I have traveled to Istanbul, twice for business, so I had no time to explore the city. However, I still managed to see Hagia Sofia, Blue Mosque, Grand Bazar and Topkapi Palace – main places to visit in Istanbul.
The best way to experience the city is to wander the streets, museums and historical landmarks. Rise early, maybe not at the first prayer of mullah, but soon enough to enjoy Turkish breakfast.
Riding a ferry is an important part of the adventure. It’s not only a vehicle to get you to the destination, but it serves as a relaxing spot in-between the sights. Drink tea in a small, tulip-shaped glass or enjoy grilled-cheese sandwich over the great views of the city.
When to Visit Istanbul
The most popular time of the year to visit Istanbul city is summer. However, it can get very humid and hot. Thus, spring and fall are the most pleasant period with fewer visitors. Both of my visits were in this time frame. The weather was beautiful, sunny and warm enough to stroll the town in a light jacket.
For a more budget-friendly adventure in Istanbul, visit the city in winter. The price for accommodation falls radically, while fog and snow give an excellent touch to it.
The city is divided into two parts – European side with the historical center and Asian for a more local experience. The Old City in European side boasts with must-see tourist attractions. It reflects cultural effects of the many empires that previously reigned here. For instance, the Fatih district features Roman-era Hippodrome used for chariot races and Egyptian obelisk.
Byzantine Hagia Sophia
Or Aya Sofya as some call it. The iconic building which used to be a church, mosque and today is a museum, boasts with 55m-high dome and gorgeous mosaics of the Virgin Mary, Christ, and Byzantine rulers.
Once in the main hallway, you notice the large medallions with letters written in Arabic using the gold. This is one of the additions to the landmark at some point in the Ottoman rule. The museum is quite big and full of visitors, so the recommended time is early morning.
Blue Mosque (Süleymaniye Mosque) is nearby Hagia Sophia. The fourth regal mosque built by order of Süleyman I, has three-sided open space with a central fountain and a big garden. Its four minarets and ten balconies stand for the fact that Süleyman was the fourth sultan of the Ottoman Dynasty to rein the city and the 10th after the formation of the empire.
There are daily prayers in the mosque, and it closes down for visitation. However, the waiting is not that long, and the beauty of it is worth every minute. Women should cover the head, bare skin and wear a scarf-like skirt before entering the mosque. Prepare to take off your shoes and store them in a shoe shelf.
Another important site to visit is the Topkapi complex. Visiting the whole area will take the afternoon. Situated on the angle of the peninsula the complex has museums, cafés and stunning views of Bosphorus.
One last stop I had on my trip was the famous Grand Bazaar, chaotic yet colorful market has served as a hub for merchants for many centuries. Starting from a small warehouse in 1461 it grew over time and became a labyrinth. You can easily get lost while Turkish merchants try to lure you in their shops with sweet talk and free tea-offering.
If you decide to buy something, please remember: bargaining here is the must-do activity. Do not pay the first price the merchant asks for; always try to lower the price. If you are not good at it, like me, turn around and start walking away, this might to the trick.
Even though I saw little of what Istanbul really is, I enjoyed my time wandering the streets and taking the great pictures displayed in the post.