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The strategic location of Istanbul, falling into two continents, earned itself a status of cultural diversity, enriched by the culture of the many empires and armies that superseded on its land. Whether it is the Greeks, Romans, Venetians or Ottomans, remnants of these empires are scattered all around Istanbul for you to explore, offering a lens into their history and culture. During the Byzantine times, churches and palaces were extensively adorned with artistic treasures, mosaic work and paintings. In the same way, the Ottomans held their mosques in high regard and value, having built them with great architectural and artistic significance, making them Istanbul's must-see destinations.
The best time to visit Istanbul is in the spring between March and May, followed by the fall season, which is from September till November. Weather conditions during these months are favourable and the temperature is moderate with a higher chance of rain in autumn than in spring. Also, thin crowds make your experience a little more comfortable and your journey into the main attractions more hassle-free. If you are a fan of tulips, a trip to the International Tulip Festival is a must. April being the peak tulip blooming season, marks the beginning of this annual festival, during which you can witness millions of tulips bloom throughout the city. Two airports operate in Istanbul, the most common and bigger one is the Istanbul Airport situated on the European side and the Sabiha Gocken Airport that falls on the Asian side. You can find many shuttles to transport you to the city or take a taxi for an easier journey under almost the same cost. Stay at one of the most popular hotels in Istanbul that are situated near tourist attractions; book a room at Mercure Istanbul Sirkeci or the Swissotel The Bosphorus for epic views of the strait.
Getting Around Istanbul
With over 15 million residents, Istanbul is massive and vastly populated. However, the megacity is equipped with a large array of well-integrated public transport network so that locals and tourists alike can travel seamlessly. For tourists planning their itineraries around visiting the major sights, their journey is simplified by the closeness of the attractions. They are located within a compact central area of the city that is navigable with a combination of the city's public transport system, spanning bus, train, tram, metro, ferry, and taxi.
Upon arriving to the airport, consider buying an Istanbul Card, which you can also buy from many of the kiosks branding it around the city. This card will help you during your trip in order to access the many public transport means in the city. There are many ways to get around Istanbul. Walking can be an option between certain places, shops, and restaurants but not all destinations are walkable.
On to better alternatives for you, starting with the tram. Of Istanbul's four modern tram lines, the one most likely to be used is the T1 connecting the Kabatas ferry terminal and it runs across the Galata Bridge and past Sultanahmet. The other lines connecting many stops are the T5 and T3. Now, for the Metro and Marmaray, which is the underground rail system, they extend for more than 80 miles covering up new areas of the city as it grows. The Metro is undoubtedly the fastest way to get around Istanbul. The most used line is the M2, connecting Haciosman and Yenikapi, crossing the business and shopping district around Levant, Taksim Square and Sishane in Beyoglu and across the Golden Horn. The Marmaray goes under the Bosphorus in a tunnel to the Asian side. Other ways of transportation include the ferry, making it an attraction by itself to observe the sights around you, the bus or minibus, and the taxis. It is better to try and grab your taxi from any of the hotels or use Uber or Bitaksi.
Explore the Must-See Attractions in Istanbul
Hop into a memorable journey to Istanbul and explore the many beautiful attractions and historic gems that made this city the bustling metropolis of Turkey today.
During the Ottoman empire, the Topkapi Palace and Harem served as the main residence and administrative headquarters of the Ottoman sultans. A glimpse into the palace's opulent pavilions and treasury filled with finest jewels, gives you an insight into the life of the lavish sultans and their company that lived here in the 15th and 19th centuries. At this stage, the sultans decided to build their own European style palaces on the shores of the Bosphorus and move there. Now, Topkapi is a museum with hundreds of rooms and chambers although only the most important ones are open to the public. Tour the Ottoman Imperial Harem, or stroll through the treasury where the Spoonmaker's Diamond and the Topkapi Dagger are on display. You can also find many other Ottoman clothing, weapons, armour, religious relics, famous manuscripts, such as the Topkapi manuscript, on display for visitors. The Topkapi Palace is one of the historic areas of Istanbul that are part of the UNESCO World Heritage site, and is guarded by officials of the ministry as well as Turkish military guards. Check out Mercury Istanbul Sirkeci hotel for a beautiful stay near this landmark.
Next on your journey is a visit to the Blue Mosque, also known by its official name as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque. Built in the Ottoman era by Sultan Ahmet I, it now attracts a large number of visitors with its beautiful interior wrapped in blue tiles, its five domes and unique six minarets. It also includes the sultan's tomb, a madrasa, and a hospice. The mosque is also included in the UNESCO World Heritage site. The initial purpose of building the mosque by the Sultan was its desire to rival the Hagia Sophia's grandeur so he commanded its construction right opposite from it. Its architecture combines a mixture of the Islamic touch and Byzantine elements. Its elegant curves and domes as well as its giant courtyard offer a beautiful sight for its visitors. It also has the highest numbers of minarets, in all of the mosques of Istanbul. You can wrap up your visit to the mosque and stay in one of the nearby hotels - namely, Ibis Istanbul Zeytinburnu and Mercure Istanbul Sirkeci.
