Istanbul Travel Guide

This content was last updated on 17.03.2024 15:01

If you're seeking advice for those planning to visit Istanbul, you've come to the right place! In this article, we'll delve into the cultural essence of Istanbul and highlight some must-visit places for a 1-2 day trip. Istanbul, renowned as one of Turkey's and the world's most significant cities, captivates millions of visitors annually with its cultural richness, natural beauty, deep-rooted history, iconic landmarks, and the vastness of its surrounding seas. Geographically, Istanbul connects both the continents of Asia and Europe, serving as a bridge between Eastern and Western cultures. Furthermore, its renowned strait, which connects the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, adds to its fame.

To fully experience this city's allure, it's best to visit during spring or summer when Istanbul boasts its charm and liveliness. Particularly during the summer months, when nature regains its vibrancy and the sea beckons, you'll find yourself immersed in a more beautiful landscape and vibrant social scene. The blossoming purple judas trees in spring also contribute to uplifting your spirits. Additionally, if you plan to visit Istanbul, you'll find direct or connecting flights available from all major airports worldwide.

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Istanbul Attractions

To make it easier for you to visit Istanbul, we have prepared a list of the most popular tourist attractions in Istanbul.

1. Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia

There are many places that can be put on the list of places to visit in Istanbul, but the place that deserves the first place is definitely Hagia Sophia.

Hagia Sophia, built in 360 by the Eastern Roman Emperor Constantius, is one of the oldest cathedrals in the world.

This building, which was called Megale Ekklesia at the time it was built and called Hagia Sophia in the 5th century, carried this name until Istanbul was conquered in 1453. After conquering Istanbul, Fatih Sultan Mehmet ordered Hagia Sophia to be a mosque and the minarets of the building were built by Mimar Sinan. Hagia Sophia, which became a museum in 1935, was reopened for worship in 2020.

You can visit Hagia Sophia every day of the week except Monday.

Visiting hours

  • Summer: 09:00 - 19:00
  • Winter: 09:00 - 17:00

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Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

2. Blue Mosque

Blue Mosque

The Blue Mosque, which was built by the architect Sedefkar Mehmet Ağa, one of Mimar Sinan's students, by the Ottoman Sultan Sultan Ahmed I between 1609 and 1617, is the most famous mosque in Istanbul, perhaps even in Turkey. Blue Mosque, which is one of the first places that all domestic and foreign tourists visit in Istanbul, is known as the Blue Mosque (Blue Mosque) by foreign tourists. The reason for this is that the interior of the mosque is furnished with 21 thousand Iznik tiles and has a deep blue appearance.

These 16 balconies in the Blue Mosque, which has 16 balconies, symbolize that Sultan Ahmet I is the 16th ruler of the Ottoman Empire. The dome of the Blue Mosque, located directly opposite Hagia Sophia, is 43 meters high and its diameter is 23.5 meters.

Since the mosque is open for worship, it can be very crowded on Fridays and religious holidays. For this reason, if you intend to visit the mosque to see the mosque from an architectural point of view, it may be a better choice to choose quieter days.

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Blue Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey

3. Topkapi Palace

Topkapi Palace

Another building that deserves to be at the top of our list is Topkapı Palace, located in the Historical Peninsula, the most touristic area of ​​Istanbul.

Topkapi Palace, built after the conquest of Istanbul, is located in the Sarayburnu district of Fatih district. Topkapı Palace, which served as the administrative center for 400 years of the 600-year history of the Ottoman Empire, was turned into a museum on April 3, 1924, and with this feature it is also the first museum of the Republic of Turkey.

It is one of the largest palace museums in the world, as it covers an area of ​​300,000 square meters and hosts approximately 300,000 archival documents. When you go to visit the museum, you can see the Harem section, the Cardigan-ı Saadet Office, the Privy Room, Babü's Saade and the Garden of the Mansions. You should also visit the Istanbul Library, which houses the portraits, clothes and weapons of the sultans.

Topkapı Palace is open to visitors between 10:00 and 17:30 on weekdays, except Tuesdays, and between 10:30 and 17:30 on weekends.

4. Grand Bazaar

Grand Bazaar

Another of the most popular stops of the Historic Peninsula in Beyazıt is the Grand Bazaar.

With this feature, we can say that the Grand Bazaar, which was built during the reign of Mehmet the Conqueror and has been in existence for 550 years, is the oldest bazaar of Istanbul. It is famous for its streets that you will get lost in and the jewelers that direct the world gold market. Besides shopping at the Grand Bazaar, known to foreigners as the Grand Bazaar, you will see that everything sold here reflects the ancient spirit of Istanbul.

