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Camellia Garden tea ceremony. Credit: KCTA

Camellia Garden tea ceremony. Credit: KCTA

It is easy to fall in love with Japan, harder to wrap your head around the place, given its culture is as intricate as it is beguiling. If you want to do more than skate over the surface, immerse yourself in some of these quintessentially Japanese travel experiences while you are there.

Eat like royalty at a kaiseki restaurant

Can a single meal provide insight into an entire culture? Yes, it can, if you are in Kyoto and the meal in question is a kaiseki banquet. During its 1,000-year reign as the capital of Japan, Kyoto developed an elaborate food culture in which every aspect of the meal, from the garnishes to the plates on which it is served, tells a story.

Today, restaurants such as Kyoryori-Manshige, now helmed by the third generation of the same family, continue that tradition with multi-course meals featuring super-seasonal ingredients and intricate tableware delicately decorated with traces of gold leaf and other embellishments.

Zen out in a garden

Japanese gardens are designed as havens of tranquillity and the Kenrokuen Garden in Kanazawa, around three hours by train from Tokyo, is acknowledged as one of the country’s best.

Walking trails winding through the 11.5 ha garden allow you to explore its many quiet corners, from the stone bridges and lakes filled with koi to its pretty viewpoints and inviting teahouses.

The garden, which dates to the 17th century, is exquisite in every season, from the plum and cherry blossoms of spring to blazing autumn colours, and even when it is draped with a snowy winter coat.

Take a trip aboard the Shinkansen

Travelling up to 320km an hour, Japan’s high-speed trains are the easiest and most comfortable way to travel around the country. For a hassle-free journey, book your seat in advance and, if you have anything larger than a carry-on bag, book a seat with oversized luggage storage — storage space on the trains is minimal, as the Japanese travel light.

If you are expecting a European-style dining car, think again. Japanese travellers allow time to buy a bento box at the station before boarding — working your way through the selection of goodies is a highlight of the journey.

Snack on street food in Osaka

In a country like Japan where superb food is available everywhere you look, there is no bad place to be when you are hungry. Perhaps the best place to be when hunger strikes, however, is in Osaka, which has a reputation as Japan’s most food-obsessed city. And the best place in Osaka to get a fit of the munchies is on Dotonbori, a strip of restaurants, cafés, and street food stalls that serves up mouth-watering treats. Must-try dishes include the stuffed pancakes known as okonomiyaki, small cakes filled with red bean paste called taiko-manju, and, of course, Osaka’s signature snack, takoyaki or octopus balls.

Soak your cares away in an onsen

Hot springs are as much a part of Japan’s landscapes as its verdant rice paddies, so it is no surprise that an entire culture has sprung up around hot springs bathing. For a deep dive into the experience, head to a hot spring town such as the picturesque Kinosaki Onsen, about two-and-a-half hours away from Kyoto.

There are no fewer than seven separate onsen within walking distance of the willow-lined canal on its main street, not to mention the al fresco foot baths. Start the day with a soak — your ryokan will supply the required robe and slippers — then spend the day exploring town, or perhaps taking a hike, before treating yourself to an evening soak as a pre-dinner relaxation ritual.

Check into a Tokyo designer hotel

With its neon-lit streets and bustling alleys, Tokyo is the city that never sleeps, so it’s important to choose a hotel that offers a cocoon of calm where you can retreat and recover after an exhilarating day.

We love the Kimpton Shinjuku for its location in one of Tokyo’s liveliest neighbourhoods, its welcoming vibe and its many clever design touches, from the sculptural light fittings to the charred wood bedheads. Even the elevator interiors have been styled up. The bustling café on the ground floor and the bar-restaurant with an al fresco terrace up the ant.

Take time out at a tea ceremony

If you think a tea ceremony is all about enjoying a quick cuppa, think again. A traditional tea ceremony is a form of meditation according to instructor Atsuko Mori, who offers an English-language experience from her 100-year-old townhouse in Kyoto.

Every movement, every sound of the ceremony — from heating the water to rinsing the cup to whisking the matcha — is designed to help you relax. “It’s about engaging your senses, enjoying the smell of the tea and every small sound. It’s like a slow dance. Everything is in flow,” she says.

