Mosques, Palaces and the Oriental flavor of Turkey: What to see in Istanbul for the newcomer

Istanbul Top 20 interesting places to see

Yes, you got it right!) In this article I will not touch on general issues about Istanbul (accommodation, currency, transportation, souvenirs, etc.). As a form of narration I chose to tell about those places in the city (and not only) that impressed me the most (in a good sense of the word, of course).

If you don’t see some of the planned places here – it doesn’t mean it’s not worth going there… And vice versa – if you’re not impressed by any of the listed below locations – no problem either). I do not pretend to universal approval, but only share my impressions.

To begin with it is worth noting that for any of my trips I prepare very carefully (every day is painted by the hour), and in order to get the most out of the local color, I try to walk not only off the beaten tourist path, but also look in places where a tourist foot rarely sets foot. Istanbul was no exception.

I spent the first two weeks of May 2017 in the city, and during that time I managed to see a lot of sights. I record all my locations in MAPS.ME, which is an indispensable travel assistant. MAPS.ME has the ability to share personal maps, so anyone, after reading this article can contact me in personal messages VKontakte (not in the comments to this thread!) and get a map of Istanbul with all my marks on it (and there are, as you can see, not a few).

In this article I will touch upon only the top 20 (in my strictly personal opinion) places in Istanbul. Just in case there is no gradation in importance and each of the locations listed below grabbed me in its own way.

P. S. At the end of the article there is a pleasant bonus waiting for all travelers in the form of a link to a resource with cool tours of Istanbul!

1. Süleymaniye Mosque Incredibly beautiful and the most majestic mosque in Istanbul! Fans of “The Magnificent Century” know about this place. The road to the mosque is not easy, but the grandeur of its architecture and the beautiful view of the Bosphorus and the city fully justify the effort spent on the ascent. If I had been asked to make a personal rating of mosques in Istanbul, Süleymaniye would definitely be in 1st place (may fans of the Sultanahmet Mosque forgive me).

P. S. For tourists the mosque is closed during namaz, so the best hours to see it are from 9:00 to 12:30, from 13:45 to 15:45. Entrance is free!

2. If you haven’t yet visited Üsküdar, I will try to encourage you to visit the Asian part of the city. Just a walk along the picturesque Usküdar promenade is worth the ferry ride here, if only for a few hours. It is from the Uskudar embankment in all its glory appears Kiz Kulesi (more familiar to us as the “Maiden Tower”) – a true symbol of Istanbul. The time passes unnoticed here. You can sit for hours on the shore under a warm blanket and admire the magical view of the Bosphorus. Hot tea, simitas, warm sun… and you don’t want to go anywhere, you want to stay here, listen to the waves, look at the seagulls and the ships passing by.

3. Galata Tower is one of the most popular places in Istanbul among tourists and locals alike. Instagram is literally full of pictures of this landmark. It’s worth noting right away that the view of Galata Tower itself is much more pleasant than the view from it. Climbing to the observation deck costs 25 lira (for tourists) and you get a very short impression. The same can be said about the restaurant located inside the tower – anywhere else in Istanbul will be more tasty and more fun and cheaper. But to see the tower itself up close is without a doubt worthwhile! The best time to come to Galata Square in the evening or at night, when they turn on the lights, buy a glass of freshly squeezed pomegranate juice in the Star Bufe and sit on one of the benches nearby to fully enjoy the grandeur of the beautiful Galata.

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4. Kuzguncuk Kuzguncuk is a cozy neighborly community located in the Uskudar neighborhood on the Asian side of the Bosphorus. The beauty of Kuzguncuk is its quiet streets with old carved wooden houses, small colorful window stores and grocery stores. The people here are very friendly, always smiling and maybe even inviting you for a cup of tea. Love books and coffee? Then you should definitely come here! Especially I want to mention the bookstore “Nail Kitabevi Kafe” which you won’t pass by. Once you grab a book and order your espresso, go up to the second floor to cozy up by one of the big windows. And for those who prefer to sip their drink with a view of the Bosphorus, I can recommend Çınaraltı Café, where in the shade of flat trees you can fully enjoy the solitude and maybe even catch some zen.

5. Sultanahmet Meydanı This is without a doubt the key place in Istanbul that no tourist will pass by. I was not an exception. On both sides of the square are two historical mosques – the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, which attracts cameras like a magnet. If the Blue Mosque impresses with its splendor from outside (by the way, the entrance inside is free), the Ayia Sofia on the contrary is beautiful from inside (it is included in the museum map). Plan your visit to Sultanahmet Square in the morning, otherwise you have a great chance to get lost in the crowd of tourists. By the way there is free wi-fi!

