Seven Wonders of Istanbul

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Stunning view of the Blue Mosque


This past weekend, I celebrated my Taylor Swift birthday year (22!) with a trip to Istanbul, Turkey! Visiting Istanbul, the fifth largest city in the world, has been on my bucket list

for years and I was thrilled to finally get the chance to go. From my trip, I compiled a list of the seven most remarkable sights I witnessed:

1. Hagia Sophia

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The Hagia Sophia beautifully illuminated

This Roman-basilica-turned-mosque is actually one of the seven wonders of the medieval world, selected for its Byzantine architecture. The Hagia Sophia now operates as a museum and is situated in the plaza that houses the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, Basilica Cistern, and the Grand Bazaar; so all the major tourist attractions are just mere minutes from each other. The inside of the monument is far more impressive than the outside and was beautifully lit up with low hanging chandeliers in the form of flowers. Walking inside the cavernous building, you can see traces of both Christianity and Islam and how religion impacted the city’s history.

2. Blue Mosque

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Beautiful blue tiles and stained glass windows give the Blue Mosque its name

The Blue Mosque, other known as Sultan Ahmet, is considerably the most famous landmark of Istanbul and its grand foundation commands your attention. One of the highlights of my trip was being able to hear the call to prayer while sitting on the bench between the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. The call to prayer occurs five times a day and is so reverberating you can hear it everywhere in the city. It was insightful to be able to experience a bit of Islam that way.

3. Topkapi Palace

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When you are extremely exhausted from exploring and the sultan’s sofa looks comfy…

The Topkapi Palace used to be the royal residence of Ottoman sultans for nearly 400 years and is now a museum for the public. The museum is a huge tourist attraction since holy relics from the Prophet Muhammad are encased there. You can see his sword, clothes and even hairs from his beard! It was so crazy to see physical evidence of such an important religious figure’s existence. We even got to see the harem, which is where the sultan, his family, and his concubines actually resided in. There were such beautiful, detailed tiles and mosaics throughout each room.

4. Dolmabahce Palace

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Visitors are required to wear plastic socks on their shoes when touring the palace

I have never seen a more impressive and astonishing palace than the Dolmabahce. I took a guided tour through the administrative part of the palace and each room continued to outdo the other in beauty. The last, most breathtaking room we were led to was the ceremonial hall which houses a four ton crystal chandelier (the third largest in the entire world). The ceilings were intricately painted in a 3-D technique so the room looked even more massive than it was. We were unfortunately not allowed to take photos inside the palace due to security reasons so you have to go visit and see for yourself how gorgeous it is. The palace is situated on the coast of the Bosphorous and the gardens had ornate white gates opening up to the crystal blue waters. What a beautiful view it was!

5. Basilica Cistern

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The cistern is still in use today

The cistern is the largest underground water reservoir in Istanbul. Walking down to the cistern can give off an eerie vibe as there is not much lighting. It also felt very tranquil since there is relaxing music playing. I was surprised to see that there were fish in the water! Also, there were two Medusa head statues from the Roman period in the corner of the cistern. No one knows how they got to the cistern so it is a giant mystery.

6. Bosphorous

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A spectacular view of Istanbul by the water

This strait serves as the boundary between Europe and Asia. My friends and I woke up early one morning and made our way to the Galata bridge to see the sunrise over Istanbul. Then later that day, we made our way over to the Asian side of Istanbul to watch the sunset. I find it incredible how you can be in two continents in a day thanks to a 15 minute ferry ride. Also, if you are a Breaking Bad superfan, you must visit this coffee shop called Walter’s Coffee Roastery, inspired by the hit series on the Asian side. Coffee was served in beaker cups and there is a huge periodic table on the wall. My friends and I had too much fun dressing up in the yellow chemical hazmat suits.

7. Grand Bazaar

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Chaos and crowds at the Grand Bazaar

One cannot go to Istanbul and not visit one of the largest and oldest markets in the world. It is the world’s most visited tourist attraction. You can buy anything from spices, scarves to other Turkish souvenirs. I was excited to go as I planned to buy all my Christmas gifts here. It was a really overwhelming experience as shop owners stand in front beckoning and calling out to each passerby, enticing them to buy. There are over 3,000 shops in the Grand Bazaar, so just imagine 3,000 people shouting at you to come purchase their silk scarves. Although it is highly recommended to bargain for items, we found better deals at the souvenir shops on the streets around the Grand Bazaar.

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Thanks for the best birthday weekend, Istanbul. I will definitely be back!

I was impressed by how much of Istanbul I saw within the span of four days. And I was even more impressed by how much of Istanbul I walked and hiked. I enjoyed eating the local Turkish cuisine, especially menemen (eggs and tomatoes cooked and scrambled together) for breakfast and Turkish delights sweets for dessert. Alongside all the touristy attractions, I was glad that I also got to experience Istanbul through a local’s perspective by walking through residential neighborhoods and stumbling upon trendy areas for cafes and restaurants. You should check out the Karicoy area and Asian part of Istanbul for cute hipster spots.

This trip surpassed all my expectations and I cannot wait to come back. I would not mind studying abroad in Istanbul as it is a great city and the locals have been friendly and helpful. From what I’ve seen, it is a safe city with the exception of pickpockets–so watch your valuables! If you decide to come to Istanbul, make sure to bring treats for all the cute kitties and dogs roaming around the city!

Quinn Kim is a student at California State University, Fullerton and an official API Blogger. Quinn is studying abroad with API in Budapest, Hungary.

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