Historically known as Byzantium and Constantinople, Istanbul is the most populous city in Turkey as well as its cultural and financial hub. The city stretches across both sides of the Bosphorus, a narrow strait that connects Asia and Europe, making it the only city in the world spanning two continents. Istanbul is one of the top places to visit in Turkey, and among the most famous cultural destinations in Europe. Famed for its impressive architecture, historic sites, dining, shopping, nightlife, and exotic atmosphere, there are so many places to visit in Istanbul that attracts tourists from all over the world throughout the year as part of Turkey Tour Packages.
Here is the list of amazing places to visit in Istanbul.
One of Istanbul’s well-known monuments, Hagia Sophia was the single greatest architectural achievement of the Byzantine Empire. Constructed between 532 and 537, the structure was an Eastern Orthodox cathedral until 1453 and later Ottoman Turks captured Constantinople and converted the edifice into a mosque. Later, it was converted into a museum in 1935 and functioned till 2020. Again, it is reconverted back into a working mosque in July 2020. It is one of the top places to visit in Istanbul where you can witness both Byzantium and Ottoman effects under one dome. Tourists can go through the Imperial Gate to the central nave and look up to see the dome’s majestic interior with its mosaic-covered ceiling. Also, visitors can pay tribute to the five sultans that were laid to rest at the Hagia Sophia complex.
Located on the edge of the famous Bosphorus Strait, the Dolmabahce Palace is one of the popular structures in Istanbul. This imperial palace was built in 1854 by Sultan Abdulmecid I in traditional Ottoman architecture with the European styles of Neoclassical, Baroque, and Rococo. It was the final residence of the Ottomans in Turkey and is the largest palace in the country. More than 14 tonnes of gold were used in the ceiling itself! Furthermore, the palace is home to the world’s largest Bohemian crystal chandelier, a gift from Queen Victoria. One can witness the regal marble stone, Hereke carpets, and the impressive collection of oil paintings by many European and Turkish artists inside the palace as part of Istanbul tour packages. The palace can only be accessed via a guided tour, which will take you through the breathtaking Ceremonial Hall, the Crystal Staircase, the rooms of the secretariat, and the bedroom of Kemal Ataturk, where he spent his final years.
The Blue Mosque & Sultanahmet Square
The Blue Mosque or Sultanahmet Mosque is one of the most beautiful mosques in the world, and among the popular places in Istanbul. The mosque was built by Sultan Ahmed in 1616 as a show of Ottoman power. The mosque got its name from its intricate blue tile work that covers the interior of the building. With a blend of Islamic and Byzantine Christian features, the beautiful building has six minarets, five large domes, and several smaller domes, ornate stained glass, and stunning tile work. The mosque is still commonly used for worship and is closed for tourists or visitors during the 6 prayer times of the day. Don’t forget to visit Sultanahmet Square which has been a gathering place throughout history, dating back to the Byzantine era. Some of the highlights include here are the Serpent Column, Walled Obelisk, the seven Statues of Porphyrius, created to honor a famous charioteer from the 6th century, and the 16th-century German Fountain.
Topkapi Palace Museum
Topkapi Palace is a stunning oriental palace and a major historical landmark located in the Sultanahmet neighborhood in Istanbul. First built by Mehmet the Conqueror in the 15th century, the Topkapi Palace was the residence of the Ottoman Sultans for 400 years until Dolmabahce Palace was constructed in the mid-1800s. The vast complex is a dazzling display of Islamic art, with opulent courtyards lined with intricate hand-painted tilework, linking a warren of sumptuously decorated rooms, all bounded by battlemented walls and towers. Though the complex has several hundred rooms, halls, and chambers, only the most significant of them are open to the public, displaying the grandeur of the Ottoman emperors. The main highlight here is the Harem, where the mother of the sultan, his wives, and his concubines lived. Today it serves as one of the most important museums of Istanbul that exhibits an extensive collection of art, porcelain, jewelry, manuscripts, and other treasures of the Ottoman Empire.
Bosphorus Strait is an international strait that divides the waterway between Europe and Asia. It is one of Bosphorus Strait is an international strait that divides the waterway between Europe and Asia. A trip to Istanbul isn’t complete without hopping aboard a Bosphorus excursion ferry and cruising the strait, which connects the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara as it provides a unique opportunity to cruise the international waters while absorbing some of the most amazing sights that it has to offer. The most famous ferry tour is the Long Bosphorus Tour, which heads from Eminonu ferry dock in the morning and travels north towards the Black Sea in which tourists are provided with amazing views and the most important Istanbul’s landmark throughout the journey that includes Topkapi Palace, Dolmabahce Palace, Hagia Sophia, Sultan Ahmed Mosque, old wooden houses from the Ottoman times and the Bosphorus bridges.
The Basilica Cistern is the biggest ancient subterranean cistern located near Blue Mosque in Istanbul. The construction of the cistern was begun by Constantine the Great but finished by Emperor Justinian in the 6th century. This is the largest cistern in the city of Istanbul, built underneath the Stoa Basilica. This huge, palace-like underground hall, supported by 336 columns in 12 rows, was built to provide water supply to the Great Palace and the complex surrounding it, and it could hold 80,000 cubic meters of water. There are only a few feet of water in the cistern today, above which platforms were built for people to tour it. Another interesting feature here is that two columns have bases that depict the head of Medusa. It has a cafe and lighting elevated walkways for the convenience of the visitors.
