Istanbul is one of the world’s top tourist destinations, and as one of the world’s largest cities by population and it’s easy to slip into life as a local when you can roam a city that doesn’t sleep.
A bold and beautiful destination on the boundary of two continents, you’ll be amazed at the wide variety of things to see and do in a city that is the epicenter of centuries of Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman influence.
With many attractions based in the Sultanahmet area, Istanbul will seduce and stun you with riveting bazaars, gorgeous mosques, outstanding food and street life that is beyond fascinating.
Hagia Sophia is one of Istanbul’s most recognised landmarks, and an important place to Turks. Previously a Byzantine church and Ottoman mosque, it houses a museum today. Get your bearings in Istanbul by heading here (look for the magnificent dome), and marvel at the light-reflecting mosaics, marble columns and leather medallions.
Imagine a previous life as an Ottoman sultan as you wander Topkapi Palace, the oldest palace in the world. Former sultans added additional buildings to the palace, which has resulted in beautiful courtyards and defensive gates. Walk through the Disneyland-like gates to rooms displaying costumes, porcelain, manuscripts and weapons encrusted with jewels. Don’t miss seeing the harem section.
Be dazzled by tens of thousands of blue-green İznik tiles at the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue Mosque). Closed to tourists during Friday sermon and the 5 daily prayer times, the mosque is clearly visible on Istanbul’s landscape with stacked domes and six slim minarets. Enter via the south entrance so you can stand in the huge interior courtyard and appreciate the mosque’s design.
Haggle your way through the Grand Bazaar – you won’t conquer all 5000 shops in this noisy labyrinth, but your senses will be battered by a continuous riot of color and sound as you shop for leather accessories, spices, silk, jewellery, food and even carpets.
Jump on board a boat trip on the River Bosphorus where seeing Istanbul from the waterways is a delight as you cruise past ornate palaces, the fishermen on Galata Bridge, tiled minarets and other watercraft criss-crossing the water.
Soap up and scrub down at Süleymaniye Hamam, a historic Turkish bath that is situated at the Süleymaniye Mosque. Expect to feel hot, expect to sweat and expect a true Turkish experience!
An archipelago of nine islands on the Marmara Sea just 20 kilometers from Istanbul, the Princes’ Islands are a short ferry ride from Istanbul and offer an escape from the bustle of Istanbul city. Go there to admire lovely churches and wooden summer houses, dine in seafood restaurants or walk along paths under fragrant pine trees.
Riva, is a coastal resort just 42 kilometers from Istanbul on the Black Sea coast. Try rafting on the Riva River, or sunbathe on the beach beneath the ruins of Riva Castle.
If you’re itching to drive outside of Istanbul, fuel up your hire car and venture to the port city of Izmit, one and a half hours’ drive east from Istanbul. Here you can sit sipping cay (tea) beneath the Izmit Clock Tower, or enjoy a Turkish coffee at a lakeside restaurant at Sapanca Lake.