Prepare yourself to step in Istanbul’s main sights in a tour through its cultural heritage and architectural richess
What Istanbul reveals to us in the first steps, when walking through the old Byzantine streets, is a perfect fusion between the heritage of the Romans / Byzantines, which dominated here for 1500, and the influence of the Turkish Ottomans, in the last 500 years, after the conquest of the city in 1453. But were the Turkish Ottomans truly the conquerors or did they end up conquered by this city? You will make your own judgement after you wind down across the main attractions of this city.
A city that connects the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea, 30 km winding through from the nature made Bosphorus Strait, at the very central point that divides Europe and Asia almost geometrically.
So you can see almost everywhere the remains of that mixed heritage in almost every top attraction site across the old European side of the town. This cultural merger is best seen at Agia Sophia, a former Roman Byzantine cathedral, which now serves as a mosque, serving now as a tourist attraction for how East and West can harmonize without conflict
On the other side of Sultanahment, you can see the beautiful Blue Mosque, one of the biggest mosques in Turkey, being certainly also one of the most beautiful architectural styles.
Close to it there is the huge cistern basilica, that some might even remember from Da Vinci Code ‘s last trilogy film with Tom Hanks- The cistern was build in 532 ad and is on eof the oldest in the World and largets with about 10,000 m2, can contain 80,000 cubic meters of water and has 336 marble columns. And is beautifully iluminated, so these are more than reasons enough to not miss it.
Not far from Sultanahment is the Topkapi Palace, about 15-20 minutes on foot, perhaps one of the most fantastic links I had the opportunity to visit in Istanbul, deserving at least a 2 to 3 hour visit because it has lots of different complexes, gardens and dreamlike views, with an architecture and art of incredibly beautiful details as illustrated by the colorful mosaics, the golden domes and the intricate doors of the various pavilions, sometimes opening labyrinthine paths. Sacred relics for Islamic culture can also be seen here, being a pilgrimage site for many. It was Built in 1478, after the battle for Constantinople, covering an area of approximately 400,000 square metres, Topkapı Palace is the largest and oldest palace in the world. And it’s a Unesco World Heritage Site since 1985.
Another amazing place to visit when in Istanbul is the oldest market in the World, founded in 1460, called Grand Bazaar. It’s a festival of colors, people and large covered tunnels that then disembark in a very crowded street with even more businesses. Perhaps many bazaars do seem unique, but this one was the one that impressed me most by its sheer size of 4,000 shops in 60 covered streets,s 21 gates and 56 interconnecting passages, that you could discover almost all day long, but usually 1 to 2 hours will be enough to check the nicest spots. And of course do haggle and negotiate always!
And then there is of course the elegant spice bazaar, located in a beautiful building dating from 1664, it has around 85 shops selling thousands of spices, Turkish delight and other sweets, dried fruits and nuts in a long corridor, so lovely refurbished that your seem to be a in a New Bazaar. If you prefer a more modern shopping experience in Istanbul
If you prefer a more modern shopping experience in Istanbul, then go to the new Zorlu center, it was my favorite, it even has a performance hall there and fashion shows, with 105.000 m², 180 stores and dozens of restaurants, in the heart of the Besiktas district, not far from Taksim square. But there are more than 100 malls in Istanbul, so take a few picks!
To finalize the Bosphorus with its beautiful bridges, cruises and many lovely people roaming around in buzzling scenes at sunset. So walk around the Bosphorus before sunset, take a boat (can even be a ferry) and admire the sunset…
My final tips is about the top 5 food experiences in Istanbul for different reasons:
There are more attractions and things to do but I wanted to focus on the ones that have most impacted me and that I believe you shouldn’t miss. Asian isde might not have as many places to visit, but you shoud definitely check the area around the Bosphorus.
Enjoy Istanbul, it’s much more than one city, it’s a unique mix of different cultures that will make you immerse in an incredible world
Final Hints: When coming/going from the new Istanbul airport always negotiate a price that should be around 110-130 turkish liras to Sultanahmet or Taksim are -there is no fix price, beware of private transfer taxis that charge 200TL or more! and make sure that taxi driver follows the normal route, they might use the excuse to go via a toll road to avoid traffic jams, make sure this is not the case. Buy the Istanbul museum pass if you intend to visit all main historical sites and/ or buy tickets online when you can. When in Istanbul use the tram and local ferries that are very safe and cheap (tickets bought from machines).
My name is Renato Azambujo. I live currently in Hamburg, but was born and raised in sunny capital of Portugal, Lisbon. I also lived in Switzerland for some years, before settling in Germany for the last years.
I am huge passionate about travel, photographer and a global explorer, always looking to the next destination.
I have so far visited over 70 countries across the 5 continents, because I really love knowing about new places, interact with different cultures and get to know myself better after each journey.