Istanbul is overflowing with attractions to suit all. Because the city has been under the leadership of three different empires there are reminders from each era to be visited and explored.
Most visitors to the city tend to stick to the Sultanahmet where you will find the Blue Mosque, the Church of Saint Sophia (Hagia Sophia) and the ruins of the ancient Hippodrome. But, you should try to broaden your tour a little to check out the numerous other attractions scattered throughout the city. For the shopaholics among you, the Grand Bazaar should provide you with no end of options. Be prepared to haggle, an adventure in itself.
A trip on the river that connects Europe and Asia is another must and be sure to take your camera. A combination of natural and manmade features make this voyage one that will stick in your mind but wouldn’t it be nice to have the pictures too.
And, at the end of any excursion a traditional Turkish bath is guaranteed to relieve any aches and pains you might have. You can even have someone wash you if you are feeling brave enough.
12 Sultanahmet Camii, Istanbul, Turkey
The Blue Mosque is known as the Sultan Ahmet Camji in Turkish which means the Mosque of Sultan Ahmet. He commissioned the building of the Mosque in 1606 as he wanted one which surpassed the nearby Saint Sophia Church in beauty and in size. It was built in the Ottoman style and as the name implies, it is decorated with glasswork and tiles. Since praying to images is forbidden in the Islam cultures, there are no statues inside the Mosque. Before entering, you must remove any footwear and you should not wear shorts, low necklines, or short skirts or tops. If the staff feel that you are not appropriately dressed they will provide you with a wrap around shawl. It is open between daily between 8.00am and 5.00pm from Tuesday to Saturday but is closed at certain times for prayer. There is no entrance fee.
Babihumayun Cad, Istanbul, Turkey
This magnificent palace served as the official residence for the Sultans for over three hundred years – right up until the end of the 19th century. Now, however, its purpose is to house artefacts dating from the time of the sultans reign. You can see gold objects including thrones, cradles, jewelry as well as objects with precious stones. You can also view many cloths and objects which are sacred to the native Islams including the beard and footprint of the prophet Mohammed. One of the most famous attractions at the Palace is the Harem, a place which for centuries has been clouded in intrigue and mystery. It shows the visitor how the Sultans wife, concubines and mother lived. You do need a separate ticket to view this area and you should buy it as soon as you arrive at the palace as entrance is limited.The palace is open between 9.30am and 5.00pm everyday except Tuesday and you are recommended to visit early.
Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Turkey
Known in English as the Church of Saint Sophia, this is the building that Sultan Ahmet wished to outdo when he ordered the building of the Blue Mosque. Aya Sofia is located just in front of Ahmets mosque and today it serves as a museum. Although built originally as a church, following the taking over of Constantinople by the Turks, it was transformed into a mosque. Once inside today, you can sense both Catholic and Islamic styles in its decoration and wall paintings.
Beyazit / Nuruosmaniye, Istanbul, Turkey
The biggest bazaar in the world, housing over 4000 shops, ensures that there is not much that you will find in this mini city. One problem you may have, however is that the place is so confusion you might not be able to remember where you saw what you wanted to buy three hours ago, that is if you found what you wanted in the first place. There are a few things you should remember with regard to shopping in the Grand Bazaar. When asked by the local vendors to have a look, this does not always prove easy. Once you stop you will not be able to get away. Only stop to look if you are really interested and if you do decide to purchase, haggling is essential. The main area ends at the Egyptian Spice Bazaar which is also worth walking through.It is open between 9 am and 7 pm, closed on Sundays and holidays and it closes at 6pm in winter.
8 Verzirhan Cad, Istanbul, Turkey
You cannot spend a holiday in Istanbul without trying the hamam experience. This particular bathhouse is almost five hundred years old so as you lay back and soak in the warm water and take in the beautiful surroundings, you can transport yourself back to the 1500s. The house also offers a massage and a sauna so you leave feeling one hundred per cent refreshed and relaxed. Just the thing for all you weary travellers out there.
Available at the riverside, Istanbul, Turkey
One attraction in Istanbul which comes hightly recommended is a boat trip on the River Bosphorous. While on board, you can take pleasure in looking at the splendid natural landscapes and sunsets as well as the myriad of man made attractions – castles, palaces and mosques. You will also sail under the two bridges which span Europe and Asia. Some of the tours also provide dinner if you go on the evening trip. Prices vary depending on the season and type of tour which you avail of.
Meydani, Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Turkey
Take a step back in time, well back to 203AD to be precise, and picture the chariot races and bloody massacres that took place in this very arena. Here you can see the Magnetic Column or Walled Obelisk which was erected in the tenth century, the Serpentine Column which now only stands at seventy five percent of its original eight metres and the Obelisk of Tutmosis. This dates from the thirteenth century BC and consists of a solid block of granite weighing over sixty tons. The four sides of the obelisk are covered from top to bottome with hieroglyphics celebrating the pharaoh. What remains today stands at over sixty five feet tall and yet is just one third of the original structure. At the northern end of the Hippodrome you will also see the Fountain of Welhelm the Second. So, you have no excuse, all these historical and magnificient structures in one place, it could not be any easier.Open from Tuesday to Sunday between 9.30am and 4.00pm.
Yerebatan Cad., Istanbul, Turkey
The Underground Cistern or Yerenbatan Sarayi (Underground Palace in Turkish)was built in the sixth century and is 70 metres wide and 140 metres long. It is supported by 336 magnificent columns two of which are adorned with carved sculptures of the head of Medusa. The cistern has been renovated and is now open to the public on a daily basis. Now, while you walk underneath it you are treated to classical background music as you wash the fish swimming in the water. It is certainly an attraction with a difference.