The Top 11 Places to Visit in Istanbul, Turkey

The Best Places to Straddle Two Continents

These are the top 11 places to visit in Istanbul for a mix of flavors, religious influences, and vibrant sights and sounds. Istanbul spans two continents, with a foot in both Europe and Asia. This city stands out for its unique geographic location and strong Islamic influence blended with European culture. Istanbul is where East meets West, making it a must-see destination for any trip to Europe.

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Top 11 Istanbul Places to Visit 

Istanbul holds a special place in my heart, because of the generous hospitality of the locals. Despite being a stranger in this foreign land, I feel connected. Istanbul represents the duality of human nature. There are so many things to see and do in Istanbul. But we only have a long layover– two days and one night. Fortunately, what we don’t get to on this trip, we’ll get to on the next. Because I am coming back. Istanbul is unique because it’s truly where east meets west. Here are 11 Istanbul places where you’ll have the chance to become more than a spectator.

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1. Grand Bazaar

I love the variety and vibrancy of the shops, people and activity. There are a lot of places that you’ll spend your money more wisely, but so what. The Grand Bazaar is a must see for anyone looking to see what organized chaos looks like.

8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Closed on Sunday
Free

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2. Spice Bazaar

You can find all sorts of spices, Turkish delights and loose teas. It can be overwhelming, with every stall selling almost the same merchandise. The Spice Bazaar has lost some of its charm due to the steady stream of tourists. But it still makes the list of top 11 Istanbul places to see in the old city.

8 am to 7:30 pm
Closed on weekends
Free

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3. Blue Mosque

Facing Hagia Sofia across a small park and mirroring its domed silhouette. The early 17th-century Blue Mosque is one of a few mosques with six minarets. The mosque is currently under renovation.

Sultanahmet Square, bluemosque.org. Open outside prayer times

4. Hagia Sophia

It’s been under scaffolds for years. The best of the glittering mosaics are in the galleries upstairs. Newly opened are the tombs of several early Ottoman sultans and their slaughtered sons. Before primogeniture, new sultans executed all potential rivals.

Sultanahmet Square, +90 212 522 0989, hagiasophia.com, entrance £7. Open Tue-Sun 9am-7.30pm (May-Oct), 9am-5pm (Nov-Apr)

5. Basilica Cistern

Currently under renovation, the city’s most unexpectedly romantic attraction is the Basilica Cistern. Constructed in the sixth century and then forgotten for centuries. The cistern once stored the city’s water has been re-fitted with lights and music. Fish flutter about the 336 columns that support the ceiling. Don’t miss the upside-down head of Medusa that forms the bottom of one column. Easily, a top 11 site to see in Istanbul. it’s also proof that Byzantine builders had little respect for Roman architecture.

Yerebatan Caddesi 13, Sultanahmet, +90 212 522 1259, entrance £3.50. Open Tue-Sun 9am-7.30pm (Apr-Sep), 9am-5pm (Oct-Mar)

6. Topkapi Palace

If there is one absolute must see in Istanbul, it has to be the Topkapi Palace. The palace is home to generations of sultans and their wives. Once a famous harem, the lush green courtyards and views over the Sea of Marmara, Bosporus and Golden Horn. The former harem is a collection of beautifully-tiled rooms wrapped round a gem of a Turkish bath.

Sultanahmet, +90 212 512 0480, TL20 (£7). Open Tue-Sun 9am-6pm (harem 9am-5pm).

7. Cagaloglu Hamam

I figured if its anything like the Korean bathhouse called a jjimjibang— count me in. There are several magnificent steamy Ottoman bathhouses to choose from in the city. However, the spectacular 16th-century Ayasofya Hürrem Sultan Hamam right in Sultanahmet Square has a long infamous history. Think acres of marble, the sound of running water echoing around stupendous domes, and a massage fit for a sultan. You gotta check one out.

Most baths include the following:

Face mask > Steam > Shower > Exfoliating scrub (the Turkish way!) > Body Massage > Swim > Sip on Turkish Apple tea.

