Located where Europe and Asia collide, Istanbul holds the best of both worlds. An amphitheatre of rich history, crystal blue sea and buzzing markets, Istanbul is split by the Old Town and New Town. Old Town possesses all the treasures of the past, while the New Town celebrates the present and the future. As a nation that’s straddled three empires across its history(that’s Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman) the city’s museum pass definitely comes in handy. Find out here what there is to do in Istanbul.
1. Blue Mosque
The Blue Mosque is an imperial mosque located in Istanbul’s Old Town. The Mosque’s blue Iznik tiles blend seamlessly with the clear sky, earning its title as the Blue Mosque. According to seamen, it was also fabled to have reflected the blue sea.
The mosque was built during the 17th century as a symbol of the Ottoman Empire’s power. It has five main domes, six minarets and eight secondary domes. The interior of the Blue Mosque holds a kaleidoscope of beauty; including an enchanting blend of traditional Islamic features and Byzantine designs. It welcomes hundreds of visitors a day but still functions as a place of worship. If you miss the chance to visit in the daytime worry not, you will notice the lit up blue mosque during the night.
2. Hagia Sophia
After reading about the Blue Mosque, the image of Hagia Sophia might cause a double take. Sitting side by side on the hillside of Istanbul’s Old Town are the sister mosques. But the Hagia Sophia is indeed different to the Blue Mosque. Hagia Sophia is the older of the two and has gone through a series of transformations. It was originally a cathedral built in the 6th century, evident through the mosaic art inside, before becoming a mosque. In 1934 it became a museum and recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Today, it has finally settled into a functioning mosque. At Hagia Sophia you will get to experience Byzantine architecture in its full glory.
3. Topkapi Palace Museum
Topkapi Palace Museum showcases the imperial collections of the Ottoman Empire and an impressive archive of manuscripts and literature. Not only is the museum a fascinating place to browse, it is a beautiful spot to stroll. The stunning architecture is only complimented by its seafront location and the lush garden that brackets the building.
4. Galata Tower
Galata is a Romanesque watch tower located in the centre of Istanbul, the Beyoglu district. If you want epic views of the city and the Sea of Marmara, this is the place to go. For a quick history lesson, the original Galata Tower was brought into existence in 528 prior to its destruction in the crusades. A updated Galata Tower was made during the 14th century before being adapted again by the Ottoman Empire. The tower goes through several evolutions before its final form we see today. You can discover more about its historical layers in the tower’s museum.
Balat is one of Istanbul’s trendiest and coolest neighbourhoods. Full of colourful houses, trendy cafes, charming antique shops and interesting historic buildings, Balat is the perfect place to spend the afternoon going for a wander.
6. Bosphorus Boat Cruise
Istanbul has no shortage of canal or seashore and you shouldn’t be afraid to use it. The Bosphorus is known as the strait of Istanbul and is where Asia and Europe meet. A boat cruise on the Bosphorus offers a panoramic perspective of Istanbul and a chance to relax on the crystal sea. The sloping landscape of Istanbul means you can see superb views of almost everything listed here.
7. Grand Bazaar
The Grand Bazaar is regarded as the oldest shopping malls in the world and the chaos has not ceased for centuries. Here you will get lost in a maze of merchants selling carpets, ceramics, lamps, jewellery and more.
8. Sultanahmet Square
The Sultanahmet Square is also known as the Hippodrome of Constantinople. In fact, Istanbul was once known as Constantinople. The square platformed chariot races, gladiator games, ceremonies, public disputes and more. In the centre of the square, an Egyptian obelisk proudly stands. The obelisk was brought over in 390 AD from Egypt by the Byzantine emperor Theodosius I. As one of twenty nine Egyptian obelisks in the world, this is an absolute must see.
Experience Istanbul yourself in a small group tour with the help of a local guide as your eyes and ears. Discover the unique bustling city of Istanbul on our Turkey tours here.