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Istanbul, Turkey: Your Essential Weekend Itinerary

The most populous city in Turkey, Istanbul is full of amazing history, rich culture, vibrant nightlife, endless markets and historical sight-seeing, and of course, great eats. Two days in the city are hardly enough to experience everything Istanbul has to offer, but if you are really pressed for time, here are a few of the lesser known ‘must-sees’ of the city.

Try a Turkish-Style Pizza

If you speak to any of the locals in Istanbul, they will most likely give you a list of traditional food items you must try before you leave the city. Inevitably, you will be drawn to the constant referrals, and constant smells of freshly baked lahmacun, a Turkish take on pizza. Lahmacun is generally made with a light oven fried crust, generously seasoned, and topped with minced meat and herbs and spices- and it is cheap. At Borsan Tasfirm, a chain found throughout Istanbul, you will find some of the best traditional lahmacun, topped with a minced meat mixture, onions and parsley. If you cannot process the thought of pizza without cheese, you can opt for something a bit more familiar, and try the Sausage Pide, which is prepared with fresh cheese and meat, in a boat shaped bread. While you are at it, finish off your meal with traditional dessert of Kunefe, one of the most popular in Turkey.

Visit an Old Palace

The Dolmabahçe Palace is the massive former residence of Mustafa Ataturk, the founder of the republic of Turkey. He resided in the mansion until his death in 1938. Prior to this, the palace was built in 1856 by the ruling Sultan in order to show the world that the declining Ottoman Empire was doing just fine (ironically, the massive costs that went into building the palace played a role in the ultimate financial decline of the empire). The Sultan had been residing in the also famous Topkapi Palace (another great sight to visit in Istanbul if your schedule allows), but decided he needed an upgrade to something more modern, and elaborate. To prove this, the palace was built with over 285 rooms, decorated with excessive amounts of gold and crystal, and includes the world’s largest Bohemian crystal chandelie, weighing 4.5 tonnes, and a crystal staircase. The construction costs amounted to the equivalent of $1.5 billion in today’s value. Tourists often skip this palace in favour of Topkapi or other historical venues, but this elaborate and extravagant mansion is a sight to see.

Relax in a Traditional Turkish Bath

What would a trip to Istanbul be without a visit to an ancient Turkish bath? After all of the sightseeing and walking you will be doing on this trip, take the time to enjoy the unique experience of a Hamam. Traditionally, there is a three step process involved in a Turkish bath. First you are seated in a sauna, then a steam room, and are finally finished off with a powerful exfoliating scrub, while laying on heated marble slabs. More modern Hamams about in Istanbul that combine massage therapies and other spa treatments to maximize your relaxation. For a truly unique experience, indulge at the Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamam, built in the 16 century as a part of a mosque complex, the hamam is located in a landmark building that was recently restored into a beautiful piece of architecture. Be sure to check the timings ahead of time, as the hamam operates exclusively for men and women at different times. You can expect to be treated to the house-made sherbet, before being asked to lay on a heated marble slab for 10 minutes so that you can adjust to the warmer temperatures of the hamam. You will then be exfoliated, rinsed, and finished off with a bubble soap wash with a loofah- leaving your skin soft and rejuvenated for the rest of your trip!

These spots are just the tip of the iceberg to explore in Istanbul.  Whether you take a cruise down the Bosphorus to explore two continents and one time, or visit the spice markets and old bazaars for traditional treats, you cannot go wrong with your choices.  Be sure to pack comfortable walking shoes, a map of the city, and an appetite to feast on all the sights, sounds and tastes that this eclectic and unique city has to offer.

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