Must-see Places in Istanbul

Must-see Places in Istanbul


Topkapı Sarayı
Palace of sultans from 15th- to 19th-century; housed thousands of imperial servants. Center of the historic district, overlooking city across Sea of Marmara, Golden Horn, and Bosporus. Magnificent treasury of jewels (86-carat Spoonmaker Diamond), elaborately tiled harem chambers and kiosks. Closed Tuesdays. Tip: Eat a substantial breakfast and go early. Harem closes at 4 p.m., separate fee.




Hagia Sophia
Christendom’s largest cathedral for almost a thousand years; Emperor Justinian’s influential architectural masterpiece from the sixth century. Centuries of gold mosaics of the Virgin Mary, archangel Gabriel, and Byzantine emperors and empresses. Converted into a mosque, now a museum with exhibits. Closed Mondays.



Basilica Cistern
Hauntingly lit sixth-century columns and vaulted ceilings; the largest of several hundred ancient water reservoirs beneath the city’s surface. Cool respite from summer heat; occasional art installations; or music and dance performances. Yerebatan Caddesi 13, Sultanahmet.



Blue Mosque
Facing Aya Sofya across a small park and mirroring its domed silhouette, the early 17th-century Blue Mosque is one of only a handful of mosques in the world to boast six minarets. Is it really blue? Well, not noticeably, although all the walls are papered with fine İznik tiles. To view it as the architect, Sedefkar Mehmed Aga, originally intended, enter via what looks like the side entrance from the Hippodrome. Afterwards, pop your head into a building the size of a small mosque on the corner of the complex. This houses the tomb of Sultan Ahmed I, the man who gave his name to both the mosque and the neighbourhood.



Turkish and Islamic Art Museum
Former palace of Süleyman the Magnificent’s Grand Vizier in Hippodrome, a man so powerful the sultan commanded him executed. With 800-year-old Selçuk rugs, it contains one of the best carpet collections in world. Inspired European painters, including Hans Holbein. Illuminated scripts, intricate metalwork, ceramics; nomad tents and Ottoman parlor re-create context. Closed Mondays. İbrahim Paşa Sarayı, Atmeydanı 46, Sultanahmet.




Archeological Museum Complex
Turkey’s first museum, founded in 1891. Assyrian, Babylonian, Egyptian, Urartian, Hittite, Greek, Roman, and Hellenistic artifacts. Tip: Don’t miss the Persian-style kiosk, the oldest secular Ottoman building in Istanbul. Closed Mondays. Osman Hamdi Bey Yokuşu, Gülhane.



Süleymaniye Mosque
Designed by Mimar Sinan in 1550, largest mosque in Istanbul, with caravanserai (roadside inn), seminary, hospital, soup kitchen, and hamam. Garden mausolea of Süleyman the Magnificent and Ukrainian wife Roxelane. Tip: Respect active worship by waiting for prayers to end. Şifahane Caddesi, Süleymaniye. Donation.




Chora Church
Nothing remains of the original church, built outside the city walls. Rebuilt in the 11th century, current interior dating from 14th century; considered one of the finest Byzantine churches in Turkey with the best preserved mosaics and frescoes. Closed Wednesdays. Camii Sokak, Kariye Meydanı, Edirnekapı.



Grand Bazaar
Last stop on the Silk Road. Labyrinthine market of more than 3,000 shops established in 1461 by Mehmet the Conqueror. More than 50 streets of jewelry, textiles, pottery, glazed tiles, bronze, leather, carpets. Head for the heart, İç Bedestan, once the area harboring the most valuable goods. Tip: Impress hospitable shopkeepers by requesting Turkish black tea (normal çay) instead of touristy apple tea. Closed Sundays. Sultanahmet, Beyazıt.



Galata Tower
Watery Istanbul is a city that cries out to be viewed from on high, and you can get a bird’s-eye view of everything from the balcony at the top of the Galata Tower in Beyoğlu, the modern part of old Istanbul that, in pre-Republican days, was home to the city’s foreign residents. Built in 1348, the tower once formed part of a sub-city belonging to the Genoese that stretched right down to the Bosphorus. In a footnote to aviation history, it was from this tower that Hezârfen Ahmed Çelebi flew across the Bosphorus from Europe to Asia in 1638, thus inaugurating the first ever intercontinental flight.



Spice Bazaar
Built in 1663 as a stop for camel caravans traveling the Silk Road. “Turkish delight to precious saffron, caviar to henna, almost anything can be found.”—Saffet Emre Tonguç, author, 101 Must-see Places in Turkey. Locals flock to its arched stone corridors for traditional remedies. Closed Sundays. Eminönü.