Here are just a few of the city’s highlights if you have the opportunity to explore Istanbul during your stay – please contact Istanbul Convention and Visitors Bureau if you would like more information.
The Galata Tower
The Galata Tower stands high above the northern shores of the Golden Horn, providing breath-taking 360 degree views of Istanbul and the Bosphorus, it is a must to visit this attraction. You’ll discover a restaurant and a café on the upper floors which again boast spectacular panoramic views. Two elevators carry visitors from the lower to upper levels of this medieval stone tower.
An important monument for the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires, Hagia Sophia is a true architectural wonder displaying a fantastic array of domed roofing and four striking minarets. Beginning as a church, it was transformed into a mosque and now functions as a museum; it has always been regarded as the pride of its era. Istanbul has hosted a number of civilizations, Byzantine and Ottoman being the most prominent, and Hagia Sophia is a flawless combination of these two cultures under one colossal dome.
The Grand Bazaar
The Grand Bazaar stands as one of the oldest and largest covered markets in the world, offering an abundance of fabrics, accessories and antiquities. Be sure to visit in the morning or evening to find the best deals and always come prepared to haggle. The bustle of 240,000 to 400,000 visitors a day ensure you will not be shopping alone and the atmosphere and experience created by 61 covered streets hosting 3,000 shops will never fail to amaze.
For 400 years of their 624-year reign, the Ottoman Sultans primarily resided in the beautiful Topkapi Palace. At the end of the Ottoman Empire in 1921 the palace was repurposed as a museum of the imperial era by government decree in 1924. This impressive complex has hundreds of rooms with only the most important being accessible to the public; the palace is guarded by armed guards of the Turkish military as well as officials from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. It houses huge collections of weapons, armour, shields, manuscripts and murals as well as fine examples of Ottoman architecture.
Sultan Ahmed Mosque
The Sultan Ahmed Mosque, also more popularly known as the Blue Mosque, aptly named for the blue tiles adorning the interior walls. Another architectural masterpiece that rivals even Hagia Sophia has become a popular tourist destination. Taking 7 years to complete from 1609 to 1616 during the reign of Ahmed I, like many mosques it contains a hospice and a tomb of the founder. The Blue Mosque is, however, still an active mosque and therefore is closed for roughly half an hour during the five daily prayers. To experience the unparalleled beauty of this building, the walk from the Hippodrome provides the best views.
The Basilica Cistern is perhaps the largest of the multitude of ancient cisterns that sprawl beneath Istanbul; this surprisingly romantic location provides insight into the intricate system that once transported drinking water from mainland Europe into Istanbul. Construction began during the sixth century but sometime after completion it was forgotten; now the cistern has been fitted with lights, music and fish swim around the base of 336 columns creating a magical atmosphere. Also, don’t forget to notice the Medusa heads that are used as bases for the columns, proof that the Byzantines saw Roman artefacts as merely reusable rubble.
Bosphorus river cruise
A visit to Istanbul is simply not done without a boat excursion up the Bosphorus. The strait that divides Europe and Asia yields an unforgettable experience; the shores are alive with the past and present of Istanbul, combining beauty and simplicity that creates an overall fantastic attraction. The contrast between elegant marble palaces, stone structures and grand compounds makes a cruise on the Bosphorus a must while visiting Istanbul, there are daily tours or for those travelling in groups, private boats can be rented.
Istiklal Street, also known as Istiklal Avenue is visited by approximately 3 million people every single day, over the course of weekends. Being the most famous avenue in Istanbul, it is located in the Pera District and offers a wide range of boutiques, bookstores, galleries, cinemas, theatres, pubs, cafes, nightclubs, patisseries and restaurants. This exquisite and elegant pedestrian street displays an abundance of architecture that ranges from Ottoman to Art Deco, a real feast of different styles and one of the cities upscale shopping districts, Istiklal Street is definitely worth the visit.
Dolmabache Palace served as the main centre of the administration of the Ottoman Empire from 1856 to 1922, located on the European shores of the Bosphorus, the palace is the epitome of lavish and extreme elegance. The Topkapi Palace, where the Sultan and his family previously resided, lacked the style of the time period and was not in keeping with the luxury that this period coveted. Abdulmecid I therefore decided to build Dolmabache, the cost of which equated to 35 tonnes of gold. The palace contains a varied blend of architecture and created a synthesis between old Ottoman styles and Baroque and Neoclassical styles. The sheer beauty and elegance of Dolmabache is enough to inspire awe and is another must see attraction. The only way to experience Dolmabache is to take a guided tour.
The Spice Bazaar is the second largest covered complex following the Grand Bazaar, once named the Egyptian Bazaar as trade with Egypt was the primary source of goods, is still the main centre of the spice trade in Istanbul. The bazaar is a popular attraction, attributed to the enormity of goods available, and if you are willing to search, true quality is present at every stop. The most popular of all goods are the spices, Turkish coffee, dried fruit and nuts, authentic Turkish delight and the cheese. Trust your taste buds and enjoy what the Spice Bazaar has to offer.