Istanbul with Suleymaniye Mosque during sunset.
Istanbul with Suleymaniye Mosque during sunset.

A cultural melting that has a 2,500-year long history, the largest city in Turkey is also its most cosmopolitan. A city like no other, situated where Europe meets Asia Minor, Istanbul dazzles, mesmerizes and surprises. Home to around 14 million people, the metropolis is vibrant and dynamic while being respectful of its cultural and historic heritage. 

Amazing sunrise at ortakoy mosque, istanbul
Amazing sunrise at ortakoy mosque, Istanbul

The capital of three empires – Byzantine, Roman, and Ottoman, the Istanbul we know now is one of the biggest cities in the world and the cultural and financial center of Turkey. Combining the old with the new, Istanbul manages to create a stunning mélange of experiences. 

Most visitors come to Istanbul for its old city and plethora of museums and monuments but once they arrive here they fell in love with the city’s frantic pace of 21st-century life, classy shopping centers, and chic cafes. An important art and music scene, where you’ll find countless hip bars, posh nightclubs, and designer fashion outlets, Istanbul will keep you busy for many days. 

Shopping for Persian Rugs in Istanbul
Shopping for Persian Rugs in Istanbul

Discover the Sultanahmet

The tourists’ experiences gravitate mostly around the Sultanahmet and the city’s fascinating museums and landmarks. Wander through Sultanahmet to discover the city’s history. This part of the city is home to the most important attractions of Istanbul. 

Colorful houses in Istanbul street, Fener area
Colorful houses in Istanbul street, Fener area

Aya Sofya is the most iconic site in Istanbul and one of the most majestic churches in Christendom. Built by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian in AD 537, this architectural masterpiece is a testament of the Byzantine Empire’s wealth, talent, and glory. Formerly known as Hagia Sophia, this Christian church was converted to a mosque when the Ottoman armies conquered Constantinople. Adorning Istanbul’s skyline with a fabulous 56 m high dome, gold-daubed mosaics, and Ottoman medallions, Aya Sophya is one of the most beautiful buildings in the world.

View of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey
View of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey

Built by Mehmet the Conqueror in the 15th century, Topkapi Palace features sumptuous salons, opulent courts, and elegant pavilions that were once the scene of all the decision-making in the Ottoman Empire. The sultans of the Ottoman Empire ruled from this glorious palace until the 19th century. 

The spectacular Blue Mosque is a grandiose architectural gem built between 1609 and 1616 by Sultan Ahmet. Its name comes from its beautiful interior adorned with tens of thousands of Iznik tiles. One of the finest masterpieces of Ottoman architecture, the elegant Blue Mosque is a true vision of beauty.

Touristic boats in Golden Horn bay of Istanbul and view on Suleymaniye mosque, Turkey
Touristic boats in Golden Horn bay of Istanbul and view on Suleymaniye mosque, Turkey

Cruise across the Bosphorus

Cross the Bosphorus Strait to Istanbul’s eastern shoreline and you’ll find yourself in Asia. Here awaits the district of Kadiköy, home to a bustling street market scene and a burgeoning nightlife. The district is also known for its fine dining venues and good shopping options. Going on a cruise across Bosphorus is one of the greatest pleasures of Istanbul, so book a ferry trip and enjoy a full, short or moonlight cruise. 

Dried fruits at the bazaar
Dried fruits at the bazaar

Shop at the bazaars

The Grand Bazaar is as popular as Aya Sophya for many travelers who come to Istanbul. This is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, home to more than 3,000 shops rich in jewelry, carpets, ceramics, furniture, and souvenirs. Occupying a whole city quarter and surrounded by thick walls, the Grand Bazaar can be considered the world’s first shopping mall. The bazaar has no less than 11 gates that lead visitors to a labyrinth of laneways, shops, and stalls.

The Egyptian Spice Bazaar is considerably smaller than the Grand Bazaar but as frantic and lively. This is where tourists come to shop for dried fruits, nuts, tea, Turkish Delight and, of course, spices. Try to arrive here before 11 am or after 4 pm to avoid the ridiculous large crowds of visitors.

Oriental turkish lamps and lanterns exposed into a red bazaar at Istanbul market
Oriental turkish lamps and lanterns exposed into a red bazaar at Istanbul market

Cross the Galata Bridge 

The neighborhoods that await across Galata Bridge, the bridge that connects the north and south of European Istanbul, are home to more splendid sights of Istanbul. Here you’ll discover the iconic Galata Tower, the former watchtower of the city that rewards visitors with superb views of the city, and the decadent Dolmabahce Palace, the biggest palace in Turkey. 

The sumptuous Dolmahace Palace was built by Sultan Abdülmecid I in 1854 to replace the Topkapi Palace as the main residence of the sultans. Its interior boasts rich decorations of European influences, mixing Rococo, Neoclassical and Ottoman elements with French-style furniture, superb frescoed ceilings, and mammoth crystal chandeliers. 

Don’t miss a visit to Chora Church

Chora Church is situated a bit out of the way but it’s worth the effort. This marvelous Byzantine church converted to a mosque is now a fascinating museum that displays a fabulous collection of Byzantine art. The interior is covered with beautiful frescoes and the most stunning mosaics in Istanbul.  

Chora church in Istanbul. Ancient Byzantine church with unique mosaics and murals
Chora church in Istanbul. Ancient Byzantine church with unique mosaics and murals

The church is located outside the old Constantinople’s walls. The first Chora Church was probably built in the 5th century. However, what you’ll have the chance to admire today is the building’s 6th reconstruction, home to 14th-century mosaics and an outstanding example of Byzantine artistry. 

There are so many reasons why travelers return to Istanbul. And it’s not only because the city is home to unique sights and amazing shopping and dining venues. 

Istanbul is a city where you can still feel the ghosts of Crusaders marching on its alleyways while having dinner at fine restaurants; a city where the Sea of Marmara creates an amazing setting for a relaxing holiday while the busy Bosphorus Strait remains an important and busy maritime trade center; a city with a skyline dotted with domes, minarets, and medieval towers that have nothing against sharing the space with modern office buildings and residential structures. Istanbul is the place where east meets west and creates a beautiful collage of influences and experiences!