Istanbul is a great city that offers many things to do for its visitors. It is an ancient city that has been the capital to 3 major empires that spans over two continents, at the gate of one of the most important water gates of the world. It offers many historic and natural wonders to see and experience. Istanbul is a sort of “mosaic” in activities to do. It is one of the most prominent cultural centers in the world. There are many concerts, expos, sports activities and fairs that you can enjoy in this city.
Istanbul has nearly an infinite span of places and curiosities for the avid explorer, but some of the places to see are a must because they are so complexly beautiful that they each have some part of them that can attract anybody. Here are the most important places that no visitor should miss:
- Istanbul Strait
- Galata Tower
- Sultanahmet Square
- Topkapi Palace
- Belgrade Forest
- Golden Horn (also known as the “Ancient City”
- Maiden’s Tower (Kizkulesi)
- Prince’s Islands
- Rumelian and Anatolian Fortresses
- Grand Bazaar
- Fener Greek Patriarchate
- Various Mosques ( primarily Suleymaniye, Ortakoy, Eyupsultan…)
- Various Palaces and Manors ( Dolmabahce, Yildiz…)
- Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarnici)
- Various Museums (Hagia Irini, Cinili Kosk…)
These places are only a fraction of what to see and do in Istanbul, and most of the places in this list are historical places. Let me go over some of them in order to offer you some insight into whether you could be interested in visiting.
The Strait of Istanbul is a body of water running between two seas (the Marmara Sea and the Blacksea) separating Europe from Asia. It offers one of the most unique and magnificent views in the world in a city that is established on the two coasts of these two continents across and that has been one of the most important water “gates” of the world. Because of this strategically important placement, the city has been coveted by many civilizations over the course of history. This resulted in the city having many artifacts and historical attractions remaining from the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, and the Ottoman Empire periods. You can take ferry tours in order to see this beautiful part of the world in a general and timely manner. In order to get a better idea of what you can see and how you can participate in these tours you can see my other post here: https://goodistanbulguide.com/istanbul-by-ferry-vapur/
The Galata Tower offers one of the best views of Istanbul and it’s straight. You can take the most amazing pictures of the city if you climb to the top floor. Galata Tower is the historical tower in the Galata district in Istanbul. The tower was built by Genoese who settled in Galata in the 14th century, in 1348, in addition to the walls of the Galata, in order to protect their territory against foreign invaders. It is the main tower of the Galata fortification walls. It was used as a prison for prisoners who worked in the Kasimpasa shipyard in the 16th century and later was transformed into the warehouse of the shipyard. Today it continues to serve Istanbulites (the name given to the inhabitants of the city), and visitors in another way; it serves as a restaurant from where you can enjoy a nice breakfast or dinner for looking at the city’s beautiful view during the day or its lights during the evenings and nights. You can reach further information through the website of the tower here: http://www.galatatower.net/
Sultanahmet Square is an absolute must to see when you visit Istanbul. The square is between two of the most iconic buildings in the world; Sultanhamet ( Blue ) Mosque and Hagia Sophia Museum (previously mosque and church). The square has been a hippodrome during the Byzantine Empire on the edges of the Imperial Palace. It has many other historical artifacts that are overwhelmed by the two colossal historical landmarks. Here’s a list of what you can see while you are on the square:
- Sultanahmet ( Blue ) Mosque
- Hagia Sophia Museum
- The Obelisk of Theodosius
- Serpent Column
- Constantine Obelisk
- German Fountain
I have not mentioned some of the artifacts on and around the square, a number of the non-listed artifacts we will talk about but there are simply too many parts to this square to mention all of them under one single heading. In order to get the preview of the square before visiting it, you can look at this link: https://www.360cities.net/image/sultanahmet_at_meydani
Topkapi Palace Museum; after Fatih Sultan Mehmed conquered Istanbul in 1453, the palace started to be built in 1460 and was completed in 1478. It was built on an area of 7.500.000 square feet on the Eastern Roman acropolis in Sarayburnu, at the tip of the historical Istanbul peninsula between the Marmara Sea, the Bosphorus, and the Golden Horn. It has been used as the administration, education and art center of the empire for approximately four hundred years from the Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror to the 31st sultan, Sultan Abdulmecid, and was also the sultan’s residence.
