Istanbul is one of the gorgeous cities that is needed to be discovered without a doubt.
But do you know where you should visit in Istanbul? Many places in Istanbul are worth to visit but only a few can be seen in one day. In this guide, you can find 8 places that you can explore by taking a few hours a day.
With a walking tour, discover its culture, incredible sites, stories & legends with this entertaining and passionate guide.
Istanbul Grand Bazaar
One of the largest and oldest covered bazaars in the world, the Grand Bazaar that was completed by Mehmet the Conqueror in 1461 is 30,700 square meters with over 60 streets and alleys and 4,000 shops. Here is the interesting fact about this bazaar:
It is included not only jewelry, antiques, carpets and kilims, textiles, made-to-order and spices shops but also restaurants, a hammam, and a mosque, as well as at least 10 smaller prayer rooms.
Although the Grand Bazaar seems to have it all, only certain shops are worth the visit and some tips should have known:
Take your time to chat and bargain
Since it is not possible to see the entire Grand Bazaar in one afternoon, reserve a day to see it and not rush from one shop to the next. The main thing that makes the different experience is chatting and bargaining with the sellers who often are fluent in more than one language.
It will be realized that lots of stores lined up next to each other sell similar products, thus you should choose the cheapest to buy a specific product. Probably, some sellers will offer tea, don’t hesitate to accept, it is the Turkish way of welcoming visitors. Accepting tea does not mean that you have a deal, if you are not happy with the offer, leave and look for a better deal elsewhere.
Always feel free to leave and move on
It is clear that you will realize easily that once you lay your hands-on hands on a product, it doesn’t matter that you want to buy or just examine the product, the shopkeeper will always try to sell them.
It is a hard experience emotionally, if you are a first-timer, there are a few ways to ease the experience. One of these ways is knowing that:
The more aggressive the vendor, the more likely the item you are going for is not worth your time. The shopkeepers of the most trusted places will not harass you to buy their products. If you ever feel uncomfortable, just move on to the next shop.
If you want to visit here, you should know that the Grand Bazaar is closed on Sundays and Turkish public holidays.
The Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya in Turkish) in Sultanahmet that is included stunning mosaics such as the glittering 13th-century Deësis mosaic of Christ with John the Baptist and the Virgin Mary is easily one of Istanbul’s most impressive sights.
About the building, we know that it is started to use as a mosque from 1453 following the capture of Constantinople by the Ottoman, and the subsequent pillaging that ensued, Mehmet the Conqueror declared the Hagia Sophia a mosque.
It is also significant by representing the meeting of both Islamic and Christian religions in the symbols displayed, such as the central mihrab (indicating the direction of Mecca), overlooked by an apse mosaic depicting the Virgin and Child.
Here’s another interesting fact about Hagia Sophia:
There is a wishing column at Hagia Sophia. It is in the northwest of the building which is believed to have healing powers (after Justinian leaned his head against it and his headache disappeared). Place your thumb in the hole and twist your wrist around as you make your wish.
In 1935, under the order of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and the Council of Ministers the Hagia Sophia Turkey opened as a museum and its opening hours are Monday – Sunday from 9 am – 7 pm.
Istiklal Avenue (Istiklal Street)
Istiklal Avenue or Istiklal Street that runs from Taksim Square nearly all the way to the landmark Galata Tower hosts more than three million people every day.
Besides the obvious Istiklal Street shopping opportunities, there are many other attractions. We can recommend that you should see historic cinemas (like Atlas, Beyoglu), historical passages (like Hazzopulo, Suriye and Çiçek), churches (St Antoine, Santa Maria), consulate buildings, and innovative art galleries (check out SALT Beyoğlu, ARTER and the Mısır Apartments), as well as stunning examples of 19th century Neo-Classical and Art Nouveau architecture to admire.
In addition, Beyoglu (the area around Istiklal) never sleeps and it has a colorful nightlife destination in the city. You could always just stay outside and enjoy the music played by a wide variety of buskers. Moreover, you can explore some bars that play Deep House to traditional Turkish live music.
If you want to travel here, you can take a metro or bus to Taksim Square and walk down it, or take a tram to Karakoy. One of the most enjoyable ways to see the street is to ride the charming red Nostaljik Tramvay (nostalgic tram), that runs up and down the length of it.
Note these tips to be safe:
Like any other city center, it’s possible that there are some petty crimes when there are lots of people in one place. Still, it’s best to keep your belongings where you can see them, and inadvisable to walk home alone late at night.
Topkapi Palace Museum
Topkapi Palace was built in 1461 by Mehmet the Conqueror and remained both the symbolic and political home of the Ottoman Empire until Sultan Abdülmecid I moved the imperial retinue to Dolmabahçe Palace in 1853. During the four centuries between it hosted 22 different Sultans and their families.
Now, it hosts various exhibitions such as the treasury, weapons, watches collection, kaftans, portraits and sacred relics of prophets. Besides these, visitors also visit the museum to see the Imperial Treasury and Room of the Relics of the Prophet.
Also, you can observe the finest quality of handmade Iznik tiles in all of Istanbul in the Harem section of the palace, which was the home of Ottoman Sultans and their families.
If you want to visit here, you can walk from either Gülhane or Sultanahmet tram stations. Moreover, between April and November, it is open between 9 am – 4:45 pm. Between November and April, it is open until 6:45 pm. It is open every day except Tuesdays.
