As a city that has sat at the crossroads of Western and Eastern civilization for centuries, Istanbul has a lot to offer visitors. The sprawling metropolis now exists in both Asia and Europe on either side of the Bosphorus Strait. Of course, the city once known as Constantinople used to be at the forefront of Christianity until the Ottoman Turks conquered it and subsequently converted the inhabitants to Islam. However, travelers of all faiths are welcome these days.
An incredibly popular spot with visitors to the city, this undercover market, started in the mid-1400s. Today, it is one of the world’s oldest still operating markets. The Grand Bazaar took three hundred years’ worth of work to complete.
The marketplace remains in much the same shape today as it was in those days. The narrow lanes still form a labyrinth that houses a wide variety of merchandise. Shoppers can easily spend hours or even days perusing the goods. Bargaining over tea is still the fashion here, though it has gone out of practice in other places.
The Grand Bazaar is open between eight-thirty am and seven pm on a daily basis except for Sundays and on holidays. Travelers arriving via public transportation should get off at the Vezneciler metro station or the Beyazıt-Kapalı Çarşı tram station.
There are five historic Turkish Baths or hamams in the city of Istanbul as well as numerous modern equivalents. The traditional baths include a fifteen-minute scrub administered by a staff member of the same gender as the one bathing. This experience costs around eighty Turkish Lire in public bath houses but will cost a bit more at local hotels. Of course, guests should bring some cash to tip the attendants upon departing the premises.
Men can often get away with wearing nothing but the towel hamam visitors are given as long as they avoid flashing anyone during their trip. Ladies should leave on their swimsuit bottoms for the entire process but be aware that going topless is typically considered acceptable behavior. In some hamams, it is deemed acceptable to bare more and in others covering up is encouraged.
Once the Ottoman Turks took over the city, this is where they made their home for the next four centuries. Eventually, the rulers moved out, but the site functioned as an auxiliary unit with the royal mint, the library, and the Treasury remaining present in the building for some time after that. The palace is now a museum and a UNESCO site.
Although the palace has hundreds of rooms, only a few important ones are currently accessible to visitors. As is the case with many former royal residences, a lot of history took place here, and there is subsequently much to see. Some but not all of the gems from the royal treasury are on display in the public areas of the palace. Other treasures found here include the sword and cloak said to have belonged to the prophet Muhammad.
To visit both the palace and the harem area is thirty-six Turkish Lire for those over the age of twelve. Admission is free for children. The museum is open from nine am to six pm from the middle of April to October. It closes two hours earlier than the times above between the months of November and mid-April.
Although the present structure dates to 532 AD, earlier churches had been built on the same spot. The current building started off as a Byzantium church in and continued as such for a little over a thousand years. After the conquest of the Ottoman Turks in 1453, the Ottomans turned it into a mosque. Hagia Sofia became a museum in the 1930s and remains so to this day.
The former religious house is known for its ancient mosaics and other works of art that date back centuries. Travelers should plan to spend several hours taking in everything this place has to offer, but they should also keep in mind that that the museum can be crowded at times.
Buying online tickets is a good way to avoid the lines upon entry. Admission is free for children and 30 lire for those over the age of twelve. The site is open from nine am to four pm from October to the middle of April. From then until September, the building remains open until six pm.
Also known as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, this religious edifice was constructed between the years 1609 and 1616. While many of the opulent decorations from earlier years have since been removed, the building retains a great deal of its original charm.
It is also still used as a fully functioning mosque. Therefore, women that want to view the site will be required to cover their heads with a scarf to obtain entry. Travelers of all faiths and genders should also keep their arms and shoulders covered as well. Cover-ups and veils are provided for those that have arrived without them, but anyone that is worried about the cleanliness of these garments may want to bring clothes to wear instead.
There is no admission charge for visiting the mosque, but the site often gets crowded, and travelers will want to plan accordingly.
Autism Travel Tips:
- The most difficult part of planning a trip to Istanbul is finding a time when the weather is pleasant. The city is known to fluctuate between temperature extremes. The months of September, October, May, and June are considered the best time to visit.
- Travelers will want to bring along warm clothing and an umbrella any time they visit.
- Those making their way to the city should double check the weather reports and adjust their packing lists accordingly.
- Those at the Turkish baths who find the prospect of being bathed by someone else alarming can always scrub themselves. This choice will also save around 25 lire per trip.
- The events and attractions that have lines offer no accommodations for autism.
- The food in Istanbul might be spicy, which can be a problem for kids with food sensetivities.
- The Topkapi Palace features a lot of walking areas. Parents should make sure everyone wears comfortable shoes.
- The Topkapi Palace can get crowded. Parents should try to arrive at times when it isn’t as busy, usually early in the morning or late in the day.
- At the Blue Mosque, parents should make sure kids stay quiet out of respect.
- Most of the areas in Istanbul are not interactive. Parents should make sure kids know what they can or cannot touch.
- Topkapi Palace is vast, so parents might just want to see the highlights.
- Haggling is a way of life in Istanbul, so parents should check prices before buying anything.