Traveling Turkey: Istanbul

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Michael Battles
  • 39th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey - Editor's Note: This is part of an ongoing series of spots of interest in the area.

As a new arrival to Incirlik Air Base, I wanted to make the most out of my 15-month tour in Turkey, so after less than two weeks in country, I booked a trip to one of my dream destinations -- Istanbul.

With Istanbul almost in Incirlik's backyard; it wasn't difficult to plan and set my weekend trip into motion.  So with my bags packed, travel guide in hand and my wingman ready to go, we set off on our 48-hour excursion to Turkey's largest city.

I was surprised that from the gates of Incirlik it's less than a 2-hour trip to Istanbul; minus any airport delays. After the roughly 75-minute flight, my friend and I arrived in the picturesque city.  For the adventurous traveler there is no need to take a taxi into the city from the airport, the metro system is perfect, cheap and easy to navigate. It's only a 20-minute trip to some of the most iconic destinations within the city. 

The largest city in Turkey, Istanbul is known as the economic, cultural and historical heart of the country. With a population of about 14 million people, the city hosts some of the country's most well-known architecture and historic monuments such as the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Grand Bazaar and Basilica Cistern, which all topped my list of must-sees.

The Grand Bazaar, which is one of the largest covered markets in the world, is comprised of 60 streets, with more than 5,000 shops and restaurants and attracts 400,000 visitors daily. The market is best known for its jewelry, ceramics, carpets, spice shops and a variety of restaurants. Be prepared and plan ahead when taking a trip to the market, the streets can become a maze easily, so print a map off online before venturing. The market is also closed on Sundays, so make it a first priority.

During my visit to Istanbul there was one place that I had to visit during my first trip to the ancient city - The Basilica Cistern. The largest cistern buried under the city of Istanbul, the ancient structure also hides two oversized emerald green Medusa heads. Of unknown origins, the heads are one of the most visited sites in Istanbul. Entry to the attractions costs roughly 30 Turkish Lira.

Finally, one of the most iconic sites and the most famous in Istanbul is the Blue Mosque. Built between 1609 and 1616, the mosque is open to tourist throughout the day, but closes for 90-minutes five times a day for daily prayer. As reminder, tourist must remove shoes before entering the Mosque and all women must wear a hair covering. Shoes bags and hair covering are provided at the entrance free of charge.

When serving or traveling to Turkey make Istanbul a must see, a place people around the world dream of visiting in their lifetime, or at least I always have.