Known locally as Yerebatan Sarayi (meaning Sunken Palace) or Yerebatan Sarnici (Sunken Cistern), this underground water cistern was the major water reservoir of Constantinople. The water was transported from the Belgrade Forest by the immense Byzantine aqueducts (Valens Aqueducts).
It was built during the reign of Emperor Constantine in the 4th Century but greatly enlarged by Justinian in 537 AD and used as water storage for the Great Palace during Byzantine times and for the Topkapi Palace under the Ottomans.
Here are the interesting facts:
- There are 336 giant columns (mostly Ionic or Corinthian in style) supporting the structure in 12 rows of 28 columns.
- It’s estimated that there were more than 80 underground cisterns in Istanbul, but this is the largest and the best excavated.
- This Istanbul underground cistern is the size of a cathedral; it is 143m long and 65m wide and can hold up to 80,000 cubic meters (or 17.5 million gallons) of water.
Furthermore, there is an Upside-down Medusa statue what not to miss at the Basilica Cistern. One Medusa statue sits is on its side while the other is upside down to remove her powers. (supposedly) Their origins are unknown but thought to be removed from a Roman-era building.
If you want to see these Medusa’s and visit the Basilica Cistern, it is located in the heart of Sultanahmet and its opening hours are 9 am to 7 pm.
The Archeology Museum
The Archeology Museum that is included three museums -the Archaeology Museum, the Ancient Orient Museum, and the Islamic Art Museum (also known as the Tiled Kiosk Museum) was founded by a master painter, Osman Hamdi Bey in 1875.
You can see lots of treasures on show from the Assyrian, Hittite, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman civilizations. Furthermore, here are some lists of what not to miss at the Ancient Orient Museum:
- The Lycian Sarcophagus, which depicts scenes from Greek mythology as well as griffons, centaurs, and sphinxes.
- The Alexander Sarcophagus is covered in scenes of the Alexander the Great but is believed to hold Abdalonymus, the king of Sidon.
- The Istanbul Through the Ages exhibition, which gives a good overview of the history of this complex city.
- The Istanbul Troy museum in the Anatolia and Troy through the Ages collections are worth seeing and contain many artifacts discovered at the famous site.
In addition, you can see these at the Islamic Art Museum (or Tiled Kiosk Museum):
- The stunning Tile Mihrab has taken from Karamanoğlu İbrahim Bey Imaret (public kitchen) that was built in 1432.
- Sultan Murat III’s pretty Fountain of Youth dating back to 1590 and set in the wall of the final room.
If you visit here, the Istanbul archaeology museum hours are from Tuesday-Sunday from 9am-7pm and the easiest way to get there is to take a tram to Gulhane – from where it is just a short walk.
Golden Horn, Haliç in Turkish, short for Haliç-i Dersaadet, means “The Bay of Istanbul.” Furthermore, it is called “golden” since it was the commercial heart of the city, serving as the principal harbor of Byzantium, Constantinople, and Istanbul for 2000 years, until the mid-20th century.
In addition, the most enjoyable way to explore the Golden Horn is on a short ferryboat cruise to Eyüp.
The Galata Bridge crosses the Golden Horn at its mouth, connecting Eminönü and Sirkeci (centered on Sultanahmet) to the south with Karaköy (Galata) and Beyoğlu (Pera) to the north. (You can get a great fish sandwich here.)
Khedive’s Villa (Hidiv Kadrı)
A king that had access to the wealth of Egypt for his projects is called Khedive. He purchased an estate of 270 square kilometers (104 square miles) and, choosing a promontory overlooking the Bosphorus for its site, employed Italian architect Delfo Seminati in 1903 to create a 1000 square-meter (10,800 square-foot) Art Nouveau palace for use during his visits to the Ottoman capital.
Today, the Khedive’s Villa is a public garden and beautifully renovated. It became a boutique hotel and restaurant open to the public. You can visit to enjoy the shady groves, well-kept flower gardens, sweeping view of the Bosphorus, and perhaps tea and refreshments or a meal. (No alcoholic beverages are served.)
In addition, The Khedive’s Villa is a favorite venue for wedding photographers who bring the happy couple here for a variety of fantasy poses in the gardens and salons.
Beylerbeyi Palace, known as a miniature of Dolmabahce Palace, was built as an imperial summer residence with a request of Sultan Abdülaziz. It has 24 rooms, 6 halls, and a hammam. It is not only used as an imperial summer residence but also entertaining visitors dignitaries.
The opulence of the white marble exterior (designed by architects Hagop Balyan and Sarkis Balyan and completed in 1865) is matched by the lavish interior, which features French clocks, Bohemian crystal chandeliers, and porcelain vases.
You should definitely see these:
- The downstairs hall, which includes a large marble pool, used to cool off during summer.
- A nautical theme represented in paintings hung throughout the palace that reflects the sultan’s interest in maritime pursuits.
- The elaborate twisting central staircase is another impressive sight.
Also, there are many restaurants and cafes where you can enjoy your meal after your visit. In fact, the area is also a popular spot for locals to come for a Beylerbeyi kahvalti (Beylerbeyi breakfast), so find a Bosphorus facing spot. If it’s more like lunchtime, then there are also lots of good fish restaurants in the area.
If you want to visit here, it is open Tuesday-Wednesday and Friday-Sunday between 9 am-5 pm.