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Top 5 Cultural Excursions & Activities in Istanbul

by Carmen McClelland

Friends and family from home have asked me what my favorite thing that I have done here is, and, well, I can never come up with a good enough answer for them because everything is amazing. I have narrowed it down to my top 5 favorite activities that I have done since being in Istanbul.

  1. Getting on a bus and going to any place to get food. This may sound silly, but when you are in a place that you don’t speak the language, you have been there a week, and with no map, the whole experience could end badly. Fortunately my friend and I had the exact opposite happen to us. We hopped on a bus, got off at a random stop, and then picked a restaurant. Of course the menu did not have pictures or English on it, but we had my favorite waiter since being in Istanbul. He knew a little bit of English, and we were able to communicate. He helped us pick out some pasta and taught me the word for mushroom (mantar). He was so helpful and taught us the word for check (hesap) and milk pudding (sütlaç). It was an experience that was just completely organic and wonderful.
  2. The Blue Mosque

    The Blue Mosque

    Seeing the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (The Blue Mosque). I went with a group of people, and we ended up getting there late in the afternoon. They had scarves to lend people who were wearing shorts or to cover their heads. It was amazing. The inside is covered with blue, hand painted tiles. The inside looked like an intricate maze because of them. There were multiple domes with chandeliers hanging. I think the most unique part of my experience was the people kicking everyone out for prayer time. As we were walking out, the mosque was nearly empty and then 10 minutes later, the call for prayer happened. Whether this is the most beautiful mosque in Istanbul, it was my first mosque and it set the bar high.

  3. Europe and Asia all in one picture

    Europe and Asia all in one picture

    Taking the ferry to Asia. The concept still blows my mind. I took a 30-minute ferry from Europe to Asia. Where else can you do that? Istanbul is the only city in the world that is on two continents. Being able to cross onto another continent in that short period of time is something that will forever amaze me.

  4. Attending a Turkish wedding. Yes you read right, I went to a Turkish wedding with five other AIFS members. A student at Bogazici, an assistant to the AIFS contact at the University, she asked us the day before, very casually, if we would like to come with her to a wedding the next day. YES WE DO! Can you get more immersed in another culture then going to a wedding? We missed the first part of the ceremony, but we arrived in time for the dancing and a few more traditional dances and acts. It was something truly unique.
  5. Going to the spice bazaar. I am a foodie, and am proud of my love of all things food. When you enter the spice bazaar, the senses are overloaded with all of the hearty spices that anyone could think of. It brought any and all foods that I have had with those spices in it to my mind. They say taste is around 90% smell. You can imagine the tastes that were in my mouth while walking around. It was pure sensory stimulation in the best way.

    Spices in the Spice Bazar

    Spices in the Spice Bazar

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