Top 5 best places to visit in Istanbul, Turkey

Top 5 best places to visit in Istanbul, Turkey

Constantinople, Tsargrad, Istanbul. As only not called this wonderful city. Some of them are attracted to it by its long and rich history, others by the fact that it is a place of mixing of cultures, languages and traditions, where you can get acquainted with everyone. Either way, no matter what the purpose of your visit, Istanbul is a marvelous but huge city that you would get lost in sight without a system. So let’s go in order.

First place is the Blue Mosque.

It is advised to visit almost all travel guides. It is also called the Sultanahmet Mosque in honor of the ruler, on whose initiative it was built. According to the legend, Turkey was haunted by the failures in the war, a bad harvest year brought problems with food. Then the sultan decided that the only way to restore the country to its former glory was to appeal directly to Allah, i.e. to build the most beautiful mosque. It should be noted that the building was erected at the personal expense of Sultan Ahmet, and not, as usual, from the state treasury. Construction lasted for long 7 years, but after its completion this wonderful mosque appeared, literally striking with its grandeur. Today, every tourist can enjoy its view both outside and inside, because the entrance is free.

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First place is the Blue Mosque.

2 stop – the cathedral of Ayia Sophia.

Its uniqueness lies in the fact that it has become a place where two cultures intertwine . The first information about the Hagia Sophia temple dates back to the fourth century B.C. It was during the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Constantine. Unfortunately, the building burned many times, so it was decided to rebuild it in stone, giving it an unprecedented grandeur. In 1453, however, Constantinople was defeated by the Ottomans. First of all Sultan Mehmed II entered the temple of Hagia Sophia and proclaimed it the mosque of Ayia Sophia, and builders immediately began to change the Christian temple. They erected four minarets and plastered the Byzantine frescoes. Only thanks to this, some of them survived to this day. In the thirties of the 20th century, Turkey became a republic, and the state was separated from religion. The mosque was given the status of a temple, and the Byzantine frescoes were returned to their place, while the former Muslim decoration of the temple was preserved. So we can observe with you a truly unique phenomenon – a temple of two religions.

Top 5 best places to visit in Istanbul, Turkey - Picture 3

2 stop – the cathedral of Ayia Sophia.

3rd point of the trip – Galata Tower

It is considered one of the best viewing points in the city, and for good reason. It is 140 meters high and gives a good view of the Bosphorus Strait and the Asian part of Istanbul on one side and the Golden Horn Bay on the other. But did you know that this place has changed its purpose many times? Initially it was built in V century B.C. to observe the city borders and it fulfilled a strategic function. After that it became a saving lighthouse for seafarers and a strict prison for prisoners. The name “Galata” came to it in the 14th century with the Ottomans when they made observatories in the building. The observation deck appeared in the 19th century and since then nothing has changed in the tower, except for the elevator, which was built in the 20th century for the convenience of tourists . No matter what attracts you – whether it is the tower’s amazing history or the stunning views from the observation deck – you should definitely check it out.

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3rd point of the trip – Galata Tower

4th place – Dolmabahce Palace

It is undoubtedly one of the hallmarks of Istanbul. The patterned building with rich interiors and well-kept garden is reminiscent of the luxurious palaces of European monarchs in its architectural design.To get the best sense of the palace – you should first take a tour inside the palace, learn its history and why it is so different from the usual Turkish palaces. And afterwards, be sure to take time to take in the incredible view of the Bosphorus through the patterned gates. Standing there, you feel the incredible power and beauty of the water, you feel truly inspired. Next, you can stroll through the garden and have tea in the interesting cafe that the former greenhouse has been converted into. If some sights can still be overlooked, the Dolmabahce Palace is definitely worth a visit!

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4th place – Dolmabahce Palace

The 5th and last stop is the Maiden Tower.

