© Culture Trip / Mike Driver

The Insider Guide to Instanbul

Istanbul is one of the world’s great cities. Divided between Europe and Asia by the Bosphorus, or Strait of Istanbul waterway which marks the continental divide, the area has been the capital of two empires – the Roman-Byzantine and Ottoman – under the name of Constantinople. Today, it remains one of the most culturally significant, remarkable cities on the globe. Here's our guide.

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The Main Attractions

The Bosphorus strait (and the Golden Horn estuary linking to it) forms the foreground for so many of the most remarkable viewpoints in Istanbul, while also separating Europe and Asia and making it the only city in the world divided between two continents. The most famous structures in the city can be found in the Sultanahmet neighbourhood, in the centre of old Istanbul. It’s here the Hagia Sophia, probably the most famous building in Istanbul, was built in 537 and was once the largest Christian church of the eastern Roman Empire. It became a mosque under the Ottomans after the Fall of Constantinople in 1453 and has been a museum for most of the 20th century, before reopening as a mosque in 2020. From there, the Blue Mosque, built in the 1600s during the rule of Ahmed I, is a few minutes walk away; there are beautiful rooftop cafes in the area where you can have a coffee in fine view of both – as well as of the Ottoman imperial Süleymaniye Mosque. The Basilica Cistern and the Topkapı Palace are also in Sultanahmet, and the iconic hustle and bustle of the Grand Bazaar, one of the oldest roofed markets in the world, is a kilometre away. It’s a 10 to 15 minute walk across the Golden Horn, over into Asia, to the Galata Tower, a medieval stone tower in the Karaköy area of Istanbul. Head up the river to the Dolmabahce Palace, the largest palace in Turkey. But these are just the sights. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find a thriving city where modernity meets history in the most amazing ways.

Explore Neighbourhoods

Neighborhoods in Istanbul