Istanbul is very well known as the most visited tourist attraction in Turkey. If you have heard of the term Constantinople or Byzantium while dusting off your history books, then did you know these were the ancient names for Istanbul?
Where is Istanbul?
Istanbul is located in the northwest of Turkey. The city has its presence in the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea. Therefore, it is greatly influenced by Europe, Asia, Thracia and Anatolia.
What to do in Istanbul?
Though the Istanbul population is more than 8 crores, this bustling city is a heaven for tourists, who are in dire need of a pleasant Turkish vacation. Thus, spanning over two continents, Istanbul is filled with tourists throughout the year.
Istanbul tourism is a wholesome package for everyone who sets their foot here. From getting pampered in Hamam to the long-forgotten Turkish delights in the Turkish streets, you certainly get everything that you name here.
Most importantly, if you haven’t planned a visit to Istanbul, it’s high time to do so. Istanbul tourist attractions are going to make you special in every little way. Get all prepped up to get an experience for a lifetime, you are in a unique land of cultural diversities, exquisite mosques, rich history and delicious Turkish cuisine.
See the transformation of Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya) in Istanbul has undergone several transformations from an orthodox Christian cathedral to a museum. The Hagia Sofia museum shows the influence, Christianity had over Turkey. Therefore, this was the largest cathedral in the world for close to a millennium. This is the best Istanbul attraction out of the lot. You wouldn’t find a tourist, who would have missed out on Hagia Sophia in Turkey’s Istanbul.
The main highlight of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul is the stupendous dome and the magnificent mosaics that still amazes the greatest architects. It had to be converted to a Mosque since Islam was the religion of the Ottoman Empire. Hagia Sophia definition is ‘Holy Wisdom’, it was derived from Greek, where Sophia means Wisdom.
Get dazed at the Blue Mosque
This incredibly huge Istanbul mosque is also known as Sultan Ahmed Mosque. This is a massive structure made up of 5 domes and six slender minarets.
Istanbul’s Blue Mosque’s interior is a sight to behold with more than 20,000 handmade blue tiles. This is the reason for the mosque to get its unofficial name, Blue Mosque. The courtyard that’s the biggest than any other ottoman mosque and the voluptuous curves make it an endearing watch for all the tourists.
The Sultan had his ideas incorporated into the building of the Grand Mosque of Istanbul.
As per the Islam tradition, you are supposed to cover your head, therefore try getting the scarves provided outside the Blue Mosque. You can wrap your head with it.
Only worshippers have their entrance through the main gate, whereas visitors can use the south gate of this Istanbul mosque. This is done to maintain the sanctity of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul.
Loiter around Grand Bazaar
Grand Bazaar is the most visited tourist attraction of Istanbul. Please don’t forget to visit here, because if you want an authentic feel of a Turkish bazaar, you definitely need to be here.
There are more than 3000 shops in this Istanbul market, covered in yellow. More than 400,000 people visit here every day in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar.
The lovely lanterns, hand embroidered rugs, and meticulously done silver jewellery are at your disposal here. This place in Istanbul is a heaven for the tourists who are craving for the actual Turkish Bazaar experience. Usually, the shop keepers beckon you to have a cup of their famous apple tea and samples of the delicious Turkish delight.
If you are looking to grasp some beautiful souvenirs of Istanbul there is no other place other than Grand Bazaar. You get souvenirs of different forms and sizes here in Istanbul. Kindly make sure to put on your bargain hat.
Get the Turkish aroma from Spice Bazaar
Inhale the aroma of Turkish spices at the Spice Bazaar of Istanbul. Also known as Misir Carsisi, this Turkish bazaar envelopes every spice of the world.
From candies, dry fruits, different flavoured tea to the yummiest Turkish delight, you get everything under the sun here in this big spice market of Istanbul. This is one of the largest and busiest Istanbul bazaars.
Your heart might beat fast when you have your grip on the delicious Turkish delights from Istanbul’s Spice Bazaar. Do not head back to your hometown without tasting it, because if you don’t, you are going to regret it forever!
If you are coming straight away from Grand Bazaar, then you might be familiar with ‘Bazaar Bargain’ in Istanbul’s markets. Make sure to bargain and get your way.
Some of you might still be wondering about what is a bazaar? It is a middle eastern term for the market.
Witness the splendid Topkapi Palace
Topkapi Palace in Istanbul was the primary residence of the Ottoman Empire for more than four centuries. This Turkish palace was reconstructed by Mehmed, the conqueror, after conquering Constantinople. Now it is open to tourists of Istanbul as Topkapi palace museum.
