Split between Europe and Asia, Turkey’s crowned jewel city–Istanbul–is a hypnotic blend of Asian cheesiness, Middle Eastern religion, and European culture all wrapped into one beautiful and vast city. In all my travels so far, I’ve never seen anything quite like it.
What do I mean by the above?
Thousands and thousands of strip malls and shops, with nearly all selling one of the these:
- Fake watches
- Fake handbags
- Fake jewelry
- Fake rugs and scarfs
- Fake electronics
- Oh, and kebabs–lots of kebabs
Middle Eastern religion:
Nearly every time I step out the door, I’m treated to a concert from the mosques of Istanbul with their call to prayer music. This is the kind of stuff we hear on documentaries all the time, but it’s quite another to experience in person for yourself.
There is something distinctly European in Istanbul. The cobbled streets. The cafe culture. The ability to walk almost anywhere. The seafront location of the city. It very much reminds me of many other places in Europe, and doesn’t make me think of blazing hot deserts like much of the Middle East is.
Again, this is all one city!
Without further ado, here are 5 reasons you should visit Istanbul.
REASONS TO VISIT ISTANBUL #1: IT’S CHEAP. FOR NOW.
At the time of writing this (June 2016), the exchange rate is USD:TL (Turkish Lira) 1:3.
For every dollar you have you’ll get about 3 Turkish Liras. It’s not as cheap as places like Poland or Ukraine, but it’s far more affordable than places like London or Amsterdam in Western Europe.
For some perspective…
- 1-Way ride on the metro or tram: 4TL
- Nice lunch at Turkish venue: 24TL
- Nice dinner at a restaurant in Istanbul: ~75TL (drinks included)
- Pass for museums: 85TL
- Beer at a bar: 10TL
Got questions about prices? Leave a comment below!
REASONS TO VISIT ISTANBUL #2: THE FOOD
I’ll be the first to admit: I’m not a fan of Turkish food. At all. Every other country I’ve tried Turkish food in, I’ve been less than impressed. The States. Poland. Ukraine. Budapest.
It’s all sucked.
Not the case in Istanbul. The food alone almost made number one on this list of reasons to visit Istanbul. It’s colorful, flavorful, and relatively healthy. Nothing seems to be made in an ocean of oil or fried beyond belief. It’s filling and satisfying.
REASONS TO VISIT ISTANBUL #3: TURKISH HOSPITALITY
Again, Turks have a bad rep for things in other parts of the world.
In Eastern European countries, many of them are very aggressive with women in a country that isn’t their own. My general impression is that they are not friendly or gregarious people.
Istanbul has changed that impression.
My first night out at a restaurant, I was personally waited on by the owner. When he saw I was dining alone, he asked where I was from and we had a fantastic conversation, with him even joining me for a shot at one point.
And the food–wow (again). An old Turkish later who prepared my meal personally delivered it to the table and said, in very broken English, that she hoped I would love her meal.
He could not have been more friendly, accommodating, and an overall nice guy. If everyone had his outlook on life, Turkish people wouldn’t have the reputation that they do have in other parts of the world.
And that hospitality and friendliness hasn’t stopped either. While the bar was set high, other coffee shops, tourist areas, and restaurants around Istanbul have been similarly accommodating to me as a Westerner.
REASONS TO VISIT ISTANBUL #4: WHERE EAST MEETS WEST
Simply put, it’s cool that this is the point in the world where the East meets the West. Granted, “Eastern Europe” is still very much east (and is west of Istanbul), but there is a much larger divide between European countries and Islamic countries versus say…Poland and Ukraine.
It’s just fascinating.
Like I said, the place is littered with markets. The Grand Bazaar alone has nearly FOUR THOUSAND shops in it. That doesn’t include the shops in the surrounding area.
That area probably has another ten thousand.
The people in the shops have the same friendliness and hospitality as the places I’ve described above.
Make sure you negotiate a good price, and don’t get too lost ?
REASONS TO VISIT ISTANBUL #4: AMAZING ARCHITECTURE
Just Google it.
REASONS TO VISIT ISTANBUL #5: THE CRAZY COMBINATION OF IT ALL
Again, I’ll say this–I’ve never seen anything quite like it. Asia. Europe. Middle East. All in one. It’s absolutely fascinating.
This hybrid shows everywhere. In the delicious food. In the friendly people. In the open-air markets. In the architecture. You can tell it’s a city that is somewhat divided but has come together to make something special, with people from all over the globe blending their cultures together.
It’s a delicious mix.
REASONS TO VISIT ISTANBUL: POUR CONCLURE
I cut my trip short by a day due to a combination attacks at the airport, bad weather, and boredom. While I wasn’t fearful for my safety, I was a bit apprehensive about hanging around major tourist sites and crowds in the days after–which really limited what I could do.
It’s obviously very unfortunate about what happened at the airport. What’s even more sad is that it’s just another part of life for Turkish people. They fully accept the only thing that keeps them from dying from a terrorist in Istanbul is pure luck.
And for such a great city, that’s truly sad.
I hope to return one day.