After the founding of the Republic of Turkey on April 23rd, it became a museum in 1924 and is the first museum of the Republic. Topkapi Palace Museum currently covers an area of about 3.200.000 square feet. The walls that separated the palace from the city are; by land Sur-i Sultani (Sultan’s Wall), commissioned to be built by Mehmet II separated the palace from the city by land, and the East Roman walls separated the Palace by the sea. The palace is one of the largest palace-museums of the world with its architectural structures, collections, and nearly 300,000 archived documents. You can find more on the website of the place: https://www.millisaraylar.gov.tr/saraylar/topkapi-sarayi
Belgrad Forest is a great escape point for both Istanbulites and those coming from outside the city. Access to this place, which has a wonderful nature, is quite easy. Many people have a very pleasant time here. Belgrad Forest is located at the eastern end of the Catalca Peninsula. Located on the European Side, this place is located towards the north of the city near the Black Sea and the east of the Bosphorus. Spread over an area of 12.500 acres, the highest point of the Belgrad Forest is 800 feet. Dozens of tree species such as chestnuts, beech, hornbeam, and oak can be found here. This forest, which is used as a promenade nowadays, contains historical water dams which are to meet the water needs of the ancient city. These were built in; the two Sultan Mahmut Dams (1839), Valide Dam (1796) and Topuzlu Dam (1750).
The Golden Horn shores are one of the popular tourist areas of the historical peninsula, they are among the must-see places in your Istanbul trip. The Golden Horn, which has a long and narrow and also horn-shaped geographical structure, separates the European side of Istanbul. Since it is one of the most natural ports in the world, Byzantine and Ottoman navies and those that worked in commercial shipping have been gathered around the Golden Horn region for centuries. The Golden Horn shores, where the water is golden at sunset, are surrounded by beautiful parks and walking paths. There are wooden houses, churches, and streets filled with synagogues from the Byzantine and Ottoman periods in Fener and Balat districts on the central bank of the Golden Horn. At the same time, the Orthodox Patriarchate is here.
One of the indispensable places to see the Bosphorus view is undoubtedly the Maiden’s Tower. The tower, built on a tiny island just off Salacak, has been the subject of many legends. One of them and the best known is the Leandros legend. The Maiden’s Tower, which dates back to 24 BC, has been used as a defense fortress, exile station, prison, quarantine room, radio station, tax point and lighthouse throughout its long history. The tower, which is the symbol of Uskudar, was restored in 2000 by a private company and opened to service as a cafe and restaurant. The Maiden Tower is accessible by boat from Uskudar Salacak and Kabatas. There is a ring service every day between 09.00-18.45 from Uskudar Salacak pier. On weekends ring services are available from Kabatas between 09.00-18.45. You can get more information on the historic tower at the official website: http://www.kizkulesi.com.tr/Home
The beauties of Buyukada, which is the most visited and the biggest one among the Prince’s Islands in Istanbul, welcome you warmly from the pier. If you are wondering about the historical buildings of the island rather than its nature, it is enough to take a short trip on the main streets. Hagia Yorgi Church is the most visited and one of the most beautiful places in Buyukada. While going to this church, which is located on a very steep hill and difficult to reach, the scenery of the island is getting more and more beautiful. Buyukada and love are inseparable. The lovers, who escaped from the crowd of the city and came to climb the hill, which also took the name of Lover’s Hill, are among the most common sights of the island. You can spend the last hours of your day at Buyukada in Dilburun, where the sunset is one of the best views on the island, and you can take in the beautiful view that is Istanbul, which is illuminated by city lights, in one of the most peaceful spots in the world. Here are the websites of the Island’s District’s municipality and governorate for more information: http://www.adalar.bel.tr/#
(You may have to use a translating tool in order to better understand the sites )
Rumelian Fortress was commissioned to be built by Sultan Mehmet II in 1452 as the first step of the conquest of Istanbul. The fortress built at the narrowest point of the Bosphorus established the control of the Byzantine main supplies road. Just across the shore is the Anatolian Fortress built by Beyazıt I. in the 14th century. The Rumelian Fortress, which lost its importance as a military base after the conquest of Istanbul, was used as a prison where foreign ambassadors and prisoners of war were held more frequently. Today it hosts events such as the International Istanbul Music and Dance Festival. The open-air theater in the fort was restored in 1953.