Hamam: 30€
Massage: 40€
Exfoliating service: 45€
Exfoliation, massage: 50€

Cankurtaran Mahallesi Bab-i-Hümayaun Caddesi l, Sultanahmet Square, +90 212 517 3535, ayasofyasultanhamami.com, treatments from €70. Open daily 7am to 11pm, separate sections for men and women

8. Golden Horn

Golden Horn is a major urban waterway and the primary inlet of the Bosporus in Istanbul. Take a cruise across the Bosporus Strait to enjoy the sea views or access the Asian Side of Istanbul. This is a also a great place to catch the sunset.

9. Galata Tower & Bridge

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.

Beyoğlu, +90 212 293 8180, entrance £3.50. Open 9am-8pm.

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10.Siirt Şeref Büryan Kebap Salonu

This superb restaurant specialises in büryan kebab; a kind of Turkish version of the Texas pit barbecue. A side of a small lamb is slowly cooked over coals in a deep hole in the ground, resulting in exceptionally tender meat covered in a thin layer of crackling (crunchy fat).

Check out these post for places to eat on the Asian Side and European Side of Istanbul.

Itfaiye Caddesi 4, Fatih, +90 212 635 8085, TL10 (£4). Open 10am-11pm daily

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11. Hookah Cafes

Experience the city like a local by spending an evening in Tophane. Rather than one bar, this street has dozens of lounge-like shisha. The Turks call them nargileh cafes. I call it smoking a hookah and I enjoy it in my home from time to time. So we stopped into one of the cafes. We watched the locals play backgammon as tutti-frutti-scented smoke rings fill the air for a couple of hours.

Tophane Nargile Alani, Tophane Sali Pazari Sira Mağazalar 101, Beyoğlu, +90 212 244 2492, nargilemcafe.com.tr

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Comments

  1. blair villanueva

    Last week, we celebrated a week of Turkish dining at Marco Polo Hotel, and it was nice that the restaurant make us feel that we are truly in Istanbul. I wish to visit this city someday.

  2. Jenn

    I have never been to Istanbul, but it looks like a fantastic place to visit. The architecture of the buildings and the delicious food looks amazing.

    1. duffelbagspouse

      Hey Anosa, that’s the whole idea. But don’t stick to the highlights, try to find some interesting activities off the beaten track too. It will make your visit to Istanbul so much more interesting and personal.

  3. Natalia

    I’ve heard that Istanbul is a beautiful place to visit and it’s been long on my bucketlist. When I finally go there for holidays, I’ll know which places I should visit. I’m especially interested in trying their local cuisine 🙂

  4. GiGi Eats

    YES!! I want to Istanbul in 2009/2010 and I have to happily say I have been to pretty much all of these places (minus the eateries)!! I would go back in a heartbeat!

  5. kumamonjeng

    I love Turkey and Istanbul is one of the beautiful city with beautiful Blue Mosque also known as Hagia Sofia. I remembered I bought a beautiful boot at the Grand bazaar. You certainly have a great list. I am planning to re-visit and Hookah Cafes would be in my list as I have not yet done that.

  6. Monidipa Dutta

    So many places to visit there. A city full of amazing landmarks. … The most famous landmarks are of Istanbul, Hagia Sophia, the house of the Ottoman Sultans: Topkapı Palace, with its blue ceramics: Sultanahmet Mosque, the biggest covered bazaar Grand Bazaar…

  7. Sarah Bailey

    Wow what some amazing sounding places to visit in Istanbul. I have never thought of travelling to this area of the world, but what some wonderful things to see and do it has to offer.

  8. fra

    Istambul is such an incredible part of this world! I hope I get to visit one day soon, so I will save this blog post with great activities.

  9. Joseph Smith

    I agree, Istanbul has an iconic cityscape. I love the beautiful mosques, palaces, minarets, and the boats skipping across the waves of the Bosphorus is just too much fun. Its Old City reflects cultural influences of the many empires that once ruled here and Istanbul is really one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

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