1. Blue Mosque - Sultanahmet Cami
The most visited mosque in Istanbul, the Blue Mosque is free for visitors, but you should know it closes for 30 minutes, five times a day for prayers. Built in the early 17th century, it has six minarets and breathtaking architecture that make it one of the city’s most amazing landmarks. Please note that even though the dress code is more relaxed than in other mosques due to the number of tourists, you should still cover your legs and shoulders, and take off your shoes before entering.
Legend says the Sultan Ahmet I built the Blue Mosque to rival the beauty of the Hagia Sophia.
2. Hagia Sophia - Aya Sofya
Located right opposite the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia was a very important landmark for both the Byzantine and the Ottoman Empires. Originally built as a church in the 4th century, it was converted into a mosque by the Ottomans before being turned into the Ayasofya Museum in 1934. The mosaics, paintings and galleries are beautiful, and the dome is very impressive.
This museum is a gorgeous piece of architecture, even though history and earthquakes damaged it so much over the centuries that the monument we can see now has nothing to do with the original one. The Hagia Sophia is open from Tuesday to Sunday and the entrance will cost you around €10 (TL 30).
3. Cable cars and boat rides on the Bosphorus
Cable cars are the perfect way to get a good view of the Golden Horn, and useful to go across the valley.
Some companies will offer you a tour package, including cable cars and a boat ride on the Bosphorus. Keep in mind that the queue for the cable cars can be long and that the journey itself is very short. The view is nice, but you will probably enjoy the boat tour a lot more.
Be careful of hustlers’ boat tour offers - they are shorter and highly overpriced.
4. Eminönü - experience the culture
This quarter is the historic center of Istanbul and was considered as a major shopping area for centuries - this is where the Byzantines bought their fruit and vegetables. Eminönü is very famous for its sights and cultural diversity. If you’re there, don’t forget to go through Gülhane Park, which is one of the city’s oldest parks. The playgrounds, cafes and restaurants will give you the opportunity to take a breath before the rest of the tour. The Eminönü pier is also where you can embark on a boat tour on the Bosphorus.
5. Spice Bazaar - Mısır Çarşısı
Located in Eminörü, this Bazaar - also called the Egyptian market because it used to sell goods shipped from Cairo - is full of wonders. Built in the 1660s, the Spice Bazaar is a very busy place where you can find all types of spices, soaps, candy, clothes and souvenirs. The strong aromas in the air can be overwhelming in a good way, and buying food there will be an amazing foodie experience.
6. Topkapi Palace - Topkapı Sarayı
Built at the crossroads of the Sea of Marmara, the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn, the Topkapi Palace used to be an administrative, educational and artistic center. Surrounded by gardens and squares, this museum is a beautiful piece of architecture. You can buy tickets online, or buy a Museum pass for the entire city on this website. The normal entrance ticket costs €10 (TL 30), to which you can add €5 (TL 15) to visit the Harem section. Please note that taking photos is prohibited, and that you must wear appropriate clothes to enter (if you don’t have any, the staff can lend you some).
7. Galata Tower - Galata Kulesi
Built in 1348, the Galata Tower used to be the tallest building in Istanbul (almost 67 meters high). After being used as a watchtower, the tower became a prison in the 15th century. When you’re on the balcony at the top, the panoramic view of the city is fantastic. Once you’re done, you can either go to the restaurant (which is quite expensive) or the cafeteria to grab a drink. The tower is open from 9am to 8pm everyday and the entrance will cost you less than €5 (TL 10).
8. Basilica Cistern - Yerebatan Sarayı
The Basilica Cistern is one of the several ancient cisterns (underground water reservoir) located beneath the city of Istanbul. This very old monument, built in AD 532, is great for a half an hour walk to escape the crowds and the summer heat. This visit is usually not included in the city’s travel packages, but is definitely worth it. If you walk on the wooden platforms near the ceiling, you will feel the dripping water.
The ceiling is supported by over 300 columns sculpted at the bottom, and the two upside down Medusa heads are quite impressive. The cistern has a sense of wonder to it, and there are some fish in the reservoir! Here again, the entrance will cost you under €5 (TL 15).
9. Grand Bazaar - Kapali Carsi
The first thing you need to know if you visit the Grand Bazaar (much bigger than the Spice Bazaar), is that prices are always negotiable! Opening prices are absurd, and if the seller doesn’t want to lower the price, another one will. The market has over 4,000 shops selling various types of goods, from food to belly-dancer’s costumes and ceramics. Be aware that the market is very crowded, and can see between 250,000 and 400,000 visitors each day. Open from Monday to Saturday, from 9am to 7pm.
10. Turkish baths - Hammams
Hammams are a very important part of the Turkish culture as they have been a tradition for thousands of years. They were originally social areas where everyone met up and chatted while bathing.
Hammams were the only baths in the country until the middle of the 20th century, when bathtubs and shower plumbing were introduced. Going to a hammam will, without a doubt, be an extremely relaxing experience, whether you want to bathe, get a massage or a clay mask. Men and women go in separate parts. Note that you will need to bring toiletries, dry clothes and tip the attendants. And ladies, don’t forget to remove your make-up beforehand!