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Istanbul has much to offer foreign travelers and is an excellent entryway into the country. Many people will be able to speak English, making it a lot easier to transition into the culture of Türkiye. With a mix of Middle Eastern and European flair, you can easily spend a week exploring Istanbul.

I was in Istanbul for about four days. I was able to do everything I wanted and more. But if you enjoy slow travel and want to pace yourself while exploring, make your trip at least a week. Here are a few highlights.

The Hagia Sophia- The Hagia Sophia was first built as a Christian church in the 16th century but eventually became a mosque, then a museum, and a mosque again. It’s got beautiful art and architecture inside, as well as its beauty on the exterior. It is one of Istanbul’s most well-known and most visited structures. It is free to enter- but If you don't have the proper clothing to cover you, you can purchase, for a small cost, a cheap cloak to wear as you tour inside.

The Blue Mosque- The Blue Mosque is located directly across from the Hagia Sophia. There is no cost to enter, and cover-up clothes are free if you need to borrow one. Just pick it up at the entrance and return it to the exit when finished. The beautiful stained glass windows and paintings inside will make you feel like a piece of artwork yourself. It's glorious.

The Grand Bazaar- When I landed in Istanbul, The Grand Bazaar was the first place I wanted to go. It had been on my bucket list to visit for nearly a decade. It’s chaotic and beautiful at the same time. You’ll get lost along the small aisles that maze around the thousands of shops. The bazaar is separated into different zones depending on what you're looking for, so finding a map will be helpful. You can just do a simple Google search.

Make your own Turkish Lantern- The Turkish lantern is iconic. You’ll see them all over the bazaar and in the storefronts. Stunning. If you’re looking for a fun, artsy experience and want to customize your lantern, there are workshops throughout the city. Make a reservation and spend a few hours learning about the craft while designing a one-of-a-kind lantern to take home. I recommend HighlightsinIstanbul on Instagram or via Airbnb- but there are many across the city to choose from.

Get Turkish Ice Cream- Perhaps you’ve seen the videos online. The simple act of stopping for Turkish Ice Cream is a show of its own. Be prepared to look silly as the vendors tease you while you play their game of magic and sly skills. After you’ve reached for the cone a half-dozen times, you’ll eventually get it. Ice cream will be all the better after working up that appetite.

The Basilica Cistern- Take some time to head underground to the Basilica Cistern, the largest surviving Byzantine cistern in Istanbul. The city has hundreds of these cisterns beneath the city. There are art installations, coole lighting features, and the eerie sound of water and echos as you walk across the bridges and take in the beauty of the underground architecture. The entry tickets are about USD 20 or 660 Turkish lira, and make sure you book in advance as the spot is very popular and usually has a decent line to enter.

While you’re exploring Istanbul, find some rooftop restaurants to enjoy dinner. Remember that Ubers are the same things as taxis. If prices at the market are not pre-priced, they are up for haggling. Take time to enjoy all of the cats. And, most importantly, respect each country's culture.


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