The Galata Tower is one of the most iconic places in the peninsula that offers the best views of the entire city of Istanbul. Built in 1348, in Romanesque style as the tower of Christ, it was considered the tallest building in Constantinople (now Istanbul) at that time. It was used as a prison in the 16th century and later as a tower to look out for fires in the year 1717 during the Ottoman reign. After many destructions and renovations, and the replacement of wood with concrete, it was opened to the public in 1967, and in 2020 opened as a museum that offers a 360-degree view panorama of Istanbul. After a day spent discovering the tower, stay at one of the best hotels nearby - namely, The Galata Istanbul hotel – MGallery and enjoy the views from your own balcony.
A brilliant monument, Hagia Sophia represents a spectacle of Byzantine architecture and art. During the Byzantine era, it was the principal church in Constantinople (later Istanbul). After the Ottoman Empire conquered the city in 1453, they turned it into a mosque. In 1934, a decision by the Turkish government to establish Hagia Sophia as a museum dedicated to all human history and not bind to one single religion, was overturned and annulled, turning the building into a mosque again. Throughout the years, this well-known monument was the topic of multiple cultural, regional and religious discussions. Visiting the Hagia Sophia, with its architectural significance as both a church and a mosque, will unveil for the visitors a glimpse of the changes that have taken place in the region over the centuries. Mostly with the minarets and inscriptions of Islam, as well as the lavish mosaic artwork of Christianity filling its interiors, the iconic Hagia Sophia is an unparalleled attraction and a sight to behold. The columns supporting it are of the finest marbles with a wide variety of colours and shapes, imported from the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus Egypt. Its elaborately carved cornices and domes make it one of the world's greatest buildings. Its 40 windows above the galleries give the impression of the roof to be floating on air. It has the second largest pendentive dome after the St Peter's Basilica in Rome. Its many Christian mosaics were covered by the Ottoman Turks except for one surviving mosaic of the Virgin Mary with baby Jesus. For an ultimate stay next to this stunning monument, check out Mercure Istanbul Sirkeci and Novotel Istanbul Bosphorus.
Easily reached by trams, the grand market of Istanbul is an imperative stop on your itinerary. The Grand Bazaar, a winding maze of alleys and a crossroad of commerce shops, offers so much for the eyes to see. A large array of specialty shops offering its visitors a sea of colours, aromas, and flavours - from spice shops, antiques, and handmade crafts, to jewellery, leather goods, carpets and many more. A trip in itself guarantees an unforgettable experience in this world's most visited tourist attraction. The Grand Bazaar is often considered the first mall ever. Stop by the many kiosks for a Turkish tea or coffee, converse with the locals, learn about their crafts and enjoy the lively feel of the famous Grand Bazaar. Do not forget to stock up on souvenirs for your return home.
The Çamlica Tower is a huge radio and telecommunication tower on the Asian side of Istanbul, inaugurated in 2021. With a height of 369 metres above ground and 18 metres to support it below ground, it carries the title of the highest structure in Istanbul. The building, which from the outside resemble a tulip bud, comprises a viewing terrace and restaurants as well as an exhibition space. The whole architecture gives an ode to the Tulip flower, which represented Turks since the Ottoman times. Panoramic elevators, rising from the ground floor to the top floor, are located on both sides of the main building. It was mainly used for all TV and radio broadcasts but nowadays has become an important attraction for all visitors to the city.
The Aqua Florya shopping and lifestyle centre is a hub of entertainment and shopping in Istanbul with plenty of stores, movie theatres, landscapes, exhibition spaces, and particularly, an outstanding thematic aquarium. The volume, the variety of fish species and the activities make the Istanbul Akvaryum at Aqua Florya worth visiting. It even offers 16 themed zones and a rainforest themed geographical route that starts from the Black Sea and goes towards the South Pole. If you are planning a day out with your family, then this is definitely one of the places to go. Stay close to this wonderful attraction at one of our hotels in Istanbul - namely, Mercure Istanbul West Hotel & Convention Center or Pullman Istanbul Hotel & Convention Center.
Top Things to Do in Istanbul
Make the most of your trip by immersing yourself in all that Istanbul has to offer. A land where your trip with friends, family or your loved one cannot be forgotten. Discover their enticing cuisine, roam around their monuments, and experience a nightlife like no other.
