Istanbul is a top city in Turkey that has much to offer travelers from around the world. With a population of over 15 million people, this diverse city is spread across two continents (Asia and Europe). Its glorious historic past that dates back to the Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman periods is what delights travel enthusiasts. The historical monuments and landmarks, modern and ancient architecture, and the hospitality and simplicity of this enchanting city are what make it an ideal destination for many. With something new to offer every time, Istanbul tourism has really picked up pace in the last few years. Come let’s discover the best of the city with this complete travel guide for Istanbul.
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A Brief History Of Beautiful Istanbul
The history of Istanbul probably started as early as 3000 BC. Throughout history, this magnificent city had three different names. What started as an Ancient Greek city with the name Byzantium, went on to be named Constantinople after the Roman emperors and eventually, the official name became Istanbul. Because of the mix of Greek, Roman, and Turkish cultures, it is difficult to distinguish the cultural and architectural features. Though Istanbul became a part of the Republic of Turkey in 1923 it was overlooked. In the 1940s and 50s, Istanbul reemerged and started growing rapidly and still continues to do so. Today Istanbul is a modern city that remains true to its historic heritage where one can experience the union of the East and the West.
8 Most Popular Tourist Places In Istanbul
Istanbul is known for its history, culture, cuisine, and many places to see. With so many best places to visit in Istanbul, it might be difficult to decide what to see and what not to. From mosques to churches, from atmospheric old neighborhoods to the world’s best structures, here’s a list of the best Istanbul attractions.
Hagia Sophia, also known as Aya Sofya, is one of the renowned structures of Istanbul Turkey. It is a masterwork of Roman engineering that was built between 325 to 330 C.E. Initially Hagia Sophia was built as a Christian church but in 1453, when the Ottomans took over Constantinople, it was turned into a mosque. So inside this amazing wonder, one can see the elements of Christian and Islamic religions. In 1935 Hagia Sophia was converted into a museum and was made open to the public. One needs two hours to tour the entire building. Visitors can go through the Imperial Gate to the central nave to see the 107 beautiful columns, majestic mosaic-covered ceiling, and its beautiful architectural style. The building is so beautiful that some people even call it the eighth wonder of the world.
Just beside Hagia Sophia is the Blue Mosque which was constructed from 1609 to 1616 to surpass the size and beauty of Hagia Sophia. The mosque, built by Sultan Ahmet integrates some Byzantine Christian elements of Aya Sofya and the elements of traditional Islamic architecture. It got its name because of the handmade iznik-style blue tiles used to decorate the walls of its interior. The Blue Mosque which was built in the early 17th century is an active house of worship today. Due to this the mosque is closed for tourists during the five daily prayer times, hence plan accordingly. The little beautiful elements like five main domes, eight secondary domes, six minarets, Mihrab, Pulprit, stained glasses, and blue ceramic tiles all add more beauty to this priceless treasure. Entry is free, however, there are particular rules one must follow when entering a mosque.
The Basilica Cistern, constructed in the 3rd century is just a few steps away from the Blue Mosque. The dark, chilly, and mysterious underground Cistern is one of the city’s ancient reservoirs. It has been providing the residents of Istanbul with water since the sixth century. Today, it is kept with little water so that the general public can access the place. Fifty-two steps carved out of stones take one into the entrance of the Basilica Cistern. The underground chamber of 9,800 square meters has a capacity of holding around 80,000 cubic meters of water. An entire load of the cistern is supported by 336 columns mainly Ionic and Corinthian styles with some exceptions of Doric styles. The technology used by the ancient Romans to build this architectural wonder will astound all. A visit to the Basilica cistern is one of the best places in Istanbul to visit.
The Chora Church also known as the Church Of The Holy Savior was built in the 11th century. It is famous for its frescoes and mosaics that portray the life of Jesus Christ and Mary. This Greek Orthodox Church is described as one of the most beautiful works of Byzantine architecture. In the earlier days, it was a monastery, 50 years later, it was converted into a mosque and then it was converted into a museum in 1948. Sultan Bayezid II who converted the church into a mosque covered all the mosaics and frescoes with plaster for centuries due to the belief in Islam that did not allow its people to worship in front of the Byzantine frescoes. Some of them were destroyed in earthquakes and some of them fell off and decomposed. But with the help of American funds and donations, most of the artwork was restored.
