Getaway: Istanbul

Istanbul | By Caitlin Flemming I’ve been dreaming about traveling to Istanbul for years. From the moment I stepped off of the airplane, I knew it would be a special trip. To begin with, Istanbul is situated between two continents – Europe and Asia. And in so many ways, it was a city that is the gate between East and West. On nearly every hill of the city (and there are a multitude of hills!), there sits a mosque. Five times a day, you hear the melody of the call to prayer. Yet at the same time, you see a modern and conservative population that seems comfortable with the differences between each other. Situated on the beautiful Bosphorus, you have constant views of the water that separates the different parts of the city.

Often when I travel, I try to rent an apartment. This was one of the best experiences to date. We stayed in a beautiful three-story townhouse. One of the great things about staying in a residential neighborhood is that you aren’t with tourists the entire time. We were about to go to the local markets to purchase fresh eggs, cheese, olives and fruit for breakfast. By the end of our stay the vendors recognized us and we felt like we were part of a community.

I think one of the reasons it has taken this long for me to write about my trip, is that it was such a profound experience. It has been difficult for me to express the affect it had on me. There were beautiful sites I will list below, but overall, it was the spirit of the city that I loved the most.

Istanbul | By Caitlin Flemming Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

Other activities you should take the time to enjoy:

1. Sultanahmet. This is the area of old Istanbul and the place where the most well known attractions are located. Once the heart of the Ottoman Empire, is the Topkapi Palace. As a designer the tiles in the Harem of the palace were mind-blowingly beautiful. It’s worth purchasing the extra ticket to go into – it’s room after room of endless inspiration. Be sure to take the time for lunch at the restaurant inside of the palace. Close by is another Ottoman beauty, Sultanahmet Camii. Often referred to as the Blue Mosque in English, this mosque is known for its beautiful tiles and lofty domed ceilings. I found the small details most alluring – the marble wash-basins at the entrance had me entranced. Finally, Aya Sofia (the former church of Hagia Sophia) is the legacy of the Byzantine Empire.  Mosaics of incredible splendor covered much of the walls and ceilings.

Istanbul | By Caitlin Flemming Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset Istanbul | By Caitlin Flemming Istanbul | By Caitlin Flemming

2. The Grand Bazaar. All of my guidebooks warned of aggressive vendors at the bazaar. I found it to be very tame in comparison to the markets of Morocco.  We found the vendors to be kind (many cups of tea!) and there was a plethora of incredible shops with fabrics from Uzbekistan, hamman bowls, towels, soap, tea pots…anything you can imagine existed at the bazaar.  We were fortunate to have someone come with us to help us navigate some of the better shops.

3. The Spice Bazaar. We definitely made this a priority and came home with spices, teas, and Turkish delight. One of my favorite spices that I’ve been using on everything is Sumac – it’s delicious on eggs, cauliflower, you name it!

Istanbul | By Caitlin Flemming

4. Cukurcuma. This was one of my favorite neighborhoods. Charm doesn’t begin to describe this lovely area. Known for its gathering of antique shops, hip cafes, and 19th century apartments, I felt I could have been in another world! A few favorites in this neighborhood were A la Turca, a coffee at Holy Coffee and I’m still dreaming about the dinner we had at Munferit.

5. Arasta Bazaar. This is where we found beautiful Turkish towels, rugs, and fabric. It’s a manageable size and on a smaller scale than the Grand Bazaar.

Istanbul | By Caitlin Flemming

6. Asia. One of my favorite days was spent on the Asian side of the city. There was far more green space, and what seemed like a slower pace of life. We were definitely on a mission to eat at one restaurant tons of friends recommended. After weaving through small market sidewalks we came across it and let me tell you, it was one of our best meals – go to Ciya Sofasi it’s a must!

7. Istanbul Modern. A relatively new museum of modern art, Istanbul Modern sits of the shore of the Bosphorus and has a light airy and very modern feel. Eat at the cafe – it has a remarkable view.

8. Hammam. Going to a hammam was pretty high on my list of things to do while in Istanbul. Multiple friends suggested Kilic Ali Pasa Hamam. If you want to enjoy some true r & r and pampering this is just the thing for you. I did it the morning before we left for Paris, which felt incredible after all of the walking we had done. The renovation they did on this space is visually stunning.

