Once the Roman capital of Constantinople, Istanbul is a one-of-a-kind city. Straddling both Asia and Europe it embodies the collision of these two continents and cultures. A major Turkish city, this melting-pot is known for its diverse history; ancient civilizations ranging from the Greek, Persians, Romans, Venetians, and Ottomans have all left their influences on modern-day Istanbul and it was once a pivotal stop on the continent-spanning Silk Road.
One of the world’s largest cities by population, Istanbul sits on the narrow Bosphorus Strait and is home to a glittering array of historic buildings, diverse neighborhoods, and dizzying bazaars. A trip to Istanbul offers countless unique experiences: go shopping in the Grand Bazaar, the largest and oldest in the world, take a scenic cruise on the Bosphorus and admire centuries-old Byzantine frescoes in the city’s oldest churches.
Istanbul is sure to provide for the culture-hungry traveler. You cannot imagine a holiday to Istanbul without thinking about the delicious cuisine on offer. Aside from the mouth-watering kebabs, mezze and warming cups of Turkish coffees, the classic tastes of Istanbul, not to mention the fruity aroma of shisha, you’ll find the city’s cultural diversity in its cuisine as well. Almost all corners of the world and their accompanying delicacies are represented in Istanbul.
There’s a long list of things to see in Istanbul, and something to spark the interest of any kind of traveler, whether you’re a foodie, a culture-junkie or a history buff.
The Hagia Sophia ranks high on the list of places to see in Istanbul, thanks to its long, complex history. It is, without a doubt, one of the most famous places of worship in the world. Originally a church, later converted to a mosque and, today, a fascinating museum, the Hagia Sophia is the epitome of Byzantine architecture and easily identifiable by its huge dome and minarets.
A stone’s throw away from the Hagia Sophia is another unmissable icon of the city and a must-see sight on a tour of Istanbul; the Blue Mosque. With 13 domes and 6 minarets, its an impressive structure, dating from the early 17th-century when it was constructed by Ahmed I in a bid to emphasize the pious nature of his leadership. The mosque continues to welcome worshippers through its doors today and its common name comes from its dazzling blue exterior, a theme that continues inside to the decorative hand-painted tiles that adorn the interior. Be aware when visiting the Blue Mosque that it is still a functioning place of worship and you may be required to wait up to 90 minutes during prayer times before tourists are allowed to enter the building again.
Another of Istanbul’s treasure-chest of cultural gems is the Topkapi Palace, once the home of the Ottoman elite and today a huge museum. A guided tour is the best way to discover the fascinating history of this Ottoman emblem. Set across a huge complex, it’s interior boasts elaborate, golden decorations, whilst the exterior is home to well-kept gardens. The hillside location of the palace ensures brilliant photo opportunities and panoramic views across the city.
Fancy delving into the golden years of glorious Constantinople? Then there’s no better place to visit on a tour of Istanbul than the Hippodrome of Constantinople, today more widely known as Sultan Ahmet Square. Once the sporting and social center of the ancient capital, today a number of historic relics from across the world have been preserved in the square, originally erected by Constantine and his successors to raise the status of the newly founded city. Perhaps the most impressive is the Obelisk of Thutmose III, brought from Luxor to Constantinople in the year 380. Other sights to see if you visit the Hippodrome of Constantinople include the Serpent Column, from ancient Greece and the Walled Obelisk.
If all this talk of Istanbul’s glamorous past has got you longing for a taste of everyday life in the city, there’s no better place to immerse yourself in Ottoman-era Turkey than in the Grand Bazaar. Home to more than 4,000 shops, it attracts up to half a million visitors a day! A sprawling indoors shopping paradise, it’s easy to get lost, but that’s part of the experience. Be sure to stop for tea at one of the bazaar’s cafes to people-watch and pick up bargaining tips.
If you’re still left yearning for more retail therapy following a trip to the Grand Bazaar, the Egyptian Spice Bazaar is another of the top things to see in Istanbul. The oldest bazaar in the city, here you can bask in the exotic aromas of fragrant spices and sample some of Turkey’s best-loved delicacies. Visiting the Egyptian Spice Bazaar is like taking a journey through Africa, Asia, and the Middle East as flavors from across the globe are represented here, making it a foodie paradise.
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