It seems that every place in Istanbul has its romantic legend and this place is not an exception. According to the legend, a long time ago the city was ruled by a formidable emperor. He had vast riches, but nothing he valued more than his only daughter. One day a prophet visited the emperor’s chambers and predicted that the girl would die on her 18th birthday. The father was ready to do anything to protect his beloved child, so he built a tower on a tiny island, where he imprisoned his greatest treasure. The years passed, and every day the emperor visited his daughter, so that she did not feel unloved or lonely. But the time of unhappiness was inexorably approaching. On her birthday her father gave her a present of a basket of ripe overseas fruits, and when the young beauty chose the fruit she liked, she dropped dead, because a poisonous snake was lurking in the basket. So if you have a desire to meet the beautiful sunset with the view of the Bosphorus and to listen to a beautiful romantic story – you should get to this tower.

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The 5th and last stop is the Maiden Tower.

To wrap up the list, it’s worth saying that this is just the tip of the iceberg. Istanbul has more than a dozen more interesting places to visit, but to want to come back here – start with the most famous points on the city map.

Top 5 attractions in Istanbul

Bird's eye view photo of Istanbul

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On two seas and three empires stands Istanbul, a city of unusual travels and wayward contrasts. “A sleeping traffic light, with all three colors lit simultaneously,” was how Joseph Brodsky described the city on the Bosphorus.

Like that same Brodsky traffic light, let’s try to turn on all of Istanbul’s lights at once together, picking up cultural subtleties and tourist tricks. After all, the biggest challenge for a traveler is to make a list of places to visit.

We’ve prepared an itinerary and a list of sights to visit on a weekend or short vacation to discover Istanbul from the most unexpected angles.

First place – Sultanahmet Square

The starting point of our journey is Sultanahmet Square, the heart of old Istanbul. It is the main arena of action where the historical destinies of Byzantine, Roman and Ottoman empires intertwined. At the beginning of the first millennium a hippodrome was built here, on the square tourists can visit the Egyptian obelisk, the Serpent’s Column and the obelisk of Constantine.

On the Sultanahmet, against each other, rise two grand buildings – the Cathedral of St. Sophia and the Blue Mosque. Almost a millennium separates these two temples in time. Take a day to visit all the sights in the area.

A fresh review of Sultanahmet Square:

The square is the starting point for a tour of the old city. The square itself is so-so, but you can get to all the major sights from it. Beautiful views of the Blue Mosque and Ai Sofia. Not a lot of people. You can look at the Egyptian Obelisk (obelisk of Theodosius) – age XVI century BC, the Serpent Column – what is left of it, the Obelisk of Constantine. Better to read about these things beforehand If you duck from the square deep into the neighborhood, you can eat inexpensively. There’s a streetcar stop nearby, convenient to go further afield.

Sultanahmet Square

2nd place – Hagia Sophia Cathedral.

The Byzantine architecture temple, built in the 6th century, was both a Christian cathedral and a Muslim mosque, and later became a museum. The nearest bus stop is “Sultanahmet” and then walk a short distance.

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Hagia Sophia is difficult not to notice. From the outside the cathedral-mosque-museum looks discreet, but inside it opens like a fountain of fire. If you look closely, under the dome of the cathedral, to the right of the altar, you can find a colored stone mark. According to legends, here is the center of creation, here were crowned emperors of Byzantium.

Be sure to climb the 15-century-old stairs to the museum’s second-floor galleries and make a wish by sticking your finger through the ‘weeping column’ and turning it 360 degrees. The museum is closed to the public on Mondays and admission is charged. Go to see the beauty of the cathedral in the morning, when the flow of tourists is low.

The photo above captures this very cathedral and below you can see it from the inside.

Fresh review of Hagia Sophia Cathedral:

This cathedral is the cradle of Christianity. It was built in the 6th century, and at the time was considered a wonder of the world because of its enormous size. And the dome. It was the largest cathedral in the world until the 15th century. After it was taken over by the Muslims, they turned it into a mosque. By the way, when you are inside look at the column with the devil and the atomic explosion

The entrance fee is 60 liras.

Photo of Hagia Sophia

The Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque).

