Istanbul, the ancient city where East meets West, where Asia meets Europe. The former capital of the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires, Istanbul attracts visitors from all over the world who come to admire the art and architecture, relax in the Turkish Hammams, visit the city’s bazaars, enjoy the vibrant nightlife, and eat the delicious Turkish cuisine. Its rich and fascinating history makes Istanbul a “must-see” destination and a discovery to overcome the prejudices of kebab and minarets.
Let’s have a look at the best things to do in Istanbul:
Cruising the Bosphorus Strait is great way to see some of the most popular sites in Istanbul, like the Dolmabahçe Palace, Çiragan Palace, and the Rumeli Fortress on the European side, and the Beylerbeyi Palace on the Asian side and Ottoman waterfront mansions on both. The cruises also pass under the Bosphorus Bridge, the bridge that connects the two continents. Sightseeing cruises of varying lengths depart from morning to night. You can easily join one at the Eminonu harbor, close to the old city. We recommend you to take the 2hrs short version, to keep the rest of the day for other discoveries.
Oldest shopping mall in the world dating back to 15th century, The Grand Bazaar is one of Istanbul’s most-visited attractions not only for tourists but also for locals. Contains 61 streets and over 4,000 shops where you can buy everything from jewelry to hand made Turkish carpets. The market is also a living complex with its mosques, restaurants and is still a trade center for the city.
Don’t expect to be in an organised environment but more in a chaotic labyrinth. Be ready to bargain for everything!
Hagia Sophia & Cistern Basilica
Among all, Hagia Sophia is the most exquisite and inspiring monument in marvelous Istanbul. Commissioned by the great Byzantine emperor Justinian, consecrated as a church in 537, converted to a mosque by Mehmet the Conqueror in 1453 and declared a museum by Ataturk in 1935. Hagia Sophia outruns the rest with its innovative architectural form for its time, rich history, religious importance and extraordinary beauty.
Just across the road is the Basilica Cistern, locally known as the Underground Palace, which was built during the Byzantine Empire in 532, to supply water to the Great Palace of Constantinople and the nearby buildings. The largest surviving Byzantine cistern, it was constructed using 336 columns, recycled from structural ruins and other building projects. Among which you’ll admire the one with the upside down medusa head. The cistern’s symmetry and space perception are quite breathtaking, and it offers a great escape during hot summer days.
Hammam Experience (Turkish Bath)
After all that walking, exploring and sightseeing, a real Turkish bath experience is the best way to unwind and relax in Istanbul. Make an appointment at Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamam and let yourself be washed and massaged. After that you’ll just want to take siesta and be ready for the next adventure.
Topkapi Palace & The Harem
The royal residence of Ottoman Sultans from 1471 to 1856, 25 rulers lived in this grandiose palace spread into 4 courtyards. A visit to the palace’s opulent pavilions, jewel-filled Treasury and sprawling Harem gives a fascinating glimpse into their lives.
The most colorful part of the palace complex, the Harem was the private apartments of the Sultan and his family. We highly recommend you to visit this private area and spare at least 2hrs for the entire palace visit.
Galata Tower & Pera
Built by the Genoese Colony during Byzantine times, Galata Tower served as a watch tower the trade roads over the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus. It now offers a great view over the old city and to 2 continents. Don’t forget to get your camera with your for the outstanding scene.
With few more steps up the hill, you’ll reach the Grand Rue de Pera, locally known as Istiklal Street. A pedestrian street lined with boutiques, art galleries, bookstores, cafés, nightclubs, and restaurants, Istiklal Caddesi sometimes sees up to three million visitors in one day! Admirers of architecture will enjoy the wide range of design styles from the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Located in the Besiktas district, the Dolmabahçe Palace has been used as a residence by six sultans and the first president of the Republic of Turkey, Ataturk, and was an administrative center during the late Ottoman Empire. Hand-woven silk carpets cover the floors and the high ceilings are decorated with gold. One of the world’s largest crystal chandeliers hangs in the Ceremonial Hall, where important ceremonies were once held. More than 200 paintings from international artists hang on the walls of the palace.