Covering an area of 45,000 square meters, Dolmabahce Palace is the largest palace in the whole of Turkey. Beauty, comfort, and luxury are the adjectives used to describe Turkey’s most glamorous palace. It was built along the Bosphorus coastline in the European styles of Neoclassical, Baroque, and Rococo along with a blend of traditional Ottoman architecture. It was built in the 19th century as a residence for the Sultan and his family. Dolmabahce Palace consists of 285 rooms, 46 halls, 6 baths, and 68 toilets. This Palace also holds the world’s largest “Bohemian Crystal Chandelier” which is in the ceremonial hall. Expensive stones such as Marmara marble, Egyptian alabaster, and porphyry from Pergamon were used to add more beauty to the palace. Gifts received from various state leaders and expensive paintings are used for the decoration of the walls and floors of the palace.
Istanbul Archaeological Museum
The Istanbul Archaeological Museum is located in the Eminönü quarter of Istanbul, near Gülhane Park and Topkapı Palace. A combination of three museums together: the Archaeological Museum, the Ancient Orient Museum, and the Tiled Kiosk Museum is the Istanbul Archaeological Museum. All three museums are located in the same garden. Besides being the first Turkish museum, it is also one of the world’s largest museums. A collection of over 1 million objects from the Greek, Roman, and Byzantine artifacts is safely kept here. Precious artifacts like the Crying Women Sarcophagus, Tabnit Sarcophagus, Alexander Sarcophagus, Brankhit statues of the Sacred Way of Didim-Miletus, the Kore and Kouros statues, the Lion Statue of the Halicarnassus Mausoleum, the head of Aphrodite from the famous Pergamon Zeus Altar, and the portrait of Alexander the Great are few of the great collections.
To get a 360-degree view of the historic town of Istanbul, climb the 67 meters high Galata Tower. It is the ideal place to see Istanbul’s skyline and the surroundings from a different perspective. Galata Tower was built in the mid-14th century to spot fires and was also used as barracks, and a dungeon. The medieval tower was originally named the Tower of Christ which was the tallest building in Istanbul when it was built. The tower has been reworked and today you will find a café, restaurant, and nightclub up here. Entertain yourself with a Turkish show or enjoy a traditional Turkish coffee with mouth-watering baklava at the Pierre Loti Café. Book yourself a walking tour and explore the neighborhood that has narrow cobbled streets and scintillating vistas. One of the best Istanbul places to visit where you can spend the entire day having fun.
Eminonu is the transport hub where buses, rail, tram, and ferries connect. It is also a departure point for some cruises and ferries. Located between Galata Bridge and New Mosque, Eminonu Square is the main attraction area for locals and tourists. This place is always busy and chaotic as it is the hive of activity all day long. Streets are filled with salesmen, bargain-hunting shoppers, commuters, and singing beggars, however, at night it is quite a deserted place. One can enjoy a stroll in the market area, visit mosques, check out Istanbul’s cuisine at famous restaurants, or catch a ferry to take in the scenery. If you are a history and architecture buff, this is the place for you. Eminonu Square is the most inspirational square in the World as it has the ability to understand and share the feelings of the others.
Top 6 Things To Do In Istanbul
Get An Elaborate Turkish Bath
A Turkish bath or hammam is a public bathing place where one can cleanse the body through the medium of water or steam. The entire process happens inside an elaborate structure with great ancient architecture. Many tourists visit Istanbul just to get the famous Turkish bath, there’s something mystical about it. You can go there either as a couple or as a family or just by yourself. The transcendent experience throughout the oil massage and the invigorating body wash have captured the hearts of visitors and locals alike. There are plenty of hammams that are open until late at night to help you unwind after a busy day. This is without a doubt one of the best things to do in Istanbul.
Go On A Guided Walking Tour
There’s no better way to explore a place than by taking a walking tour with guides who are passionate about their city. These guides are the best people who can take you through the culture, history, food, and local life of Istanbul. The walking tours which will be of a duration of 2 to 3 hours will take you through all the top highlights of the Old Town. If you want to explore on your own, download the app ‘GPSmyCity’ which comes with a detailed tour map as well as background information on featured attractions. The best part is, this app works offline too. There are many free walking tours that offer services with English-speaking guides.