There are places worth enduring the crowds of tourists for, and one of them is the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue Mosque). It is easy to find it – it is located opposite the Hagia Sophia, on the other side of Sultanahmet Park.

The mosque is often called Blue because of the color of the patterned tiles used in its decoration. The sunlight coming in through the hundreds of windows creates a blue cosmic glow effect.

Walking closer to the center, one can admire the madness of the colors of the domes. Admire until you feel dizzy! And you can do it for free, the main thing – do not get caught at the time of prayer. Near the mosque itself there is an electronic board with the schedule of prayers, read it before you visit.

The most difficult day for tourists to visit the mosque is Friday, as on this day there are more believers than usual. Entrance to the mosque is allowed without shoes, you can not come in a T-shirt and shorts, knees and shoulders should be covered. At the entrance, scarves are offered and can be used to cover shoulders and head.

Muslim believers can enter the mosque through the main gate, others go through the south entrance.

Fresh review of the Blue Mosque:

The Blue Mosque or Sultanahmet Mosque is considered one of the first mosques in Istanbul. The mosque has six minarets: four on the sides and two slightly lower on the outer corners.

It is considered an outstanding example of Islamic and world architecture. The mosque is located on the shore of the Sea of Marmara, in the historic center of Istanbul in the Sultanahmet district, opposite the Aya Sofya Museum. The mosque is one of the symbols of the city.

Near the Blue Mosque Sultan Ahmet Camil is Sultan Ahmet Arkeolojik Park, where you can see the historic monuments Theodosius Obelisk (Theodosius Dikilitasi), Serpent Column (Ylanl Stun), and Constantine Obelisk (Orme Dikilitas).

Photo of the Blue Mosque

4th place – Topkapi Sultan Palace

Just behind the Hagia Sophia, half a kilometer away, lurks the stunning Topkapi Sultan’s Palace, the home of 25 Turkish sultans, now operating as a museum.

The palace is arranged on the principle of four courtyards and still has terraces with beautiful views of the Bosporus. Inexhaustible flow of tourists in the third courtyard – the Sultan’s Harem. Passions and violent intrigues used to boil here.

In one of the courtyards of Topkapi there is a fountain, the name of which horrifies and chills the soul – the fountain of the Executioner. Sultan’s executioners rinsed their hands and instruments in it. Sometimes the harem residents were also the guilty ones.

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The museum is open daily except Tuesdays, and tickets can be purchased at the ticket office located at the Greeting Gate. A separate ticket must be purchased to enter the harem.

Fresh review of the Topkapi Sultan’s Palace:

Go. Lots of small themed compartments. Especially go to the armory, there are not so many deadly gizmos, but mostly ceremonial weapons and armor. And it’s not mass forged for the army, it’s expensive to produce. There are three giant swords from the Hungarian campaign that are as touching as they are funny. Step into the kitchen wing, everyday life always refreshes the static picture of the palace.

The palace: an endless stream of draped, rustic-smelling, monotonous rooms. The chic stoves for heating the rooms, much better than the tiled stoves of Tsarskoye Selo. The rooms are many, they are small, poor, with somehow uncomfortable furniture. Private rooms with such short beds that it is not clear how tall the people of the time were. But it is better to see everything with your own eyes, everything has its own flavor.

Topkapi photo

5th place – Basilica Cistern

After enjoying the beauty of the Middle Ages, let’s take a leap into the distant past and descend into the Basilica Cistern, a reservoir more than 1,500 years old. Its entrance is in an inconspicuous building between the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia Museum, not far from the mile zero sign.

The cistern was discovered by chance, interested in where the fish that the locals fished out of their homes came from, through cracks in the floor.

The ceiling of the room is supported by 336 columns, the most important of which are two decorated at the base with the heads of Medusa.

The underground realm is quite cool and humid, and be careful – the floor is slippery. Allow half an hour to visit the Cistern.

Fresh review of the Basilica Cistern:

The entire experience of visiting the Cistern begins and ends at the entrance, when you look up through the entire room. It takes your breath away. Don’t miss this moment.

