Istanbul is the largest city in Turkey and the only one in the world that lies on two different continents: Europe and Asia. Home to numerous historical sites, Istanbul isn’t only a breathtaking city but also one of great historical importance. Here are the 10 best things to do in Istanbul.
The Hagia Sophia
Known as the Church of Wisdom, the Hagia Sophia is one of the world’s greatest monuments. It was built as a Christian church under the direction of the Byzantine emperor Justinian I in 532. When Istanbul was under the Ottoman Empire the fascinating building was converted into a mosque. Hagia Sophia served as a center of religious, political, and artistic life for the Byzantine world and it is considered one of the most important landmarks worldwide. From 1935 till 2020, Hagia Sophia was operating as a museum but it has now again been converted into a mosque.
Go shopping at the Grand Bazaar
One of the world’s oldest markets and the largest commercial hub in Turkey, the Grand Bazaar attracts both locals and international traders. Covering an area of 30,700 square meters, the impressive bazaar is home to 61 covered streets and over 4,000 shops. From clothes, jewelry and lanterns to traditional food products, spices and tea, the markets’ stalls have everything you can imagine. Visit the world’s oldest shopping mall and buy some special souvenirs to take back home. The Nazar evil eye ornaments (Turkish eye symbol), the Turkish kilim rugs and the different types of Hammam Soap are some of the most popular items.
Explore the impressive rooms of the Topkapi Palace
The Topkapi Palace is a 15th-century palace that served as the seat of the Sultans, their family, and the imperial officials who ruled a vast empire spread over 3 continents. You should imagine it as “a city within the city” that expanded over a period of 400 years, from the heyday to the decline of the mighty Ottoman Empire. The lavishly decorated rooms, pavilions and the Harem give visitors a glimpse into the lives of the people that lived there over the years.
Have a Picnic in Gulhane Park
The Rose Garden, also known as the Gulhane Park, is one of the most beautiful parks in Istanbul Tourists and locals come here to enjoy fun activities here, such as having a picnic, walking through the beautiful gardens, resting among the trees, and dine in outdoor cafes looking out the Bosphorus river. It’s located between the Sirkeci and Sultanahmet neighborhood of Fatih district. Every year in the last 3 weeks of April, Gulhane park hosts the tulip festival featuring over 120 different types of tulips that blossom in the spring.
Visit the Blue Mosque
Built between 1609 and 1616, the Blue Mosque is a remarkable historic building and one of Istanbul’s main attractions. It got its name due to the blue tiles that surround the main building. As it still operates as a mosque, visitors aren’t able to enter the building during the five daily prayers. However, at all times, women must use the head coverings that will find at the entrance of the Blue Mosque. A tomb of the founder Ahmed I, a madrasa and a hospice is found in the Blue Mosque.
Enjoy the scenery of the Bosphorus River
Being the only passage from the Black Sea into the Mediterranean, the Bosphorus strait was very important during ancient times. Until nowadays, it is a very busy waterway with many ships and oil tankers going through it. Local fishing boats and passengers ferries sail from the Asian side to the European all day long creating beautiful scenery. Sunset cruises in a yacht, afternoon Bosphorus cruise tours, and cruises with night shows are only a glimpse into the various activities Bosphorus offers.
Visit the Basilica Cistern
Built in the 6th century, the captivating Basilica Cistern is the largest cistern that lies beneath the city. It took its name due to the fact that when it was originally constructed it lied under a Basilical located at a public square on the First Hill of Constantinople. The Byzantine cistern provided the city with water since its construction and after 1453 until modern times.
The Basilica Cistern is nowadays open to visitors. You’ll find it 490 feet (150 meters) southwest of the Hagia Sophia.
Relax in a Hammam
The Hammam is a Turkish type of bath that every visitor in the city has to try at least once. If you want to enjoy the full experience, then make sure to book a place for a traditional Hammam. Your hair will be washed by an attendant, as well as being massaged for 15 minutes. Other styles and services include aromatherapy oil massages, reflexology, Indian head massages, and facial clay masks.
Attend Whirling Dervishes Shows
One of the top things to do in Istanbul is to attend a Whirling Dervish show. The centuries-old ceremony is a spiritual performance featuring graceful choreography, Persian chanting and traditional Turkish music usually played by an on-site orchestra. Dancers typically wear long robes and dark cloaks. They decorate their heads with sikke, tall conical felt hats that range from brown to gray to black. Dark cloaks are worn over their robes. The Hodjapasha Dance Theater is one of Istanbul’s most popular venues for watching this traditional ceremony (sema).
Taste the Turkish traditional cuisine
Turkish cuisine needs no introductions. It has worldwide fame and fairly so. From the mouthwatering desserts such as Kadayif and Baklava to the Turkish meatballs (Köfte) and lahmacun, there are just too many dishes to try. One of Istanbul’s most iconic snacks, Balik Ekmek, is a sandwich that contains grilled fish, onions, and salad. Another dish that is a great snack while sightseeing is Pide, a baked boat-shaped dough filled with many different ingredients such as eggs and sucuk (spicy Turkish sausages) and kusbasi (small cubes of seasoned veal meat).