Luxury Travel News / Japanese Immersion: 7 Authentic Travel Experiences / By Ute Junker  / www.luxurytravelmag.com.au/ Jennifer Bar,Tony Bar, Sedat Karagoz / Istanbul,New York Travel,Tourism News Office / Janbolat Khanat / Almaty Travel,Tourism News Office

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Very Special With İstanbul Guide / The 25 Best Things To Do İn İstanbul That Don't Cost A Thing / Turkey / By Jennifer Hattam

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With its lively streets layered with history, just walking around Istanbul is an attraction in itself. You can feast on street food for pocket change or visit the city’s marvelous mosques, markets and parks for no cost at all.

Here are the best free things to see and do in Istanbul, Turkey’s largest metropolis.

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Aya Sofya at morning twilight in Istanbul, Turkey

Reconsecrated as a mosque in 2023, Aya Sofya is now free to visit © DANNY HU / Getty Images

1. Step inside the Byzantine basilica of Aya Sofya

One of the grandest buildings of the ancient world, the Byzantine basilica of Aya Sofya has been free for visitors to enter since its reconsecration as a mosque in summer of 2023.

Its towering dome was the second-largest in the world when it was built in the 6th century and still inspires awe, with light filtering through its 40 windows to cast an ethereal glow on the building’s rich frescos, mosaics and multicolored marble. 

After experiencing these extraordinary beauties, how about eating a wonderful meal and then drinking a great coffee?

A wide view of people walking past the Suleymaniye Mosque on the Third Hill of Istanbul

Istanbul’s many Ottoman-era mosques, including Süleymaniye Mosque, are all free to visit © Darkdiamond67 / Getty Images

2. Head up to the elegant Süleymaniye Mosque

Splendid Ottoman-era mosques, all free to visit, top the historic seven hills of Istanbul’s Old City and adorn many streets. The elegant Süleymaniye Mosque is the finest of them all, with a grand complex of buildings around it and an impressive perch overlooking the Golden Horn. 

3. Visit the intimate Rüstem Paşa Mosque

Tucked away in the bustling market streets of Eminönü, the intimate Rüstem Paşa Mosque boasts wonderfully rich tile work. As with all mosques, non-worshippers should avoid going inside at prayer times, which are displayed near the entrance. All visitors must dress modestly, and women must cover their heads.

4. Take a picnic to Gülhane Park

Two favorite local pastimes are picnicking and promenading, and there are some lovely parks and gardens in Istanbul open to the public. With its stately old trees and winding paths, Gülhane Park – once part of the Topkapı Palace gardens – is particularly beautiful.

5. See the 4th-century Aqueduct of Valens

The 4th-century Aqueduct of Valens once carried water into Istanbul and is still an impressive sight, towering over a multi-lane roadway.

The Women’s Bazaar that sits in its shadow is a colorful neighborhood square lined with popular kebab restaurants.

6. Meander around the Grand Bazaar

Often referred to as the world’s oldest mall, the Grand Bazaar sprawls over 61 covered and maze-like streets. The best exploring is in the crumbling hans (caravanserais) along its fringes, where a few artisans still ply their long-practiced trades.

After experiencing these extraordinary beauties, how about eating a wonderful meal and then drinking a great coffee?

People shopping in the Spice Bazaar in the Eminonu quarter of the Fatih district in Istanbul.

You’ll find more souvenirs than spices today in the Mısır Çarşısı © Izzet Keribar / Getty Images

7. Shop for souvenirs and snacks around the Spice Bazaar

You’ll find more souvenirs than spices today in the Mısır Çarşısı, better known in English as the Spice Bazaar, but the streets around this Ottoman-era marketplace in Eminönü are a great place to get a taste of the vibrant local shopping life.

Along the bazaar, outdoor stalls are piled high with dried fruits, nuts and other edible goodies in case you need fuel before plunging into the maze of streets and hans behind it, full of shoppers buying everything from clothes to kitchenware.

8. Check out traditional and organic street markets

Traditional weekly street markets retain a loyal following, despite the proliferation of modern malls and grocery stores. The Wednesday Market in Fatih, which tumbles through the streets surrounding the Fatih Mosque, is among the biggest and best. On Saturdays, head to Feriköy for Turkey’s first organic bazaar.