Next comes the dreary crowding in the dark, totally unlit, damp-smelling dungeon. Half of it was closed for renovation, so you can estimate the size of the underground vault only by implication.

But! Just before the exit, when you go up the stairs, where there is a canvas for restoration, we did this: we found a torn edge and pushed it back with an umbrella, and oh, my goodness! It took our breath away again. It’s lit up there, you can see the columns, it’s a miracle of construction when people could think for millennia.

Perhaps when the restoration is finished, they will put floodlights, pour water again, launch carp, and everything will play up. But for now, there’s not much to do there. Especially considering that bank cards are not accepted there, the museum card does not work. Only uncompromising cash. There is no point in taking photos there, the best optics won’t work.

Photo Basilica Cistern

What else to do in Istanbul

If you have already explored the main sights and still have time and energy left, then below is a list of things to do in the city.

Haggle in the Grand Bazaar

About a kilometer away from the main attractions of Istanbul, the Ayia-Sofia and the Blue Mosque, a 15-minute walk from them, is an oriental fairy tale, the famous Grand Bazaar (1461). It is called a city within a city, it is divided into 60 streets and there are more than five thousand stores.

A nice bonus of the market – you can taste the goods for free. So, after walking around the market, you will also have a good snack. Buying something at the bazaar, be sure to bargain, otherwise sellers are offended. This way you pay tribute to local customs and reduce the price of goods.

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Bazaar is closed on Sundays and holidays.

Fresh review of the Grand Bazaar:

Istrichesically the place is very interesting. It is a 10 minute walk from the center. It’s two stops on the T1 streetcar. The building is old. Historic. Inside is a tangle of streets. There are murals on the walls and ceilings. Everything is spoiled by the vendors. Very intrusive.

The prices are very high. It is worth to go out of the market and around the vein is 2 times higher. Especially for sweets. At the market it is 160 lira per kg. In the parallel street it’s 80 lira.

Go down to the Dolmabahce.

While many of Istanbul’s landmarks are within the Sultanahmet district, the Dolmabahçe Palace was erected in the Taksim district on the coast of the Bosphorus. The Dolmabahçe can be reached by high-speed streetcar from Sultanahmet, and from Taksim Square you can take the funicular down.

Dolmabahce, the second residence of the Turkish sultans, is a wonderful architectural work of Ottoman architecture of the 19th century. It was built in the neo-Baroque style.

Throne room of the palace is decorated with grandiose crystal chandelier – a gift from the British Queen. And the bear skins there are also a gift from the Russian tsar.

The palace is open all days except Mondays and Thursdays.

Fresh review of Dolmabahce:

Dolmabahce – unlike the other names, I spelled it out the first time. In a nutshell, it’s another world. It’s like Istanbul, but different. Or maybe it is the luxury that is hidden inside. Not for all eyes.

The palace was built in the 18th century by order of one of the sultans. If I’ve understood correctly, the building began with the words “I wish to have the most luxurious palace in all Europe. Such that each of the rulers would envy it” – perhaps a bit exaggerated. But one look at the gate and I remember a similar one in Milan. But it was a city gate. And here… it was kind of domestic.

And it was impossible to take more photos. But it so happened that the phone from my coat pocket clicked by itself out of shock. Apparently, so that after viewing, we could go back through the photo again, and not consider it a visual illusion.

The style of construction is eclectic-for it has both Baroque, Rococo, Neoclassicism, and Ottoman in places. All the halls have names. Some by color, some by purpose. And some by the origin of the furniture, such as the Japanese hall.

Here, if you imagine the best, in the truest sense of the word, and combined with taste and functionality, it is here. Three hours was very short for us. You have to go early in the morning. You have to see places like this in silence. The ticket includes a very good audio guide. You need to bring a document for the deposit.

From us recommendations – to look, to be, to listen to this place. The interior itself is a work of art. Until the last door. Pay attention to the mirrors – they are the cleanser of this place. In every mystical sense.