P. S. Sultanahmet Square is the starting point for sightseeing tours of the city by Big Bus Tours with an opportunity to get off at any of the stops, take a walk, and hop on the next bus for free. Cost: 33 euros (adult ticket for 1 day). Tours start at 9:00 (on the red line) and 10:00 (on the blue line). All details about the routes and costs are here. I took both lines and I can say that these tours are a great way to get to several interesting places in Istanbul that are sometimes only accessible via public transportation (which is not very convenient).

6. Arnavutköy “Houses in Flowers – Flowers in Houses” is definitely about the Arnavutköy neighborhood, one of the most beautiful places in Istanbul. It is not without reason they call it the “Turkish San Francisco”. The place is very popular among instagram users, who flock here from all over the world to take some bright pictures against the background of the famous “zephyr houses” (colorful wooden mansions in the Ottoman style). Although you won’t find any historical sights in Arnavutkoy, you can take a leisurely stroll along the promenade overlooking the yachts and the Bosphorus, and enjoy the sea breeze. There are some delicious fish restaurants here (I can recommend Sur Balik and Arnavutkoy Sosyal Tesisleri). How nice that Arnavutkoy is not listed in the main tourist guidebooks and the place is still comfortable for walking today.

7. Dolmabahçe Palace (Dolmabahçe sarayı) The Dolmabahçe Palace is one of Istanbul’s calling cards. The openwork building with rich interiors and manicured garden reminds me of the luxurious palaces of European monarchs. I visited this place already after the Topkapı Palace, and I advise you to do the same, because the experience of Dolmabahçe was much brighter. Inside the palace itself shooting is strictly prohibited, and they watched me very carefully, but I got my pair of shots of luxury (although I had to go through an excursion twice for the sake of it). Besides the magnificent interior of the palace I want to note the beautiful view of the Bosphorus through the openwork gates which like a cherry on the cake complements the overall picture of the place. Besides, not far from the crystal pavilion there is a bird house with important well-fed royal peacocks, which was also interesting to look into. And in the palace park on the very shore there is a great cafe where I had a cup of coffee with dessert with pleasure. If you can sacrifice some of the places in Istanbul due to time constraints, the Dolmabahce Palace is definitely worth a visit!

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P. S. Cost to visit the main part of the palace: 40 liras per person (with the harem 60 liras (the museum card is not valid here). Opening hours: from 9:00 to 16:00 (except for Mon-Fri and Thurs). The most convenient time to visit is before lunch or until 15-00. Reserve at least 1.5 hours for this place.

8. Istiklal Caddesi The noisiest shopping street in Istanbul with a lot of activity. I happen to live in the center of Beyoglu so I’ve walked along Istiklal Caddesi to my heart’s content. The boutiques and chocolate shops are overflowing with sweet tooths. We would like to single out the tiny Meşhur Beyoğlu Çikolatacısı shop which you are sure to pass by without paying attention to, which would be a great shame as this is a real chocolate kingdom! And even if you don’t like chocolate, it is worth a quick look. Also, it’s worth checking out one of the oldest confectioneries in Istanbul, Ali Muhiddin Haci Beqira (that’s the name). They have been making wonderful Turkish sweets here for more than two hundred years. Sadly, I did not have time to catch the famous historical streetcar, which used to be a highlight and symbol of Istiklal Street (now it is only a small piece of rails left).

What to see in Istanbul in 1 day – 15 the most interesting places

A huge metropolis that embodies the gray of antiquity and the young of modernity, beautiful Istanbul connects the East and the West. Turkey’s largest city is a tourist Mecca, attracting unique monuments, magnificent palaces and mosques. It has something to see not only for the lovers of ancient sights, but for the fans of the oriental modernity.

Istanbul remembers the names of many great personalities of the past. The former capital of three empires charming beauty of streets, squares, architectural structures. Their appearance is imprinted features of Greek, Byzantine and Roman architecture. Thousands of tourists and pilgrims come here to admire the breathtaking views. Three airports welcome hundreds of airbuses every day and the ports welcome dozens of cruise liners. For those staying here briefly, this article recommends what to see in Istanbul in 1 day on your own.

Sultanahmet Square

Sultanahmet Square, Istanbul

The historic core of the city, the beautiful Sultanahmet quarter is a hub of magnificent architectural structures from different eras and monuments. You can read the history of the great city through them. In fact, Sultanahmet Square unites two squares. One (Sultanahmet proper) occupies the area between Hagia Sophia Cathedral and the Blue Mosque. The second is the Hippodrome, built under the Roman Emperor Septimius and expanded under the Roman Constantine the Great.

