By Shereen Shabnam
Recently we had a sneak peak into the grand plans for expansion of the new Istanbul Airport as Turkish Airlines revealed its ambitious growth plans for the coming year. After exploring the city, a stop at the Turkish Airlines head office took us back to history when the Airline began its journey to becoming one of the fastest growing companies in terms of manpower, fleet and having one of the best lounges in the world.
More travellers are flying with Turkish Airlines these days and Istanbul is often a stopover but instead of staying at the airport, many venture out to enjoy this vibrant city where the East meets the West and every street corner is a delight to the senses.
From mouth-watering delicacies, historic monuments and traditional bazaars, Istanbul has something to offer to travellers of all ages. I go to Istanbul a few times a year and often start my excursion from the historic Sultanahmet area where in close proximity you find the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, the Grand Bazaar, the Spice Bazaar, the Fatih District and the Topkapi Palace.
My favourite area to stay is in the Taksim and Pera neighbourhoods, that has a big choice of restaurants, markets, cafés and retail options at the doorstop. I love the traditional markets in the area and often find the more exquisite pieces of jewellery from street vendors.
If you love the sea like I do, then the best way to take in the sights of the city is to hop on a Bosphorus boat tour along the Bosphorus Strait. No matter how many times I take this tour from different tour operator, it is always a pleasure. I often start my journey with a simit (local pastry with sesame seed) and a Turkish coffee along the port.
Another stop for tourists has to be the Istanbul Modern Art Museum, several Ottoman palaces, fortresses, waterside villages with Ottoman architecture and take in views of the nearby polulated hills, the Galata Tower, the Blue Mosque while exploring this magical city.
Retail therapy at the Grand Bazaar is a must plus shopping malls, kiosks along the Bosphorus shores and stores run by designers are the best places to pick up items that make you stand apart. Give yourself a few hours in the bazaars that sell anything from souvenirs, spices, jewellery, clothes, carpets etc.
Topkapi Palace and the Istanbul Museum Pass allows free entrance to a dozen of the city’s best paces like the Hagia Sophia and the well-known Istanbul Mosaic Museum.
If adventure tourism is your thing, check out the possibility of scuba diving in the Mediterranean, helicopter tours (One of my best experiences in seeing the whole of Istanbul from the sky), trekking, mountain biking, kayaking, cycling and paragliding.
No visit to Istanbul is complete without visiting the historical hamams. Getting scrubed and cleaned in the steamy Turkish baths with relaxing massages is one thing everyone should do when in Turkey, especially the seventeenth-century Çinili hamam in the Asian suburb of Üsküdar is possibly one of the most traditional experiences.
If time in Istanbul is short and you can only do one or two things, my favourite choices would be to either take a Bosphorus tour or visit the Sultanahmet area. Turkish Airlines flies to Istanbul from different parts of the world and a stop over in istanbul will have you coming back for a longer holiday, especially with the construction of the new airport that will make the travel experience seamless and fulfilling.