Sunshine in Sultanahmet

I got lost on the way to my guesthouse in Istanbul. My internet connection in Iran had been slow, but I'd managed to screenshot the "how to get here" page from the website. Things started off smoothly - Judith and I found an ATM at the airport, bought tokens for the tram, and about an hour later we were hopping off at the stop closest to both of our hotels. Hers had provided incredibly in-depth instructions that we had laughed about. Mine said "get off at this stop, walk down for 5 minutes, there it is". It seemed simple enough, but after I'd been wandering for 15 minutes I had a feeling they'd left out some things (like about 6 turns). I was lucky enough to find an open wifi network outside a cafe and google mapped my way to the guesthouse from there. I walked right between the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque and all I could think was "I know I should be appreciating this right now, but I'm tired and I'm hungry and I'm lost. I'll come back."

So, an hour later, after I'd found Isabel and settled in at the hotel, we went back. And it awed me the way I knew it should have the first time. Look to the left - the 4 skinny minarets of the Blue Mosque stand out against the darkening sky. To the right - the hulking, 2500-year-old Hagia Sofia looms over us, lit up against the black night. This is why you stay in Sultanahmet.

The neighborhood of Sultanahmet is the heart of the historical attractions in Istanbul. This also makes it the place where most tourists choose to stay, and we joined them for our first two days in Turkey. There are downsides, of course - higher prices, long lines, and being surrounded by other non-locals - which means that some travelers looking for a more authentic experience shun it. But I found it to be a great way to start our trip, with several days' worth of attractions within easy walking distance - and you can't beat strolling past the Hagia Sophia every time you go back to your hotel. So if you're new to Istanbul, make sure you build in a couple of nights in Sultanahmet before moving on to other parts of the city.

Because, seriously, the view does not ever get old.

A few of my favorite things in Sultanahmet: 

The Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofia) 

I'd been dreaming of seeing the Hagia Sophia for months (especially after watching this Nova documentary - nerd alert), so Isabel, Judith and I planned to meet there first thing in the morning to beat the long lines that form once the tour buses arrive. We picked up our audio guides (highly recommend getting these!) and spent two hours wandering through this massive church-turned-mosque-turned-museum. Even with half the dome covered by scaffolding for renovations/research, it's a beautiful building -but even more impressive is the history, and the sheer fact that this 2500-year-old structure is still standing in an earthquake zone.

Cat napping inside the Aya Sofia

Dome selfies. They're totally a thing. 

The Blue Mosque

I must admit - in the moment, I was not super impressed by the inside of the Blue Mosque. We waited in an insanely long line full of people trying to cut ahead and complaining about the cover-ups that the mosque provided for people who were not dressed appropriately. And then when we got inside, well, it was hard not to compare it to all the mosques I'd just seen in Iran. It was pretty, but the muted blues and golds paled in comparison to the bright turquoise and pinks and sunflower yellows of Iranian mosques. However, looking back at my pictures - how pretty is this dome?!?!

Topkapi Palace and Harem

Once again we got the audio tour and did not regret it, as it offered up tons of fun tidbits about this beautiful palace. We wandered for two hours and barely scratched the surface.

Lunch with a View

The Seven Hills Hotel boasts a rooftop with a 360 degree view featuring the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, and the Bosporus river. We lucked out with a stunningly sunny day, and enjoyed appetizers and a shared lunch beer with an incredible view. While we were eating, the call to prayer began to emanate from the minarets of the Hagia Sophia. And then they were answered by the Blue Mosque. Back and forth went this ethereal sound for a full 8 minutes. We couldn't stop grinning. It was one of those perfect moments that you can't quite describe, but will never forget.

Isabel and Judith soaking up the sun and the sounds of Istanbul
So despite the tourists, I had a great time in Sultanahmet. Visiting with the two lovely ladies pictured above didn't hurt one bit!

Practical Info:

We stayed at the Marmara Guesthouse - a small, cute hotel with a lovely breakfast on a rooftop terrace with views of the Bosporus. Just be sure to map out your own directions (or book their airport shuttle).


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