The bazaar, which aimed to increase the income of the Ottoman Empire at the time it was built, grew over time and became the most important trade center in the region. Considered the oldest shopping center in the world, the Grand Bazaar is also one of the largest shopping centers in the world, with an area of ​​45,000 square meters. The Grand Bazaar, which is also mentioned in Evliya Çelebi's Travel Book, is also mentioned in other travel books with its size and shops inside.

Home to about 4000 shops, the Grand Bazaar is famous for its jewelers, as we mentioned before. In the Grand Bazaar, you can find spice shops, Turkish delight shops, carpets, rugs and fabrics as well as jewelers. Even if you are not going to buy anything from the Grand Bazaar, you should definitely wander through the shops because it would not be possible to go back without feeling the nostalgic atmosphere of old Istanbul.

5. Galata Tower

Galata Tower

Galata Tower is one of the first structures that comes to mind when Istanbul is mentioned and forms the silhouette of Istanbul.

From the Galata Tower, which is the symbol of the city, you can see the magnificent view of Istanbul from 70 meters high, 360 degrees. Galata Tower welcomes so many tourists during the day that it is very possible to see long queues in front of it.

Galata Tower, which is among the oldest towers in the world, was built in 545 AD at the request of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian, but after this tower was destroyed, it was rebuilt by the Genoese in the 1350s. The tower, which was destroyed by fire and earthquakes, was repaired again by the Ottoman Empire. The last repair of the tower was made in 2020. (previous repair 1967) The tower, which offers a wonderful view of Istanbul when you climb to the top;

Between 10:00 - 22:00 in summer
Between 10:00 - 19:00 in winter
you can visit.

As of July 2021, the Galata Tower entrance fee has been increased by more than 200 percent.

Accordingly, Galata Tower entrance fees, which were 30 TL during the BELTUR period of IMM, were increased to 100 TL as of July 1, 2021.

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Galata Tower, Istanbul, Turkey

6. Basilica Cistern

Basilica Cistern

The Basilica Cistern is one of the most valuable structures in Istanbul from the Byzantine Empire period.

The Basilica Cistern, which was built in 532 by the order of Emperor Justinianus, is also known as "Basilica Cistern" because of the presence of the Stoa Basilica in its place. The cistern, which was used for the water needs of the palace and the people in the years it was built, continued to be used as a water source for a while after the Ottoman Empire conquered Istanbul.

The Basilica Cistern, which is 140 meters long and 70 meters wide, has a depth of 9 meters. The most mysterious artifact in the Basilica Cistern, which has a water storage capacity of around 90,000 tons, is the Head of Medusa. The Head of Medusa statue, located under two columns in the northwest of the cistern, is one of the most important works of the Roman Period.

The Basilica Cistern is open to visitors all days of the week.

Between 09:00 - 17:30 in the winter period
Between 09:00 - 18:30 in the summer period
you can visit.

The entrance fees to the Basilica Cistern, for which the Müzekart is not valid, are as follows;

  • For Adults: 50 TL
  • Students and teachers: 20 TL
  • For Foreigners: 190 TL

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Basilica Cistern, Istanbul, Turkey

7. Sultanahmet Square

Sultanahmet Square

It would not be a lie to say that this most important square of Istanbul, which is the meeting point of people and where dozens of important works are located today, is the starting point of touristic trips in Istanbul.

The other name of Sultanahmet Square, which was used as a hippodrome in the Roman Empire and later Byzantine periods, is Horse Square for this reason. As it is today, it has maintained its importance for a very long time as the meeting, entertainment, excitement and sports center of the city. The Imperial Palace, known as the "Great Palace", started near the Hippodrome and stretched down to the seaside. Today, obelisks such as the Serpent Column, the Knitted Obelisk, and the Obelisk, whose remains can still be seen, were used to divide the hippodrome into two. These works are among the most important elements of the photographs taken in Sultanahmet Square today.

Sultanahmet Square, as you can imagine, takes its name from the Blue Mosque in the square. After the Blue Mosque was built in 1616, it started to be called Sultanahmet Square.

After seeing the square, you should definitely visit the Blue Mosque. Afterwards, you should continue with places to visit such as Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Ibrahim Pasha Palace, German Fountain and Hagia Irene Church. Of course, you can't do without tasting the famous Sultanahmet meatballs.

8. Spice Bazaar

Spice Bazaar

Spice Bazaar is one of the places that best reflects the old atmosphere of Istanbul.

The Spice Bazaar, built in the 17th century, was one of the centers of trade in the Ottoman Empire. The Spice Bazaar, which was known by names such as Yeni Çarşı (because it was built next to the New Mosque) and Valide Bazaar in the first years of its construction, started to be known by its current name with the sale of spices from Egypt over time. The Spice Bazaar, which is easily accessible because it is located in Eminönü, one of the most active areas of Istanbul, is one of the places frequented by tourists.

