These 17 Photos Prove You Should Visit Istanbul Now

Waterfront at Eminonu with the Rustem Pasha Mosque on the skyline, Istanbul
Waterfront at Eminonu with the Rustem Pasha Mosque on the skyline, Istanbul | © Hackenberg-Photo-Cologne / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Freire Barnes
Art & Design Editor24 May 2019

The city where Asia and Europe meet is one of historical wonderment and contemporary innovation. Once referred to as Constantinople, the Turkish city is a cornucopia of cultural discovery. These 17 photographs only scratch the surface of all the extraordinary landmarks and attractions Istanbul has to offer.

Hagia Sophia

Once the world’s largest cathedral, the Hagia Sophia was erected in 537 AD as a Byzantine basilica before it was converted into an Ottoman mosque in 1453. Still as jaw-droppingly stunning as the day it was finished, the Hagia Sophia is now a museum that welcomes architecture and cultural lovers all year round.

Interior of the historic Basilica of Saint Sophia, Istanbul | © Joaquin Corbalan pastor / Alamy Stock Photo

The Bosphorous

At 19 miles long, the Bosphorus not only connects the Black Sea with the Mediterranean, but also splits Istanbul between two continents, Europe and Asia. Probably one of the most important straits in the world, this watery boundary houses numerous Byzantine and Ottoman fortifications as well as a mixture of residential homes, making it ideal for a boat trip.

A view of the Bosphorus Strait from Camlica Hil on the Asian side of Istanbul,Turkey | © Melvyn Longhurst / Alamy Stock Photo

Basilica Cistern

With so much going on above ground, it should come as no surprise that Istanbul also has some exceptionally intriguing venues below the city’s surface. Like something out of the Lord of the Rings franchise, the Basilica Cistern is an underground water reservoir just beneath the Hagia Sofia. Reached by a 52-step staircase, the 9,800 square-metre space houses 336 columns and has the potential capacity to store 100,000 tons of water.

The Basilica Cistern, Istanbul, Turkey | © Images & Stories / Alamy Stock Photo

Bosphorus Bridge

One of three suspension bridges over the Bosphorus strait, the recently renamed 15 July Martyrs’ Bridge links Europe and Asia. Like something you might expect to see on the Californian coast, the magnificent bridge currently holds the slot of 25th longest suspension bridge in the world. Pedestrians can no longer walk across it, but it does make for a great sunset backdrop for all the Instagram posts you’ll be taking.

Bosphorus Bridge silhouette early in the morning while the sun is rising up, Istanbul | © BAHADIR ARAL AVCI / Alamy Stock Photo

Blue Mosque

Commonly known as the Blue Mosque due to the hand-painted blue wall tiles, the Sultan Ahmed Mosque is still a functioning place of worship. A popular tourist attraction due to its phenomenal architectural design which incorporates both Byzantine and Islamic elements, the mosque is one of only three in Turkey to have six minarets – apparently the architect misheard the request for altın minareler (gold minarets) as altı minare (six minarets).

The Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue mosque) Istanbul Turkey | © DV TRAVEL / Alamy Stock Photo

Rainbow Steps

You’ll find these colourful steps in the arty Cihangir district of Istanbul. The wonderful story about how they came about is similar to that of the Selarón Staircase in Rio de Janeiro. Huseyin Cetinel, a retired forestry engineer painted the steps in bright colours over four days. Why? To give people something to smile about. The local government reacted rather abruptly and repainted the concrete steps grey, but soon the steps regained their colourful hue after public outrage.

City steps painted with rainbow colours, Istanbul | © OZGUR TOLGA ILDUN / Alamy Stock Photo

Hekimbaşi Yalisi

Once the residence of court medic, Salih Efendi, the ‘Red House’ is always a curious discovery when taking a river-boat ride. Painted deep crimson to indicate the home of an important civil servant, Hekimbaşi Yalisi not only adds a splash colour to the banks of the Bosphorus, but also some architectural variety.

Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge, and Hekimbasi Salih Efendi Yali, beside the Bosphorus, Istanbul | © Melvyn Longhurst / Alamy Stock Photo

Cats of Istanbul

If you’re a cat person, then Istanbul is the city for you. You can’t walk two steps without encountering one of the city’s many street cats. Whether they are taking a nap on a motorbike seat or taking shelter from the sun in a building’s doorway, cats are the unofficial symbol of Istanbul.

