Istanbul is a city of 17 million people, capitol to more than one empire and filled with thousands of years of history. The more time you have to spare the better you’ll understand it’s culture and dynamism, but if you’re short on time this list of must-see sights should do the trick 😉
1Aya Sofya (Haghia Sophia)
One of the seven ancient wonders of the world, The Haghia Sophia was built in the 6th cc. Once a church, later a mosque and now a museum, the Haghia Sophia is adorned with Byzantian mosaics, paintings and Islamic scriptures at the same time.
2Sultan Ahmed Mosque (The Blue Mosque)
Built in the early 17th cc, at the height of the Ottoman cultural progress, this 6-minaret mosque is filled with more than 20.000 hand-painted blue tiles. Impressed? Then you might want to check out the nearby Rüstem Pasha Mosque, also known as an exquisite example of the use of blue ceramics as mosque decoration.
An ancient source of drinking water for the residents of Istanbul, Basilica Cistern was built in the 66cc and still remains as the biggest of the hundreds of cisterns paving the underground pathways of the city. It truly is a unique experience, walking above water filled with fish and an coming across an upside down Medusa head at the bottom of a column.
Initially built following the conquest of Istanbul as the “New Palace,” Topkapı Palace didn’t go old for 400 years out of the 624 years of Ottoman reign. It served as an as an administrative center and a winter residence for the Sultans and their families – hidden behind the walls of the Seraglio (Harem). While you’re there, be sure to check out the Turkish and Islamic Art Museum, the Archeological Museum and the public imperial gardens: The Gülhane Park.
5Grand Bazaar & Spice Bazaar
Istanbul was an ancient and prominent medieval silk and spice route connection. So the Grand Bazaar built by the Ottomans shortly after the city’s conquest, may well be the first shopping mall with its gigantic structure that stretches along 61 streets and more than 4000 shops. Spice Bazaar is much smaller, but it’s also been quite popular. It’s such a lively place that sells so much that if you can negotiate your way around here, you can negotiate pretty much anywhere.
6Istiklal Avenue & Galata Tower
Though Istiklal Avenue’s spark has dimmed a little since the Gezi protests, it nevertheless remains a must see with its churches side by side with mosques and synagogues. Home to many foreign embassies, always lively and its sidestreets ever-interesting, the Istiklal Avenue is filled with galleries, performance halls, restaurants, clubs and shops. Ride the “Tunnel,” the second underground railway to Karaköy or visit the Galata Mevlevi House. From there, walk to Galata Tower where a man is rumored to have flown with giant wings to the other side of the Bosphorus. Go get the idea better, you might want to take a walk towards the Galata Bridge.
The imperial palace from the late 19th century on, Dolmabahçe is the epitome of grandeur on the Bosphorus coastline. As it was also the building where Mustafa Kemal Atatürk spent his last days so it is also an important monument of the Republican era.
The best way to see the Bosphorus shore is by taking a (preferably guided) boat cruise around the Bosphorus. Its natural beauty, Istanbul’s sea-side mansions, Maiden’s Tower and other monuments will be a feast on the eyes.
Built shortly before Istanbul’s conquest by Mehmet II, the fortress has first defended the city and then it has been been used as a customs, a prison, home to a neighborhood of people, a museum and an open-air performance hall.
10Eyüp Sultan Mosque
Eyüp al-Ansari, the standard-bearer and friend of Prophet Mohammed is believed to have died during the first Arab siege of Constantinople in 670s. The mosque is inaugurated shortly after the conquest of Istanbul by Mehmet II and bears a mausoleaum marking the said-spot of his burial. It is revered greatly by Muslims and is a sight to see especially during the Ramadan months with people flooding over from very far just to join the morning prayers. While you’re there, don’t forget head go to the Pierre Loti Hill for a great view of the Golden Horn, and have some Turkish tea or coffee on the side 😉