"What is the most beautiful city in the world?" The answer is Istanbul. The city has never ceased to amaze me with the city's commanding views. Despite the fact that Turkey's capital is actually Ankara, Istanbul is without any doubt the heartland of the entire country - thanks to its cultural heritage and to its many activities to see and do. Once serving as the capital of the Byzantine and Ottoman empires - all fought to claim the city's real estate as their capital. It stretches across a narrow strait that connects Asia and Europe, making it the only city in the world spanning two continents. The ticket to travel from Europe to Asia is cheap.

Tip #01: With Istanbulkart, it will take you everywhere - tram, bus, metro, funicular and ferry. Can be bought from roadside confectionery kiosks. It costs you 10 TL (refundable when you leave, as long as you keep the receipt). You can use one card for up to five people.

The most efficient and cheap way to travel in Istanbul by public transportation. We used bus and tram a lot!
You may be able to buy an Istanbulkart at commercial kiosk.
I traveled in Turkey from 6th April to 16th April, 2014. Starting in Istanbul, I went to Pamukkale, Cappadocia and back to Istanbul. Traveled on a relatively small budget, but still did all the touristy things like balloon rides, day tours  and shopping. The list of breathtaking photos here will remind you of the dazzling beauty you may have taken for granted - the impressive and magnificent architectures, a 8,500 years of historic sites, dining, top shopping, friendly people and exotic atmosphere all make Istanbul one of the best places to visit in Turkey.

Wonderful 5 days itinerary is more than enough to explore Istanbul's top attractions which includes the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia, the Grand Bazaar, the Spice Bazaar, Topkapi Palace, Galata Bridge, Galata Tower, and Basilica Cistern.

Tip #02: If you're planning on visiting museums, please buy the Museum Pass to skip the queue and also to save money. It costs only 85 TL (about 100 MYR) and is valid for 5 days.

Immerse yourself in Turkish culture at the Blue Mosque

A visit to Istanbul is not complete if you don't visit the Sultanahmet Mosque, the official name of the Blue Mosque. It's flipping magnificent. The most beautiful call of prayer (adhan) I listened to took place between the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. One mu'addhin recite part of the call to prayer and then the second mu'addhin would respond from the other minaret. It was a magical thing to experience.

Visiting hours: The mosque opens an hour after sunrise until an hour before sunrise. Be mindful of prayer timings, half hour slots,, when tourists aren't allowed inside. Check here as the prayer timings change every day.

The Blue Mosque is stunning and mesmerizing, especially when viewed from its courtyard. It is the Blue Mosque's exterior that stands proud over the old city of Istanbul. 
The old repeating heavy wood doors inside the inner square of the Blue Mosque.
The unique Iznik blue tiles that decorate the ceiling and domes.
If you thought outside was huge, the inside was even more palatial and colourful. The walls covered in brightly 16th century Iznik tiles. The blue tiles that are surrounding the walls of the interior design are the reason for its nickname, Blue Mosque. Turkish people adore the colour blue. The chandeliers that gave the whole mosque an almost romantic ambiance.

Note: Do not wear tight clothes or anything that hugs your body. You will be asked to cover up. If you forget, though, don't worry - they have shawl and other stuff to borrow. Only worshipers can enter through the center doors (north entrance, off the Hippodrome). For visitors, please follow the signs.

Grab a seat at one of the park benches and just listen to the call of prayer and admire the monument. You will find cats almost everywhere here, begging for food. 
If you're a cat lover, Istanbul is the pace to visit. There are possibly over one million stray cats in Istanbul living together peacefully with stray dogs in the streets. 
The most notable features of the Blue Mosque is its six minarets. This is very unique, as most mosques have one, two or four minarets. The dome and the minarets can be seen from just about anywhere in the area.

Marvel at the detail in the Hagia Sophia

The gorgeous Hagia Sophia, formerly Church of the Divine Wisdom, was built as the center of Byzantine faith in 537. The architectural wonder has a long history which has seen it go from Christian (Orthodox and Roman) cathedral, to the predominant mosque after the Ottoman's conquest of Istanbul in 1453, and now it's neither since it got turned into one of the world's most popular museum by Kemal Ataturk. As a museum, symbols of the Muslim and Catholic religions can be observed. The exterior may not seem too impressive and you might get confuse the Hagia Sophia with just another mosque in a city which has hundreds, but once you're inside, you will be in awe - take a glimpse of heavenly domes and amazing ancient golden mosaics.

Tip #03: There can be long lines for the ticket window. The Museum Pass is a good way to skip the queue. And be prepared for experiencing this beauty with loads of other people. Plan for at least one hour to explore all it nooks and crannies.

Walking distance to the all historical sights from the Blue Mosque.
The four minarets were added at different times during the Ottoman period: Sultan Mehmed II, Sultan Beyazid II and Sultan Selim II.
The entrance into the Hagia Sophia. Ever play Assassin's Creed? You might remember this in Assassin's Creed: Revelations.
Visiting hours: Tuesday to Sunday, Summer between 09:00 - 19:00 hours / Winter between 09:00 - 17:00 hours.

From the moment you pass through the massive door, which was once reserved for the exclusive use of the Byzantine emperors, you're realize you are somewhere quite special. I can feel the life within the walls. There is a crumbling faded beauty here. It's spectacular every time you see it and from whichever angle you look at it. When you go inside, you feel like you travel in time a few hundreds of years back.

You will find a mihrab, placed offset at the end of the apse, that marks the direction of the Kaaba, the most sacred site in Islam. Since Hagia Sophia started out as a Christian cathedral and converted into a mosque, they could not change the orientation of the church, which is why the mihrab is not symmetrical to the rest of the structure. On the right of the mihrab is the minbar, a pulpit from which the sermons are given by an imam.

The tall freestanding stairways is called minbar. The mihrab (hidden) is located on its left.
Two of the calligraphic roundels. The low-hanging lights in the main hall add a glowing brilliance to the room.
The interior was enormous with the massive Hagia Sophia dome. It is the second largest in the world. The first is the Pantheon in Rome.
Do not miss the upper gallery as you get closer to the famous huge dome, a number of shiny Byzantine mosaics (though none are whole or complete) and Islamic calligraphic. You need to walk up as they have are winding hallways to take you to the second floor of the Hagia Sophia. I did sweat! It's amazing to think of the millions and millions of people who have walked these halls. A spiritual exercise, I guess.

On the second level, we found three mosaics with two being in a very good shape. This mosaic is called the Deesis with Christ as a ruler, the most famous of Hagia Sophia's mosaic and it shows Christ flanked by Virgin Mary and John the Baptist in worshiping attitude.

Note: No camera flash is allowed. It causes damage, particularly to pigments and fibers of the mosaics.

The Deesis mosaic.
The Comnenus mosaic with the Virgin Mary is standing in the middle, holding the child Christ on her lap.
I knew the building was huge, but I didn't fully grasp that until we were on the second level.
Two building, two religions, hundreds of years, one history.

Have you visited this magnificent structures before? What was your experience? Share your comment below and join me in Facebook.