Last but not least, and after much delay, I'm so excited to share photos from the final stop on our Europe trip. We had a few issues (a back injury, potential food poisoning...) that held us back from exploring to the fullest, but still took advantage of the variety of activities and stunning architecture that Istanbul had to share. A transcontinental city (straddling both Europe and Asia) with rich cultural and historical roots, Istanbul is unlike any other place. The "east meets west" dynamic is ubiquitous, as women in burkas grab coffee at Starbucks, while teenagers in crop tops explore ancient mosques. Truly a spectacular city that is worth a few days of exploring!
+ Spend a day or two exploring the Old City (Sultanhamet). Take a half hour to explore the Blue Mosque, but be sure to avoid going during designated prayer times. Walk around the grounds of the Topkapi Palace and admire the unbelievable tiling in the Harem. This was probably my favorite site of the whole trip. And be sure not to miss the Hagia Sophia and Basilica Cistern.
+ Time to shop! The Grand Bazaar is where it's at - but do your research and have specific shops in mind if you want to buy things. I loved the selection of hand made ceramics, Turkish scarves, and rugs. Be prepared to haggle in order to score the price you want.
+ For a more relaxed vibe, I loved the Arasta Bazaar. It's probably 1/100th the size of the Grand Bazaar but I thought the shops were higher quality. Jennifer's Hamam is an absolute must - her Turkish towels and robes are the best!
+ The Spice Bazaar (or Egyptian Bazaar) is another fun market in the Old City area. Wander around, enjoy some apple tea, and eat as many Turkish delight as you possibly can.
+ One of the coolest things about Istanbul is that it actually straddles two continents. Take the ferry to the Asian side - from Karakoy (by the Galata Bridge) to Kadikoy - and spend a few hours walking around the market. Before heading back, eat at lunch at Ciya Sofrasi and chill out with ice cream from Moda.
+ After checking all the tourist boxes, spend the rest of your time in the Galata/Beyoglu neighborhood. It's a little touristy, but has a more relaxed vibe and is good for the young adult crowd. Wander around the boutiques of Istikal Cadessi, have lunch at Gram, then splurge for dinner at Mezze by Lemontree (make a reservation!). Other notable dinner spots are Karakoy Lokantasi and Munferit.