9. Snap a few photos at the Kadıköy Produce Market

A stroll through the Kadıköy Produce Market, a lively strip of mostly open-air shops near the ferry port, makes for great photographic opportunities, with its colorful, carefully arranged displays of olives, produce, dried fruit and nuts, fish, cheese, pickles and more.

Very Special With İstanbul / The 25 Best Things To Do İn İstanbul That Don’t Cost A Thing / Turkey / By Jennifer Hattam / lonelyplanet.com/Sedat Karagoz / Istanbul,New York Travel,Tourism News Office / Jennifer Bar / Tony Bar / Janbolat Khanat Almaty Travel,Tourism News Office

    Exterior view of the white Church of St. Stephen of the Bulgars. There is a golden dome with smaller golden domes dotted along the roof
    Church of St Stephen of the Bulgars is one of the most architecturally unique sites in Istanbul © Caner CIFTCI / Getty Images

    After experiencing these extraordinary beauties, how about eating a wonderful meal and then drinking a great coffee?

    10. See the Church of St Stephen of the Bulgars

    Istanbul has a number of still-functioning Christian churches, many with great historical significance.

    Perhaps the most distinctive is the Church of St Stephen of the Bulgars, assembled from 500 tons of cast-iron pieces shipped in from Vienna along the Danube on dozens of barges.

    A restoration completed in 2018 has this cross-shaped basilica and its ornate interior gleaming.

    11. Marvel at the Hünkâr Kasrı, a pavilion fit for a sultan

    This private pavilion used by the sultan during his visits to the Yeni Cami (New Mosque) is resplendent with tiles, carpets, inlaid wood and stained glass.

    Access to the Hünkâr Kasrı is through a long enclosed ramp behind the mosque.

    12. Take in an exhibit at the Pera Museum

    Well-curated temporary exhibitions of contemporary art and a fine collection of Orientalist paintings by European and Ottoman artists are the draws at the Pera Museum, which offers free admission every Friday between 6pm and 10pm.

    A large ornate chandelier hangs in the middle of the Eyüp Sultan Mosque. There's a large red and blue carpet spreading from one end of the mosque to the other.


    Eyüp Sultan Mosque is one of the most sacred sites in Istanbul © Sanatkar / Getty Images

    After experiencing these extraordinary beauties, how about eating a wonderful meal and then drinking a great coffee?

    13. Make a pilgrimage to Eyüp Sultan Mosque

    One of the most sacred sites in the city, Eyüp Sultan Mosque is surrounded by grand tomb complexes and a leafy cemetery stretching up the hillside, affording fine views of the Golden Horn from the top.

    The mosque complex is said to be the burial place of Ebu Eyüp El Ensari, a close companion of the Prophet, making it an important pilgrimage spot for Muslims.

    14. Attend an event at a SALT cultural center

    Housed in the beautifully restored former headquarters of the Imperial Ottoman Bank, SALT Galata is a cultural center and library that hosts exhibitions and special events, including free talks and film screenings that are sometimes held in English.

    Its sister institution up the hill, SALT Beyoğlu, has similar programming and is worth a visit too.

    15. Soak up the scene at Beyoğlu’s art galleries

    Istanbul’s vibrant contemporary art scene is on display throughout the Beyoğlu district, particularly around İstiklal Caddesi and in the Karaköy, Tophane and Tomtom neighborhoods.

    You could easily spend half a day perusing a range of intriguing galleries and other exhibition spaces – including MeşherYapı Kredi Kültür SanatAkbank ArtDepoGalerist and Mixer – whose rotating shows can be visited for free.

    A large lake surrounded by trees and grass


    Enjoy a picnic or a leisurely stroll through Yıldız Park © Runoman / Getty Images

    After experiencing these extraordinary beauties, how about eating a wonderful meal and then drinking a great coffee?

    16. Stroll along the well-kept paths of Yıldız Park

    Well-kept paths, plenty of trees and some charming Ottoman-era mansions make hilly Yıldız Park in Beşiktaş a lovely place for a picnic or a stroll. There’s a stellar view of the city by the path leading down from the historic Çadır Köşkü, now serving as a restaurant. 

    17. See another side of the city’s history at the İstanbul Arastırmaları Enstitüsü

    From urban planning to street animals, the Istanbul Research Institute presents different, often lesser-known aspects of the city’s history through exhibitions that draw on its rich archival collection of photographs and documents.

