Visiting Istanbul is high on people’s travel lists as an ideal place to see ancient culture and achievements. With structures dating back thousands of years, there are impressive sites everywhere. However, deciding what to do first can be challenging, with so many things to see and do. These are some of the best things to do in Istanbul.
The best place to start your adventure in Istanbul is Sultanahmet Square, also known as Hippodrome. Surrounding the square are the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque. The Mosque of built in 1616 and is famous for being decorated with over 20,000 handmade tiles. As you walk around the square, you will also see the Egyptian Obelisk, Colossus, Serpentine Column, German Fountain, and Column of Constantine Porphyrgenitus.
Constructed in 537 AD, the Hagia Sophia is one of Istanbul’s most popular sites. This impressive structure has now stood for millennia. It once served as a church, then a mosque, and a museum. Today, it is a mosque but still open to the public. You’ll be in awe of this magnificent structure's impressive dome and mix of religious-themed art.
Grand Bazaar and Spice Market
Dating back to the 15th century, the Grand Bazaar is one of the world’s oldest covered markets. Today, it consists of over 60 streets with about 5,000 shops. You can bargain for handmade leather goods, rugs, fine jewelry, and anything else you could imagine.
The Spice Bazaar is similar but smaller. It is the perfect place to experience some of the best traditional Turkish foods. You’ll find Turkish delight, spices, herbs, nuts, and dried fruit. This is where you will find the rows of colorful piles of spices.
Hidden underneath the city of Istanbul are hundreds of cisterns. They were once used to provide fresh water to the city. This cistern is the largest and would supply fresh water to the nearby palaces. You’ll have a chance to walk through the cistern past hundreds of Ionic and Corinthian columns. A must-see is the two columns with upside-down medusa heads as the base. No one knows why they were positioned that way or why they were used.
One of the most iconic landmarks in Istanbul is the Galata Tower. Built-in the 14th century, it has seen ups and down throughout Istanbul’s history. The tower has been repaired and reconstructed due to fires and damage. At the top of the tower is an observation deck that gives you 360-degree views. This is a perfect opportunity to get your bearings and take in the city’s expanse.
Ottoman sultans called the Topkapi Palace home for more than four centuries. Walking through the palace is sensory overload. Room after room is entirely covered in intricate and colorful handmade mosaic tile work. A must-see part of the palace is the Harem. This is where the sultan’s mother, wives, and concubines lived.
While much of Istanbul is from the ancient world, this isn’t the case everywhere. Take a stroll down Istiklal Street, a pedestrian-only 1.4-kilometer walkway. About three million people visit daily. Plenty of luxury and international brand stores, small boutiques, and cafes exist. Take a break and sip a coffee while enjoying some Turkish delight. Or you could visit in the evening and experience the nightlife at one of the nightclubs.
You will need plenty of time to explore all of the wonderful things to see and do in Istanbul. See some of the world’s oldest structures. Then, taste the local culture in the Spice Bazaar. Finally, enjoy life in modern-day Istanbul with a visit to Istiklal Street.