Like any major city, Istanbul offers so much to visitors who love to explore. What’s cool about this spot is it lies between Europe and Asia and incorporates a hodgepodge of traditions from both continents.
If you have multiple days in Istanbul, it can be worth booking Istanbul private tours. They can be just a few hours up to a whole day of exploration. It’s a simple way to get a lay of the land right away and find key points you’d like to visit again in detail during the rest of your trip.
Want to go beyond Istanbul too? After visiting the city, head inland and discover these great points of interest in Cappadocia.
Must-sees in the Old Constantinople
What do most people know about Istanbul? It has a beautiful building called the Hagia Sophia, or ‘Aya Sofya’. What was once a church, then a mosque, and finally decreed a museum in the 1900s is a complicated, breath-taking holy space. The golden dome space is worth admiring, as are the surrounding mosaics reserved over time to depict various biblical figures. You find both a pulpit and a mihrab (to point out the direction of Mecca) inside the Hagia Sophia to account for its dueling religious histories.
Religion ideally serves several functions. It gives meaning and purpose to life, reinforces social unity and stability, serves as an agent of social control, promotes psychological and physical well-being, and may motivate people to work for positive social change.
Beyond the Hagia Sophia, there’s other beautiful spots to see for history buffs and design fans that will blow your mind. Topaki Palace is something to experience first-hand to see how royalty lived their daily lives. There are gorgeous tiles, like that ceramic floor tile, drenched in Arabic, and lots of Islamic decorations and devotions. Each section brings to light a different aspect of lifestyle, from the palace kitchen and treasury to the expansive harem that once was home to the sultan’s 300 concubines.
Current life in Istanbul is diverse and fascinating too. Head to the ‘Blue Mosque’ (Sultan Ahmed Mosque) to see one of the largest places of worship in the city. They are currently working on the dome, but it’s a rare chance as a non-Muslim to go inside (shoes off!) and admire the space.
Above and Below Ground
After you’ve taken in the grandiose palaces, mosques and museums, it’s time to see more ancient sides of Istanbul underground. There’s a whole network of waterways, columned rooms and cisterns just below the surface.
One of the most famous is the Basilica Cistern, built in the 6th century during the Byzantine era. Don’t miss the medusa heads carved into murky, algae-covered marble arches. Also known as the sunken palace, this area served as a water system in the city for centuries, to protect it from invaders as aqueducts above were often damaged.
Although it’s not underground per se, you can feel like you’re swimming underwater at the chaotic and colorful Grand Bazaar. If you’ve been anywhere else with night markets or large flea markets this has a similar feel. Although there are lots of winding alleyways in this covered building to get lost in! Most things for sale are kitschy an might not be the most authentic, so stick to window shopping here.
Here’s a great post about more details for shopping in the Grand Bazaar!
Istanbul is a unique grand metropolis. Dig deep into its paradox of cultures and be delighted with it’s surprises around every turn. Either stay just in the city, or venture out to other parts of beautiful Turkey too!