Once the seat of two massive empires, Istanbul has been shaped by its colorful history. From massive Byzantine churches that still captivate visitors’ attention to towering Ottoman mosques, history can be found in each building no matter what part of the city you wander through. Architecture buffs will get a thrill from the ancient buildings while foodies will spend their day indulging in traditional Turkish cuisine like doner kebabs and lamb kefta. If you’re looking to take a memory home from the city, head to the Grand Bazaar and try your hand at haggling with the locals.
THINGS TO DO IN ISTANBUL
TAKE A RIDE TO THE PAST
Hop onboard the Tunel, the second-oldest underground urban train in the world. Running between Karakoy and Tunel Square, the funicular has been running since 1875. Its purpose was to allow traders and merchants to get up and down the steep hill faster. Now it shuttles locals and tourists.
MARVEL AT THE BLUE MOSQUE
Tilt your head back and prepare to be captivated by the dazzling building known as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque or the Blue Mosque. The walls are covered with more than 20,000 hand-painted blue tiles that catch the natural light at the perfect moment from more than 200 windows.
A BYZANTINE BEAUTY
Completed in the 6th century, the Hagia Sophia is one of the crown jewels when it comes to Byzantine architecture. The massive dome alone is worth the trip to Istanbul. Admire what was once the world’s largest cathedral until 1520.
Get a delicious doner kebab made with succulent slow-roasted meat served in a wrap or pita with yogurt, tomato sauce and butter or try a collection of meze, or appetizers, like fava or muhammara. Another great food possibility is a balik ekmek, a popular sandwich that’s made with grilled fish, onions, and lettuce. No doubt, you’ll have a plethora of food options in Istanbul.
With one of the world’s largest covered bazaars, Istanbul is the perfect place to shop for a fun souvenir or traditional Turkish goods. Head to the Grand Bazaar and try your hand at haggling with the locals over spices, textiles and more.
The happy meeting point between East and West. A shore excursion on your Mediterranean cruise can be the opportunity to discover İstanbul which stands astride two continents, Europe and Asia.
As if its spectacular geographical location were not enough, it can also boast of being the only city to have played capital to consecutive Christian and Islamic empires, a role that has shaped the region’s history for more than 2500 years and bequeathed to İstanbul a staggering wealth of attractions.
Most cruise visitors spend all their holiday time in Sultanahmet, home to İstanbul’s main sightseeing attractions: the church of Aya Sofya, the greatest legacy of the Byzantine Empire; the Topkapı Palace, heart of the Ottoman Empire; and the massive Sultanahmet Camii (Blue Mosque). Here also are the ancient Hippodrome, the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art (housed in the former Palace of İbrahim Paşa), the eerily lit Yerebatan Sarnıcı, a fascinating Byzantine underground cistern, and the Grand Bazaar (Kapalı Çarşı), the largest covered bazaar in the world.
The monumental architecture, attractive parks and gardens, street-side cafés, and the benefits of a relatively traffic-free main road combine to make this area pleasant for both sightseeing and staying on a Mediterranean cruise excursion. İstanbul’s Ottoman-era Grand Bazaar gets more than its fair share of souvenir-hungry visitors.
The area around it, however, is relatively little explored, which is a shame as it holds some very worthwhile attractions, from the historic Cembirlitaş Hamamı, one of the best Turkish baths in the country, to the city’s very best mosque, the hilltop Süleymaniye Camii. The best single reason to head across to the Asian shore of the city is to experience a Bosphorus cruise. The views from the Bosphorus are superb, with domes and minarets dominating the skyline of the Old City, and skyscrapers the business districts beyond Beyoğlu.