The Topkapi Palace had many renovations over the years. Later, most of the Sultan’s preferred living in their palaces along the Bosphorus. Consequently, the court was moved to Dolmabahce Palace of Istanbul. The women of the King’s family lived in a separate building called ‘Harem’.
After the end of the Ottoman Empire, Topkapi was transformed into a museum in Istanbul.
This Sultans palace is famous amongst Istanbul tourists for their massive rooms, 86 carat Spoonmaker’s diamond and several other incredible objects too. Some consider the courtyard very similar to the castle courtyards. You will also get to find the amazing collection of weapons, religious artefacts and jewels.
Relish on some Turkish Coffee or a Turkish Apple Tea
Am sure we might have had Turkish coffee from restaurants all over the world. But nothing can beat the feeling of having a steaming cup of Turkish coffee from its country of origin. The coffee is rich in aroma and one of the best coffees you could ever ask for.
If you have missed your Turkish coffee while visiting Istanbul, don’t worry you can prepare it at home with so many, ‘How to make Turkish coffee videos’, hosted by famous chefs on Youtube.
Tea is also an inevitable part of Turkey. It runs alongside the Turkish culture. Therefore, almost every shop keeper in Istanbul offers you tea with a warm smile. Please make sure to say yes to it, so that they don’t feel offended.
Feel two continents by cruising in Bosphorus
Did you know that the Bosphorus strait that separates the city, connects the Black Sea to the Marmara Sea? There are two suspension bridges here in Istanbul. Numerous boats pass through the sea all the time. The Bosphorus Strait is 32 km in length dividing the country into two, Europe and Asia.
So get all set to have your presence felt in the two continents. Cruise your way through Bosphorus sea in Istanbul and get a wonderful panorama of the city. Get a complete view of several old monuments of Istanbul, such as the Dolmabahce and Beylerbeyi. Some people have been so fortunate to witness dolphins while navigating through the Bosphorus Sea.
So many public cruise boats offer two hours tour and some even offer an entire days tour of Bosphorus Sea. Try to book a three-course dinner cruise, which gives you great entertainment in the form of Turkish folk dance and traditional Turkish music in Istanbul.
Know the history of Basilica Cistern
Basilica Cistern is one of the major tourist attractions of Istanbul. It got its name since the cistern was underneath the Stoa Basilica, the greatest squares on the hill.
This water cistern is in walkable distance from Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque of Istanbul. It has a great role in the history of Istanbul. It was constructed using 336 columns and stored more than 80,000 cubic metres of water.
The Basilica Cistern in Istanbul was built to rectify the shortage of water supply in the city. After going through years of negligence, this Istanbul Cistern was renovated and opened to tourists in 1985. The tourists of Istanbul descend through the underground stairs and use the walk trails to explore this mysterious cave. If you have been trying to beat the summer of Istanbul, the cool interiors of Basilica Cistern are gonna help you with the heat.
Get a great view from Galata Tower
For years, Galata Tower continues to be the Turkish representation in Istanbul. This Turkish tower is located in the Galata Quarter of Istanbul. Therefore, it is known worldwide as the Galata Tower. But the locals have given it a Turkish name called ‘Galata Kulesi’.
If you have been thinking it is a recent construction in Istanbul, you are wrong! The Galata Tower was constructed hundreds of years ago. Thus, it is a medieval structure and made completely of stones. The cone-shaped cap beautifies the tower in Istanbul and makes it unique in every little way.
The Galata Tower of Istanbul is 9 storeys high and gives spectacular views of the city. Mainly, people prefer to get the brightly lit night view of Istanbul city. If you want to munch some snacks or get refreshed with a drink, grab it from the restaurants inside the Galata Tower.
This Istanbul Tower is clearly visible from any part of the city. If you are close by to the Bosphorus Sea or Golden Horn, you can visit the famous attraction of Istanbul from the Galata Tower, very easily.
So now if you have a drink in your hand and have taken some time out of your hectic schedule, it is the best time to relax and marvel the city from the top of the Istanbul Tower.
Gaze at the Magnificent Chora Church
The Chora church is open to tourists in Istanbul as a museum. It is known in Turkish as the Kariye Muzesi. The full name of the church is ‘The Church of the Holy Redeemer in the Fields’.