How to reach Rumelian Fortress; By bus: If you are on the Anatolian side to go to Rumelian Fortress you must first go to Besiktas. You can use the ferries and sea buses that travel from Kadikoy and Uskudar to pass to Besiktas. After reaching Besiktas, you can reach the Rumelian Fortress stop by using the buses numbered 22 İstinye-Kabatas, 22RE Fatih Sultan Mehmet-Besiktas, 25E Sariyer-Kabatas, 40 Rumelifeneri-Taksim, 40T Istinye-Taksim, 42T Bahcekoy-Taksim.
Anatolian Fortress, is located in the Anadoluhisari district of Istanbul.
The fortress, also known as Guzelce Fortress, is located where Goksu Creek flows into the Bosphorus. The fortress covers an area of 75.000 square feet. The huge tower complex that is the fortress, started to be built in 1393 with the instructions of Yildirim Beyazit and was completed in 1395. Anatolian Fortress and Rumelian Fortress are located mutually at a distance of 1800 feet where the Bosphorus is the narrowest. Anatolian Fortress, which has an important place throughout history, is the destination to thousands of local and foreign tourists as a historical visiting point. Covering a smaller area compared to Rumelian Fortress, the fortress can contribute to creating a longer visiting route as it is close to Goksu River. If you want to have a nice day full of history and culture, you can reserve a day to visit Anatolian Fortress and its surroundings.
There are restaurants inside and around the fortresses where you can enjoy a nice meal in those historic parts of the city. You have different alternatives to go to the Anatolian Fortress;
By bus: 11H Ortaçeşme-Umraniye, 15 Beykoz-Uskudar, 15F Beykoz-Kadıkoy, 15KC Cavusbasi-Uskudar, 15P Sogsu Mahallesi-Uskudar, 15T Tokatkoy-Uskudar bus lines can get you to the fortress.
By ferry: You can reach the fortress by getting on Cengelkoy-Istinye ferry lines and by getting off at Anadolu Hisari pier.
To reach further information (prices and visiting hours) about the fortresses you can access the website of the Fortresses Museum Administration through here: https://muze.gov.tr/muze-detay?SectionId=HIS01&DistId=MRK
The Grand Bazaar is the oldest and largest indoor bazaar in the world, located at the heart of Istanbul. The Grand Bazaar, with its 60 alleys, more than three thousand shops, is a unique center in Istanbul that must be seen. It is like a giant maze, which resembles a city within the city and is covered in its entirety. It has developed and grown over time. The surrounding of two old buildings with thick walls dating from the 15th century covered with a series of domes has become a shopping center in the following centuries by covering the developing streets and making additions. You can shop for almost anything Turkish made here; Turkish delights, prayer rugs, handmade copperwork, all kinds of spices (although there’s a special bazaar for spices especially: The Egyptian Bazaar), jewelers, etc. If one day you decide to visit this great city, spare half a day to shop and visit this bazaar and drink some Turkish coffee from the coffee shops inside, you are sure to make the most beautiful photos here.
As you can see from what all I wrote above, Istanbul’s history alone would be enough to fill a week’s trip there to the brim. Of course, those places that I mentioned are not only the historical places of the city or the places that I mentioned aren’t all historical (Belgrad Forest) but in a city as ancient as Istanbul, you would be hard-pressed to find something that hasn’t rooted in history.
Night-life in Istanbul
Istanbul is the cultural capital of Turkey, a city of events. Istanbul can surprise you with its colorful and rich nightlife. If you want, you can have fun by going to classical entertainment venues or full-on festivals, concerts, and theatrical plays. Check out the programs and get tickets depending on the date you will stay in Istanbul and get involved in this colorful night-life. Amazing shows are performed in many venues at night in this city. UNIQ Hall Lounge, Volkswagen Arena, Salon IKSV, Babylon, Kucukciftlik Park, Ghetto, Jolly Joker Istanbul, Santral Istanbul, Garaj Istanbul, Turkcell Kurucesme Arena, Parkorman, Is Sanat Culture Center and Akbank Art Culture Center are the main places where these events are held.