Istanbul | By Caitlin Flemming

9. Turkish Towels. To say I only bought a few would be a lie. I fell madly in love with all of the beautiful details each towel and hand towel had. From the tassel details, to the patterns, to the colors – it was love at first site. I now have them hanging in my bathroom and each morning they remind me of Istanbul.

10. Shops. While we went into dozens upon dozens of stores, here are a few of my favorites that I’ll definitely be going back to when I return. Sofa Art & Antiques – for beautiful antique treasures you really can’t find anywhere else. Jennifer House – for stunning Turkish towels. Yazzma – for custom pillows. You pick the fabric and size, then they make it within two hours. It’s amazing! Ottoamano – If you’re looking for luxurious scarves this is the place to go. Situated in a cable car in the middle of the Grand Bazaar you are surrounded by thousands of scarves. You’ll leave wanting more than one. Lastly, Tulu Textiles – this was a dream. It’s four floors of what feels like heaven. Elizabeth, the owner, has an incredible eye for design.

I’m already planning my next trip because I feel as though I barely made a dent in the what was discovered when I was there. I hope this has inspired you to plan a trip to Istanbul.

Photos by Caitlin Flemming

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  1. Olivia

    Caitlin – this was such a wonderful story of your trip! Now Istanbul has just been moved to the top of my list! Hopefully you will get back to Charleston soon xo

  2. Dori

    I am adding this trip to my bucket list!

  3. Bronwyn

    Love it! You have such a great way of organizing and explaining your trip with wonderful suggestions and great photos! You captured the soul of Istanbul.

  4. Julie

    Yes, the soul of Istanbul was what made this trip! Your photographs are incredible!

  5. patricia

    Such an inspiring post, Caitlin! I love the photos, and your account of your trip was expressed so beautifully. When you return to Istanbul, I hope you will bring me with you!

  6. Molly {Dreams in HD}

    such dreamy photos caitlin.
    thanks for the tips…my dad went to turkey last year for his honeymoon and loved it.

  7. Stacey

    I spent about 2 weeks in Turkey back in 2007 – it remains the best trip I have ever taken. If you go back, spend some time outside of Istanbul. We saw so much – everywhere we went my mind was blown. We met a super cool Turkish couple on a gullet in Kas and learned so much about the history and political climate of the country. We took a balloon ride over Capadoccia; visited the ancient multi-level underground city of the Median Empire – Derinkuyu; hiked up to the ancient city of Termessos, tucked into the side of the mountain….I could go on and on. It was a magical trip and one that I still think about to this day.

  8. Leslie Goldstein

    Thank you! I have always wanted to go- I love seeing your pictures and reading your recommendations

  9. 8 things for Friday | Happiness Remembers

    […] This blog post made me want to book a holiday to Turkey immediately. […]

  10. Liz Hernandez-Nunez

    Hi Caitlin! I have never commented but this post just made me get all warm and fuzzy because I felt like you were able to explain what I felt when I was there. Turkey is truly a special place. I was there in 2009 for 5 weeks! yes, it was through an exchange program and it was a deeply profound experience. I plan to go again but this time with my hubby and I will definitely use your Istanbul guide. Thanks for evoking my beautiful memories of Turkey. God bless you….Liz

  11. Marne Sio

    Oh Caitlin you’ve got to check out Cappadocia, Kusadasi, and Pammukale. Trust me, you won’t regret it! I took a chance and went to Turkey for my honeymoon about six months ago and prior to the trip I was a little unsure if we made the right choice, but I’m so glad we went. Turkey’s such an amazing country.

  12. Pia

    Loved this inspiring post!
    I also think the best way to feel the city is thru staying at a home, and live like a local….Can you share the info on the apartment you stayed in? Airbnb? VRBO?
    I agree with you your feeling on the Great Bazar…we were there a few years ago and we fell in love with a “sales man” age 14 or 15 who relentlessly , but graciously, acted as a guide of the market, and suggested the best price and the best stores. We loved every second of it. Our favorite item being the apple tea!…
    I hope your life keeps on being full of trips so you can keep on sharing..!!!
    Stop by my site if you´re interested in some of the latest on Mexico City too!

  13. franki durbin

    LOVE the rich mix of patterns. Sensory intoxication.

  14. Hayal Koc

    beautiful photos!! come back and visit anytime – and please feel free to contact me, would love to meet you! i’m turkish but lived in the US most of my life. happily moved back here 1.5 years ago and love hosting guests and showing them the secret gems 🙂