Istanbul is a popular city in Turkey that is often described as a gateway between two continents. It is steeped in both European and Asian culture, and this can be felt all around the city. In recent years, the series Ertugrul has also brought Turkish culture to the mainstream as people are mesmerised and fascinated by the rich and pompous history of this popular holiday destination.
Istanbul is a beautiful city that can leave you feeling like you have stepped into the perfect photograph. From the grounds of the Topkapi Museum to the breathtaking sight of the Blue Mosque, Istanbul is filled with delights for all the senses. It is easy to fill your days here with unique experiences which you will want to undertake time and time again.
The Blue Mosque—officially the Sultan Ahmed Mosque—is arguably Istanbul’s most photogenic building, gaining its unofficial name from the over 20,000 blue hand-painted Iznik tiles that adorn its interior.
The grand project of Sultan Ahmet in the 17th century mirrors the domed silhouette of the Hagia Sophia standing across it and is one of only a handful of mosques in the world to boast six minarets. A great example of classical Ottoman architecture with its numerous domes, the mosque is an iconic fixture of the city’s skyline.
Visitors must enter by the side entrance from the Hippodrome which will take you past the courtyard. It is as large as the mosque’s interior and the largest amongst all Ottoman mosques!
While free to visit, the Blue Mosque is still an active religious site so modest dress is required. Don’t worry if you wandered in on a whim—the mosque loans headscarves and wraps to visitors.
Enjoy a Turkish bath (Hamam)
For a truly relaxing holiday, you have to indulge in a traditional Turkish bath. Generally, after a relaxing soak and steam, you will be scrubbed from top to toe. You will then be feeling pristine before you enjoy an amazing massage at expert hands. The whole process will leave you feeling exhilarated and sleepy all at once. It is an experience of the royals and will leave you wanting to come back for more before your holiday is up.
Explore the Grand Bazaar
The historical Grand Bazaar is located at the site where merchants used to gather from differing continents to trade and exchange goods. With over 5000 shops over tens of streets, the Grand Bazaar offers an unequalled shopping experience. You can spend a whole day here, and return again and again since there is ample to discover, explore and haggle for. From handcrafted jewellery and traditional clothes to spices, scents and lanterns, the Grand Bazaar is a thrilling and exciting place to immerse yourself in the local culture and history.
Visit the Hagia Sophia Museum
Hagia Sophia is one of the most beautiful buildings in the world. It has had a tumultuous history reflected in the fact that it was a church for over 900 years. It was then a mosque for nearly 500 years after the conquest of the city. For the last eight decades, however, it has been a museum that has been frequented by visitors of all faiths from far and wide. The beautiful mosaics, awe-inspiring calligraphy and colourful tiles all draw visitors through its doors every day.
See the Basilica Cistern
Just a few minutes walk from the Blue Mosque is the incredible underground structure of the Basilica Cistern (also called Yerebatan Cistern). It was built in 532 and is the largest of the remaining Byzantine cisterns in Istanbul. The most awe-inspiring aspect of the structure is the 336 columns with which it was made. Many of these were in fact from ruined temples and have beautifully carved details. This cistern can hold up to 100,000 tons of water. It is a great place to escape to on a hot day in the city and during the week can be particularly calm and serene. The symmetry and the enormity of the structure are particularly beautiful to witness in person.
Visit the Topkapi Palace
The Topkapi Palace once served as the primary administrative headquarters of the Ottoman sultans. After the end of the Ottoman Empire in 1922, it was transformed into the Topkapi museum which has seen visitors from far around the globe. There are long queues for tickets every day, therefore it is worth going early.
The gardens of the museum are in themselves worth visiting. The lush greenery and sunny weather make for the perfect picnic spot for most of the year. Inside the various chambers of the palace, you can see beautiful thrones, swords and even old handwritten manuscripts that demonstrate the ancient art of calligraphy. There are also many religious tourists that make their way to Topkapi to behold some holy relics dating back to the time of the Prophet Muhammad. Tourists are expected to dress modestly to enter this particular chamber.