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Top 10 Things To Do and See in Istanbul
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Top 10 Things To Do and See in Istanbul

Picture of Ayse Huseyin
Updated: 9 February 2017
Istanbul is one of the world’s most enchanting, mysterious cities with innumerable experiences to offer. You will fall in love with Istanbul anew every day as its stunning history, architecture and culture entrance you. To make your visit to this coastal jewel complete, here is our list of ten essential experiences that you cannot miss, for a perfect visit!
Istanbul by night | © Moyan Brenn/Flickr
Istanbul by night | © Moyan Brenn/Flickr
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Grand Bazaar (Kapali Carsi)

The Grand Bazaar is an exotic labyrinth, captivating you and drawing you deeper into it’s winding passages with every step. From the stalls selling mountains of earthy spices in burnt red, ochre and orange, shops displaying walls of crystal making the entire alcove glimmer like a diamond, or rolls upon rolls of vibrant and luxurious fabrics, everything about this bazaar is a sensory feast. The bustle of this local bazaar is exemplary of the thrum of life in Istanbul, and promises countless delights around every corner. The sweets are fresh, the music is loud! A chance to visit the Kapali Carsi is somehow a chance to see Istanbul at its most real and yet most magical.

Grand Bazaar, Beyazit Gate, Istanbul, Turkey, +90 532 676 2604

Grand Bazaar (Kapali Carsi) | © Babakgh/WikiCommons
Grand Bazaar (Kapali Carsi) | © Babakgh/WikiCommons
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Hagia Sophia Museum / Church (Ayasofya)

The Hagia Sophia Museum began life as a Christian patriarchal church, was later made an imperial mosque but now stands as a secular museum open to members of the public in 1935. A particularly noteworthy example of the pinnacle of Byzantine architecture, the large dome that the museum boasts is its most infamous and marveled feature. The museum boasts many former holy relics, original features, and intricate murals for guests to enjoy and stands as one of the crowning jewels of the city of Istanbul.

Hagia Sophia Museum, Ayasofya Square, Sultanahmet, Istanbul,Turkey, +90 212 522 1750

Hagia Sophia Museum / Church (Ayasofya) | © Robster1983/WikiCommons
Hagia Sophia Museum / Church (Ayasofya) | © Robster1983/WikiCommons
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Suleymaniye Mosque

The largest mosque in Istanbul, and the city’s most renowned landmark, the Suleymaniye Mosque typifies magnificence. Naturally as a current place of worship, those that run the mosque ask that all guests are respectfully dressed and will happily provide garments to visitors free of charge. Inside, the mosque is a feat of artistry that will render you awe-struck. Every inch of the towering domed ceilings are meticulously inscribed with hypnotic Arabic art, known for its geometry and symmetry, and vast plaques bearing prayers in the elegant Arabic script. Here is a stunning example of the beautiful art that faith inspires and the ingenuity of human creativity.

Suleymaniye Mosque, Sinan Aga Mah. Zeyrek Cad. No:4 | Zeyrek, Fatih, Istanbul, Turkey

Suleymaniye Mosque | © Javit/WikiCommons
Suleymaniye Mosque | © Javit/WikiCommons
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Basilica Cistern

The Basilica Cistern stretches for miles far beneath Istanbul, built in the 6th century by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian. During the Ottoman Rule, the cistern provided filtered water to the Palace of Constantinople and later to Topkapi Palace. As you progress through the eerily serene, underground cistern, you’ll see novelty pillars such as those bearing Medusa’s head and peacock feathers. Plus, if the waters are still, you’ll see the vast pillars and ceiling reflected in the dark waters.

Basilica Cistern, Imran Oktem Cad. No:4 D:5 Sultanahmet, Fatih | Near St. Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey, +90-212 522 12 59

Basilica Cistern | © Dpnuevo/WikiCommons
Basilica Cistern | © Dpnuevo/WikiCommons
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Blue Mosque

The Sultan Ahmed Mosque or ‘Blue Mosque’ resides across the square from Hagia Sophia Museum and while the latter is constructed from fiery red stone, the former glimmers in the Istanbul sun, in polished white. The ‘Blue Mosque’ gains its name from the vast quantity of rich blue tiles that line the interior of the mosque. The awesome mosque consists of one main dome, six elegant minarets, and eight secondary domes, though many more encircle the site. Once again, the mosque is a regular place of worship and so guests are asked to please dress respectfully and enter outside of regular worship hours.

Blue Mosque, Sultanahmet, Istanbul 222, Turkey, +90 212 458 4468

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Bosphorus Strait

The Bosphorus Strait is a narrow strip of ocean that forms the infamous boundary that Turkey is on, between Europe and Asia. The strait offers magnificent views of the Istanbul coast and skyline and is popular, not only with international trade ships, but for cruises that take tourists up and down the narrow stretch of water. This is an experience that offers a totally different perspective of Istanbul’s most well known monuments and nautical past and isn’t one to be missed!

Bosphorus Strait, Turkey

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Topkapi Palace

Topkapi Palace is a large palace in Istanbul that was the primary residence of some of the Ottoman Empire’s most powerful sultans as well as the final resting place of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. The palace was also formerly used to entertain Western ambassadors and royalty though now only serves as a museum and major tourist attraction. In its history it housed up to as many as 4000 people. Its interior demonstrates the full extravagance of Ottoman aesthetic as well as the luxury that its inhabitants were accustomed to. This is a significant monument in Turkey’s history and should be visited by all that have the opportunity.

Topkapi Palace, Gulhane Park, near Sultanahmet Square,Istanbul, Turkey, +90 212 512 0480

The Imperial Hall of Topkapi Palace | © Mircea Ostoia/WikiCommons
The Imperial Hall of Topkapi Palace | © Mircea Ostoia/WikiCommons
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Maiden’s Tower

The Maiden’s Tower is a quaint tower off of the coast of Istanbul with a fascinating legend surrounding its origins. Guests can take a short ferry trip to the site and climb its flights of stairs to learn, not only the legend, but see it painted in beautiful murals on the walls leading up to the observation balcony. The tower also offers information about the history of the coast and the tower. This is a curiosity on the coast that isn’t to be missed!

Maiden’s Tower, Uskudar, Istanbul, Turkey, +90 216 342 4747

Maiden's Tower | © Roroke/WikiCommons
Maiden’s Tower | © Roroke/WikiCommons
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Istiklal Avenue

Istiklal Avenue is to Istanbul what Oxford Street is to London. This lively high street hosts an array of high street shops, independent boutiques, restaurants and cafés that are a perfect blend of traditional culture and western brands. It is always teeming with people and whether you seek retail therapy or people-watching, you won’t be bored for a moment. Stroll down this street and immerse yourself in everyday modern life in Istanbul at its most authentic. You can also enjoy live buskers in good weather to soundtrack your enjoyable exploration of this modern city.

Istiklal Avenue, Beyoglu, Istanbul,Turkey

Istiklal Avenue | © Zumrasha/WikiCommons
Istiklal Avenue | © Zumrasha/WikiCommons

Historical Red Trams

Being on the coast, Istanbul offers its guests and visitors a veritable smorgasbord of commuting options. From taxis to buses, ferries to trams. In particular however, you will notice striking red, old fashioned trams making their way through the streets., particularly in the Beyoglu area, that are as well loved as those in San Francisco. Any thorough exploration and experience of Istanbul is incomplete without boarding the vintage carriages and rattling down the cobbled streets to your stop. Istanbul really is a city that has it all!

A traditional red tram | © Janderk1968/WikiCommons
A traditional red tram | © Janderk1968/WikiCommons