Want to see this amazing city from a different point of view? One of the best ways to see Istanbul in its full glory is on a Bosphrous Cruise. Connecting the Black Sea to the Sea of Marma, the Bosphrous is the strait that flows through the city of Istanubul. Glide down the strait to see the peaks of Sultanahmet’s tourist sites, including the Blue Mosque and Galata Tower, as well as the best views of the famous Ottoman waterfront mansions. During the summer, a Bosphrous Cruise is a great way to soak up some sun and see the sights at the same time – talk about packing it all in.
If you love history, art and architecture, make Hagia Sophia your first stop. Having been an Orthodox Cathedral before the Ottoman conquest of Istanbul, Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque by Sultan Mehmed. Its architecture isn’t just impressive, it’s political. Featuring 104 columns imported from the Temple of Ephesus in Greece, as well as a central dome that once featured a mosaic of Jesus Christ, which was covered in gold and Muslim calligraphy at the time of its conversion, the building itself has become a symbol of colonisation. Once inside, look out for the wishing column – a column with a hole in the middle – which supposedly has healing powers. Don’t forget to make a wish!
Enter Basilica Cistern
If you love mystery and mythology, you’ll love the Basilica Cistern. Located just near the Hagia Sofia, the Basilica Cistern is a large underground water reservoir, which has a storage capacity of 100,000 tons of water. The cistern has grand 336 columns, two of which feature large Medusa heads. According to Greek mythology, Medusa is one of the gorgons that was used to protect this great building. The stone heads are turned on their sides, supposedly to protect visitors from turning to stone under Medusa’s gaze. For pop culture fans, this site was also used as a location of the 1963 Bond film From Russia with Love.
Shop at the Grand Bazaar
When it comes to bazaars, this one is the O.G. The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul is one of the oldest and largest covered marketplaces in the world. Located inside the walls of old Istanbul, this massive market covers 61 streets and boasts over 4000 shops. With origins dating back to the 15th century, you’ll find a whole heap of interesting and amazing things in this place. Turkish textiles, jewellery, ceramics and crockery, fresh fruit and spices and loads of coffee can be found in this place. Head down to this fun-filled maze but be sure to take a friend – it’s way too easy to get lost in here.
Discover mosaics of Süleymaniye Mosque and Blue Mosque
Istanbul is known for its amazing mosques and their decadent mosaics. None are more famous than the Süleymaniye Mosque and Blue Mosque. The former is the Ottoman Imperial Mosque, build right on top of the Third Hill with some of the best views of the city. The latter, while officially called the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, has gained its popular nickname for the 20,000 blue tiles that make up its interior mosaic. Check out the stunning architecture and interior design of these buildings, but do come prepared: as they are religious places, you’ll have to be wearing modest clothing.
Things to do in Istanbul
Istanbul International Music Festival
Occurring every June and July, the Istanbul International Music Festival is a celebration of traditional music styles from Turkey and around the world. Here, you can catch performances of European classical music, ballet, opera, jazz and traditional Turkish music. Performances are held all around the city, from concert halls to synagogues to museums.
Yes, the name means exactly what you think it does. Rock’n’coke is a Turkish rock festival sponsored by Coca-Cola. Usually held at Hezarfen Airfield in Istanbul, this music festival has played host to famous musicians from around the world. A few of the famous headliners include Motörhead, Moby, Muse, Franz Ferdinand, Placebo, the Prodigy and Linkin Park.
Istanbul Film Festival
Every year in April, Turkish movie threatres get a cultural re-vamp by the Istanbul Film Festival. Founded by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and the Arts, the festival aims to encourage the development of Turkish cinema and to get people excited about locally-made films.
Istanbul International Jazz Festival
What began as a concert given by Chick Corea and Steve Kujala on July 8, 1984 sparked a passion for jazz music that grew all over the city. Today, the Istanbul International Jazz festival is a three-week festival beginning at the end of June and ending in mid-July. Featuring a variety of performance styles, including blues and reggae, the festival has hosted the likes of Miles Davis and Carlos Santana.
Istanbul Tulip Festival
Culture & Flowers
Even though they’re considered an icon of the Netherlands, tulips actually originated in Turkey. The annual Istanbul Tulip Festival is a celebration of these beautiful bulbs. You can find artistic creations made of entirely of tulips in Emirgan Park in April each year, but you’ll find the flowers blooming all over the city during spring.
