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Istanbul: A Cultural Melting Pot Spanning Two Continents

On the way back to Valencia from our R&R in Oman, we stopped in Istanbul, a city that’s been on our list for years and seems to be a favorite for many travelers. Now we see why. There’s really nowhere else like it in the world: a city that spans two continents, a convergence of strategic waterways and hills with thousands of years of complicated history to discover. On the one hand it’s busy, chaotic, jarring, and terribly smoky. On the other hand, there are fascinating historical and cultural beacons, endless streets to get lost, and many activities to enjoy with and without kids. And the food! Eating our way through Istanbul on both the European and Asian sides was so fantastic that I’m devoting a Part II post to it. 

We stayed near Galata Tower and enjoyed exploring the nearby Karakoy neighborhood and taking evening walks by the waterfront. But we spent most of our days hitting the highlights for first-time visitors in the Golden Horn/Eminonu quarter, starting with an excellent Airbnb Experiences walking tour with a local guide named Eren. In between sampling Turkish coffee and fresh grilled simrit (sesame bagel), we marveled at the New Mosque (as “new” as the 1400’s), Hagia Sofia with the preserved mix of Islamic and Christian iconography, Basilica Cistern (ancient Roman underground water reservoir), and two major Ottoman Empire palaces, Dolmabahçe and Topkapi. We also visited the Grand Bazaar and Egyptian Spice Bazaar for what I had hoped would be the best shopping trip of my life, but both markets felt overwhelming and the amount of counterfeit goods was unreal. Next time I’d hire a guide to help navigate and negotiate my way through! 

In terms of what to do with kids, Istanbul did not disappoint. A special shoutout to Momcierge  @hotelmomcierge for the resources as well as their babysitting service with the lovely Ela, which allowed us to do some not-kid-friendly tours and visit a Turkish hammam bath (a wonderfully relaxing experience that took off a layer of skin). For his part, Jacob got his energy out at Zorlu Center playground and loved the classic cars, trains, etc. at the Rahmi M. Koc Transportation Museum.