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Exploring Istanbul - Where East meets West

If there was one city that captured the combination of Eastern and Western world cultures, Istanbul would arguably be that city. With a population of nearly 15 million people, Istanbul spans two continents, Asia and Europe. Although Turkey is not a member of the EU, there are hints of both European and Middle Eastern culture throughout the city. There are women dressed in modern-day fashion as well as conservative Islamic garb. The city is full of beautiful historical sites that cannot be missed by travelers to Turkey. If you have only one day to visit this eclectic, historic city here are some places you definitely cannot miss.

While Ankara may be the capital of Turkey, Istanbul is the city that defines the country’s splendor. The sites, culture and cuisine are unparalleled in all of Turkey. Visiting these historical sites in real life should be on every avid traveler’s bucket list! 


Dolmabahce Palace

The Dolmabahce Palace is located in the Besktas district of Istanbul and is the newest of all the structures. It was built during the final years of the Ottoman Empire as an attempt to bring the empire into the “modern world” at the time. It was built right on the shores of the Bosphorus Strait in 1856. The Palace has three major sections, the administrative apartments, the ceremonial hall and the “imperial harem,” which is where the concubines of the Sultan lived. The palace is certainly a sight to behold and is reminiscent of palaces in England and France, built with the neo-baroque style.

After the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the republic of Turkey was established. The founder of the republic, Ataturk, used the palace as a presidential palace where he entertained guests while he was in Istanbul. It was in this palace that Ataturk passed away on November 10th, 1938. Today the palace is open as a museum, however no photos are allowed inside. Admission costs roughly 90 Turkish Liras.


Bosphorus Strait
The Bosphorus Strait is as close as it gets to a location where East meets West. This narrow body of water sits between the continents of Asia and Europe. While Istanbul is much more blended, where different districts represent different cultures; the symbolism cannot be missed. While visiting Istanbul, riding the ferry across the Bosphorus is an affordable and fun way to see much of the city shoreline. It stops in all of the major districts and allows you to experience one of the most essential modes of transportation in Istanbul.


Blue Mosque
This magnificent structure sits directly across from the Hagia Sophia and was commissioned by Sultan Ahmet, which is the true name of the mosque (Sultan Ahmet Mosque). It gets its name from the 20,000 blue ceramic tiles used to adorn the walls inside of the mosque. The construction was completed in 1617 and the mosque is still open and functioning today, where locals visit to pray.


Hagia Sophia

The Hagia Sophia was originally built as a basilica when Istanbul was still Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire ruled in the region. This beautiful structure has been preserved for hundreds of years. When the Ottoman Empire conquered the region, the basilica was transformed into a mosque. After the founding of the republic of Turkey, Ataturk transformed the mosque into a museum. There are between 2.5 to 3 million visitors annually, making it Istanbul’s number one tourist attraction.


Galata Tower
In Turkish they call this Galata Kulesi and it is one of the highest and oldest towers in the city. It is 63 meters tall (206 feet) and offers a panoramic view of Istanbul. The tower was built as a defense against attackers in the 14th century and helped guards survey the area. Today there is a small café at the top of the tower and admission costs 25 Turkish Liras.  

— Kelsey, a native of the Central Valley, lived as an expatriate in Izmir, Turkey for nearly five years. During that time, she travelled all around Turkey writing about her experiences. You can read more about travel in Turkey and her home state of California on her blog at