Travel Tips: What to Do in İstanbul

Which other city has been the capital of three different empires? İstanbul is the point where civilizations meet. With its strategic location on the Bosporus peninsula between the Balkans and Anatolia, the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, İstanbul has been associated with major political, religious, and artistic events for more than 2,000 years. Romans, Byzantines, and Ottomans have left their traces and to discover them is an inspiring adventure. No wonder that UNESCO has declared the historical old areas a World Heritage Site. 

İstanbul is one of the most attractive cities in the world. A vibrant mixture of smells, colors, and languages captures the visitor. Its many sights include towering minarets, underground Byzantine cisterns, and steamy bathhouses. With its 13 million inhabitants Istanbul is also the economic center of Turkey, a modern metropolis, full of young creative people who enjoy music and dancing, festivals and theaters. 

What to see is a difficult decision; there are just so many attractions. Not to be missed is the Aya Sophia. The thrill of being able to experience the extraordinary spaciousness of this famous museum, which once was a church and later turned into a mosque, is hard to overstate. Opposite, just across a small park, lies the early 17th-century Blue Mosque, one of only a handful of mosques in the world to boast six minarets. Close by is Topkapi Palace, also a must-see, home to generations of sultans and their wives, who were closeted in the famous harem.

Not to be missed is the Grand Bazaar, built in the 15th century, the oldest covered market in the world. Countless shops with persistent shopkeepers try to sell their leather items, carpets, gold, silver, or souvenirs. Excellent deals can be done, if one knows how to bargain. Via the grounds of Topkapi Palace or through Gulhane Park the impressive sarcophagus of Alexander the Great is waiting in the İstanbul Archaeology Museum. Kids will love the model Trojan horse in the children’s section.

The Turkish and Islamic Arts MuseumSüleymaniye MosqueChora Church, and not to forget the Galata Tower are further attractions. From its balcony the tower offers a rare bird’s-eye view of everything. Built in 1348, it once formed part of a sub-city belonging to the Genoese that stretched right down to the Bosporus.

Time to relax after all this sightseeing? Try out a hamam, a bathhouse, like the spectacular 16th-century Ayasofya Hürrem Sultan Hamam right in Sultanahmet Square. And enjoy a massage fit for a sultan.