Istanbul, the only city that lies on two continents. From one side you can see Europe, from other Asia. By reading this review you will get to know the places, that from our point of view, are top 10 Istanbul attractions.
If you are visiting Istanbul for the first time, surely you will be amazed by its size. Endless, huge. Although it is not capital, it has equal or more importance and is even confused as such.
A city with many million of inhabitants, more than 15 million as they say and many years of history. One of the “capitals of the world”, hence it has its particularities over time, between cultures, traditions and times.
Every part of the city is hiding different faces and you can spend days trying to discover them all. Although it is more than likely that you’ll never see them all.
Walking along the streets and alleys, you can not help but notice the interweaving of old and new, traditional and modern, a mixture of tastes, smells and colors.
We believe that if you are planning to visit Istanbul, you will need at least 4 days to see the most important points of the city. From our point of view, to get to know must-sees in Istanbul, you will have to walk a lot and walk with a lot of energy.
From Pasos por el mapa, we made a small selection in this article. We present you top 10 Istanbul attractions, those that you can not miss during your visit to the city.
The Sultan Ahmet mosque has been standing there for the past four centuries. With blue tiles surrounding the walls of interior design, Blue Mosque represents a historical jewel and one of the most photogenic buildings.
The best would be to visit it early in the morning, when still most tourists are preparing to go for a tour around the city.
During the day it becomes a crowded place. The beauty of the interior becomes not so visible due to the crowd and the insufficient light of the building.
Still you admire the amazing architecture from the outside during any part of the day or night.
The mosque is open every day for visitors, where you can enter from the south door. Note that it will be closed during the five daily prayer times.
You should also respect the culture and customs of the country. For men nothing of caps or shorts. If you are women wear a head covering when entering to Blue Mosque. Don-t worry if you don-t have it with you, the head covering will be provided in the entrance and once you have it, you can stand in the line to enter the mosque. For more information about the dress code and visiting times you can visit the official site.
Another icon and part of the top 10 Istanbul attractions. Being once a church, later mosque and now museum, Aya Sofia stands as an important monument where you can vitness christian and muslim religious art coinciding.
Ten thousand workers has worked for five years and built the “divine wisdom”, St Sophia Church. Now is a place where one can observe interweaving of two great civilizations, Byzantium and Ottoman Empire.
Hagia Sophia museum is available everyday for visiting. Visiting hours differs depending of the season.
Summer schedule: 09:00 – 19:00
Winter schedule: 09:00 – 17:00
Ticket Price: 40 TL (around 10 euros)
We advise you to take the opportunity and go to Seven Hills hotel. There is a restaurant on the terrace that has a beautiful view of Aya Sofia on one side and the Blue Mosque on the other. It is clear that we did not tasted the food, but if you are not hungry or do not want to spend money, you can always enjoy traditional Turkish tea with one of the best views of the city.
The mosque that we would definitely recommend visiting. Although many arrive in the city and this is not in their plans, it is definitely another of the top 10 Istanbul attractions.
It has a beautiful surrounding area and has a elegantly decorated interior. Combining its size and illumination of the interior gives as a breathtaking view of the details inside of mosque. The mosque was designed by Mimar Sinan, the most famous and talented of all imperial architects.
Behind the building there are two mausoleums including the tombs of sultan Suleiman I and his wife Hürrem. In the garden that is surrounding the mosque you can go to a terrace offering lovely views of the Golden Horn and Bosporus.
Like in any other mosque, you should respect the praying times and dress code. It is open everyday for visitors except of Fridays when its closed between 10:30 – 13:45.
Grand Bazaar or Kapali Carsi
We guess everyone knows what we are talking about. Of course, it’s going to be part of this list of top 10 Istanbul attractions. One of the oldest and largest covered markets in the world.
The combination of everything that occurs to us. A number of people, uncountable if we try to find a number. Different smells and more colors. Shouts, greetings and attempts to sell common items, but also unimaginable. Here they want to sell you almost everything.
This all represents a concise picture of this place.The Turks are always going to be the most hospitable, but if they can offer you something and sell, they will do it. If you are not a hardcore shopper, you will feel overwhelmed in the beginning.
In the Grand bazaar you can find everything. We do not know how far it goes, but our eyes can see everything from clothes, gold, shoes, spices, food, fabrics and silks, carpets and souvenirs to small shops that are seemingly detained in time, isolated. There you will find from a cup of tea, to some antiquity from who knows which year.
The sellers will try to talk to you on any language in the attempt to sell you something. If you want to come in some quiet time, we are sorry to inform you that this time of the day does not exist in this place.
Despite the crowd and loudness, we recommend you to visit and feel the atmosphere yourself. That is the reason we put it in this list of top 10 Istanbul attractions.
Can you actually buy something?
If you want to buy something, it is more advisable to look elsewhere since you get the tourist label the moment you enter.
If you are brave and decided to enter the game, do not forget to bargain. It can be a good challenge if you want totest your skills and know how much you could lower the price. But also remember that you are dealing with people who, talking about sales, are the most persistent you will find.
The Grand Bazaar closes on Sundays. It opens every day from 9:00 a.m. at 7:00 p.m.
Spice Bazaar or Egyptian Bazaar
The little brother of the Grand Bazaar, closer to the Bosporus and easier to find.
The name Egypt bazaar, was chosen because the market was built with the funds of incoming Egyptian taxes. After it was renamed and now its name reflects the main thing you can find here- spices.
If you think that its smaller size will give you an opportunity to walk around without hearing : “Hello my friend, welcome”, you are mistaken. On every corner you can encounter stalls with Turkish Delight and other traditional Turkish sweets.
If you want to buy spices, dried fruits, herbs, nuts and seeds, here you will find the widest choice, but in our opinion not the cheapest price. Most prices are drawn for tourists.
