1) The Blue Mosque:
The Sultan Ahmed Mosque is the most visited historical mosque in Istanbul. The mosque is popularly known as the Blue Mosque for the blue tiles adorning the walls of its interior. It was built from 1609 to 1616, during the rule of Ahmed I. Like many other mosques, it also comprises a tomb of the founder, a madrasah and a hospice.
2) Hagia – Sophia Museum:
Hagia Sophia has a complicated history. It was once an Orthodox patriarchal basilica, later a mosque, and now a museum for both Christianity and Islam in Istanbul. From the date of its dedication in 360 until 1453, it served as the Greek Patriarchal cathedral of Constantinople, except between 1204 and 1261, when it was converted to a Roman Catholic cathedral under the Latin Patriarch of Constantinople. The building was a mosque from 1453 until 1931, when it was secularized. It was opened as a museum in February 1935.
3) The Roman Cistern:
The Basilica Cistern (Turkish: Yerebatan Sarayi – “Sunken Palace”, or Yerebatan Sarnıcı) is the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns that lie beneath the city of Istanbul. The cistern, located 500 feet southwest of the Hagia Sophia on the historical peninsula of Sarayburnu, was built in the 6th century during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I.
4) Topkapi Imperial Palace:
The Topkapı Palace (Turkish: Topkapı Sarayı) is a large palace in Istanbul that was the primary residence of the Ottoman Sultans for approximately 400 years (1465-1856) of their 624-year reign. As well as a royal residence, the palace was a setting for state occasions and royal entertainments. It is now a major tourist attraction and contains important holy relics of the Muslim world including the Prophet Muhammed’s cloak and sword. The Topkapı Palace is among the monuments contained within the “Historic Areas of Istanbul”, which became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985, and is described in Criterion iv as “the best example[s] of ensembles of palaces of the Ottoman period.”
5) Grand Bazaar:
The Grand Bazaar (Turkish: Kapalıçarşı, meaning Covered Bazaar) in Istanbul is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, with more than 58 covered streets and over 4,000 shops which attract between 250,000 and half a million visitors daily.
6) Spice Market:
The Spice Bazaar, (Turkish: ‘Mısır Çarşısı’, or Egyptian Bazaar) in Istanbul, Turkey is one of the oldest bazaars in the city. Located at Eminönü, it is the second largest covered shopping complex after the Grand Bazaar.
7) Galata Bridge:
The Galata Bridge (in Turkish Galata Köprüsü) is a bridge that spans the Golden Horn in Istanbul, Turkey. The Galata Bridge was a symbolic link between the old Istanbul at Eminonu neighbourhood and the districts of Galata, Beyoglu, Sisli and Harbiye, where a large proportion of the inhabitants were non-Muslims and where foreign merchants and diplomats lived and worked. In this respect, the bridge connected these two distinctive cultures. As Peyami Safa said in his novel Fatih-Harbiye, a person who went from Fatih (in the old part) to Harbiye (in the new part) via the bridge set foot in a different civilization and different culture. Apart from its place in fiction, the romantic appearance of the Galata Bridge made it a subject of many paintings and engravings. Today, the modern Galata Bridge has several restaurants and coffee houses underneath where local people enjoy their meal while watching the rush of the ferry boats and fishermen.
8) The Bosphorus Tour By Boat:
Bosphorus is the name of the 30km long strait which lies between Europe and Asia, connecting the Sea of Marmara to the Black Sea. A stay in Istanbul is not complete without a traditional and unforgettable boat excursion up the winding straight. Its shores offer a delightful mixture of past and present, grand splendour and simple beauty. Modern hotels stand next to yali (shorefront wooden villas), marble palaces abut rustic stone fortresses, and elegant compounds neighbour small fishing villages. The best way to see the Bosphorus is to board one of the passenger boats that regularly zigzag along the shores.
9) Taksim Square:
Taksim Square (Turkish: Taksim Meydanı), situated in the European part of Istanbul, is a major shopping, tourist and leisure district famed for its restaurants, shops and hotels. It is considered the heart of modern Istanbul, with the central station of the Istanbul Metro network. Taksim Square is also the location of the Monument of the Republic (Turkish: Cumhuriyet Anıtı) which was crafted by the famous Italian sculptor Pietro Canonica and inaugurated in 1928. The monument commemorates the formation of the Republic of Turkey in 1923, following the Turkish War of Independence.
10) Dolmabahce Imperial Palace:
Dolmabahçe Palace was ordered by the Empire’s 31st Sultan, Abdülmecid I, and built between the years 1843 and 1856. The construction cost five million Ottoman mecidiye gold coins, the equivalent of 35 tonnes of gold. Fourteen tonnes of gold in the form of gold leaf were used to gild the ceilings of the palace, which stands on an area of 110,000 m² and is the largest palace in Turkey. The design contains eclectic elements from the Baroque, Rococo and Neoclassical styles, blended with traditional Ottoman architecture to create a new synthesis. Tourists are free to wander Topkapı at their leisure, while the only way to see the interior of Dolmabahçe is with a guided tour.
Our Istanbul Guides have a lot more to tell travelers about the history, culture, architecture, food and many other aspects of Turkish life, past and present. If you’re headed to Istanbul in 2012, consider getting in touch with one of them to see what other suggestions they might have for your stay!