    18. Learn something new at the Research Center for Anatolian Civilizations

    One of the country’s top higher-education institutes, Koç University supports research into the history, art, architecture and archaeology of the centuries of civilizations that have called today’s Turkey home.

    Some of the fruits of this research are regularly displayed in exhibitions at the Koç University Research Center for Anatolian Civilizations on İstiklal Caddesi.

    19. Get a peek at early 20th-century upper-class life at the Aşiyan Museum

    The sweeping panorama of the Bosporus may be its most eye-popping feature, but the Aşiyan Museum also offers a glimpse into early 20th-century upper-class life in Istanbul.

    Full of vintage furniture and photographs, this sweet little house-museum was once home to noted poet Tevfik Fikret.

    20. See the tulips in bloom at Emirgan Park

    Above the shores of the Bosphorus, pretty Emirgan Park (Emirgan Korusu) is especially lovely during the Istanbul Tulip Festival each April, when millions of bulbs planted around the city bloom in a riot of colors.

    The park has play and picnic areas, a jogging track and three Ottoman mansions-turned-cafes. It’s a popular spot for wedding photos.

    21. Head downstairs to see the Nakilbent Sarnıcı 

    Underground cisterns for water storage that date back to Byzantine times are dotted around Sultanahmet. The Nakilbent Sarnıcı (Nakilbent Cistern) was rediscovered during the building process for the Nakkaş carpet store and preserved underneath the shop for any visitors to see.

    The Binbirdirek Sarnıcı (Cistern of Philoxenos) on the opposite side of the Hippodrome is occasionally open for exhibitions and other events.

    People walking near famous landmarks Obelisk of Theodosius and Serpent Column at the Hippodrome in Istanbul, Turkey


    Historic landmarks dot the Byzantines’ ancient Hippodrome in Istanbul © IgorZh / Shutterstock

    After experiencing these extraordinary beauties, how about eating a wonderful meal and then drinking a great coffee?

    22. Wander through Sultanahmet’s historic Hippodrome

    Not much remains of the Byzantines’ old chariot-racing venue, but the historic Hippodrome in Sultanahmet is still an evocative place to take a stroll. From the southeastern corner of the Hippodrome, follow Nakilbent Sokak as it winds down to see the towering remains of the Sphendone.

    This semicircular end of the ancient stadium gives a real sense of how massive this structure once was.

    23. Go for a run or just chill out in Maçka Park

    Though less historic than some of the central city’s other green spaces, Maçka Park in Şişli is a favorite place for locals to while away a sunny weekend afternoon, with children’s play areas, a dog park and a small jogging track. 

    24. Gain insight into the Turkish bath tradition at the Turkish Hamam Culture Museum

    You won’t get a scrub, but you will get an insight into the hammam (Turkish bath) tradition at the Turkish Hamam Culture Museum, where bathing accessories and depictions of the ritual are displayed in the restored chambers of an early-16th-century bath.

    25. Spend some quiet time at the Beyazıt State Library

    The oldest and largest library in Istanbul, the architecturally impressive Beyazıt State Library is worth a peek for its multi-domed reading room and artful restoration blending old and new.

    After experiencing these extraordinary beauties, how about eating a wonderful meal and then drinking a great coffee?

    Very Special With İstanbul Guide / The 25 Best Things To Do İn İstanbul That Don’t Cost A Thing / Turkey / By Jennifer Hattam / lonelyplanet.com/Sedat Karagoz / Istanbul,New York Travel,Tourism News Office / Jennifer Bar / Tony Bar / Janbolat Khanat Almaty Travel,Tourism News Office

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      JANBOLAT KHANAT FOUNDER / GENERAL DIRECTOR/ REGIONAL MANAGER JANBOLAT KHANAT + 7 702 230 42 17 (whatsapp) NEWYORK 797 / 7th Ave, New York City, New York 10019, USA / TONY BAR / JENNIFER BAR Thank you very much for everything.Very nice to know you.If there is anything I can do please write for me... jk@wmwnewsturkey.com GSM+ 90 541 732 90 64 ( TURKEY ) ISTANBUL +7 702 230 42 17 KAZAKİSTAN jk@wmwnewsturkey.com
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