9. Gülhane Park

Gulhane Park

Gülhane Park, which was used as the outer garden of Topkapı Palace during the Ottoman Empire, contained a grove and rose gardens. The Tanzimat Edict, which is accepted as the first concrete step in the history of Turkish democratization, was read by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mustafa Reşit Pasha, in Gülhane Park on 3 November 1839, during the reign of Abdülmecit.

Gülhane Park, which is one of the cleanest parks in Turkey, which houses the Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar Library and the History of Islamic Science and Technology Museum, is also a frequent destination for tourists. The tea gardens in the park are the right choice to cool off under a tree and relax after visiting the Historic Peninsula.

10. Maiden's Tower

Maiden's Tower

The Maiden's Tower, famous for its legends, which has hosted many civilizations, has a history of 2500 years.

Maiden's Tower, one of the symbols of Istanbul, is 200 meters from the beach in Salacak, a 5-storey and 9-meter-high tower.

Today, Maiden's Tower, which serves as a cafe restaurant during the day, serves as a private restaurant in the evening.

Access to the Maiden's Tower is provided by boats departing from the beach.

The most well-known legend about the Maiden's Tower, of which various legends are told, is as follows;

The Eastern Roman Emperor dreams that his beloved daughter will die. He has a tower built in the middle of the sea to protect his daughter. He thinks that this way he will protect his daughter from all harm. One day, the young girl died as a result of the bite of the snake that came out of the fruit basket brought to the tower, and according to the legend, this structure is called the Maiden's Tower.

11. Taksim Square

Taksim Square

Taksim Square is, of course, the most famous square in Istanbul after Sultanahmet Square. Taksim Square, one of the liveliest spots in Istanbul, is a circular square with the Republic Monument in the middle. The Republic Monument in Taksim Square was built in 1928. One side of the monument symbolizes the War of Independence and the other side symbolizes Turkey after the proclamation of the Republic. On the side of the War of Independence, Atatürk is standing next to the soldiers, while on the other side İsmet İnönü and Fevzi Çakmak are standing in civilian clothes.

12. Istiklal Avenue

Istiklal Avenue

Istiklal Street is one of the most popular and iconic places in Istanbul. Istiklal Street, located in the Beyoğlu district of Istanbul, starts from Taksim Square and ends in the tunnel. The street, which took its name with the proclamation of the Republic in the 20th century, gained its current appearance in the 19th century during the reign of Sultan Abdulaziz. There are many must-see spots such as Galatasaray High School and Emek Cinema on Istiklal Street, which is one of the streets that is lively at every hour in Istanbul.

13. Süleymaniye Mosque

Suleymaniye Mosque

Suleymaniye Mosque, one of the places that will impress the visitors of our list of places to visit in Istanbul, is one of the most important works of Mimar Sinan. Süleymaniye Mosque, which is the work of Mimar Sinan during his journeyman period, is located in the Beyazıt district of Istanbul. As can be understood from its name, the Süleymaniye Mosque, which was built during the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent by his order, has 4 minarets due to the fact that Kanuni is the 4th sultan to the throne after the conquest of Istanbul, and 10 balconies due to the fact that he is the 10th Ottoman sultan in total.

Architect Sinan thought every detail very carefully when he was building the Süleymaniye Mosque, which he built between 1551 and 1557. E.g; He has used empty cubes for weeks for his acoustics and has made many attempts to tune the acoustics in the best way possible. Ostrich eggs were also used to prevent possible insect and scorpion invasion in the mosque.

14. Dolmabahçe Palace

Dolmabahce Palace

This palace, where the founder of the modern Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, passed away, has a great place in our hearts. For this reason, Dolmabahçe Palace is perhaps one of the most emotional items on the list of places to visit in Istanbul.

Dolmabahçe Palace was built in 1856 upon the order of Sultan Abdülmecit. Abdülmecit wanted this palace to have a European style and to consist of only beauties. The construction of the palace, which includes 285 rooms, 26 halls, 6 baths and 68 toilets, was very expensive for the sultan and the sultan was able to sit in the 3rd largest palace of Istanbul, which he had built with such care, for only 5 years. The palace, which was used in different ways by the sultans who came after Abdülmecit, also served as the modern face of the new state when the Republic of Turkey was established.

On November 10, 1938, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk breathed his last in room 71. Today, when you go to Dolmabahçe Palace, you can see this room and personal belongings of Atatürk. The palace, which is closed on Mondays, welcomes its visitors between 10:00-17:30 on weekdays and 10:30-17:30 on weekends.

