer, this is one of the largest public parks in Istanbul covering an
area of 325,000 square feet, or 80 acres. If you decide to visit in April, you will most likely catch the
Istanbul Tulip Festival.

I almost forgot: While you’re there, at least one person will approach you selling perfumes, t-shirts, bags or wallets. From my experience, the best way to avoid them if you want your peace and quiet is to also avoid eye contact. I happened to glance at somebody, and he caught my eye. After that, it took us full 10 minutes to escape.

My best advice to avoid these types of situations is to just ignore the people if you don’t plan on buying anything.

Honestly, in order talk about all the great and interesting things to do and places to see in Istanbul
but also the things that you should be aware of, more than one post is needed. And about that coffee … make sure you try out some knafeh dessert and Turkish coffee. As a caffeine addict, I can guarantee that there is no such thing as too much Turkish coffee. I was on my hunt for new places to have a coffee every single day and I was not disappointed by the service.


See more about Istanbul here, and Turkey here, in Dispatches’ archives.

Read more from Polya here.

Polya Pencheva
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Polya Plamenova Pencheva is a young Bulgarian journalist based in Groningen, Netherlands. Polya holds a Master's degree in journalism from Rijksuniversiteit Groningen and loves writing and telling the untold stories of interesting people. You can find her dining at cute café, shopping at markets, scouting second-hand shops or just chillin' at home with something great to read.

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