You can go to the Istanbul Jazz Festival, which takes place between October – November at Is Sanat and Akbank Sanat. Many concerts and theatrical performances are held at these art centers throughout the year. Istanbul’s open-air concert centers host thousands of people, but they host many other events also. Kucukciftlik Park with a capacity of 17 thousand people, Harbiye Cemil Topuzlu Open Air Stage, which hosted many famous artists from Leonard Cohen to Gloria Gaynor, Turkcell Kurucesme Arena with its unique Bosphorus view are just some of the nightlife entertainment venues.
If you decide to plan your trip in winter, Zorlu PSM, Babylon, Ghetto, If Performance Hall, The Hall, Santralistanbul and Volkswagen Arena will be the best venues for you. Musicals, theaters, concerts and numerous parties are organized in these show venues. You can be informed about the concert programs by following the internet and social media. To buy your tickets, choose Biletix or the show center booths. You can reach the ticketing website here: https://www.biletix.com/anasayfa/TURKIYE/en
Bars and Clubs
If your nightlife understanding consists of going to bars and night clubs, I can recommend Besiktas, Kadıkoy and Taksim venues for you. Popular places in recent years have been gathered especially in Kadıkoy. Therefore, let’s start with the entertainment centers of Kadıkoy. DOROCK XL is one of the preferred venues because it has the largest indoor live concert venue. It has a space to sit and eat, drink and chat, and the opportunity to listen to a concert every night. You can find plenty of craft beer selections that became famous recently. One of the most beautiful places is “Ayi” This place is between Kadikoy and Moda. If you like 90s concept things, “Eskici” is a very popular place that will make you love their music. These spaces, which are always full, invite you to have fun all night long. Apart from these places, we can list many places such as Karga, Zeplin, Arkaoda, Komodo and Monks that make Kadikoy the fun center of this kind.
You can start the night early in Besiktas. There are countless chocolatiers, third-generation coffee shops, and nice cafes. Many places such as Okkali Kahve, Happiness Point, Mendel’s Cafe, Cafe CakeHouse, Poets Coffee, Cefa de Cuba are the places I can recommend for you to have some snacks. Limoncello, Frame, Coco Bongo Night Club, Le Fumoir, Sponge Bar and Beer Point are some suggestions for the rest of the night.
Even though Taksim’s nightlife is not what it used to be, many places can still be incredibly entertaining. 45 ‘, Coop, Dorock Bar, Jolly Joker, The Bite, Eskici Live, Hard Rock, Dream Coffee, Indigo and In Roxy Taksim, are bustling places where the heart of entertainment beats.
Is the nightlife in Istanbul limited to bars, cafes, and concerts?
Definitely not. There are many activities in almost every district of the city. In the spring, these events become widespread and bring the city together. For example, Turkey’s first-night picnics “Urban Picnic” takes place in Istanbul Maslak Uniqa. There are also Moonlight Ferry Tours which you can enjoy with dinner. Everything is possible for entertainment in this city.
Istanbul also offers the possibility to take long nature walks and go trekking in its unique nature offered by being surrounded by sea on two continents. Some of the parkour to enjoy are located in :
- Avcikoru Nature Park ( Sile – Cekmekoy )
- Ayvatbendi Nature Park ( Eyup )
- Bendler Nature Park ( Sariyer )
- Buyukada Nature Park ( Prince’s Islands )
- Clingoz Nature Park ( Catalca )
- Degirmenburnu Nature Park ( Prince’s Islands )
You can enjoy these places for their natural beauty and fresh air. You can relax and profit from the uniqueness of these parks and forests. There are also bird watching points in some of them. You can get further information and get to know about more of these natural wonders in the official website of the nature parks administration here: http://www.istanbultabiatparklari.gov.tr/
In order to summarize; Istanbul is a city with different options to enjoy your stay there so plan ahead and decide on what you want to focus, history, nature, culture. You are sure to get whichever you wish in this awesome city.