Book A Bosphorus Dinner Cruise
The Bosphorus cruise runs right through Istanbul and the beauty of this place at night is something to be marveled at. The Asian and European sides can be experienced at their best with this cruise. If you are lucky to get a ride to Golden Horn, then do not miss seeing the famous places in Istanbul like the Blue Mosque, Topkapı Palace, the Hagia Sophia, and the Galata Tower at night. After this, you can relax and unwind with a romantic dinner on the cruise. Turkish night shows with some great Turkish instruments and belly dancers are good enough to experience the nightlife of Istanbul on the shores. It’s a great way to spend a romantic evening!
Experience A Whirling Dervish Show
Whether it’s your first time here in Istanbul or your second time, attending a whirling dervish show is a must. Whirling dervish which originated in the 13th century is a mystical dance journey of man’s spiritual ascent to perfection. You can watch the whirling dervish show in several places, such as Mevlevi Lodges, Galata Mevlevihanesi, Hodjapasha, or on a dinner cruise. This complex musical repertoire is so good that it’s sure to leave a mark on any viewer’s soul. In 2005, the UNs’ cultural body, UNESCO, proclaimed the dervishes’ ritual a masterpiece of “the oral and intangible heritage of humanity.”
Shop At The Grand Bazaar
Grand Bazaar is a colorful massive 15th-century market. In the heart of Istanbul lies the world’s oldest and largest covered market. The market space sprawls over an area of 30,700 square meters and has over 4,000 shops lined along 62 covered lanes. A range of shopping items like carpets, ceramic items, Jewelry, furniture, clothes, leather goods, exotic spices, traditional confections, different types of teas, food stalls, and much more are here for sale. You can also shop for antiques and home décor items to take back home. Grand Bazaar is a hub of the world’s trade and commerce along with being a true representation of Istanbul’s culture and historic past.
Relish On Some Mouthwatering Turkish Cuisine
The Cuisine is so good that it can make you come back to Istanbul city over and over again. It has an influence from the Ottoman Empire, Central Asia, the Balkans, and the Caucasus. Due to its diverse food culture, there are many delicious and unique foods to choose from. From legendary street foods to traditionally cooked delicacies, and sophisticated restaurants to amazing cafes, there is no shortage of options for every palate. Istanbul’s favorite dishes like simit, kofte, baklava, and borek are a must-try. There’s no better place than Istanbul to enjoy the rich diversity of Turkish cuisine. If you are ready to exercise your taste buds, head to this dynamic city.
Things To Know Before You Visit Istanbul
It’s always nice to know a little bit about the place before traveling anywhere. So, here’s a list of things to know before you go:
- Avoid visiting Istanbul during the summer months as it can get really hot and dry during this season.
- As there are many museums in Istanbul, get yourself a museum pass from any of the historical sites or online to avoid waiting in long queues.
- To make your trip easier, download travel apps to make traveling around Istanbul easier.
- Learning a few Turkish words and speaking to locals in their local language will make them happy.
- Though all venues and shops accept credit/debit cards, it is always advisable to carry some local currency.
- Make sure you carry travel insurance as it is mandatory for all foreign visitors to Turkey.
- Istanbul has multiple airports, hence use the Havabus shuttle service to travel between Istanbul’s airports.
- Some websites like Booking.com, Wikipedia, and PayPal are banned in Turkey, so do all your research before you get here.
- Keep away from protest sites to avoid endangering yourself.
- Avoid drinking water directly from the tap as the water here is not clean enough to drink.
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Each place has a story to tell and these stunning Istanbul tour places will make you want to come back for more. Discover the best of this vibrant and bustling metropolis with our guide to the best places to go in Istanbul and do share your experience with us in the comment section below.
Istanbul is famous for its over 2500 years of history, amazing landmarks, breathtaking views, and vibrant nightlife.
The trip from Istanbul to Cappadocia is approximately 9 hours (735 kilometers).
One or two days is enough to cover all the major attractions in Istanbul, however, if you are looking for a more leisurely visit, then three days are enough.
Baklava, Manti, Doner Kebab, Kofte, Kumpir, Lahmacun, Turkish Seekh Kebab, Iskender Kebab, Kuzu Tandir, Pide, Yaprak Sarma are some of the traditional Turkish foods.
The famous Hagia Sophia Mosque is free for entry, but donations are welcome.
The best time to visit Istanbul is between April to June and between November to March as the weather in Istanbul is perfect during this time.
Beyoglu, Fatih, Adalar, and Beykoz are a few of the many best Istanbul cities.