Our most favourite memories stem from the Blue Mosque – from the preserved and quaint rooftops of Sultanahmet. We observed it dawn and dusk, over breakfast and evening drinks. Eiffel Tower aside, it is one of the few building that could reduce me to tears. It’s so simple and elegant in its structure, but so imposing. Its mass is only truly observed from its interior or a distance. It calls you to scan the skyline for it, no matter where you are in the city. It cries out for observation, for reverence, for appreciation. I’d highly recommend dedicating several occasions during your visit to see it during daylight and nighttime. If you do this you will be rewarded with the views of dazzling onion domes reflecting both sun and moonlight and of the calls to prayer at dawn and dusk – it won’t fail to make your hairs stand on end.
Some of the best vantage points we found for the Blue Mosque are as follows:
1. Standing directly in front of the Blue Mosque (so your back is directly toward Hagia Sophia), walk left in the Blue Mosque gardens until you reach a small stone wall – from here you will have an ariel view of Arasta Bazaar to your left and a stunning view of the blue mosque to your right. I’d recommend you arrive here shortly before dusk with an appetite and watch the light fade over the domes, turning your attention to the ariel view of the local rooftops and restaurant below when your stomach starts to call. If you really want to plan ahead, do as we did and point, wave and engage over the rooftops to the market stalls below…this could be your most unique photo opportunity, or the most original way of making a dinner reservation! What’s more, this view costs nothing.
2. We researched our accommodation well and chose to stay at Best Point Hotel in Sultanhamet, which had a tiny roof terrace looking out over the Bospherous, the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. Its panoramic views might not be open to non residents but there are several other bars and restaurants on Akbiyik Cd and Mimar Mehmet Ağa Caddesi that offer similar views and, off season, you might be lucky enough to have the view all to yourself. For example, we visited Sofa Cafe, which is rustic and requires altitude sickness pills to walk the floors through the hostel to reach the top – but bear with it, order a drink of two (to the waiters’ dismay as they hike back downstairs), and you will be rewarded with not the best service nor drinks ever, but certainly some of the best views of Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, at prices that do not burst the bank.
Other views to capture in Istanbul include;
3. Take a river cruise from the European side of the Bosporus. It takes about 2 hours in total and you’ll be rewarded with views of local mansions, holiday homes, floating bars and restaurants, navy vessels returning to port and stunning countryscapes, in the hillsides of which nestle abandoned fortresses.
4. The views from the city trams…if nothing else, the smugness of avoiding the back to back traffic jams on the roads are a reward in itself. Joking aside, in this lies a very serious learning point – avoid road travel at all cost in European Istanbul and instead elect for the tram or your very own two feet. Traffic jams are common place – it’s not unusual for it to take 2-3 hours to get to the airport by car – a journey that takes less than an hour on the very cost efficient,clean and reliable trams. What’s more – when you delve into Sultanhamet, cars are next to useless as they cannot explore the hidden alleyways and bazaars of old Istanbul and you’ll miss out on so much exploration.
A very reliable (family) source has also informed me that taxi travel in Istanbul is to be avoided – especially from the port for arriving cruise ships. If you elect for a taxi (as they did), expect to travel at many, many miles an hour with a taxi driver who has a confident disregard for the road and it’ll cost far more than you initially bargained for. Instead, grab your zutons (tickets aka plastic tokens) from the sellers by tramstops and hop on and off as you please (you insert your zuton into exit gates on the platform as you disembark).