Five Favourite: Istanbul Attractions
We loved our recent trip to Istanbul and could have spent several weeks; checking out churches, cruising between continents or shopping up a storm. The city successfully straddles the Asia Europe vibe – street vendors, sunshine and century old buildings mixed in with a smidge of crazy. Here are our five favourite Istanbul attractions and a couple we thought were over-rated.
5. Gülhane Park
Adjacent the grounds of Topkapi Palace, Gulhane Park is the perfect spot to chill away from the throngs of tourists at the Palace. If you wander through the park towards the Bosphorus there’s a cute cliff top café with gorgeous views over the city and some reasonably priced Chai. The park is also the perfect place to enjoy the blooms from some of the city’s 11 million tulips, planted for the Annual Tulip Festival which runs from April until the end of May.
Open daily. Topkapi Sarayi YaniGulhane.
4. Blue Mosque
One of the most popular tourist attractions in Istanbul, the 16th century Sultan Ahmet Mosque (or Blue Mosque) was a highlight of our trip. The walls of the mosque are covered in thousands of blue Iznik ceramic tiles, each one hand painted and featuring more than fifty different designs. Non-Islamic visitors enter the mosque via the less ornate North entrance and are asked to remove their shoes and cover their knees and shoulders (to your elbows if you’re a female). You may also be asked to cover your hair.
The mosque is open year round, however during prayer time (five times a day) it’s closed to tourists. Sultanahmet Camii, Sultanahmet.
3. Basilica Cistern
Also known as the Sunken Palace, the Basilica Cistern is actually an old water storage chamber. Built around 532AD, the Cistern would have stored around 80,000 cubic metres of water, supplying the palace and the ancient city of Byzantium. Raised platforms allow visitors to tour around some of the 336 marble columns supporting the ceiling and lit up by orange floodlights. The Cistern is a great spot to escape the sweltering city heat! Keep an eye out for the two upside down Medusa heads, thought to be left over from the ancient Roman city of Ephesus.
TL10. Open daily 9AM – 6PM. Yerebatan Caddesi 13, Sultanahmet.
2. Galata Tower
If you’re keen to see what the sprawling city of Istanbul looks like from above head to the top of the Galata Tower in Beyoglu. Built in 1348, the tower was originally known as ‘Tower of Christ’ and used as an observation tower for spotting fires in the city streets below. It’s from this observation deck, 50 metres above the city that Hezârfen Ahmed Çelebi flew some 6 kilometres across the Bosphorus from Europe to Asia in 1638. The view of the city is magical at any time of day but sunset seems like the ideal time to catch the last glittering rays on the Bosphorus.
TL10. Open daily 9AM – 8PM. Galata, Karakoy.
1. Grand Bazaar
Istanbul’s markets are a treasure trove of tantalising smells, textures and tastes. The Grand Bazaar is one of the oldest and largest covered markets in the world, home to more than 4,000 shops, spread across 64 streets and accessible via one of 22 gates. Whether you’re looking to pick up a bargain or do a spot of window shopping it’s my must-see Istanbul attraction. Make sure you check out our tips for navigating Istanbul’s markets.
Open 9AM – 7PM. Closed Sundays. Divanyolu Caddesi 42, Sultanahmet.
What about Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace or a cruise on the Bosporus?
Unfortunately Hagia Sophia was closed both of the times we tried to pay a visit so we can’t vouch for this attraction.
Topkapi Palace was quite interesting, especially the jewels and the vast collections of armoury however Neil and I aren’t really into museums so it didn’t rank that highly for us, also keep in mind that the Harem is an additional TL15, on top of the TL20 you paid to get into the Palace.
The Bosphorus Cruise is probably something you should do if the weather is nice and it’s not too windy. Most tours include this as part of the trip and it inevitably turns into a bit of a booze cruise, so if you’re after something a bit more rustic jump on board one of the Turkish ferry trips, embark on the Asian side, wander around and then return several hours later.
Have you been to Istanbul? What are your favourite attractions?