Top 10 places to visit in Istanbul

Istanbul, with its history and great tourism potential, stands out among the other world metropolis. It is the place where continents, cultures, civilizations, religions, passes and the future meet. The world’s creative societies, seeking for inspiration turn their faces to the diversity presented by this city, its surprising elegance and flavors. Design, fashion, music and art environments keep on discovering the city structure that combines different cultures for thousands of years with a great excitement.

1Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia is one of the most interesting spots of Istanbul and one of the most extraordinary buildings in the history of architecture. Known as the Ayasofya or Church of the Holy Wisdom, Hagia Sophia is a former Byzantine church which later became an Ottoman mosque. Now a museum, Hagia Sophia is a perfect synthesis of both Ottoman and byzantine architecture under one great dome. The Hagia Sophia has a classical basilica plan and was constructed between 532 and 537, under the order and  personal supervision of Emperor Justinianos. The main ground plan is a rectangle, 70 m in width and 75 m in length. The area is covered by a central dome with a diameter of 31 m. With its 56 m high dome, Ayasofya is the fourth biggest Cathedral in the world, after Saint Paul in London, Saint Peter in Rome and Duomo in Milan. The interior is decorated with splendid Byzantine mosaics. The great mosaics and ambiance of the church are best seen from the upper galleries.

2The Bosphorus

The Bosphorus, also known as the Istanbul Strait, is a unique body of water that connects the Marmara Sea (to the south of Istanbul) to the Black Sea (to the north) and divides Europe and Asia. It runs right through the heart of Istanbul, past the Istanbul Modern Art Museum, several Ottoman palaces, at least two fortresses, forested hills, and shore villages with Ottoman architecture. Bosphorus is 32 km long and is the narrowest strait in the world; its width varies from 500 m to 3 km. Though, the strait is used for international navigation; every day hundreds of ships pass up and down on their way to Russia or Europe. Taking a journey along the Bosphorus is a great day trip. The best way to enjoy the strait is to take a cruise by traditional ferry, a self-guided tour of the European shore, or to relax at a tea-house or restaurant along its shores.

3Baklava shops

Baklava is a must to taste during your visit to Istanbul. It is a very old pastry, its origin comes from Central Asian Turkic tribes. Baklava is probably the most delicious and the most famous Turkish dessert among others which is made of finely layered pastry and contains hazelnuts, peanuts, walnuts or pistachios between layers. Very thick syrup which is prepared with plenty of sugar and water gives the taste of it. This wonderful dessert is usually served at room temperature, often garnished with ground nuts. Well made baklava practically melts in your mouth and finishes with a crave for another one. In Istanbul, Karakoy Gulluoglu is one of the most popular places for that kind of pure baklava experience. Located a stone’s throw from the Bosphorus, this baklava emporium has been catering to Istanbul sweet tooths since 1949. The place serves more than a dozen different kinds of phyllo-based sweets, none of them resembling the cardboard-like, past-its-prime version of baklava that is often dished out outside the Middle East.

4Blue Mosque

The Blue Mosque, also known as the Sultanahmet Camii in Turkish, is an historical mosque in Istanbul. It is called so because of blue tiles surrounding the walls of interior design. The Blue Mosque was commissioned by Sultan Ahmet I when he was only 19 years old. It was built next to Hagia Sophia, over the site of the ancient hippodrome and Byzantine imperial palace. Construction work began in 1609 and took seven years. Blue Mosque has 6 minarets, more than all other Istanbul mosques. The dome itself is suspended overhead by four huge, elephantine columns and has 23 m in diameter and it is 43 m in height. Interior is decorated with beautiful hand painted ceramic blue tiles and 260 stained glass windows. The way to properly appreciate the splendid architecture of the Blue Mosque is to approach it from the Hippodrome, west side of the mosque.

5Dolmabahce Palace

Dolmabahce Palace is located on the European shore of the Bosphorus and is one of the most spectacular palaces in the world. The name ‘Dolmabahce’, meaning ‘Filled garden’ is taken from the fact that the Palace’s now spectacular gardens were built on reclaimed land. It was the administrative center of the late Ottoman Empire with the last of Ottoman Sultans was residing there. After the foundation of the Turkish Republic in Ankara, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk had used the palace as a residence. Later on it was converted into a museum. Dolmabahce Palace embraces neoclassical, baroque and rococo styles, although the functional elements of the Palace still adhered to Ottoman tradition. The palace has survived intact with its original decorations, furniture, and the silk carpets and curtains. The three-storied palace built on a symmetrical plan has 285 rooms and 43 halls. There is a 600 m long quay along the sea and two monumental gates.