The building was dedicated to Jesus Christ during the great Chora Monastery. It was part of the Eastern Roman Empire. Since, it is situated outside the city walls, of the 4th-century walls of Constantine the Great, it was accorded with the name ‘Chora’. The name ‘Chora’ means ‘outside the city’ in Greek.
Unfortunately, the Istanbul tourists aren’t that lucky to get the glimpse of the original Chora church of Istanbul. The present building would have undergone at least 5-6 renovations in the past, due to frequent earthquakes. This Istanbul church museum was originally known as the Holy Saviours Church.
The tourists of Istanbul can get a stunning view of the Chora church interiors, adorned with turkey mosaics and frescoes. Some people affectionately call this Chora Chuch, ‘The Mosaic Museum of Istanbul’. The Chora Church stands out because of the beautiful Byzantine art depictions of Mother Mary’s life in chronological order. After the conquest of Constantinople, the Ottoman Empire converted the Chora Church to a mosque and named it Kariye Camii.
Explore the Dolmabahce Palace
Dolmabahce Palace is the latest of all the palaces in Istanbul. It is situated along the European shore of Bosphorus. The Ottoman Sultans lived here and made sure all the government activities and conventions took place in this Turkish Palace. Later it was known as the Presidential Palace of Istanbul.
The Sultan of Ottoman Empire, Sultan Ataturk, passed away while residing in this palace.
The Domalabahce Palace’s interiors are known to have European architectural styles since it was designed by American architects, Garabet Amira Balyan and his son Nigogos Balyan. It is embellished with 145 tons of pure gold, 131 handmade silk carpets and 6 Turkish baths.
This Istanbul palace is well-famous for its Bohemian Turkish chandelier which was gifted by Queen Victoria of England. It has a reputation for being the largest crystal chandelier in the world. Many other world leaders too gifted the palace many bearskin carpets and expensive gifts, which contributed to the overall opulence of Dolmabahce.
Now, it is open to tourists as the Dolmabahce Palace Museum of Istanbul since 1984. For this reason, the globe trotters from all over the world flock to this palace to witness the sheer extravagance.
Get absorbed in a Whirling Dervish Ceremony
Are you pondering on what is a Whirling Dervish Ceremony? This dance form got its name from the great poet and Sufi master, Mevlana. This is not a mere Sufi dance performance. It is a religious performance, which talks about the relationship between God and man. So, it is better to refrain from talking or leaving your seat in between the show. Try not to flash your cameras too.
So are you now in Istanbul and wondering where to watch the best Sufi Whirling Devilish Ceremony? I can guarantee you that nothing other than the performance in Galata Mevlevi Museum, can give you the authentic feeling of a soothing Whirling Dervish Ceremony in Istanbul. The show takes place every Sunday at 5:00 pm. In case you cannot make it on Sundays, do not worry. Try to see a performance at Tekke in Faith district on Thursdays.
Unfortunately, you cannot pre-book a show here. You have to wait at the counter well in advance to purchase a ticket.
Immerse yourself in a Traditional Turkish Bathhouse
A bathhouse or ‘Hamam’ as they call in Turkish, is a tradition followed in Turkey. This dates back to thousands of years. It was mainly a place to mingle with others and cleanse the bodies. The architecture of Turkish Bathhouse is unique and mesmerizing. It is mostly covered in marble with a dome.
It would be quite strange if you know that you will be walking around naked or topless in Istanbul’s bathhouses. There are separate cubicles for men and women. You will have to go through rooms of varying temperatures and take a dip in their hot pools. Take your sweet own time to relax in the steam rooms. You are going to feel the cleanest by the time you reach the end of the procedure. Do not forget to tip your masseuse because its a custom practised since long in Istanbul, Turkey.
Enjoy the Istanbul Nightlife
Not everyone knows about the thriving Istanbul nightlife. However, just like the nightlife of Bangkok, Istanbul too has a lively and vibrant nightlife. It gives people the options to select from the best, based on their budget and lifestyles. Therefore, if you are searching for live music clubs in Istanbul where the local artists render the Turkish songs, the best option would be Babylon at Taksim Square. You get almost everything you need for a proper nightlife in Istanbul. From award-winning 360-degree rooftop bar to award-winning beer brewery in Bosphorus, you have the best here in Istanbul.
If you have been wanting to go to the night clubs visited by celebrities, then you have Reina. It is one of the trendiest clubs in Istanbul. Celebrities such as Uma Thurman, Salma Hayek, Paris Hilton have graced this club with their presence.