Travel Postcard: 48 hours in Istanbul

ISTANBUL (Reuters Life!) - Got 48 hours to discover Istanbul, a city that bridges Europe and Asia, boasting a rich cultural mix with influences ranging from Roman to Arab?

People walk in front of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul April 5, 2009. REUTERS/Osman Orsal

From the Muslim heritage of the Ottoman Empire to the secular republic founded in 1923, Reuters correspondents with local knowledge help you sample the contrasts of a city that straddles east and west.


9 a.m. Sultanahmet district, the hub of historic Old Istanbul dotted with centuries-old mosques, is the ideal place to start a short visit to this city. Start your walk around this historic area at the Basilica of St. Sophia, now called the Ayasofya Museum. Turn full circle, then look up to absorb the grandeur of its dome.

Arabic calligraphy has coexisted with Christian mosaics here since the Muslim conquest of Constantinople in 1453, when Mehmet the Conqueror converted the church into a mosque. It was declared a museum in 1935.

9:30 a.m. Cross the street to the six-minaret Blue Mosque, famed for its gleaming interior white-and-blue tiles originating from the city of Iznik.

10 a.m. Wander up to Topkapi Palace and marvel at the many halls, courts and chambers that house the treasures of the Ottoman Empire, including a jewel-encrusted 18th century golden throne and a sword said to belong to the biblical King David.

1 p.m. Take a break for lunch at one of the streetside kebab restaurants. Follow your meal with a tiny cup of Turkish coffee as the call to prayer blares from mosques all around.

2:30 p.m. Head to the western Edirnkapi district’s Chora Church, an imposing Byzantine monument. Gaze at the mosaics and frescoes that cover its ceilings and walls, depicting scenes from the bible.

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7:30 p.m. Combining faith and dance, the whirling dervishes will entertain you with a one-hour performance, accompanied by an ensemble of musicians. Draped in black robes and cream dresses, these followers of 13th century Persian poet and mystic Jalaladdin Rumi spin in the belief that it will bring them closer to God.

9 p.m. After absorbing history all day, check out the modern face of Istanbul. Local beer and both Western and Turkish pop music await you in the many bars of Beyoglu. If you get peckish, stop by one of the area’s many restaurants offering a traditional myriad of dishes to taste.

11 p.m. If you still have energy, you can party like the locals. Go clubbing well into the night on dance floors playing Western and Turkish hits.


9 a.m. Ready to check out Asia? Istanbul straddles two continents. From Eminonu, take the ferry to Uskudar. Get off the boat after the 20-minute ride, walk through the main square and head to the Aga Mosque. You may be asked not to take photos of its interior, as residents in this less affluent and more conservative side of the water are less accustomed to tourists.

12 p.m. Away from the tourist trail, this area’s restaurants offer a more diverse and authentic menu. Take your pick of food from cacik, or yoghurt with cucumber and mint, to perde pilavi, chicken cooked with rice and almonds wrapped in pastry.

1:30 p.m. Back to Europe. Take a bus across the Bosphorus passing over the bridge that bears the name of the strategic waterway linking the Black Sea to the Mediterranean.

Get off at Taksim Square, where a sculpture of the founder of modern Turkey Mustafa Kemal Ataturk watches over you. Take a stroll down Istiklal Street where fashion stores are located alongside European consulates housed in villas.

4 p.m. Head toward the Galata Tower in the quarter that historically housed the foreign population, traders from Genoa and Venice, as well as Jews and Greeks. Don’t miss the synagogues and churches along the way.

5 p.m. Ascend the Galata Tower and get a 360 degree view of the city with towering minarets adorning its skyline.

7 p.m. Take the tram on the Galata Bridge across the Golden Horn and walk along the Sahil Yolu corniche, where fishermen cast their rods as children swim in the chilly waters.

8 p.m. Dine by the sea and enjoy the breeze blowing from the Sea of Marmara. Select some fresh fish accompanied by a glass or two of the “national drink” raki, an aniseed-flavoured alcohol.

10 p.m Ready to leave this magnificent city? Before you go, savor a square of lokum, or Turkish delight, a chunk of baklava or the local ice cream known as dondurma. Accompany your dessert with an apple- or cherry-flavoured water pipe.

Editing by Paul Casciato