Walk Around, Shop and Eat Delicious Street Food in Taksim
Situated in the European part of Istanbul, Taksim is a major tourist and leisure district famed for its multitude of shops, restaurants and hotels. It is considered the heart of modern Istanbul and home to the central station of the Istanbul Metro network, which makes visiting this busy district easy. Stroll around this square and explore the restaurants for everything you are craving. Visit the Ataturk Cultural Centre, which a multi-purpose concert hall and cultural centre in Taksim square. Right nearby, visit the Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, the amazing St Anthony of Padua church and the Pera Museum. Try out the famous Turkish street food kiosks and bask in its busy ambiance. Elevate your experience with a luxurious stay at Sofitel Istanbul Taksim right in the heart of the bustling streets of Taksim.
Cruise Up the Bosphorus Strait
The Bosphorus Strait divides the city of Istanbul in half. What better experience than sailing or riding a ferry in between two continents - Europe and Asia - at once. The Bosphorus Strait guarantees an unforgettable cruise where you can enjoy a line-up of exceptional sights and architectural masterpieces, such as the Blue Mosque, the Topkapi Palace and the Galata tower, which are all visible from the glistening waters of the Bosphorus. Additionally, the Ciragan Palace, the Küçüksu Pavilion and the famous Hagia Sophia, offer you a sight so thrilling that you can easily spend the day cruising along the strait. Make sure not to miss the many villas and mansions still standing from the Ottoman eras, a vision of tranquillity, and a symbol of a rich and varied history.
Indulge in the Best Hammam
Hammam or Turkish bath is a steam bath, or a place of public bathing originated from the Islamic world. A variation of the bath, the Victorian Turkish bath became popular as a form of therapy and cleansing. You can find several baths in Istanbul but the oldest and most popular is the Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Bath, Cagaloglu and Galatasaray Baths. Inside, female and male sections are separated yet the rituals are similar between them. The experience consists of leaving yourself in the hands of the attendants who guide you through the warmer sections of the bath where you can enjoy some additional services that include body scrubbing, a foam wash and a massage.
Shop at the Most Famous Souks in Istanbul
Many famous markets and souks line up the streets of Istanbul. Besides the renowned Grand Bazaar, visit the Istiklal Street, one of the busiest shopping streets in the city, with its colourful windows and architectural beauty. During the Ottoman empire, non-Muslim citizens were attracted to this area and landed here. While soaking this beautiful atmosphere, you will find numerous shops scattered across both sides of the street. Galata is another of Istanbul's rising stars, where many shops, especially concept shops surround the Galata Tower street. Revived in the 19th century after being the city's dock area during the Ottoman periods, Karakoy is filled with shops selling outdoor equipment as well as souvenirs, jewellery, and clothes. Other popular places to shop in Istanbul include, Sultanahmet, Arasta Bazaar and Nuruosmanye street.
Where to Eat and Drink in Istanbul
Istanbul's vibrant food culture offers a rich variety of flavours and umpteen choices, thanks to the confluence of cultures of the two continents - Europe and Asia. Modern twists of Turkish cuisine infused with other Mediterranean or international tastes await you at every corner. Istanbul is filled with fantastic places to satisfy every taste and palate. The culinary experience along with the sights of the Bosphorus, make your trip to Istanbul a remarkable adventure. If you are in the mood for a 4am snack, treat yourself to the most authentic Turkish street food, the Doner Kebab. The most famous Kebab shops are located in the historic areas like Sultanahmet, Eminonu, Besiktas and Uskudar. Indulge your tastebuds with delicacies like Pide and Lahmacun along the Bosphorus or the Mide Dolmasi, a fish delicacy made of mussels served in half-shells with spicy rice. It is another popular street food, especially in the Taksim district.
For a tea stop, head to the many shops and cafes situated along the streets that offer you an authentic Turkish tea experience and give you a glimpse of the hospitality the Turks are most famous for. It embodies their feeling and essence of life. To wrap your food adventure with a sweet treat, stop by the many pastry shops selling Baklava, Borek and Kunefe.
For an unforgettable sunset hour bar, the Era rooftop of the Rixos Pera Istanbul is the place to be. Offering a visual feast of the sunset over Istanbul's horizon and the Golden Horn. Another unique restaurant in Rixos Pera is the Chappelle Restaurant mixing a modern and classical decoration with colourful flavours from around the globe. For an Italian cuisine craving, head to the Da Vittorio Ristorante Italiano at Movenpick Hotel on the Bosphorus and savour its delicious menu prepared by the best Italian chefs in the city. The Murver restaurant in Novotel Istanbul Hotel offers regional recipes around an open flame kitchen. Enjoy a night out in Istanbul's beauty with delicious cocktails and DJ performances at the 16 Roof at the top of Swissôtel overlooking the Bosphorus.