As a city that straddles two continents, Turkey’s fascinating city of Istanbul really is a place where East meets West; stand in Europe on one side of the Bosporus Strait and cross to the other side to stand in Asia.
Istanbul has a long and colourful history and there are myriad cultural attractions throughout the sprawling city. From viewing glorious buildings, hopping between museums, and cruises on the Bosporus, to shopping, dining, and memorable nights out, there are plenty of fantastic places to visit in Istanbul.
On the downside, planning a trip to Istanbul can be a chore. The city is huge and there are places of interest scattered far and wide.
Now for the positives! Our team of expert travel writers have created this awesome list of the best places to visit in Istanbul to make your travel planning easier. There’s no need to stress about your itinerary.
With a mixture of popular tourist spots and hidden gems, some of these best places to visit in Istanbul are sure to excite you!
#1 – Blue Mosque – One of the most amazing places in Istanbul!
Why it’s awesome:
Officially called Sultan Ahmed Mosque, the Blue Mosque is one of Istanbul’s most famous sights. Built in the early 1600s, the grand mosque was built as a show of pride and defiance and a way to reaffirm Ottoman power in Istanbul after losing a battle with the Persians. Standing on the site of an earlier Byzantine palace, the beautiful building has six minarets, five large domes, a number of smaller domes, ornate stained glass, and stunning tilework.
With a blend of Islamic and Byzantine Christian features, it is often thought of as the last great mosque to come from the classical period. Still an active place of Islamic worship, the mosque is also open to tourists.
What to do there: Be sure to dress respectfully to visit the Blue Mosque and women should don the head covering and gowns provided. Marvel at the striking facades that dominate the skyline and be awed by the size of the main hall. See the magnificent stained glass windows, handmade ceramic tiles with various designs, opulent chandeliers, calligraphy, and fine carpets.
The marble niche, known as a mihrab, is a sight to behold. View where the faithful perform their ritualistic ablutions, stand in the huge courtyard, and admire the beautiful fountain. Watch as devout Muslims perform prayers and hear the hypnotic call to prayer sounded five times per day from the soaring minarets.
#2 – Grand Bazaar – A great place in Istanbul if you love to shop!
Why it’s awesome: Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar is one of the largest and oldest covered markets anywhere across the globe. The gigantic shopping complex, often said to be one of the world’s first shopping malls, can trace its history back to the 1400s. Orinally, there were two separate buildings, though as shops and stalls sprung up around them it eventually created a large shopping district. It was once at the hub of trade in the Mediterranean, with many caravans laden with goods passing through from Europe and Asia.
Until the 1800s there were no actual shops in the bustling market; instead, vendors had seats at small stalls, with the more expensive items kept safely in cabinets. Clothes, silk, ceramics, crystal, jewellery, weapons, spices, books, and used goods were just a few things one could find in the market. Today the market has more than 60 covered walkways and in excess of 4,000 shops. It’s definitely a great place for shopaholics!
What to do there: Pass through one of the four traditional gates to enter the market and admire the beautiful architecture of the Grand Bazaar. Inside, high windows provide plenty of light and shops are set into the walls. Browse a staggering array of goods and pick up plenty of local gifts to take home with you.
Colourful lanterns hang in a jumble outside some stores, there are many beautiful garments, and you’ll also find musical instruments, souvenirs, tea sets, jewellery, scented soaps, toys, crafts, and much, much more. Be tempted by display cabinets filled with traditional sweets, and pick up Turkish teas and aromatic spices.
Picking up a few souvenirs is a must do.
#3 – Topkapi Palace – A great place to see in Istanbul if you love architecture
Why it’s awesome: The splendid and large UNESCO-listed Palace was built in the mid-1400s. Previously home to sultans and at the heart of political life, some 5,000 people used to call the palace home. Once one of the biggest palaces in the world, it has elements from various ages, added by each sultan.
A fine example of Middle Eastern architecture, it has sweeping courtyards, grand gates, pools, and hundreds of rooms. The details are opulent, with gorgeous carvings, stained glass, and tiles. There are various displays throughout the palace as well, and it’s one of the most popilar tourist attraction in Istanbul .
What to do there: Step back in time and see how leaders from one of the world’s most powerful empires lived in times gone by. Wander through the palace’s many rooms, being dazzled by the spectacular details. Look up at ornate ceilings and at beautifully decorated walls and be in awe of the vibrant colours and details. Note the many golden globes that hang in various rooms; these were a symbol of the sultan’s power, representing the ruler keeping an eye on the whole world. View old Turkish baths, kitchens, living areas, and sleeping quarters.
Pass through rooms used by the sultans, visit the Circumcision Room, where young boys went through ceremonial circumcision procedures, stand where the imperial council used to gather, and explore the lavish rooms of the harem, the place where important females (like the sultan’s mother, wives, and concubines) used to live. Some rooms of the harem were where brothers of the sultans lived, locked away to prevent them from trying to seize power.
Some of the more revered items include a sword said to have belonged to Prophet Muhammad and a staff that is believed to have been used by Moses. After admiring the wealth of architectural delights, brilliant decorative designs, and diverse displays, stroll through the pleasant cypress-filled gardens. Spot the unusual hollowed-out trees and relish the stunning views.
Our expert team takes pride in their thoughtful approach to planning your holiday.