Turkey is a fascinating country with a complex history and culture. One aspect of Turkey that is sometimes hard to get your head around is; which continent does it truly belong to.
Head to Istanbul and they will proudly tell you, “Both!”
Nowhere else in Turkey is the divide more apparent than Istanbul. The Bosphorus Strait divides the two continents of Istanbul into what locals refer to as “the Asian side” or “the European side.”
Cross the Bosphorus bridge and you will see signs on either side welcoming you to Europe or to Asia. While geographically it might appear a little untidy, for the traveller, it is fun to think you can tick off two continents in one day.
Having spent a full day exploring the Old City it was time to branch out and explore the two continents of Istanbul. We had a full day planned that would centre around the Bosphorus strait with Istanbul Daily City Tours, exploring both continents and the Strait itself.
Starting off early we headed to the Dolmabahçe Palace on the European coast.
Dolmabahçe Palace was built between the years 1843 and 1856 by the Empires 31st Sultan, Adülmecid I. The objective; a palace with the same contemporary style, luxury, and comfort of the European Monarchs. Something the medieval Topkapi Palace could not match.
Dolmabahçe Palace is the largest palace in Turkey. It is made up of three parts; the Imperial Mabeyn or State Apartments, the Ceremonial Hall, and the Imperial Harem.
In his bid to match the contemporary opulence of his European counterparts, construction of the palace cost the equivalent of $1.5 billion in current terms, equating to approximately a quarter of the yearly tax revenue. This placed a tremendous financial burden on the Ottoman Empire, contributing to an eventual slide into state bankruptcy.
The palace is decorated extensively with gold and crystal, including fourteen tons of gold leaf to gild the ceilings and the world’s largest crystal chandelier, a gift from Queen Victoria. The palace is also famous for the Crystal Staircase in the shape of a horseshoe. Baccarat crystal, brass and mahogany make for a spectacular staircase. Unfortunately, as with all of the Palaces in Turkey, no photographs of the interior are permitted.
Dolmabahçe was home to six Sultans until 1924, when ownership was transferred to the national heritage of the new Turkish Republic, founded by Mustafa Atatürk.
Atatürk used the palace as a presidential residence during the summers, as well as spending his final days of medical treatment here, until his death in 1938. The clocks in the palace were all reset to 9.05 am to honour the time of his death and most remain this way today.
We farewell the European continent and head across the famous Bosphorus Bridge, one of the world’s largest suspension bridges to the Asian side and Camlica Hill.
Camlica Hill, the highest peak in Istanbul commands magnificent views of the Bosphorus, old Istanbul, and Galata. It gives you a true perspective of the enormity of the city of Istanbul. Popular on weekends, beautiful gardens and tea rooms make it an ideal spot to escape the city for lunch and of course with views like this, popular for weddings.
Back across to the European continent we drive along the shores of the Golden Horn. This major urban waterway so named not for the general curved shaped of the estuary, but for the golden glow left on the water when the sun sets on the city.
Along the Golden Horn is the district of Fener, home to a large Greek and Jewish population. After the fall of Constantinople, Fener became home to the many Greeks of the city as well as the Greek Patriarchate.
Since 1586, the Orthodox Patriarchate has maintained it’s headquarters in this relatively modest church in Fener and is also said to hold remnants of the shackles which bound Christ.
We head back to Eminönö in the centre for lunch and to catch the boat that will take us down the Bosphorus. It feels like the entire city comes here to indulge in ‘Fish on Bread’. Cooked and served directly from ornate boats tied alongside, it is something of an Istanbul institution.
Cruises run all day up and down the Bosphorus which is a great way to take in the two continents of Istanbul.
Down the Strait and under the Bosphorus Bridge, the cruise gives you the opportunity to look back in on Istanbul, a new perspective and some quiet amongst the chaos.
Back in Eminönü and it’s off to the Spice Bazaar, also known as The Egyptian Bazaar. The spice market was built in 1660 with revenue from the Ottoman eyalet in Egypt, hence the name.
With 85 shops selling mostly spices, sweets, teas and a plethora of other exotic foods and trinkets, you can easily become overwhelmed with the heady aromas and buzzing market atmosphere.
For authentic Turkish delight, this is where you come. Most vendors will be vying for your business which can become confusing; just don’t make the mistake of opting for the cheap stuff they have on display out the front. Head inside and you will find the real deal, handmade Turkish Delight.
Made organically, with honey to sweeten, it will, without a doubt, be more expensive. Hand pick your assortment of flavours, and they will pack them specifically to travel. The good shops will serve Turkish tea and allow you to sample the product to help you decide what you like. There’s nothing quite like sipping tea and sampling delicious sweets in one of the world’s oldest spice markets.
This tour is a great day and the perfect way to take in the two continents of Istanbul. It’s not often you get to say you crossed from Europe to Asia with such ease.
The Bosphorus and Shores Tour is a full day tour departing daily at approximately 08.30 from your hotel. Finishing time will be dependant on crowds at various sights and your leisure.
Cost ~ € 70.00 pp (€ 60.00 pp for booking enquiries direct through the website)
Tours include- Pick up & drop off from/to your hotel (only from Sultanahmet and Taksim hotels), professional guides (in English only, ask if other languages are required), all entrance fees and a fantastic Turkish lunch at a quality restaurant.
Istanbul Daily City Tours not only offer a wide range of quality Istanbul experiences, but also arrange a number of package tours to popular destinations all over Turkey.