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It is with these sites begins the traditional tour of the metropolis. Here modern Europeanness mixed with Eastern antiquity and Turkish coloring, creating the unique look of Sultanahmet. The well-known Hagia Sophia Cathedral, the Blue Mosque, Topkali Palace, the Egyptian Obelisk are the undoubted decorations of the square. All the 14 landmarks of the historic square are admired for their unique history, craftsmanship and virtuosity. Once upon a time everyone was amazed by the magnificent Byzantine statues and obelisks, situated on the border of the two squares.

They were brought here from all over the world as a symbol of past greatness. Today, only the Egyptian obelisk remains from them – the city’s oldest monument, a priceless artifact that symbolizes the power of ancient Egypt. Built here and the Byzantine obelisk of the Colossus, pointing to the heavens. The charm, inspired by the incredible beauty of the square decoration, remains for a long time.

Blue Mosque

Blue Mosque, Istanbul

You are looking at the unique holy place of the world, the majestic Blue Mosque. Beyond description the building was erected during the Ottoman period in the 17th century. Sultan Ahmed I, trusting in the mercy of Allah for his weakening empire, ordered the grandiose mosque to be built at his own expense.

Today, there are 6 volumes with data on the construction of the structure, indicating the unprecedented scale of 7-year construction. A year after its completion, Ahmed I died and was buried in the Mausoleum, engraving his name in the Blue Mosque. In the architectural appearance of the beautiful structure there is a mixture of styles – Ottoman and Byzantine.

The original feature – 6 minarets was the result of the Sultan’s desire to elevate the Blue Mosque in front of the Hagia Sophia. Once inside, you will gasp in admiration at the blue glow spreading over the vast space. The blue color of the Iznik tiles, with which the walls and ceiling of the hall are decorated, gave the mosque its name. Four columns holding the dome are also faced with tiles with floral ornament. The floor, decorated with bright carpets in gray-red tones, creates a major background.

The street light streaming through the 260 windows enlivens the fantastic picture. You can go inside any day except Friday, during the hours when there is no namaz. Require adherence to the dress code: women in headscarves and closed clothes, men – in long pants.

Hagia Sophia Cathedral

Hagia Sophia Cathedral, Istanbul

Not far from the brainchild of Ahmed I you can easily find another architectural masterpiece in the Byzantine style. The greatness and power of Byzantium and Turkey is reflected in this monumental structure, built on the hill of Artemis 1.5 thousand years ago. The creation is based on the legend of the appearance of an angel to Emperor Justinian. In his hand the messenger of God held the project of the extraordinary temple. Yustynian spared no expense and the result was a magnificent structure that amazed everyone by its complex architecture and splendid decoration.

Ephesian and Lebanese columns, the altar decorated with precious stones, and the magnificent mosaics of the Orthodox shrine delighted the Russian ambassadors. They persuaded Prince Vladimir to embrace Orthodoxy. However, after the fall of Constantinople (1453), the new ruler, Sultan Mehmet ordered the cathedral to be converted into a mosque. Four minarets were erected, the mosaic finishings were painted over, and the walls were covered with dressed camel skins.

The texts of the Koran were written on the skins in gold letters. Until 1935 the Ayia Sofia was the second biggest Muslim shrine after the Kaaba. When K. Ataturk came to power by the decree he gave the status of a museum to the Hagia Sophia. You will see amazing mosaics depicting Christ, the Virgin Mary, a carved marble minbar and a pulpit. You’re likely to notice that there’s a line lined up to one of the columns. These are those who believe they can be healed by touching it with their foreheads, as happened to Justinian.

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Basilica Cistern.

Basilica Cistern, Istanbul

On Sultanhamet Square there is a unique sight – an ancient water reservoir of the 4th-6th centuries that amazes with its grandiose scale and perfect design. The construction of the Basilica began during the reign of Constantine and was completed during the time of Justinian in 532. It used aqueducts to bring water from springs in the forest of Belgrade.

It went on through a skilfully equipped aqueduct. Since the 14th century the water storage was no longer needed, and it was forgotten about for a long time. It was not until 1987 that the Basilica cistern was cleaned, restored and made into a museum site. If you thought there was nothing of interest in the former reservoir, you would be wrong. Once inside, you can’t help but admire the grandiose beauty of the fantastic structure. Rows of powerful columns (there are 336 of them) 8 meters high are impressive.

They are arranged in 12 rows, consisting of 28 columns in each row after 5 meters, forming many long corridors (145 m). The 4-meter thick walls, made of fire-resistant brick covered with a waterproofing layer, are striking. Walking near the “Column of Tears”, you will see the drops – tears – flowing from it. The legend of the captive beauty in the dungeon is connected to the tears. If you drop a coin into the “Wishing Pool” and look into the eyes of the stone Head of Medusa, your wish will come true.

