A trip to Istanbul will be one of your most memorable trips ever. There are so many Istanbul attractions that you can see and feel intrigued to go deep down its history and learn more and more.
The vibe of Istanbul is nothing like you would have experienced in any other part of the world. Separated by the Bosphorus, the city has the influence of both European and Asian sides of the world. And this shows in the culture, food places, and neighborhoods on the two sides.
Called Constantinople, the capital of many empires from Roman Byzantine and later Ottoman, in the past, Istanbul speaks volumes about the various settlements it once housed. The architecture of Istanbul, its water system, museums, and mosques, especially the Hagia Sophia, are worth visiting.
Something about this beautiful Turkish metropolis will make you fall in love with it. The rustic charm combined with the modern look, Istanbul always catches the attention of tourists from all over the globe.
To make your journey easy, here is a list of places and things to do in Istanbul both on the European and Asian sides:
#1 Visit the Majestic Hagia Sophia:
The first on the list has to be Hagia Sophia, or as the Turks call “Ayasophia.” This mosque has been a place of many political discussions also in the past. Modern Turkey founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk declared the Hagia Sophia as a museum, which served as a church for over 900 years and later a mosque for over 400 years. But in July 2020, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reverted into a mosque from the museum, a move that became a pretty controversial subject.
Nonetheless, the grandeur of Hagia Sophia is still intact. Trees and beautiful gardens surround the mosque. You can see old pillars, the width of which is magnificently thick. Some old marble pillars can also be seen inside the mosque. As Hagia Sophia serves as a mosque, prayers take place five times a day.
From huge chandeliers to the majestic architecture and glasswork on windows and intricate carvings on the roofs and the walls, the Hagia Sophia has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985.
The mosque, located in Istanbul’s Fatih District, will leave an everlasting impact on your mind. You will need to take off your shoes outside the entrance gate to the Hagia Sophia hall. All need to cover their heads as they enter the main room of the mosque. If you happen to be visiting during prayer time, please avoid standing in front of a person who is kneeling down and praying. Also, observe silence not to disturb the religious rituals.
#2 Bask in the beauty of Sultan Ahmed Mosque (The Blue Mosque):
Just opposite the Hagia Sophia, you’ll witness the extravagant Blue Mosque. This beautiful piece of Architecture is from the Ottoman times. Comprising five main domes, six minarets, and eight secondary domes, the Blue Mosque is a marvel.
You can see the approximately 20,000 hand-painted glazed ceramics in 60 diverse tulip patterns and some 200 stained glass windows. The interiors are spectacular, lined with carpets and embellished with chandeliers. The mosque is a must to visit as it will take you back in time.
#3 Atatürk’s home, turned into museum:
Revolutionary statesman and the founder father of the Turkish Republic, Atatürk is in the hearts of Turks. Stories of his bravery and the role he played in the Turkish War of Independence still resonate in the hearts of Turks after all those years. He was the first administrator to give women the right to vote and did a lot for the betterment of women in society.
Atatürk’s home lies on Halaskargazi Street in the Sisli district of Istanbul. After he returned from Syria, he started to live in this house built in 1908 with his mother, Zübeyde Hanim, and his sister, Makbule, in the three-story building. He resided on the middle floor, while his mother and sister lived on the top floor of the house. The ground floor is where his servants lived.
If you are curious to peep into Atatürk’s home and learn about his lifestyle, this museum will give you a good glimpse. His articles and objects lie intact in his house to this day.
#4 The ancient Basilica Cisterns:
Hundreds of ancient cisterns lie under Istanbul’s houses and streets, with Basilica Cisterns being the largest ones. The cisterns, opened after extensive restoration work, take you on a spooky journey. With the original medusa statue lying at the Basilica, there are many stories attached to the place.
You can still feel the dampness of the huge pillars inside. And the artwork by the municipality, as part of the restoration work, makes the visit worth spending time and money.
You’ll see many coins in the water near the statues of various currencies. It seems as if people made a wish and threw a coin to make it come true.
#5 Peep into Ottoman sultans’ lives at Topkapı Palace and Harem:
Once the court of the Ottoman Empire, Topkapi Palace has many stories attached to it. The main residence of Ottoman Sultans, the palace is worth seeing. It has a Harem, a library, a treasury place, an Ottoman-style kitchen, and rooms packed with ancient clocks, crockery, utensils and weapons Ottomans used, and many such objects.
It also has religious significance. For people who want to have the feel of the Ottoman lifestyle, their culture, the way Sultans live, and the glance at Golden Horn from its terrace, the palace is a must to visit.
#6 Wander through the Street of Istiklal while in Taksim:
It’s not quite possible that you are in Istanbul and miss a chance to visit Taksim Square and the famous Istiklal Street. Lined with brands and housing museums, Istiklal Street offers you a chance to experience the modern side of Istanbul.
Taksim is a great tourist attraction, and life never stops here. It is known for its nightlife, as not only pubs and bars are open 24/7 but also various eateries and even sweet shops.
#7 Take a ferry boat on the Bosphorus Strait:
Taking a ferry boat to travel through the Bosphorus Strait to enter the European or Asian Side will make your experience memorable. These ferries are cheap and are a good option to take a feel of the sea with seagulls flying over you. The stations are Eminönü or Halkali on the European side and Üsküdar on the Asian side.
Be careful while eating on the deck, as you never know when a seagull will snatch it away from you. The seagulls have a notorious reputation here.
Private ferry boats are also available to host a party or a wedding ceremony. Many tourists prefer these cruise liners for their destination weddings.
Irrespective of the boats you choose, the scene from a ferry is enthralling. Seeing the great Bosphorus bridge from a distance and the civilization around is marvelous.
#8 Get lost in the smells of spices at Mısır Çarşısı (Egyptian Bazaar):
The spice market is another place of great tourist attraction here. You can find spices of many sorts coming from Egypt and also other parts of the world. The Egyptian bazaar was once a spice trade center in ancient times, But today it is home to many other shops selling Turkish delight, sweets, and incense sticks.
The minute you will enter the bazaar the array of shops on both sides under the beautiful roof and flooring reminiscent of ancient times will surprise you.
#9 The mysterious Maiden’s Tower:
Maiden’s Tower, known as the Kız Kulesi, is regarded as the timeless symbol of love in Turkey. It lies on a small islet in the Bosphorus along the Asian coastal town of Üsküdar. Maiden’s Tower has many stories that make it quite mysterious.
As per the legend, a prophetess predicted the death of a princess by a snake bite. To protect his daughter’s life, the king ordered his men to build a tower where she would stay. On his daughter’s birthday, the king sent a fruit basket for her daughter at the tower. Just as his daughter uncovered the fruit basket, a snake hiding among the fruits bit her, and she died, just as the oracle said. This is how the tower got its name.
#10 Experience the charm of Grand Bazar:
You will probably need a day to see the Grand Bazaar entirely. The Grand Bazaar is considered one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world. Built on 30,700 square meters of area, the Grand Bazaar covers 61 streets with around 4,000 shops. Besides spices, sweets, herbs, and baklava. you can also find perfumes, dresses, and shoes at Grand Bazaar. There are also cafes and restaurants where you can hang around and taste Turkish delicacies.
For shopaholics, no place can be better than the Grand Bazaar. From original brands to authentic traditional handicrafts, there is no limit to the things you can find here and get surprised by.
Wear sports shoes and comfortable clothes because a trip to the Grand Bazaar will tire you out.