Even so, it deserves more than one visit and of course we consider it another of our top 10 Istanbul attractions.
The Egyptian Bazaar is open from 09:00 to 19:00 and closed on Sundays and holidays.
The Topkapi Palace was the official and primary residence of the Ottoman Sultans.
Visit to the place can give you a glimpse at their lives.
Positioned on top of the ancient Byzantine ruins and centered around a series of courtyards protected by different gates the palace shows its importance over centuries.
Getting there you will be passing an amazing park, a quiet place in the middle of a busy city.
Getting close to the palace, be prepared to wait in long lines to get inside.
Tip: In case you both an Istanbul museum card, you can skip the lines and enter without waiting.
Museum is open everyday except Tuesdays.
Visit Hours depend of the season.
Winter Season: 9:00 AM – 4:45 PM
Summer Season: Between April 15th – October 30th
Museum ticket: 40 TL
Harem part: 25TL
Galata tower and bridge
The Galata Tower was one of the tallest towers and is one of the oldest in Istanbul. Although it can be seen from many points and has the best view of Istanbul it is not as high as it looks. Ahahaa surprise, it is not so high but it is located on a hill between the golden horn and the Bosporus and that gives the location and privileged view.
It underwent modifications over time. It started as a wooden lighthouse and a good number of years later the Genoese rebuilt it. Yes, the Genoese were also here.
If you decide to visit it be prepared to wait a long time in a line. Everyone wants to see the sunset, that is an idea that occurs to more than one tourist. So once you get to the balcony, you may find it crowded.
We recommend that you walk through narrow streets near the Galata tower and if you go down to the Bosporus in the direction of the Karakoy neighborhood you will find them full of cafes, restaurants and small art galleries.
Opening Hours: Daily from 9am to 8pm
The bridge has its appeal too. Up of the bridge you can see fishermen, down line of restaurants. It is a must if you decide to cross the river, see and feel how the city of Istanbul looks like.
Cars and combinations of all these things. Can you guess how the fish that are caught come up to the top of bridge? Of course, pulling them from down in front of the faces of those who are eating at the bottom of the bridge.
An interesting tour with views that allow us to appreciate how big the city is, seen from here, it looks like it never ends.
Besiktas is one of the oldest neighborhoods of Istanbul. We personally like it becuase you have the opportunity to enjoy vibrant life of the city and drink coffee or turkish tea with the view of Bosporus.
The streets and sidewalks are wide so it is easier to walk and it is easy to discover some modern touches in the buildings.
On the other side, you can find a quiet place to rest and escape the noise. Our recommendation is Yidiz park, one of the largest wooded areas in the city. While you will have tourists and local people coming here to rest, the park is big enough to find a place just for you and the nature.
There are several things to see and do, that’s why we consider including a visit to Besiktas among top 10 Istanbul attractions.
Recommended places to visit in Besiktas
- Dolmahbace palace, the seaside palace used by the the Sultans. It is open to visitors, except Mondays and Thursdays daily between 09:00 – 16:00.
Admission: 30 TL
- Naval museum – Open daily between 09:00-17:00 except Mondays. Admission: 7TL. It showcases the Sultan’s imperial fleet and displays the uniforms of the Turkish sailors and models of Turkish naval vessels.
- Besiktas markets – We went to the fish market, only minutes away from the eagle statue. It is open throughout the week and you can see local people and tourist trying to get the lowest price for the seafood.
* Tip: Besiktas is also a place where you have many boats and frequent departures for various neighborhoods on the shores of the Asian side.
This area is located at the asian side of the city, but we found more European spirit here than in any other part of Istanbul.You can get here by metro or going on a ferry where just for 4TL you can cross from European side to the other continent.
Kadikoy is a very vibrant part of the city where you can see many young people enjoying restaurants, bars and shops located here. Less traditional outfits can be seen here and it looks that in the way of dressing religion here does not have that strong influence.
The center of the area is a bull statue which represents the meeting point.
From here you can go to a shopping street or go to some street that takes you near the coast where you can enjoy panoramic views of Bosporus.
If you’re up for a walk, continue south along Moda street to reach the place of tea gardens. Have a traditional tea ( or the apple one, our favourite), watch the sunset and enjoy the beauty of this part of Istanbul which we also put in our top 10 Istanbul attractions.
Maiden’s Tower or Kiz Kulesi
Maiden’s Tower or Kiz Kulesi is one of the most emblematic places in Istanbul. It is located in Uskudar and during the Ottoman era it was used as a lighthouse. There are many legends and stories surrounding this iconic tower.
We include it among the top 10 Istanbul attractions, because we believe it is a must-see, just like crossing to the Asian side.
Today the tower has been converted into a restaurant and a café-bar. For 15 TL you can take a boat there for a visit. We did not go there, but we heard that restaurant prices are quite expensive. We look and try to capture the charm of Kulesi from the outside, looking at the waves and imagine it as we want.
- Do not forget to visit Princess Islands, especially if you travel in summer
- Try Nargile or Shisha. Part of the country’s culture
- Traditional salep, coffee and tea in any corner of the city
- Food! Tasting a traditional dish is a must, kebab, lahmacun or baklava
- Get lost in the streets of the city that always have something to offer
- Visit any other mosque, outside of the most touristic ones. In the smaller ones you can be very calm and see the details of the constructions
Up here come our recommendations. Keep in mind that many of these places are in the central part, in the old part of the city and are very close to each other. We did a review of what in our opinion can be seen quickly and show you on a very small scale everything the city can offer you. There is clearly much more to see.
During two months we spent in Istanbul, these became our top 10 Istanbul attractions. We have visited them many times and we also recommend them to others.