Istanbul's Cuisine & Culture
(Prices are per person and in USD)
Note: Hagia Sofia is closed on Monday.
Included visits to: Hippodrome, Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia Museum, Spice Market,
Istiklal Street, and Nevizade Street
Duration: 8 Hours
Once the center of Byzantine civic life, the outdoor Hippodrome includes many interesting monuments: the Walled Obelisk, the Serpentine Column, the Obelisk of Thutmose III (first erected in 1490 in Luxor), then brought to Constantinople in 390 AD, and, the more recent German Fountain. We continue on to Sultanahmet Mosque, more familiarly known as the Blue Mosque, and so named for the 17th century blue and white Iznik tiles that cover the interior.
After visiting the Blue Mosque, we’ll take a short break to enjoy some traditional Turkish tea (cay) in a nearby peaceful and relaxing tea garden.
Drinking cay (pronounced “chay”) is an essential part of daily life in Turkey; nearly everywhere you go you will be offered a glass. The tea is prepared by brewing it in boiling water and serving it in a delicate, small, clear tulip-shaped glass to show its deep color and to transmit the heat to the hand. As we relax with our tea, we also enjoy some simit, tea's famous companion:a chewy bagel rolled in sesame seeds.
The Hagia Sophia, completed in 537 AD, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is considered to be one of the most magnificent structures ever constructed,and is the fourth-largest in the world. The Hagia Sophia symbolizes the collective power of the Eastern Holy Roman Empire; it was converted into a mosque during the Ottoman period before being declared a museum by Turkey’s first president, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Today, it's home to the treasures of many centuries and cultures: mosaics, religious relics, ancient inscriptions, and artifacts.
Charcoal-grilled kebabs are one of Turkish cuisine’s most famous stars. At a restaurant overlooking the Golden Horn, or "Halic," inlet, we'll enjoy some along with an appetizer of traditional bread served with special tangy tulum cheese, miniature lahmacun, a flat-bread cooked with ground beef and parsley, and a fresh salad.
Next, it's on to the Spice Market (Egyptian Bazaar) -built in 1660 as a part of the Yeni Cami, or "New Mosque,'' complex. Ever since, and still today, it is the home of the Istanbul spice trade: filled to the brim with piles of fragrant scent of herbs and spices like sumac, saffron and peppers. At the Spice Bazaar, you will understand why Istanbul was the last stop of the Silk Road.
From here we travel onto Taksim Square, the heart of modern-day Istanbul. We'll take a leisurely walk along lively Istiklal Street to the Fish Market, or balik pazari.
The entrance to Istiklal Street is dotted with small Turkish street food vendors. Here, we can choose among the best varieties of Turkish "fast food," just as the locals prefer to eat,such as: midye tava (fried mussels), kumpir, a large baked potato, stuffed with any topping you can imagine, and the classic, hand-pressed mercimek koftesi ,a vegetarian red lentil patty wrapped in lettuce, then topped with lemon juice and nar eksisi, pomegranate molasses. One of our favorites is midye dolma, mussels on the half-shell, stuffed with herbed rice and doused with lemon.
After all this, we stroll through adjacent Nevizade Street, famous for its pubs and taverns with live music. In the evenings, Nevizade is packed with people meeting over a glass of beer or unwinding over some freshly prepared mezes (appetizers) with raki, the traditional Mediterranean anise liquor.
This private tour includes: