7 Things To Do in Istanbul
Formerly known as Constantinople, Istanbul will fuel your imagination. Home to an amazing mixture of art, architecture, culture, and history, the city serves as a cultural bridge between Asia and Europe that’s divided by the Bosporus River, connecting the Black Sea to the north and Sea of Marmara to the south. I recommend at least a few days to explore this fascinating city, but this brief primer will give you enough things to do in Istanbul to get you started.
Many of the major sites are located in this district, including Istanbul’s premier sight, the Topkapi Palace, situated where the Bosporus meets the Golden Horn. Sultan Mehmet II built this extraordinary palace as his principle residence in 1459. Now a museum, of particular interest is the Harem, residence of the Sultan’s wives, concubines and children, and guarded by black eunuch slaves.
Near the palace, follow signs for the Arkeoloji Müzesi, which contains many pieces from Ephesus, Troy, and other famous archaeological sites. Not to be missed is Alexander’s sarcophagus, which is a marvel of classical sculpture.
Just outside the Palace walls is the Ayasofia—the greatest work of Byzantine architecture. It took 10,000 men six years to complete. It’s mostly famous for its brilliant dome, the largest prior to the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
The Blue Mosque Across from the Ayasofia is the dazzling Blue Mosque—a tribute to the Muslim faith. Pictured in the banner above, it is a massive structure topped with six minarets. The Hippodrome, the long park in front of the Blue Mosque, was once a roman stadium with 100,000 seats!
The Grand Bazaar
A 15-minute walk from the Hippodrome is the Grand Bazaar. It is always an incredible experience. This covered market is composed of 65 winding streets covered with 4,000 shops, cafés, etc. Head right in and start bartering. There are good deals to be found, especially if you are looking for leather (jackets, bags, etc.). Remember that Turks love to barter!
Dolmabahçe Palace Be sure to go over Galata Bridge, which offers fine views of both Sultanahmet and the Bosporus. Across the bridge lies the Dolmabahçe Palace, built in 1853 as the residence of the last sultans of the Ottoman Empire. It is a hodgepodge architecturally, but it is extraordinarily lavish. There is an 80-minute guided tour.
A Word about Taxis
A word of warning about sightseeing in Istanbul: if you are using a cab, make sure it has a meter, that it is turned on and that it is not set on the “night rate” during the daytime. Taxis are very cheap if the driver is honest! Taxis organized by your hotel concierge are the safest way of ensuring an honest deal.
Perhaps no place in Istanbul better captures the city’s frenetic energy than İstiklal Avenue.
Lined with shops, pubs and restaurants, close to some of the city’s best hotels and often bustling with people, this is a perfect thoroughfare to take in both the city’s past and present.