Istanbul has and will always be a place that attracts everyone’s attention. Its history has been long and interesting, with many historical events taking place in the city over the years. Istanbul was originally founded as Byzantium by the Greeks, conquered by Persians and captured by Spartans. After Constantine rebuilt it, it was at last conquered by the Ottomans. This is just a small taste of what has taken place there since the start of history. In order to experience the city and its many sides, you have to visit it yourself. Read below as we have gathered and can recommend to you the 3 top things to see when you visit Istanbul.
Even though Istanbul, during the years of the Ottoman Empire, was an economic and business center, things soon changed. While the political clout moved to Ankara after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, it was İstanbul’s time to shine in every other way. It became the center of culture, art and architecture as it was full of iconic historical sites that would satisfy most travelers. Today, the city is partly modern with some old traditional elements around. As busy as it is, new and interesting attractions regularly appear, that never fail to attract both tourists and locals.
1. Hagia Sofia
This is a must-see in the city, even if you don’t have time for anything else. It is among Istanbul’s most popular and iconic historic sites for many reasons. One of them is its massive, transcendent dome that is breathtaking and will make you want to look at it for hours. It has been and still is considered to be a marvel of architecture. But it has not always been the same on the inside or the outside. With the changes of history came changes in its use, decorations, and architecture. This is another one of the reasons why Hagia Sophia is so special.
What’s the story behind it?
It was first built by the Byzantine Roman Emperor Justinian in the middle of the 6th century CE. At that point in time, the church of Hagia Sophia was the largest interior space in the world. When the Ottomans captured the city, they converted it into a mosque. Then in 1935, it became a museum that everyone could visit and it actually attracted billions of tourists from all around the world. In 2020 it returned to mosque status and has been like that since. When you get inside you feel like you’re making a literal journey through centuries of change and it is more than worth it.
2. The Grand Bazaar
3 top things to see when you visit Istanbul
Whether you want to do some shopping while you’re in Istanbul or not, you should definitely visit the Grand Bazaar. The Bazaar itself is very old as it was built by the Ottomans shortly after they conquered the city in 1453. The Grand Bazaar features thousands of shops spread across dozens of streets. Think of it as a labyrinth of stalls selling anything you could possibly want. From soaps and spices to carpets and clothes, bowls and baklava, here you can find literally anything. Despite all of these, the most important and satisfying thing at the Grand Bazaar is the people and their energy. If crowds are not your thing though, you might want to avoid going there during the middle of the day. Instead, go early in the morning when people are still around but tourists are usually not and the weather is not as hot.
Never settle for the starting price
If you decide to buy something, don’t hesitate to bargain with the merchants! They expect you to do it actually and you can definitely achieve a better price for your purchases. They will play along for sure and they will find it surprising if you don’t try. Also, don’t miss your chance to go to the nearby Spice Bazaar, also known as the Egyptian Bazaar. It is way smaller than the Grand Bazaar but it can offer you rows of stalls selling spices, sweets, tea varieties and dried fruits. We recommend you buy some spices for sure while also trying some different flavors of Turkish delights which will not disappoint you.
3. The Bosphorus
3 top things to see when you visit Istanbul
After wandering around Istanbul, it will be quite clear to you that it is actually divided into two parts. These parts are the European and the Asian sides of the city. What divides them actually is the Bosphorus. The latter is a narrow passage of water in between the two sides of İstanbul. It used to be a very important part of the city throughout history as it was a popular shipping route. Today it is still quite busy and very popular among tourists. There’s always a crowd and noise near or on the river. A great way to have a break from the chaos of the city is taking a tour via a ferry or a private cruise and you will also capture some amazing views.
How to look for the tours
You have quite some options in terms of ferries and boats. The first is taking the official ferry, also known as Şehir Hatları. This is your best option for a very cheap trip up the river. The second one is a boat tour that leaves from Kabatas Pier and visits a number of spots along the river with a single ticket. The tour lasts approximately 1.5 hours and you can use it all day or for as many stops as you want. Last but not least you can book a dinner cruise on the Bosphorus. This is definitely a more formal and expensive option but you can always go for it. You’ll have the chance to enjoy folk dance and the magic of İstanbul at night.