The Top Things to See and Do on the Bosphorus in Istanbul

The largest tower in Istanbul, panoramic cruises and wondrous mosques all await those of you who explore the Bosphorus
The largest tower in Istanbul, panoramic cruises and wondrous mosques all await those of you who explore the Bosphorus | © stoyanh / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Ayse Huseyin
2 September 2021

Istanbul is in many ways a crossroads. A crossroads between land and sea, Europe and Asia, Byzantine and Islamic architecture, the past and the present. When in the largest city in Turkey, marvelling before the Bosphorus, here are some essential activities for you to try.

Explore this historic waterway between the shores of Europe and Asia on Culture Trip’s 12-day group tour, where you’ll get to glimpse the architectural highlights of Istanbul, such as the Rumeli Fortress.

Ferry Cruise (Bosphorus Strait)

Natural Feature
Map View
Tourism or Ferry boat on the Bosphorus Strait betyween Europe and Asia at Istanbul, Turkey.
© Roy Conchie / Alamy Stock Photo

When in such a culturally and geographically fascinating area, you won’t be able to resist a ferry cruise. You’ll be able to enjoy the bustling Istanbul skyline and the novelty of sailing the bridge between two continents: Europe and Asia. Most of the cruise companies have comfortable and well-furnished boats and pass close enough to the shore for excellent photo opportunities. Occasionally you may even have your ferry stop to allow a mighty cargo ship passage into the city; a truly authentic glimpse of historical naval prowess.

Maiden's Tower

Museum
Map View
Maiden's Tower, Istanbul
Maiden's Tower | © EVREN KALINBACAK / Alamy Stock Photo
There are many stories surrounding the origin of the Maiden’s Tower (or Kız Kulesi). The most popular has been spread by word of mouth in Turkey for generations. It’s told within the stone tower through large painted murals. You’ll learn the story of the Emperor, the prophecy and the cursed maiden. There’ll be more about the history of the tower if you go on one of the guided tours from the ground up to the top balcony.

Basilica Cistern

Architectural Landmark
Map View
The Basilica Cistern was constructed during the reign of the Byzantine emperor Justinian. Much like the catacombs underneath Paris, it is one of many hundreds lying beneath the former Constantinople. The cistern features in the 1963 James Bond movie From Russia With Love; some notable sights you can expect are pillars propped up by intricate carvings of Medusa’s head, a pillar with peacock feathers designs and even a café within for refreshment. Best of all, you can on occasion see the ceilings of the cistern, perfectly reflected in the still waters.

Topkapi Palace

Museum
Map View
Library, Topkapi Palace, Istanbul, Turkey
Library, Topkapi Palace | © F1online digitale Bildagentur GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo
The Topkapi Palace is the largest palace in Istanbul; it housed the sultans of the Ottoman Empire for approximately 400 years. It was also used as a place to entertain royal guests and ambassadors during the empire’s peak, though now it acts as a museum showcasing the former extravagance of Turkish leaders. The palace was declared a Unesco World Heritage site in 1985 and remains a majestic example of Ottoman architecture and artistry.

Istanbul City Port

Architectural Landmark
Map View
As well as those attractions situated along the coast of Istanbul that look out onto the Bosphorus, the port itself is a highly attractive location to tourists and locals. The Port is right in the heart of the city and boasts restaurants, shops, convenient underground parking and a beautiful modern design. It’s ideal to stroll along, just taking in the atmosphere or watching the ships pass to and from the coast. Often a hub of activity, you won’t be bored for a moment at the port, which bustles with the electrifying energy unique to Istanbul.

Rumeli Fortress

Historical Landmark
Map View
Istanbul, Turkey, October 8, 2011: Rumeli Fortress (Rumeli Hisari) on the banks of the Bosporus.
Rumeli Fortress (Rumeli Hisari) on the banks of the Bosporus | © LizCoughlan / Alamy Stock Photo
Locals and tourists agree that the Rumeli Fortress offers a truly indescribable view of the city, unlike anywhere else. It’s built at the narrowest point of the Bosphorus Strait where defence would have been the greatest concern to the Sultan. This triumph of fortification watches over the Bosphorus as it has done since being constructed in 1541. The fortress consists of three main towers (named respectively after the men that built them), 13 watchtowers and encircled by walls that are 7m (23ft) thick. It can be slightly difficult to access but undoubtedly worth the extra effort.

Galata Tower

Building
Map View
ISTANBUL TURKEY THE GALATA TOWER IN KARAKOY DISTRICT PEOPLE ON THE VIEWING PLATFORM AT THE TOP OF THE TOWER
Galata Tower | © JOHN BRACEGIRDLE / Alamy Stock Photo
The Galata Tower is one of the crowning landmarks of the Bosphorus. The tower is nine stories tall, with an open observation deck for a 360-degree view of Istanbul. There’s a restaurant and café on the upper floors that will definitely result in a once-in-a-lifetime dining opportunity. And, fear not; for those of you who don’t feel like heaving up nine flights of stairs, the Galata tower also has two working elevators to transport you to every level.

Süleymaniye Mosque

Building, Mosque
Map View
The Süleymaniye Mosque is among the largest monuments in Turkey. It’s a magnificent building whose tall minarets and vast domed chambers exquisitely combine Byzantine and Islamic architectural influences. Even if not religiously inclined yourself, the decadent interior of this mosque, as with most mosques in Istanbul, offers a spectacular insight into the geometry of Islamic art, and the beauty of Muslim places of worship. This is an example of Turkish culture at its finest.

Hagia Sophia Museum / Church (Ayasofya)

Cathedral, Museum
Map View
Saint Sophia,Hagia Sophia, Ayasofia historical landmark Istanbul, Turkey
© Olga Demina / Alamy Stock Photo
Hagia Sophia is the most well-known of the many churches in Turkey. Though a predominantly Muslim country now, this church has been preserved and is now an incredibly popular museum, not to mention a reminder of the Christian inhabitants of the past. The Church contains a large array of Christian antiques and was the largest cathedral until Seville Cathedral was completed in 1520. The design was the very first of its kind, said to have revolutionised architecture from the time of construction. A visit to this significant landmark is not to be missed.

Istanbul Aquarium

Aquarium
Map View
The Istanbul Aquarium is in the ranks of the greatest in the world, thanks to the large and varied roster of sea creatures. On your walk from one vast tank to another, you travel the world, seeing tanks of fish, specifically arranged according to the region they come from. Gaze around you and bask in the bountiful creatures that exist beneath the waves, right before your eyes. The aquarium is a brilliant day out for families with children or a group of adults.
These recommendations were updated on September 2, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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