9 breathtaking places to visit in Istanbul
Are you planning to visit Istanbul and thinking of all the places you could possibly see while there? I hope you have plenty of time because Istanbul has so much to offer. Would you like to see the 4th largest diamond in the world? Or one of the biggest churches in the world or Worlds largest crystal chandelier? Istanbul is full of surprises. Here are 9 of my favorite places I would suggest anybody to visit.
1. Hagia Sophia visit Istanbul
One of my absolutely favorite places in Istanbul. Maybe because we were lucky to see Hagia Sophia on a private tour with dimmed lights, no other visitors, just cats that walker around like they own the place. It’s known for the beautiful interiors with layers of mosaics and frescoes that reveal the mixed history of this place. Hagia Sophia was once a christian church, then converted to a mosque and now is one of worlds most beautiful museums. It has been the largest church in the world for about 900 years until Seville Cathedral was completed in 1520 and whats even more surprising, it was built in just 5 years and 10 months, incredible! Now I know why Hagia Sophia was one of the 20 finalists for the New 7 Wonders of the World. It’s closed on Mondays so plan your visit accordingly. Visit Istanbul
2. Blue Mosque visit Istanbul
Also known as the Sultan Ahmed mosque its one of the most iconic buildings in Istanbul. In the 1600’s Sultan Ahmed ordered to build a mosque that would surpass Ayasofya or Hagia Sophia. The two great architectural achievements now stand next to each other and it’s up to the visitors to decide which one is more impressive. Blue Mosque, is known for the tens of thousands fine blue tiles of it’s interior walls and six minarets that was a record at the time it was built. Dress modestly since its a functioning mosque, women will need to wear a head scarf. Visit Istanbul
3. Basilica Cistern visit Istanbul
I could not imagine that something this impressive could be found below ground. Basilica Cistern was the reservoir of water required for the Byzantine Great Palace and it dates back 532 AD. It is the largest of the ancient underground water cisterns found across Istanbul. 336 marble columns, each 9 m high creates an impressive effect reflecting the mirror of water below, maybe you remember seeing it in one of the James Bond movies? At the end of the hall there are two carvings of Medusa heads used as column bases, as well another column with tear shaped engravings that are believed to be the power of making your wishes come true.
4. The Grand Bazaar
You can’t leave Istanbul without paying a visit to it’s famous market. The Grand Bazaar is the biggest covered market in the world with more than 3000 shops under one roof. You would need three days to see them all, but if you have a free afternoon, get lost in the streets of Turkeys finest market. Sample Turkish delights, check out the fake designer bags, Rolex watches or handmade carpets. The best time to visit is early in the morning, from 8 to 9 when they are just opened. Following old superstition, the shop owners should give their best price to the first customer of the day for good luck. Visit Istanbul
5. Dolmabahce Palace
Out of all the sights to see in Istanbul, the most impressive for me was Dolmabahce Palace, beautiful gardens, neoclassical exterior and over the top interiors (the designer of Paris Opera was brought in to do the interiors). 285 rooms, 44 halls, 68 toilets and 6 turkish baths. And 14 tons of gold used to decorate the ceiling with golden leafes. Dolmabahce Palace was home to 6 different sultans in the end of Ottoman era. The palace features the world’s largest Bohemian crystal chandelier gifted by Queen Victoria. 30 minute guided tour might seem a little rushed but will give you an insight of the life in this palace.
6. Topkapi Palace
It’s most valuable single exhibit is the 86 carat pear shaped diamond, the pride of Imperial Treasury exhibition in Topkapi Palace. It’s considered the fourth largest diamond in the world. The legend of the origins of the diamond is pretty interesting, a poor fisherman in Istanbul was wondering alongside shore when he found a shiny stone. After carrying it in his pocket for few days, he stopped at the jewelers market and showed to the first jeweler he met. The jeweler took a casual glance and said it’s a piece of glass. But he felt sorry for the fisherman and offer him to exchange it for 3 spoons. Thats why the diamond later was called The Spoonmakers Diamond. Visit Istanbul
7. Galata Bridge
If you want to see colorful local characters, head to Galata Bridge. I loved the atmosphere, locals fishing right off the bridge, woman, men, some even dressed in suites, or street vendors selling fresh baked goods. Underneath the bridge locals are sitting in coffee houses and restaurants to enjoy the view on ferries passing by. Once off the bridge try a 3$ fresh fish sandwiches from one of the fish boats.
8. New Mosque
New is a relative name for this place, it’s newer than Hagia Sophia or Blue Mosque, but still built back in 1665. Located in one of the busiest squares next to Galata bridge, it’s a great place to people watch. I loved to observe the men preparing to enter the mosque. Before praying Muslim go through a washing ritual, cleaning themselves in preparation for the prayers. Visit Istanbul
9. Spice Market
Dive into a world of scents, colors and be prepared for intense experience for all your senses. Colorful mountains of spices, variety of teas, dried fruits or Locus, the Turkish delight. With lower prices and friendlier vendors than Grand Bazaar, you might want to do your shopping here. Most of the vendors encourage sampling, so you can taste everything before you buy. This is the best place to fill up your spice jars and bring some flavor or Istanbul home.
Having just few days to spend in Istanbul, we didn’t managed to check everything off our list so I will have to come back and explore more. Probably in springtime when everything is blossoming and the weather is nicer. Locals say the best time to visit Istanbul is May, June and September, October.
What I left for the next time:
Experiencing a real Turkish bath, visit Harem of Topkapi Palace, see authentic Whirling Dervishes and to visit the Asian part of the city.
Looking for suggestions where to stay and eat while in Istanbul? Click here.