Photo Diary | Istanbul Part I

Aya Sofya (Hagia Sofia)
It's been just about a month since we left for Istanbul and I FINALLY made it through all our photos.  I broke them into two posts because there are just so many I love! Today I’ve shared some photos and thoughts on our trip if you’re interested and a few details for planning purposes just case in case it’s next on your travel list. Tomorrow I’ll be back with more photos from all the remaining sights. Warning - it's a long one!

New Mosque
view from a walk along the Galata bridge | Turkish flags proudly flying everywhere
Turkish mezes
We flew from Charlotte to Toronto on Wednesday where we hopped on our overnight flight to Istanbul.  It really wasn't bad.  None of us slept very much but we were determined to take advantage of our time in Istanbul so we pushed through on day one.  I am just now realizing we didn't snap a photo of the apartment we rented but it was pretty cute. It was tiny but had a rooftop with a view of the Bosphorus which sold us. We dropped our bags in the apartment and set out to explore the city.  We found the cutest lunch spot that was almost a Turkish Dean and Deluca right near our apartment.  The employees were nice enough to help us pick out a huge spread of warm and cold mezes, like Turkish tapas almost.  It was so so good and the perfect introduction to the cuisine!

Istikal Street | MK, JD and afternoon tea
cutest little tea cups
Galata tower | view of Sultanahmet(old city)

Galata Bridge
Later that day we took a cruise along the Bosphorus straight to get our bearings.  From the water we really got to see how large the city is, we had no clue!  Istanbul's population is over 14 million making it one of the largest cities in the world, who knew?!  We also caught a glimpse into some of the smaller suburbs along the water that looked absolutely dreamy.  We weren't there long enough to venture that far but I've heard wonderful things about those smaller areas.

Turkish flags and mosques sprinkled along the Bosphorus

Dolmabahce Palace

Did you know the city of Istanbul is split between Europe and Asia? Thanks Granddaddy for that fun fact! The views along the Bosphorus straight are just gorgeous, you can really start to understand the city a little more. Seeing the minarets of mosques sprinkled throughout residential neighborhoods, modern art museums, old palaces and business districts - It gives you an understanding of the history of the city and the changes through the years.

view from Galata bridge overlooking Suleymaniye Mosque
Topkapi Palace

Suleymaniye Mosque

One of my favorite parts of the city is all the fresh juice.  Every corner you turned there were small shops and street vendors selling fresh squeezed orange and pomegranate juice, sometimes a few other fruits but these were staples.  1 turkish lira(about 46 US cents) will buy you a small cup of the best orange juice you have ever had, it's seriously amazing!  We tried the pomegranate too, super tart, a little too tart for me but so fresh I'm glad we tasted it.

streets of Galata

For the most part we found the cuisine to be a mix of mediterranean and middle eastern and really enjoyed all the spices.  The food itself wasn't prepared or served that different than what we've seen before but the spices were so different and bold, I loved it!  We LOVED Zubeyir Ocakbasi and would definitely recommend it for dinner.  The atmosphere of the small restaurant with a giant copper hooded grill sitting in the middle was perfect and the food was exceptional!  The sumac spiced red onions were my favorite and the perfect complement to the spicey lamb and roasted tomatoes wrapped in poufy bread(that's a technical term)!

We hired a local guide to take us around the old city and all thought it was our favorite part. We were up early on day two to meet our guide, Fatih, in the old city. He was amazing and I would highly recommend him (or at least a licensed guide) to anyone visiting the city. The best part about having Fatih was all the small tid bits we learned just in conversations with him from one sight to the next. Like the call to prayer is not done at exact times but times of day based upon the sun. The nerd in me loved every bit of information I soaked in and the photographer in me had trouble taking it all in while venturing off to snap photos too! Too much to learn and too many gorgeous sights!

Andy and me in front of Aya Sofya

We started our day at the amazing Topkapi Palace(more on that tomorrow) and afterwards made our way over to Aya Sofya. This church turned mosque turned museum dates back as early as 550. The famous dome is the perfect example of Byzantine architecture and was the largest of its kind of for thousands of years. Around 1453 when Constantinople was conquered by the Ottomans (getting really nerdy here!) the Sultan ordered this church to be converted to a mosque. During this time all mosaics were covered in plaster(preserving many of these original pieces of art) and all crosses were covered or converted to geometric patterns, minarets were added and the building was essentially renovated to the mosque it is today.

massive Imperial Gate | interior of Aya Sofya
Christian mosaics once covered in plaster

gorgeous marble everywhere

This museum blew us away. It was absolutely gorgeous and learning about Muslim influence and traditions overlapping with the Christian crosses and mosaics was really interesting.  The mosaics beneath the plastered walls, the large marble columns and slabs taking months to cut, it’s hard to imagine how such a gorgeous structure was built so long ago.  They just don't build buildings like that anymore!

I'll be back tomorrow with the Topkapi Palace, Blue Mosque, Grand Bazaar and more!

- Heath

Update - part II here 


  1. HEATHIE!!! I have been waiting for this post - the pictures are so great! Looks like y'all had a blast. Miss all of you!

  2. Loving this post!!! Can't wait for even more!