The former capital of Turkey is fascinating, vivid, unique, and among the best city breaks. The old city preserved all its ancient charm while the modern area has developed around it. With lots of mosques and thrilling monuments, this city captures everyone's soul and stomach. So if you wish to wake up feeling like you traveled in time, hop off to Istanbul and its old city. However, if you are more into contemporary architecture, cross over to the other side, where an urban city awaits you. So let's look at the top ten list of best things to do in Istanbul.
10. Archaeological Museum
The Archaeological Museum is the first Turkish museum, founded in 1891. Moreover, it's the most important, consisting of more than one million artifacts. Yet, that isn't strange considering the great conquests Ottoman Empire had during its reign. So to keep all the treasury, it consists of three museums - the Archaeological Museum, the Tiled Kiosk Museum, and the Ancient Orient Museum.
Among the rich collection of Turkish, Roman, and Hellenistic artifacts stands Alexander Sarcophagus, once prepared for the mighty warrior Alexander the Great.
9. Galata Bridge And Galata Tower
Galata Bridge stretches over the Golden Horn. You can catch the city's most impressive views from the bridge at sunset or at night when the Mosques are lit. Moreover, this is one of the favorite walking touristic routes, packed with food vendors, restaurants, and bars underneath the bridge.
The beautiful Galata Tower from the 14th century was once a jail and a fire watchtower for spotting fires. Today this is the best viewpoint in the city, with restaurants on its upper floors. Galata Tower is also used as a museum with exhibition areas.
8. Taksim Square
Urban Taksim Square is the central part of modern Istanbul, packed with restaurants, hotels, and shops. Moreover, this is where Istiklal Avenue ends, but it is also a stop for nostalgic Istiklal Caddesi Tram. Today it is a leading transportation hub in the city. On Taksim, all major shows are held, such as all significant public concerts, parades, New Year's Eve celebrations, etc.
Dominating the square is the Independence Monument honoring the formation of the Turkish Republic and the Turkish Independence War. Next to Taksim is a beautiful Gezi Park, perfect for resting and observing vivid city life. Moreover, there are two charming neighborhoods from the square. These are Cihangir – known for excellent coffee, and Cukurcuma – prized for its antique shops.
7. Istiklal Avenue
This pedestrian street is the busiest in Istanbul, filled with boutiques, cafes, restaurants, pubs, nightclubs, and much more. Therefore, this is one of the places to visit in Istanbul at night. Moreover, 0.87 miles long (1.5 km), Istiklal Avenue is surrounded by gorgeous buildings from the 19th and early 20th centuries. One of the boulevard's attractions is a historic İstiklal Caddesi Tram with three stops on the crowded pedestrian street.
The trams used to be the primary transportation way back, but this old line was revived in 1990 as a tourist attraction. The Avenue hosts parades and festivals, including the International Istanbul Film Festival – the oldest of its kind in Turkey.
6. Dolmabahce Palace
An impressive Dolmabahce Palace represents a perfect blend of traditional Ottoman architecture with a European style influenced by Baroque, Neoclassical, and Rococo. Settled at the Bosphorus coastline, this is one of the most beautiful places in Istanbul, often compared to the Versailles Palace for its beauty. The exterior is stunning, occupying over 11 acres. Moreover, the interior is also marvelous, holding the world's largest Bohemian crystal chandelier.
This was the Ottoman Empire administrative center and the residence of six sultans from the mid-19th century till the beginning of the 20th century. The last resident was Ataturk, the founding father of the Republic of Turkey, who died here in 1938.
5. Cisterna Basilica
Way back, the underground cistern provided water for the Topkapi Palace. This lovely cathedral-size cistern lies underneath a large public square. Today, it holds just a bit of water and is a tourist attraction. However, it's a different ambiance once you step into it, as the dimmed lights give this ancient place some magical atmosphere. The ceiling is supported by marble columns made in Ionic and Corinthian styles. Some columns were brought here after the conquest, so the setting is unique.
One of the main attractions is two column bases with carved Medusa's heads. These were brought here after some defeat and placed upside down and sideways. There are many theories about it, but more likely, the placing was done only to support the columns.
4. Grand Bazaar
Opened in the 15th century, the Grand Bazaar represents one of the world's oldest and largest covered markets. Today this is a city within a city, as among shops is a police station, post, prayer places, restaurants, cafes, and even a hammam.
This vivid place is one of the most visited tourist attractions in Istanbul with a long tradition. Therefore, haggling is almost obligatory here. Moreover, you can find the best souvenirs, such as spices, ceramics, rugs, and jewelry, and get a pretty low price if you know how to bargain. Furthermore, besides the shopping, the place is quite interesting as all the fuss and the colors of the products make it eye-catching.
3. Topkapi Palace
During the 15th and 16th century, Topkapi Palace was the administrative headquarter of the Ottoman sultans and their primary residence. This place consists of four main courtyards and a few additional buildings. Moreover, it includes a harem where the women of Sultan's family lived.
After the glory period, the Palace lost its importance, as the Sultans from the 17th century preferred to live in the palaces on Bosphorus. So at the beginning of the 20th century, Topkapi became a museum attracting many visitors. The main allure is the intrigue about life back then with eunuchs and up to 300 women in Sultan's harem.
2. Blue Mosque
The Sultanahmet Mosque, also known as Blue Mosque, is one of the most impressive landmarks in Istanbul. This gorgeous structure was built between 1609 and 1616 on the remains of an old Byzantine palace. It has six minarets surrounding it and is still active and closed for tourists during prayers.
Blue Mosque is named after the hand-painted blue tiles used for decorating the interior. Moreover, the decoration is quite interesting, with many stained-glass windows, ornaments, impressive chandeliers, and floors covered with carpets. The Mosque is lit up during the evening, gaining an even more impressive look. Therefore, it's one of the best places to visit in Istanbul.
1. Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia or Ayasofya has a turbulent past and perhaps the future. It was built in 537 and was the largest church in the Byzantine Empire. Later, in the 15th century, minarets were added to the church. Finally, it was repurposed as a mosque before it became a museum in 1935. However, this use didn't last long, as in 2020, it was again altered into a mosque.
The interior of Hagia Sophia is impressive and like no other. It represents a collision of two religions, so you can see remnants of Christian and Muslim religious influences inside.
While we've done our best to capture it, there is much more to Istanbul than this top ten. That's why you'll have to explore a bit more if you visit it for more than a few days. We can only tell you, you will be satisfied, as the city has a lot to offer. We didn't even scratch the surface of Turkish cuisine's delicious food and beverages. These we'll leave to our drinks and food section, so keep on reading!
Have you ever visited Istanbul? What did you like the best? Please leave your impressions in the comment section below.
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Menna Jay Says:
This is such a massive city, and now it looks much better than a few decades ago. It feels much cleaner and better for tourists.
July 01 at 03:13:00 PM
Exactly! I went for a five day shopping trip, and felt like I missed so many things.
July 12 at 01:05:27 PM