Topkapi Palace

Topkapi Palace, Istanbul

The largest museum in the world, a unique architectural complex – Topkapi Palace is spread over an area of 700 thousand square meters. All the unique structures are located in four courtyards, in fact, Topkapi is a mini-city inside the metropolis. It was built during the reign of Mehmed the Conqueror, who conquered Constantinople. On the Sarayburnu Cape was the castle of the Byzantine emperor, which had almost collapsed by the 15th century. It was here that it was decided to erect a symbol of Ottoman power.

At first the residence was used for official receptions and meetings, but under Suleiman the Magnificent the complex was given to the harem headed by the favorite wife of the Padishah Roksolana. After the formation of the Turkish Republic, Topkapi was converted into a museum. In the courtyard of the Janissaries the main attraction is the Imperial Gate. During the Ottoman period the sultans used to enter through this gate and go out on Fridays for namaz to Aya Sofia. Passing through them today, one can conclude what resources were invested in the marble doors and the facade painted in gold letters.

Of interest here is the ancient church of St. Irene, a remnant from the Byzantines. The 2nd courtyard is famous for the Gates of Welcome, with a crenellated top and 2 towers. Of particular note is the Council building and the towering Tower of Justice. The Gates of Happiness, ornamented with 4 columns and a wooden dome, enter the courtyard. The magnificent gardens, terraces, mosques and the whole palace complex are admirable.

Gulhane Park.

Gulhane Park, Istanbul

Next to Topkapi is an oasis of floral wonders, the beautiful Gulhane Park (House of Roses). Once it was part of the palace complex and was only accessible to members of the sultan’s family and his courtiers. The name “House of Roses” is not accidental: tens of thousands of roses turn the summer garden into a colorful carpet. A kaleidoscope of tulips covers the lawns in spring and the forget-me-nots blaze like a blue flame in winter.

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It’s hard to resist the landscape beauty of Gulhane without gasping in delight. During the Ottoman era there were pavilions among the trees here, many of which were destroyed by a fire in 1863. After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire Gulhane Park became a public place where mass festivals and various events were organized. Gradually everything here fell into decay and the garden was closed until the year 2000.

Three years there was an intensive restoration of the architectural and park complex, and in 2003. “House of Roses” again opened its arms to delighted visitors. Restored footbridges, 300 elegant benches, wonderful terraces, plenty of flowering shrubs delight the guests. Numerous trees supply the air with ozone, and the flower beds are an aesthetic delight.

Grand Bazaar

Grand Bazaar, Istanbul

Since ancient times the Bosphorus was the main trade route and therefore it is natural that the former Constantinople has a symbol of lively trade – the old (1461) Grand Bazaar Market. Enter its rows and the eastern fairy tale of Aladdin’s magic lamp comes to your mind. Fairy variety of goods is able to satisfy any wish – here you can buy everything you want.

Grand Bazaar became the shopping Mecca of the world in 2013, visited by more than 91 million tourists. It is located next to the main attraction of the city – the Blue Mosque, which makes the market convenient to visit. Unlike its western counterparts, the Grand Bazaar is closed on Sundays. Over the centuries, the bazaar has burned many times, but rose again from the ashes, continuing to flourish and ringing with coins.

The scale of the territory is impressive – covered galleries occupy an area of 30.7 thousand square meters. m. On it there are 62 streets, 12 mosques, 18 fountains, 18 gates, many pavilions and other institutions. All can not be bypassed in a short time, just walk a few meters to feel the special oriental flavor and to get an exotic souvenir. There are special maps with signposts that help you orient yourself in the vastness of the space.

Egyptian Bazaar

Egyptian Bazaar, Istanbul

Another bazaar that deserves your attention is the Egyptian Bazaar or Spice Market. It is located in Pl. Eminenyu where the T1 streetcar runs from the Blue Mosque. In 17 minutes you find yourself in a fantastic world of oriental colors and fragrances. The market for the spice trade was established by order of the Sultan’s mother in 1597-1664 on the site of a small city bazaar. It was named Egyptian because Indian spices were shipped through the Bosphorus Strait through Egypt.

Despite repeated fires and earthquakes, the spice bazaar managed to survive and blossom with renewed vigor. You can enter the central entrance from Yeminenyu Square, and there are a total of 6 of them in the covered pavilion of the market. A day they let in tens of thousands of visitors, many of whom are tourists. The enormous L-shaped building can accommodate up to 100 stores. Each of them amazes with a variety of spices of different colors, smells and shapes.

Not everyone has ever seen such a huge range of spices and spices, which are offered in the Egyptian market. Even just walk along the shelves, breathing in the incredibly pleasant smells is a pleasure. And if you can afford to buy some rare spices, it is a double pleasure.

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