Draped in layers of history and culture, Istanbul explored dazzles and mesmerizes. A bustling metropolis that never sleeps, Turkey’s biggest city is also its economic, financial, and cultural heart. More than 15 million people call Istanbul home and the country’s most fascinating sights and interesting tales are told within its borders. However, as surprising as this might sound, Istanbul is not the capital of Turkey. Even though it was the capital of Byzantium, when it was known as Constantinople, and the nucleus of the Ottoman Empire, the country’s capital is currently at Ankara.
Nevertheless, tourists from all over the world flock to Istanbul to discover the city that lies on two continents. Istanbul enjoys a spectacular position being situated at the confluence of Europe and Asia Minor. The city where east meets west, Istanbul is a cultural melting pot, rich in history and amazing attractions. More than 2,500 years of history await to narrate their stories and a plethora of spectacular Byzantine walls and churches and Ottoman mosques and palaces are eager to unveil their secrets. Cosmopolitan and pulsating with energy, Istanbul is one of the biggest cities in the world, so put on your comfortable shoes and start your fantastic Turkish adventure.
Things to see in Istanbul
A trip to Istanbul gravitates around its spectacular old town – Sultanahmet, an area that encapsulates Istanbul’s rich history and houses some of the most popular attractions in Istanbul. No first-time Istanbul trip is complete without visiting places like Ayasofya, Basilica Cistern, Topkapi Palace, and the Blue Mosque. A tour of these impressive things to see in Istanbul will help you understand the city’s incredible history and give you the opportunity to admire breathtaking architectural masterpieces.
Istanbul’s glory started as Constantinople, the capital of Byzantium and the Byzantine Empire, becoming Istanbul only in the 15th century when it fell to the Ottomans. The Ottomans metamorphosed many of the Byzantine churches into Muslim holy places and one of the most striking examples is undoubtedly the Hagia Sophia, once the largest church in the world, and currently the most beautiful mosque in Istanbul. Built in AD 537 by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian, the Church of Divine Wisdom reigns supreme over Istanbul’s skyline with a mammoth 56-meter dome and its timeless beauty.
Discover the underground world of Istanbul Explored with a tour of the Basilica Cistern, also known as the Sunken Palace. Another creation by Emperor Justinian, the Basilica Cistern was built in AD 532 as a reservoir for the Great Palace. Visitors will discover pools inhabited by carp in one of the most atmospheric sights in Istanbul. With a ceiling worthy of a cathedral and 336 marble columns, many brought here from pre-Christian temples, the Sunken Palace is a magical attraction.
Across from Hagia Sophia awaits the most opulent and largest mosque in the city, the colossal Blue Mosque. Adorned with six slender minarets and gorgeous domes, this majestic architectural gem was built during the reign of Sultan Ahmet I. The mosque’s beauty is striking and impossible to forget, especially due to its superb blue Iznik tiles and more than 250 windows that invite the light in to caress its interior.
Complete your Sultanahmet tour with a visit to the Topkapi Palace built in 1453, soon after Mehmet the Conqueror conquered Constantinople. Once the residence of the Sultans, the palace is an example of Ottoman opulence and extravagance illustrated through several buildings embellished with lavish salons, pavilions, and courts, as well as a labyrinthine harem and a superb Treasury.
Things to do in Istanbul
If you can do only one thing in Istanbul this has to be shopping at one of its many bazaars. Forget about malls and trendy boutiques for a moment and head to the Grand and Egyptian Spice Bazaars. The Grand Bazaar is one of the oldest and most popular bazaars in Istanbul, an overwhelming covered market that dates back to 1461 and houses no less than 4,000 shops and hammams (Turkish baths) and tempts visitors with a spectacular variety of merchandise. From leather goods and jewelry to ceramics and souvenirs, if you can imagine it, you can buy it from the Grand Bazaar.
The Egyptian Spice Bazaars is smaller than the Grand Bazaar, housing only around a hundred shops, but its main advantage is the abundance of tempting goodies available. Here you’ll find various treats, from spices and nuts to tea and Turkish Delight.
Don’t leave Istanbul Explored without crossing the Galata Bridge that connects the old town with modern Istanbul (Beyoglu). This magnificent two-story-high bridge takes you to attractions such as the Galata Tower and Dolmabahce Palace, as well as offers beautiful views of the Sultanahmet. The neighborhoods that await across the bridge are a charming mix of old and new. While the Galata Tower enchants visitors with superb views of the city, the Dolmabahce Palace prides itself as being the biggest palace in Turkey. The area is also home to Istiklal Caddesi, the most fashionable street in Istanbul.
Admire Istanbul from the Bosphorus strait on a scenic cruise. Bosphorus separates the European Istanbul from the Asian Istanbul and makes for an idyllic setting for a day trip. Șehir Hatlari, Istanbul’s official ferry company, welcomes visitors with three Bosphorus Cruises – full, short, and moonlight, amazing experiences that reward passengers with splendid views of the city.
The ferry will take you to Kadiköy from where you can explore the trendy Asian side of Istanbul. Not as famous nor as fascinating as the European side, this facet of Istanbul is atmospheric and relaxed inviting travelers to find their way through a maze of restaurants, cafes, and bars, and admire modern neighborhoods and contemporary residences.