Rick Steves

From the Bosphorus to the Blue Mosque: 6 Ways to Experience Istanbul

For millennia, empire upon empire, Istanbul has been the meeting point of East and West. And while it's not the capital of Turkey, it is the country's most populous city, and its financial, cultural, and historic hub.

From the traditional to the contemporary, there's so much color and life to see in this intercontinental city. Travel author and show host Rick Steves gives us a grand tour of Istanbul's most notable imperial sites, and today's hangout spots during this episode of his program. Here are some fun travel ideas from the show to inspire your next trip to Turkey.

Check out the full episode here, and watch Monday through Thursday nights at 7:30 p.m. for more of Steves' awesome European adventures.

1. Take in the beauty of Istabul's Mosques and Churches

Since a large majority of the city is Muslim, Istanbul's array of historic mosques give visitors a better understanding of Islam, and allow them to take in their gorgeous interiors. The city's famous Blue Mosque, which once rivaled the Great Mosque of Mecca, is open to travelers daily except during prayer time. As you go in, take off your shoes, cover your head (mandatory for women) and take in the rich colored tiled and geometric motifs that give this magnificent structure its name.

For a look at ancient Constantinople, check out the Hagia Sophia, one of the greatest houses of worship in both Christian and Muslim worlds. Built during the Byzantine Empire in the 6th century, this church-turned-mosque is a museum today. It showcases artifacts from both the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires and their respective religions. And the interior is stunning.

2. Soak in a Turkish Bath

For a memorable experience that's both traditional and enjoyable, step into a Turkish bath. From the changing room, you'll waddle in a wrap and wooden shoes to a steamy caldarium, where you'll get to relax and warm up. Then comes the pampering: You'll get lathered up with soap, rubbed down, and washed. You'll leave feeling extra refreshed and ready to continue your sightseeing plans.

3. Stroll Across the Galata Bridge

This area is the heart of Istanbul, Steves mentions in the episode. A leisurely walk across the area provides plenty of panoramic views, along with street food and drink options to go with it. If you're up for it, you can even catch a tour boat for a cruise along the Bosphorus. It's a great way to see the city from the water, with Asia on one side of you and Europe on the other -- an experience unique to the area.

4. Do Some Old World-style Shopping

Check out the local Spice Market, where you'll find an exotic selection of aromatic spices, herbs, dried fruits, and, of course, sweet Turkish Delight. Also, the Grand Bazaar, once the "world trade center" of its heyday, is a must-visit while in Istanbul, even if you're not much of a shopper. It's maze-like setup boasts more than 4,000 shops and eateries and gives visitors a glimpse of the real Istanbul.

5. Visit an Ottoman Harem

Probably one of the coolest spots Steves visits on this trip is Topkap? Palace. Built in the 15th century, the palace was the headquarters of the Ottoman Empires for centuries. Among its most exciting rooms is the sultan's harem, where he lived with his wives, female slaves, and children. It was the largest, most extravagant and exclusive room in the house, used as an entertainment room. Its opulent interior and stained-glass windows give visitors a look at the sultan's luxury and power.

6. Explore Istanbul's New Town

To get a feel for urban and contemporary Turkey, head over to the New Town. Taksim Square is the city's transportation hub and a good place to start your exploration of the area. Hop on a colorful trolley or walk the length of the area's main shopping drag, ?stiklal Caddesi. There, you'll find a variety of places to shop, grab a bite of fun street food, and people watch. What better way to experience the melting pot that is modern Turkey?

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Hagia Sophia | Photo: Neil Howard/Flickr/Creative Commons License

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