Top 5 Festivals in Istanbul
Located on a busy spot on the Mediterranean, Istanbul has been a melting pot of cultures throughout its history. Its eclectic cultural tastes come to life through its different festivals. Featuring music, film and flowers, here are five festivals in Istanbul you should check out.
This former church-turned mosque is one of the most important buildings in the city. Having quite a tumultuous history, being captured and converted from Christianity to Islam, this mosque tells the story of the many civilisations that once called Istanbul home.
Sultans, concubines, and courtiers all called the Topkapi Palace home during the reign of the Ottoman Empire. Built in 1453 by Mehmed the Conqueror, visit the royal chambers, harems and treasury of this palace for a taste of what the Ottoman Court was like.
Istanbul Archaeology Museum
Located in Gülhane Park near the Topkapi Palace, the Istanbul Archaeology Museum holds over one million objects from around the world that tell the story of early civilisations. The museum was built in the 19th century as an attempt to modernise the Ottoman Empire.
The largest palace in Turkey, the Dolmabahçe Palace was built by Sultan Abdulmecid in 1856, mainly as the place for anchoring the Ottoman Fleet. The Western influences in its architecture makes it completely distinct from Topkapi. The Dolmabahçe Palace is divided into features three parts: the imperial harem, the state apartments and the ceremonial hall. Also be sure to check out its stunning gardens.
What was once a part of a 6th century monastery, the Chora Church was rebuilt at the end of the 11th century. Telling the story of Christianity in the early period of the city, this museum houses some of the most beautiful examples of Byzantine mosaics. You can also find scenes of Jesus’ life decorating the outer entrance of the church, as well as the life of Mary in the inner entrance.
Top 5 museums in Istanbul
From its early origins as the capital of Orthodox Christianity to its conversion to the centre of the Muslim Ottoman Empire, the story of Istanbul is dynamic and rich. Find out about this historic city at some of its many museums. Here are some of the ones we love.
Once you get a taste of the streets, you won’t want to eat in a proper restaurant ever again. Balik ekmek is a street food staple of Istanbul. Thin fillets of grilled or fried fish are prepared on the back of a boat and served in a bread roll stuffed with vegetables and salads. Yum.
Best eaten at Fish Sandwich Boat, Galata Bridge, Eminönü
Hundreds of layers of crispy filo pastry filled with crushed nuts and covered in a honey-rosewater syrup: baklava is the ultimate in Middle Eastern sweets. If you find yourself near the Sultanahmet tram stop, swing by Çiğdem Pastanesi for some epic pistachio baklava.
Best eaten at Çiğdem Pastanesi, Divanyolu Caddesi 62, Sultanahmet
Chewy, cheesy and delicious: pide has made a name for itself around the globe. Usually shaped like a boat, this Turkish pizza is typically stuffed with spinach and ricotta or ground meat. Pick up a pide or two at Hatay Has Kral Sofrasi restaurant in Istanbul.
Best eaten at Hatay Has Kral Sofrasi, İskender Paşa Mh., Sultanahmet
Light, fragrant and flavoursome, Ezme is Turkey’s go-to salad. Made with chopped tomatoes, onions, garlic, parsley, mint and pomegranate molasses, this hot salad gets its bite from the chilli and sumac that it’s spiced with. Check out Turkey’s answer to tabbouleh at Ezme Durum Evi restaurant.
Best eaten at Ezme Durum Evi, Cevatpaşa Mahallesi, Millet Cd. No:168
Something like a salsa, patlican ezmesi is a refreshing salad from southern Turkey. Made using eggplants that have been cooked on a grill, these smokey vegetables are run under cold water, finely chopped and mixed with tomato, capsicum and onion, all brought together with lemon juice and mint. Pile this onto pita bread at Olive Restaurant in Istanbul.
Best eaten at Olive Restaurant, Hoca Paşa Mahallesi, Ebussuut Cd. No:14
Food in Istanbul
Fresh fish and vegetables brought together with fragrant spices and warm pita bread – you’ll find it hard to stop overeating in Istanbul. From tasty street food favourites like balik ekmek and pide, refreshing ezme salads and sweet, crunchy baklava, here are five foods you’ll want to find around the city.