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6The Grand Bazaar

The Grand Bazaar is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world with 60 streets and 4,000 shops, and attracts between 250,000 and 400,000 visitors daily. Here you can find everything from beautiful Turkish carpets, apparel made of leather, tourist souvenirs, glazed tiles and pottery, jewelry, copper and brassware, cotton and wool, meerschaum pipes to alabaster bookends and ashtrays. The Bazaar was first constructed in 1464 with the order of Mehmed II 'the Conqueror' and had many restorations over the years due to the destructive earthquakes and extensive fires. There are a police station, tens of cafes, workshops, money changing booths, four fountains, two Turkish Baths, banks, little mosques and dozen restaurants which allow you to have lunch in the midst of your shopping. Don’t forget to beware of pickpockets because the bazaar can be very crowded, and you should keep an eye on your belongings.

7Basilica Cistern

The Basilica Cistern is the largest and Istanbul’s most unusual tourist attraction. It was constructed in 532 during the reign of Emperor Justinian, to supply water to the Byzantine Palace primarily. Known also as the Yerebatan Sarayi or Sunken Palace, Basilica Cistern is so called because it lay beneath the Stoa Basilica, a grand Byzantine public square. This marvelous piece of engineering is 143 meters long and 65 meters wide. The roof is supported by 336 marble columns, mostly in Ionic or Corinthian styles, each measuring 9 meters in length. Spaced at four-meter intervals, they are arranged in 12 rows of 28 columns each. The cistern could hold 80.000 cubic meters of water which was transported to the city center via two aqueduct built by Emperor Justinian I. Visiting the Basilica Cistern is a wonderfully relaxing experience, the sound of dripping water and sumptuous lighting transports you back to an ancient time. It is located in the centre of Sultanahmet and can be walked to easily.

8Topkapi Palace

Topkapi Palace is the best looking palace in Turkey, and the largest and oldest palace in the world to survive to our day. Topkapi means Gate of Cannons in Turkish, because of huge cannons displayed outside of its gates. In 1924 it was turned into a museum at Atatiirk's request. It is the best place that reflects the glory of Ottoman Empire, Sultans and their way of living. It was built in between 1466 and 1478 by the sultan Mehmet II on top of a hill in a small peninsula. Topkapi Palace was more than just the private residence of the Sultan. In The First Courtyard, there were a hospital, bakery, arsenal, a state mint, a part of the treasury and the Outer Service; The Second - was open to people who had business with the council; The Third - was reserved to the Sultan's household and palace children; The Fourth - was exclusively reserved for the Sultan. There are many sections in the Topkapi Palace which can be visited today, these are exhibition halls and doesn't contain any furniture. Some of the exhibition halls are closed for restorations but still the visit of the palace would take a half day for an interested person.

9Galata Bridge

The Galata Bridge is one of Istanbul’s most charming landmarks. Galata Bridge located in Eminonu District of the historical peninsula connects Eminonu to the Golden Horn. Crossing the bridge you look west toward Europe and east across the Bosphorus to Uskudar and Asia. The present Galata Bridge was built between 1992 and 1994 and replaces a much-loved pontoon bridge dating from 1912 that gently swayed and rolled as the seas moved beneath it. The length of the bridge is four hundred ninety meters and wide of the bridge is forty two meters. Galata Bridge has a feature being one of the largest bridges in the world which have on the rail line. The rail line is a tram. Also the bridge has an opening up the middle part which allows passing the ships. Thanks to its architectural structure and interaction with water, Old Galata Bridge is a place where the city’s locals gather to fish, eat, drink, smoke and shop.

10Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Hamam

Of all magnificent steamy Ottoman bathhouses in Istanbul, including the Cemberlitas, Cagaloglu, Galatasaray and Sulemaniye baths, the spectacular 16th-century Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Hamam right is the best one. It is located in Sultanahmet Square and was designed for Suleiman the Magnificent's scheming wife Roxelana. The area is also particularly significant as the site where the Temple of Zeus once stood. The hamam was operational until 1910 when it closed for many years. Until 2007 it was used as house of convicts, storage place for paper and oil and carpet bazaar. The modern restoration began in 2008. The present hamam was built in the classical period Ottoman bath style; it was an innovation in Turkish bath architecture to have the sections for men and women constructed on the same axis as mirror images of each other. It offers bath basic and luxurious bath services in a spotless and beautiful setting, including massages and fully-body clay masks. There is an onsite restaurant offering a la carte Turkish cuisine.
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