See Asian Istanbul

The Asian part of the city stretches along the coast of the Bosphorus and touches the Sea of Marmara. It is less touristy, but no less attractive. Weekdays are most desirable for excursions and visits to the Asian part of Istanbul – Kadikoy.

There are fewer visitors here and fewer of the Istanbul hosts themselves – they are at work. Once here, even a seasoned tourist is confused by the many streets of antiques, workshops, galleries, restaurants, cafes and attractions.

One also comes here for gastronomic pleasure. The promenade on the Bosphorus is dotted with fish restaurants, cozy coffee shops and boutiques. In “Asia” is one of the old Eastern markets of Istanbul, which is lost in the streets of the quarter of Moda.

Few tourists have heard of Baghdad Street, a shopper’s paradise featuring world famous brands.

Near the pillars of the Bosphorus Bridge on the Asian side of the river is the funky Beylerbey Palace made of white marble and stone, the summer residence of the Turkish monarchs. In the heart of the Strait, a few hundred meters from the Asian coast, is the famous Maiden Tower, a romantic symbol of the city.

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There are boats to the tower, the travel time is a few minutes, the ticket to the boat is also a ticket to the observation deck of the tower. Visit the Maiden Tower at sunset, in which case you will understand why the bay is called golden. And the pearl of the Asian part of Istanbul is rightly considered the Prince’s Gate.

Getting from Asia to Europe is not difficult – numerous ferries on the Bosphorus run from Kadikoy and Uskudar to Emineny, Karakey and Katabash from morning until late evening.

Listen to the silence on the Prince’s Islands

The Princes Islands, or Adalar, is the perfect place to get away from nature. Head here for the day. The islands get their name because Byzantine and Ottoman rulers used to exile disfavored royalty here.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, writers and poets have found refuge on the islands, so there is still a “bohemian” atmosphere.

The air is cleaner here, there are no cars. The main mode of transport – horse-drawn carts and bicycles. By the way, cycling requires excellent physical fitness and skill – the islands are hilly.

The most visited place is the medieval monastery of St. George on the island of Büyükada. The steep ascent to the temple is paved. Leave your bikes at the foot of the hill and walk.

Büyükada is also known that in 1930 here was found the treasure – the treasure belonging to King Philip II of Macedonia, the father of Alexander the Great.

Ferries run to the Princes’ Islands from the Asian part of Istanbul from the piers Bostandji, Kadikoy and Kartal, or from the pier of Qatabas in the European part of the city.

Photo of the Prince's Islands

Visit the Oceanarium

To make the city forever in the memory as an unusual, we suggest completing the trip with an equally striking impression – a visit to the oceanarium.

The huge facility will be of interest to children and adults, all those who love tailed, whiskered and colorful inhabitants of the sea depths. It is informative and fascinating.

The panoramic underwater tunnel overhead makes you feel like you’re walking along the bottom of the ocean, watching sharks, octopuses, stingrays and other ocean life swimming by.

Fresh review of the oceanarium:

The aquarium itself did not impress much: if you compare it to Moscow, Vietnam, Thailand or, moreover, Dubai oceanariums. This is an ordinary wander through a semi-dark labyrinth with aquariums of different sizes and degrees of openness.

The inhabitants of the aquariums are fish, shrimps and crabs from the Mediterranean and the Red Sea.

Two interesting chips: there are penguins and a slice of the rainy South American tropics with capybaras and frogs. The captions almost everywhere are not only in Turkish, but also in English. I don’t remember the price exactly, but it’s not much – like 60-70 liras. The overall impression is good.

A tasty afterword…

Istanbul is the perfect place to get lost in the cramped streets and make friends with cats, the real owners. The local population is so friendly to the cat people that a sculpture in honor of the cat Tombili has been installed in one of the districts of Istanbul.

He became famous on social media for his distinctive pose. This is a city of amazing human attitudes and humanism. You can safely return here again and again, dipping into the mysteries of the unknown and beautiful.

That’s all. Do you have anything to add about Istanbul’s sights? Write in the comments!

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