Hagia Sophia is typically the first destination on the tourist trail. One of the few beautiful surviving Byzantine buildings, Hagia Sophia is a Byzantine church and mosque which since 1935 has been used as a museum, one of the most visited in Turkey.
Having been used historically as both a mosque and a church, the inside of Hagia Sophia shows the contrast between the two religions through the treasure trove of artwork such as mosaics and Islamic calligraphic roundels which are suspended from the main dome of the building.
Location: Aya Sofya Square Opening times: 9am–7pm (closed for some religious holidays) Entry: 40 TL
Topkapi Palace was an instrumental part of the Ottoman Empire, home to the sultans from 1465 to 1856. Now, the Palace with its hilltop location is a museum and one of the most visited attractions in Istanbul with displays of Holy Relics, weapons and costumes, restored rooms and courtyards which explore the history of the Ottoman Empire. The views across the Golden Horn and the Sea of Marmara are not to be missed.
The Palace can get busy so it’s advised to get there early.
Location: Babıhümayun Caddesi Opening times: 9am–6.45pm in summer, 4.45pm in winter Entry: 30 TL, 15 TL for the Harem
Blue Mosque/Sultan Ahmed Mosque
The Sultan Ahmed Mosque is more commonly referred to as the Blue Mosque because of the spectacular blue tile interior. The mosque, with its domes and unique six minarets which dominate the Istanbul skyline is a great example of Classical Ottoman architecture. Once inside you will see the reason behind the name; high domed ceilings with 20,000 16th century blue tiles.
Location: At Meydanı No:7, Fatih Opening times: 24 hours. Plan visits around prayer times – the mosque closes to non-worshippers during prayer. Entry: Free
In the Faith district, the Grand Bazaar is an Istanbul landmark offering an unmissable shopping experience. It’s one of the largest covered markets in the world across 61 streets with over 3,000 shops and stalls selling handcrafted Turkish ceramics, teas, leather goods, jewellery and lots of hidden treasures.
With up to 400,000 visitors each day, the Grand Bazaar has a hectic yet authentic Turkish atmosphere. The streets are maze-like and it’s very easy to spend the whole day here so stop off in one of the restaurants or cafes for refreshments.
Location: Beyazıt Mh Opening times: Closed on Sunday. Otherwise open every day from early in the morning to late in the evening. The busiest day is usually Saturday. Entry: Free
If you want to explore all of the attractions in Turkey from Istanbul then head to Miniaturk on the banks of the Golden Horn. Miniaturk is a park with 122 models of Turkish landmarks at a 1:25 scale. Some of the attractions featured here include Damascus Station, Hagia Sofia, Temple of Artemis and Mausoleum of Mausolus. You can walk around the models then take a tour around the park on the Miniaturk Mini Travel Train.
Address: Sütlüce, İmrahor Cd. No:7 Opening times: 9am–7pm Entry: 10 TL
Istanbul Modern Art Museum
In the contemporary district of Beyoğlu you will find the Istanbul Modern Art Museum which displays collections of modern art from some of the most prominent Turkish artists from the 19th to the 21st century. The Modern Art Museum cinema has regular screenings of documentaries detailing the history and art of filmmaking, and Turkish films.
Location: Meclis-i Mebusan Cad. Opening times: 10am–8pm Entry: 15 TL
The Kariye Museum
Formerly the Chora Church and then a mosque, the Kariye Museum is dedicated to Byzantine art and mosaics covering the chronological story of the life of Jesus. The Chora Church was built outside of the Constantinope Walls on the west of the Faith district so it’s a little further out and smaller than the other religious landmarks such as Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque but the intricate mosaics are some of the finest in the world dating from the 14th century, and worth the trip.
Location: Kariye Camii Sokak Opening times: 9am–4:30pm Entry: 15 TL
Istanbul Archaeology Museums
Opposite Topkapi Palace, The Istanbul Archaeology Museums are a group of three museums; the main Archaeological Museum, Museum of the Ancient Orient and the Museum of Islamic Art. Together they house over one million artefacts, pieces of art, inscriptions and coins covering the history of Istanbul, Turkey and Islam.
Location: 34122 Fatih Opening times: 9am–7pm Entry: 15 TL
Turkey is known for its Turkish Baths (hammams) and Istanbul has plenty to choose from, from the dedicated spas in beautiful ottoman buildings to the smaller hammams in hotels. A visit to a Turkish Bath consists of relaxing in a warm steam room, moving into a hotter room then washing in cold water and a massage then finally into a cool room for further relaxation. Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Hamam and Kilic Ali Pasa Hamami are both centrally located and popular with tourists, prices start at 170 TL.
Basilica Cistern offers the opportunity to explore what’s beneath the city. Istanbul has hundreds of underground cisterns historically used to store water, the Basilica is one of the few open to the public and one of the biggest covering 2.4 acres. The cistern is palatial; with artistic sculptures and 336 marble columns it’s often referred to as the ‘Sunken Palace’.
Location: Yerebatan Cd, Faith Opening times: 9am–5:30pm Entry: 20 TL