Top attractions in Istanbul
Istanbul's strategic location between Europe and Asia on the ancient Silk Road has made it one of history's most important cities. A list of its points of interest would be long enough to bridge the Bosphorus, so here's a top 10 to make your itinerary more manageable!
In Hagia Sophia, the immense dome crowning this church turned mosque turned museum was an architectural miracle in its time, although it took a lot of trial and error to get to that point: it collapsed twice!
Also commonly known as the Blue Mosque, the fine İznik tiles adorning this magnificent structure may make it appear bluer than it actually is!
The glorious Dolmabahçe Palace dominates the European shoreline of the Bosphorus where it served as the key administrative center in the dying days of the Ottoman Empire.
Topkapi Palace, the one-time home of many Sultans, not only offers spectacular views of the city, but also houses treasures that make the Crown Jewels look like Claire's Accessories!
As early as the 1600s, Ahmet Çelebi is said to have flown across the Bosphorus from the top of the Galata Tower. Most visitors will probably be content with the incredible views!
The Grand Bazaar is one of the largest and oldest markets on the planet. A constant source of wonder, it's also one of the world's most visited places. Expect crowds at any time!
The stunning Süleymaniye Mosque was built for Suleiman the Magnificent by the great architect Sinan. If you're feeling peckish, Ali Baba across the road might be the best restaurant in town for Turkish beans!
The Spice Bazaar otherwise known as the Egyptian Bazaar was created in 1660 and remains the place to go for spices, nuts, Turkish delight, and other divine tastes and smells!
One of Istanbul's most unusual sights, Roman relics have been reappropriated by Byzantian builders to support this complex system that once brought drinking water into the city.
Perched on top of a tiny islet in the Bosphorus strait, this historic lighthouse was once a watchtower. It now also serves as a popular restaurant and café with splendid views of the city's shoreline.
Istanbul is a cartographical labyrinth with sights and experiences awaiting you round every corner. How long to stay depends on how immersed you want to get, but a week should be enough to cover the most famous attractions.
Havataş Shuttle Buses are available from outside the terminal and leave every half an hour for Taksim between 4:00AM and 1:00AM. Taking a taxi is, however, the most convenient way, and shouldn't be more expensive than the shuttle service between a group of four. Be sure to ignore the hustlers inside the airport and take an official vehicle from the taxi rank at the terminal exit.
The key touristic areas are Fatih and Taksim, and which to stay in depends on the nature of your stay. Fatih is the old town and home to many of Istanbul's historic landmarks. Taksim, on the other hand, is modern and appeals more to those visiting the city to shop, dine, and party. Traveling between the two is simple, so don't worry if you fancy hitting the dancefloors after the Hagia Sophia!
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- The weather is good at all times of the year, but it may be a good idea to avoid the summer if you do not like extreme heat.
Things to Do in Istanbul
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What people are saying about Istanbul
Thank goodness we booked the tour. Our guide took us on a route around the whole palace, including the harem, bringing each place to life as we passed through. It all took a good three hours. Imagine how long it would have taken us if we had tried to do it alone ! Much, much longer. Or, more realistically, we would have missed a lot of places and missed out on the stories and the descriptions our guide provided to really understand palace life. The guide spoke very good, well articulated, English. Ours was a small group of seven, so it was easy to keep together, hear the guide and have the opportunity to ask questions. Sadly, there are still inaccessible areas under renovation, but that didn't detract too much from the experience. Skipping the ticket queue was a great time saver as well. Just be aware that there is a lot of walking with some flights of stairs too. But it is well worth it for this fascinating attraction. Wear comfortable footwear and have a bottle of water in your bag.
I don't know where to start! Everything was extremely well organised. Everyone was very polite, always on time and very pleasant to be with. The local guides were very knowledgeable (and I am an art historian), friendly, polite, genuine. I am a woman in her 60s, I travel solo and never felt lonely or scared. I met wonderful people who shared the same tours. I could not recommend this tour enough. An amazing cultural and human experience.
Very well organized by local agency in Istambul. The cruise trip is beautiful, food average. Suggestion: the trip should start earlier, to get the views of the Bosphorous chores at sunset and then full dark. The ship sails just at 21h00, so it's a full night scenario only and it's a pitty to loose the sunset.
Best tour we've had. Easy access. Enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide who has personally researched the records of the palace and the various sultans. Gave us an understanding of how the various levels of the people and the sultans lived their day to day lives. Unfortunately no flying carpets
Mev was very pleasant, knowledgeable about history and culture of Istanbul historical sites. Very good listener and patient when questions are asked. Strongly recommend her as a professional guide! Thanks.