Cat sleeping on traditional Turkish rugs | © Murat An/Shutterstock

Yerebatan Caddesi

The vibrantly-coloured painted buildings on Yerebatan Caddesi in the historical Sultanahmet district will brighten your trip to Istanbul. Near the Basilica Cistern and Hagia Sophia, numerous restaurants, cafes and hotels have reinvigorated the street, whose name translates as ‘the avenue that sinks into the ground’, into the perfect must-visit destination to take some respite from Istanbul’s hustle and bustle.

Yerebatan Caddesi, Istanbul | © Hackenberg-Photo-Cologne / Alamy Stock Photo

Eminönü Fish Sandwich Boats

If you want to try a classic Istanbul delicacy then head to the Galata Bridge on the mouth of the Golden Horn, where you’ll find traditional Turkish boats selling fish sandwiches. Over a century ago, enterprising fisherman, who brought their catch from the Bosphorus and Sea of Marmara to sell by the bridge, started to cook the fish and sell it as a cheap snack.

Fish sandwich boats near the Galata bridge, Istanbul | © Hackenberg-Photo-Cologne / Alamy Stock Photo

Topkapi Palace

Built by Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror, the majestic Topkapi Palace is one of the most superb examples of Ottoman architecture with its opulent designs that adorn the walls and ceilings. The enormous UNESCO World Heritage site was constantly being adapted to reflect each reigning Sultan’s tastes, making it a truly unique piece of history and a must-visit experience while in Istanbul.

Dome ceiling of the Imperial Hall Topkapi Palace, Istanbul | © Chris Willson / Alamy Stock Photo

Galata Tower

Like something out of a fairytale, the Galata Tower pierces Istanbul’s skyline with it’s conical cap. It’s the perfect place to get an unrivalled panoramic view of the sprawling city and even better now that there is a restaurant and bar on the upper floors.

Galata tower in Beyoglu, Istanbul, Turkey. | © Luciano Mortula / Alamy Stock Photo


In a megatroplois such as Istanbul, there are multiple transport options but you ought to try the restored 19th century tram on İstiklal Caddesi, not necessarily for efficiency but for nostalgic novelty.

Tram on Taksim Istiklal street in Istanbul, Turkey | © kerenby / Alamy Stock Photo

Süleymaniye Mosque

In a city that can boast over 3,000 mosques, you could be forgiven for thinking that you might get bored at the sight of them. But with such variation, each mosque tells a story. Overlooking the Golden Horn, the beautiful Süleymaniye Mosque is the city’s second largest. Built by the the famous Ottoman architect, Mimar Sinan, it’s an exceptional example of 16th century Ottoman architecture and also houses the tombs of Süleyman and his wife Haseki Hürrem.

Interior Of Suleymaniye Mosque, Istanbul | © Hulya Ozkok / Alamy Stock Photo

Tophane-i Amire

The grandeur of the former 15th-century cannon foundry is truly captivating. Another commission of Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror, the Tophane-i Amire has gone through various uses, from education centre to military museum. Today though, it’s the ideal architectural location to host art exhibitions in its three cathedral-like spaces.

Visitors in Tophane-i Amire, a modern exhibition hall, former cannon foundry, Istanbul | © Koraysa / Alamy Stock Photo

Sakıp Sabancı Müzesi

With it’s picturesque views across the Bosphorus and verdant landscaped grounds, the Sabancı University’s Sakıp Sabancı Museum in Emirgan was once the villa of the Egyptian prince, Mehmed Ali Hasan. It’s since become known as ‘the mansion with the horse’ because of the equestrian statue by French sculptor, Louis-Joseph Daumas, in the hilltop garden. Today the museum houses a permanent collection of Turkish paintings as well as showcases temporary exhibitions by contemporary artists such as Ai Weiwei.

Sakıp Sabancı Müzesi, Istanbul | © Hackenberg-Photo-Cologne / Alamy Stock Photo

Kariye Museum

With its remarkable Byzantine frescoes, the former Greek Orthodox Church is something of a hidden Istanbul gem. Now a museum, the Chora Church is filled with an array of impressive mosaics that depict the life of Christ and the painted dome show Mary with 12 attendant angels. It’s a little piece of heaven within the original walled part of the city that can’t be missed during your trip.

ENKXXN The Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora, Kariye Muzesi, the Chora Museum

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