Visit Istanbul – Grand Bazaar
The Grand Bazaar (Kapali Carsi) is the most popular attraction for those who visit Istanbul. It is one of the largest bazaars in the world, with over 4,000 shops and sections. You can enter the Grand Bazaar through more than 20 gates. The Beyazıt Gate and the Nuruosmaniye Gate are among the most popular. Visit sections devoted to gold jewelry, antiques and rugs. Watch hot tea being delivered to shop keepers as they work. Sample a Turkish Delight and buy a carpet!
Visit Istanbul – Egyptian Spice Market
At the east edge of the Grand Bazaar near the Galata Bridge, you will find the Egyptian Spice Market. The Egyptian Spice Market has beautiful displays of bulk spices in almost every variety you can think of.
Visit Istanbul – Beyazit Tower
From the Beyazıt Gate in the Grand Bazaar, take a side trip to the Beyazit Tower. The Beyazit Tower is on the campus of the University of Istanbul, near the Süleymaniye Mosque. This former Ottoman fire tower now uses colored lights to forecast the weather.
Visit Istanbul – Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia started as a Byzantine church in 600 AD. Then the church was converted to a mosque. Today it is a public building that is a very popular destination for those who visit Istanbul. When Hagia Sophia was turned from a church into a mosque, the altar was repositioned to face Mecca. Some of the original Christian figures remain in mosaics despite the fact that Muslim do not allow any human forms in the decoration of a mosque. Muslim mosques use only patterned designs and phrases praising Allah.
Visit Istanbul – Basilica Cistern
When you visit Hagia Sophia, don’t miss the nearby Basilica Cistern. The Basilica Cistern is subterranean chamber with 336 marble pillars supporting the roof. Its entrance is hard to find, but it’s only about 500 feet (150 m) southwest of the Hagia Sophia. The Basilica Cistern was used for the movie Inferno starring Tom Hanks.
Visit Istanbul – Topkapi Palace
From Hagia Sophia it’s a short walk northeast to Topkapi Palace. Topkapi Palace was the residence of the Ottoman Emperors. You can pay an entrance fee to tour the palace. An additional fee is charged to see the Harem, but today the Harem is an unimpressive large almost empty room. The Istanbul Archaeology Museums are right in front of Topkapi Palace.
Visit Istanbul – Blue Mosque
The Blue Mosque is a very short walk southwest from Hagia Sophia. The Blue Mosque gets its name from its turquoise color. The word turquoise gets its name from the word Turkey. The Blue Mosque is also known at the Sultanahmet Mosque after Sultan Ahmed I, the Ottoman Emperor who had it built in 1616 AD.
The six minarets help you identify the Blue Mosque, because mosques rarely have more than 4 minarets. The Blue Mosque has regular prayer times throughout the day during which time tourists cannot enter the Blue Mosque. You can also walk to the nearby Little Hagia Sophia, which is in the opposite direction from Hagia Sopia.
Visit Istanbul – Galata Bridge
The Galata Bridge crosses the bay known as the Golden Horn. It joins the cruise ship port and the new city to the old town. The Galata Bridge is two levels. Expect lots of fishermen on the top level. When you cross the bridge on the lower level your view will include lots of fishing lines bobbing up and down. Stop at a restaurant on the lower level and smoke a nargile (Turkish water pipe) after your meal. At the old town end of the Galata Bridge, try a fish sandwich cooked on boats docked beside the bridge.
Süleymaniye Mosque & Galata Tower
As you cross the Galata Bridge toward the old town, enjoy the views of the New Mosque and farther back is the larger Süleymaniye Mosque. Süleyman the Magnificent built the Süleymaniye Mosque in the16th-century. Don’t miss the Galata Tower right beside the cruise ship terminal on the new town side of the Galata Bridge.
Visit Istanbul – Sultanahmet Square
Sultanahmet Square is next to the Blue Mosque. The Sultanahmet Square is where the Roman Hippodrome once stood. The Romans built the Hippodrome in 200 AD, but only a plaza remains today. Chariot races were held here. Also see the Egyptian Obelisk here. The Egyptian Obelisk was transported from Egypt, but only 1/3 of the original height is on display.
Visit Istanbul – New Town
The new town of Istanbul is just beyond walking distance from the Galata Bridge, so use a bus to reach Taksim Square. The new town has a completely different feel from the attractions in the old town. Join the crowds and wander down the pedestrian only Istiklal Avenue in the busy heart of the modern city.
Visit Istanbul – More Sights
- Take a cruise or ferry on the Bosphorus. Cruise past the Dolmabahçe Palace, the Ortakoy Mosque and the Bosphorus Bridge which joins Europe to Asia. Take a longer cruise and you will also pass the Rumeli Hisari Fortress.
- See a Whirling Dervish performance.
- Visit a Turkish bath (hamam).
Get Around Istanbul
Istanbul Ataturk Airport (IST) is about a 30 minute cab ride from the downtown attractions. Istanbul Transport operates 4 metro lines to get around Istanbul. The M1 line will take you from the airport to the tourist area in about 45 minutes. Numerous buses, trams and ferries in Istanbul make it easy for an experienced traveler to get around the city. Rail connections with Vienna and the rest of Europe are excellent. Cruise ship passengers who want to skip an organized tour can make their own self guided Istanbul walking tour. Start by heading to the Galata Tower and then cross the Galata Bridge to visit all the major attractions of the old city.
Istanbul is closer to the Black Sea than the Mediterranean, so Istanbul weather is slightly cooler with higher humidity than its neighbors. In the summer months from June – August, expect average highs of 80 F (26 C) and average lows of 68 F (20 C). In the winter months from December – March, average highs are 48 F (9 C) and average lows are 40 F (4 C). Rainfall is higher in the winter months. June is an excellent time to visit Istanbul for nice weather.
Visit Istanbul – Hotels
Visit Istanbul – Background
Istanbul is the largest city in Turkey. More than 13 million people live there. The city is on the Bosphorus at the crossroads between Europe and Asia. Istanbul started out as Byzantium around 660 BC. It became the head of the Roman Empire in 330 AD, when it was called Constantinople. That name honored the Holy Roman Emperor Constantine I. The Ottomans ruled the area from 1299 AD – 1923 AD. Under Ottoman influence, Istanbul became largely Muslim.