15. Rumeli Fortress

Rumeli Fortress

Before conquering Istanbul, Fatih Sultan Mehmet wanted to close the possible aid channels of the Byzantine Empire. In 1452, he thought that there might be aid ships that could come to Byzantium via the Black Sea and had the Rumeli Fortress built. In the construction that started in March, 300 masters and 800 workers worked together.

The fortress, which has 3 towers, is exactly opposite Anadolu Hisarı, at the point where the two sides of the Bosphorus are closest to each other. For this reason, it is also known as Boğazkesen. After the critical role it played in the conquest of Istanbul, Rumeli Fortress did not matter much and was forgotten. Cannons and cannonballs used during the conquest are exhibited in the Rumeli Fortress, which can be visited as a museum today. Outdoor concerts are also held here. It is also very enjoyable to listen to the songs of the artists in front of the magnificent Istanbul view.

16. Yıldız Palace

Yıldız Palace

Yıldız Palace was built by the order of Mihrişah Sultan, the mother of Selim III. It was used as the administrative center of the Ottoman Empire during the reign of Abdülhamit II. 2. While living in this palace, Abdülhamit took special interest in the expansion and decoration of the palace.

Yıldız Palace can be visited every day of the week. You can go and tour this great palace between 10:00 and 17:00.

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Where is Istanbul?

Located at the crossroads of the Asian and European Continents, Istanbul is a city with land masses belonging to both continents. Located between the cities of Tekirdağ and Izmit, Istanbul is located on the shores of Marmara and Black Sea. The Prince Islands and Yalova are located right across from Istanbul.

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How can I go to Istanbul?

Transportation by Air

Transportation by plane is of course the easiest way to reach Istanbul.

Turkish Airlines, a world famous Turkish airline company, and many other world airlines have regular flights to Istanbul every day.

Here are some of the direct flight times from many major cities around the world:

  • New York - Istanbul at 10:20 am
  • London - Istanbul 3:45
  • Milan - Istanbul 2:45
  • Hong Kong - Istanbul 11:50
  • Moscow - Istanbul 3:05

There are two international airports in Istanbul.

One of the airports is "New Istanbul Airport" on the European side, and the other airport is "Sabiha Gökçen Airport" on the Asian side.

You can fly from Istanbul to many other cities in Turkey as different airlines have frequent flights. The transportation times from Istanbul to some important/big cities of Turkey are as follows;

  • The flight from Istanbul to Izmir is approximately 1 hour,
  • The flight from Istanbul to Ankara is approximately 1 hour,
  • Istanbul - Adana approx 1 hour 30 minutes

Transportation by Road

You can reach Istanbul by using highways from many European cities. Of course, it will not be as comfortable as the airline.

There are some private bus companies that organize scheduled bus services from Bulgaria, Greece, Germany, France, Austria, Switzerland, Russia, Georgia, Romania, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria to Istanbul.

You can easily reach every region and city of Turkey from Istanbul. For this, you can use the intercity buses departing from the Bus Station in Esenler district of Istanbul. There are shuttles from many central parts of Istanbul to reach Esenler Bus Terminal. (Taksim, Sultanahmet, Beşiktaş, Kadıköy etc.)

In addition, you can easily go to Istanbul from any European country with your private car. There are two main border gates for entry into Turkey by car;

  • Kapikule in Edirne from Bulgaria
  • Ipsala from Greece

There is a beautiful highway between Edirne and Istanbul, about 225 kilometers (140 miles). By using this road, you can go from Edirne to Istanbul in about 2 hours. Since there is a wide road network after Istanbul, you can go to every part of Turkey by car. However, Istanbul is a big city and the traffic is quite heavy and sometimes chaotic. For this reason, it is not recommended to go with your own car in Istanbul. The best way would be to park your car and use public transport or taxis.

Transportation by Sea

There are several shipping companies you can use to reach Istanbul by sea. These are companies that operate car and passenger ferries from the Greek islands and Italy to Turkey.

Most of them come to Çeşme (İzmir).

There is also a regular ferry line from Odessa (Ukraine) to Istanbul, which takes about 35 hours. Many cruise ships also dock in Istanbul for day trips.

It is possible to reach many cities in Turkey by sea from Istanbul.

  • Bandirma (Balikesir),
  • Mudanya (Bursa),
  • Yalova
  • Marmara Island

You can reach by ferry.

You can also use the sea route for urban transportation in Istanbul.

Within the city, Urban Sea Transportation (IDO and City Lines companies) and many private companies (Turyol and Dentur) operate passenger ferries between the two sides of the Bosphorus.

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