The Grand Bazaar
If you are a shopaholic and looking for the best Turkish delights, then Grand Bazaar should be your ideal stop. Located in the Beyazit neighborhood, the Grand Bazaar or Kapali Carsi is a gigantic shopping complex with 5,000 shops. This massive covered market is the first shopping mall in the world, taking up a whole city quarter, surrounded by thick walls, between the Nuruosmanıye Mosque and Beyazıt Mosque. This vibrant bazaar has forty rest houses, eighteen gates, sixty-one covered streets, and twenty-five thousand full-time staff. Attracts more than a quarter-million visitors a day, the bazaar features incredible souvenirs and other authentic Turkish goods like spices, jewelry, antiques, clothes, silk, ceramics, lamps, towels, and rugs.
Considered as one of the most iconic landmarks of Istanbul, the Galata Tower was built in the 14th century by Genoese overlooking the Golden Horn. This centuries-old medieval monument erects straight in the middle of the capital and provides a panoramic view of the city. It was then called the Tower of Christ, as it helped in the defense system of the city and inspection of the Golden Hour. Standing at a height of around 67 meters (220 feet), it is a nine-story building built in a Romanesque style. A restaurant and a cafe sit on the top floors of the building from where you can enjoy the 360-degree panoramic views of Istanbul, Golden Horn, and Bosphorus Strait. Surrounded by great clubs and wine bars, Galata is a hotspot for fun and entertainment.
Known for its frescoes and mosaics, the Chora Church is a Medieval Greek Orthodox Church located in Istanbul. Also called as Kariye Mosque, it is one of the best places to visit in Istanbul. Dates back to the time of Constantine, the church was turned into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople and became a museum in 1945. In 2020, it reconverted into a working mosque. The church is divided into three parts, the narthex (entrance hall), naos (main church), and the parecclesion (side chapel). The entire structure is adorned with a plethora of notable mosaics, some of them truly breathtaking like the Khalke Jesus, and the Genealogy of Christ. The side chapel is decorated with various frescoes along with mosaics. The most notable of these include the Anastasis, and the dome itself which has Mary and the Child painted on it.
Istiklal Street or Istiklal Caddesi is a pedestrianized bustling modern shopping street located in the Taksim neighborhood in Istanbul. It is one of the most popular streets in Istanbul which is very crowded every day as it features all kinds of shops, restaurants, cafes, street shows, and more. The lower end of the street can be reached by taking the world’s oldest underground railway from near Galata Bridge. There is also a quaintly old-fashioned tramway that runs along its length right up to Taksim Square at the top of the hill. The area around Istiklal Street is home to many churches and old consulate buildings with ornate facades. Oe can also visit nearby Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence, a conceptual-art museum based around the theme of his novel ‘The Museum of Innocence’ and is a rather bizarre, kooky, and wonderfully atmospheric experience.
The Spice Bazaar is one of the most famous and colorful bazaars located in Istanbul. Built-in the 1660s, the market exhibits stunning architecture with more than 85 shops that provide a glimpse into the colorful and exotic spices used in many of the amazing dishes that can be found in Turkey, among the most visited countries in the world. From dried fruit and nuts to hand-crafted jewelry and textiles on sale, one can find or shop everything here and also explore the culinary side of Turkish culture.
Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts
Located in Sultanahmet Square, the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts is an impressive museum combining Turkish and Islamic works. It is one of the must include in Istanbul Packages. The museum is housed in a building that was once home to the Pargali Ibrahim Pasha, the 16th century Grand Vizier of Suleyman the Magnificent. It is the last museum that was opened during the Ottomans era that displays an impressive collection of Turkish carpets. The carpet collection on display here is vast and is heralded by textile experts as the world’s best. There are also exquisite ceramics, calligraphy, and wood carving exhibits ranging in date from the 9th century CE to the 19th century. Also, there is an amazing ethnography section, containing information about Anatolian life.
Located in the square of Blue Mosque, Hippodrome of Constantinople was a public area for various activities like chariot races, gladiator fights, and many wars in the past. The ancient Hippodrome was started by Septimius Severus in CE 203 and completed by Constantine the Great in CE 330. The word ‘hippodrome’ is derived from the Greek words hippos meaning horse and dromos meaning path, as it was a racing platform for the horses. Now, the place is known as Sultanahmet Meydani that still contains a few pieces of the ancient structure. Even though many of the statues and other several monuments decorating the Hippodrome did not survive the later emperors, four of the prominent monuments that are still prevailing are – Serpent Column, Obelisk of Thutmose III, Walled Obelisk, and Statues of Porphyrios.
Uskudar is a region located on the Asian side of Istanbul. Traditionally known as Scutari, it is home to some old mosques, winding lanes, and weathered brown timber houses (particularly between the ferry dock and the large cemetery). It is a great place for nature lovers as it is surrounded by Beykoz on the North, Umraniye on the east, Kadikoy covering the south, and Bosphorus on the west. A 30-meter -high Kizkulesi (Maiden’s Tower) located just off the Asiatic shore is one of the top attractions here. The other attractions include the Atik Valide Mosque, which was designed by the famed Ottoman architect Sinan and the Cinili Mosque, which contains some beautiful Iznik tile work. A visit to this place will give you a wonderful experience and lifetime memories as part of Turkey Tour Packages.
Istanbul Archaeology Museum
Istanbul Archaeology Museums is a group of 3 museums located in the Sultanahmet neighborhood of Istanbul. It is one of the richest archaeology museums in the world, and among the most important museums in Turkey. Founded in 1891, this museum contains three top-class museums namely the main Archaeological Museum, the Museum of Islamic Art, and the Museum of the Ancient Orient. The main Archaeological Museum exhibits a vast collection of ancient coffins and tombstones, including the famous and ornate sarcophagus that is believed to have been made for Alexander the Great. Also, the museum contains an immense collection of Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman-era works. The museum of Islamic Arts is home to the striking Tiled Pavilion where you can see a huge assortment of decorative objects. And the Museum of the Ancient Orient contains a large array of items from before Islam that was retrieved from all around the extensive lands of the mighty Ottoman Empire.