Making a must-visit list for Istanbul is unfortunately about eliminating rather than compiling. Still we have such essential spots that turning back home without seeing them may result in regret.
Desired by empires across the centuries, located on both Europe and Asia, Istanbul is one of the world's greatest metropolitan areas. Founded around 1000 BC, the city preserved its glory. Istanbul is liberally scattered with dazzling remnants of its long and remarkable history, and the sightseeing here will inspire every single visitor.
Where to start your sightseeing? Of course, Sultanahmet, the very heart of the old city... For those who are interested in time travel, here is a both historic and aesthetic treasure on your way. With a museum pass you can visit many spots such as Hippodrome, famous Hagia Sophia, The Blue Mosque, Topkapı Palace, and Basilica Cistern. Like a package program, a Sultanahmet tour is ensuring you are given a scenic experience in each place.
Once the centre of the city, Hippodrome is a great spot to start your day. Keep in mind that Hippodrome is not standing any more. Even so, you can have a look at the obelisk, German fountain which is gift from Wilhelm II and serpent column standing on this area.
Your second step is Hagia Sophia, which was constructed by Roman Emperor Justinian I in the 6th century. It was used as a mosque before converted into a museum in 1930s. Hagia Sophia’s superb mosaics and excellent architecture should not be missed.
Right across Hagia Sophia, it is impossible to ignore the glory of famous Blue Mosque. The mosque is considered one of the main symbols of classical Turkish architecture and Islamic art. The Blue Mosque dates back to 17th century. What makes this beautiful building significant? Maybe because it originally has six minarets and this makes it unique in Turkey. After enjoying the impressive outside, visitors are often surprised by almost 20,000 blue tiles decorating the ceiling and amazing interior details. We promise, the beautiful mihrab will take you away.
In line with Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, there is a large palace that was once the home of Ottoman Sultans: Topkapı Palace. The palace, converted into a museum, is now a large complex with Harem, imperial council, halls, many rooms, privy room, and chamber of holy relics. It’s also possible to see Hagia Eirene, the first church of Christian Roman Empire.
For the last step of Sultanahmet tour, it will be a great joy to see a secret underground gem: The Basilica Cistern. A giant construction built to supply water to the city. Discover the cistern’s history while stepping into its wooden paths surrounded by large fishes and remarkable Medusa head.
It won’t be wrong to say Galata Tower is one of the most famous images of Istanbul. Standing near Karaköy quarter and looking across the Golden Horn, you will immediately see it rising beautifully high among other buildings. The tower is a symbol for the history and culture of the region. You can climb up Galata Tower and enjoy the impressive view. Try it on a snowy day, you won’t regret!
Note on your mind, there is a wonderful place in European side to drink Turkish tea, with a perfect Golden Horn view of course. In Eyüp, you can visit Pierre Loti Hill, a magnificent area with a historical graveyard including tombs of many sultans, pashas, authors, and famous people, as well as nice restaurants and souvenir shops around. You can climb the hill passing by the tombs or take the cable car and enjoy the view. Below, don’t forget to visit Eyüp Sultan Mosque, which is a beloved spot for Muslims.
Here is a warning: do not leave Turkey without a Bosporus tour. In such a city where geography and culture blend each other in the most fascinating way, you would like to take a ferry cruise. Sailing between two continents with a comfortable yet nostalgic ferry, passing near the excellent historical waterfront mansions and breathing the clear fresh breeze of deep blue waters, taking tons of photos of authentic face of Istanbul….
5.Grand Bazaar & Spice Bazaar
If you are into shopping, and are wondering about a very historical and authentic shopping area you will adore you should be in Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar. Starting with Eminönü, it’s easy to spot Spice Bazaar, the city’s largest food market. Also known as Egyptian Market, Spice Bazaar is offering a great variety of spices, delicious nuts, dried fruits, lokum (amazing Turkish delight) and traditional flavours that you cannot easily find anywhere else. Tastes all the flavours? Now let’s see the Grand Bazaar!
Chaotic, mystic, colourful, crowded, and impressive passages with hundreds of stores… You’re in the Grand Bazaar. It has been the city centre for centuries. The bazaar originally started as a vaulted warehouse. Then turned into a huge closed-market area with labyrinthine lines. Stroll these mysteries lines, watch artisans at work, drink cups of Turkish tea and discover the art of bargaining!
A prophet tells the Byzantine emperor that his daughter would be killed by a snake at the age of 18, and this prophecy causes the young princess to be put in a tower built on a rock so that no snake could take her life. But can you escape your destiny? Well, the princess couldn’t too. At the end, a snake hidden in a food basket, somehow, arrives to the tower and the poor young princess dies due to snakebite. As might be expected, this tower is very famous today. Turned into a well-known and classy restaurant, the Maiden tower has full Bosporus view. The tower is located off the coast of Üsküdar. You can see people drinking tea and watching the tower, and the seagulls gliding around. Just take your camera and enjoy the unmatched scenery.
Don’t expect to spend a couple of hours in the Prince Islands, just save your whole day. The islands have so much to offer to its visitors. The Princes’ Islands are a group of nine islands in the Sea of Marmara. They used to be a place of exile during the Byzantine era, later turned into a popular destination for tourists and Istanbulites to take a break from the chaotic life in the city. Not nine of the islands are popular, only four are open to the public: Burgazada, Heybeliada, Kınalıada, and Büyükada, the largest and most popular one. Some words to describe the islands: silence, peace, bicycle bells, carriages, pine forests, wooden historical cottages, and no motorized vehicles…