Istanbul Itineraries and Travel Tips

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I love Istanbul. Even though I’ve been going to Istanbul for as long as I can remember, it still strikes me as one of the most exotic, magical cities in the entire world.

It’s a city I love! So many people only go to Istanbul when traveling to Turkey, and there is so much more to see and do in this amazing country, but it’s a good start and it certainly has some amazing sights to see. I hope you enjoy our Istanbul Travel Guide.

Hagia Sofia Interior.
Hagia Sofia Interior

Historical Places To Visit

Hagia Sophia

Undisputedly the most important of all the sights in Istanbul, the Hagia Sofia has been around for over 1500 years. It is truly a symbol of the city.

Built originally by Byzantine emperor Constantius (which the city was named after as well) as a Greek Orthodox Christian church, it had a wooden roof and burned to the ground.

Rebuilt in 537, it still stands today. It was such an important religious place that the emperors were crowned there. After the Ottomans took power over the city, it was renovated into a mosque by adding a mihrab and minarets. (source).

Today, millions of tourists visit it each year, some more interested than others. The last time we were inside of the building admiring the calligraphy, the marble, the mosaics, and the architecture, we saw a couple of kids with game devices sitting on a pillar and playing away. At least they weren’t being disruptive.

Blue Mosque with Turkish banners in front, some flags.
Blue Mosque

Blue Mosque

Having lived in Turkey as a middle schooler, I believe that the Blue Mosque was the first one I’d ever visited in my life. Unlike the Christian churches I was used to, I was captivated by the wide-open expanse of floor covered with beautiful Turkish prayer rugs. After having visited this iconic place of worship many, many times, I’m still delighted by its grandeur.

Construction of the Blue Mosque (known as Sultanahmet Camii in Turkish) took place in the early seventeenth century. At the time, it was thought presumptuous to build a mosque with six minarets as this was the same number at the mosque in Mecca. To avoid criticism, the sultan ordered a seventh minaret to be built at the Mecca mosque.

The blue mosque gets its name from the interior decorations. More than 20,000 individual tiles, all hand painted by master craftsman and artisans in Iznik, line the interior. Look closely at the tiles to discover flowers, cypress, and fruits.


The area in front of the blue mosque is the site of the ancient hippodrome where chariots raced. Today it’s known as Sultan Ahmet square. It’s a big rectangular green space, with two Egyptian obelisks. The best known obelisk is the Thutmose II Obelisk taken from the Temple of Karnak. (source)

You will often see families walking there in the evening, throwing ball, or just chatting. We love going during this time and having a glass of çay while we people watch.

Basilica Cistern

It doesn’t take much time to wander around this Istanbul favorite. Kids and adults alike love going underneath the city to marvel at the 336 columns submerged in water in the otherworldly Basilica Cistern. The main attraction are the two stone medusa heads, and that’s just what they are, two stone heads. It’s worth a quick trip down there!

Top Kapi Palace Interior.
Top Kapi Palace Interior

Top Kapi Palace

One of my absolute favorites places in Istanbul is Topkapi Palace. There’s so much more to it than just a palace with a harem, which is, by the way, very cool. There are other exhibits that include the European Porcelains, the Imperial Treasury, and the Arms and Weapons.

The palace is beautiful, but many of the artifacts have been moved, so you end up walking through a number of empty rooms. The harem, however, still holds a couch. You can see the beautiful Iznik tiles in the rooms and halls as well.

The jewels and historical artifacts are priceless, and some of the items that you can view will amaze you, like these: Moses’ staff, scrolls belonging to John the baptist, keys to the Kaaba, and Muhammed’s footprint and his sword. (source) Pretty amazing!

Dolmabahce Palace

Rustem Pasa Mosque

Galata Tower

Interior of fortress.
Interior of Rumelihisari.

Rumeli Fortress

Chora Church

Things to Do in Istanbul

Taksim Square

Istiklal Avenue

Galata Bridge

Turkish ferry at sunset.
Turkish ferry at sunset.

Take a Ferry

Experience Hammam

Whirling Dervishes twirl amid multi-colored lights.
The Whirling Dervish show in Istanbul.

Watch The Whirling Dervishes

Markets and Shopping in Istanbul

Grand Bazaar

Spice Bazaar

Rug Vendor with rugs and kilims outside of the shop.
Rug Vendor

Turkish Rugs and Kilims

Other Turkish Products

Ferry and boats docked at Buyukada.
Ferry and boats docked at Buyukada.

Day Trips From Istanbul

Buyukada (Princes Islands)

One of my favorite things to do as a kid, my school went to Buyukada at once a year. We’d ferry across, ride the donkeys to the top of the mountain, run down, and have a seafood lunch in the harbor. I took my kids and we did the exact same thing. They loved it!


I lived in Yalova for a year. It’s a ferry ride across the Bosphorus, and the town itself is just truly Turkish. Walk the coastline, sit in a cafe and enjoy some tea. It’s a perfect way to truly take in the other side of Turkey on a day trip.


Don’t miss out on a thing in the most exotic city in the world! Istanbul is like no other place, not even in Turkey. Wander the bazaars, smoke a hookah, and revel in its long and amazing history as you follow our itineraries. You will find yourself in love and planning your return trip.

10 thoughts on “Istanbul Itineraries and Travel Tips

  1. Pingback: Mediterranean Travel Destinations and European Capitals of Culture - Life On The Mediterranean

  2. Sabrina says:

    I’m going to Turkey for 5 days at the beginning of October and Want to try and visit 1-2 cities other than Istanbul. What do you recommend? Better yet – what should I do in 5 days?

    • Corinne Vail says:

      Hi Sabrina, Five days is enough to do Istanbul and maybe try to get to Cappadocia. You will need time in both places. They are amazing to visit.

  3. Debbie Smyth says:

    You’ll have seen from my own posts that I loved istanbul. I loved everything about it. I especially enjoyed wandering the narrow streets around the Galata Tower. I’ll be returning next year to wander some more!

  4. Frank says:

    Istanbul on our list and I wanted to build in a stopover on our flight to Bangkok. But Turkish Airlines flights from Prague were too expensive compared to others. But we’ll get there someday. Love your pic of the boat above – surprised by the number of tourists!
    I like this guide, reading it I can see you’ve spent time there.
    Frank (bbqboy)

    • Corinne Vail says:

      Steve, If you have more time, maybe there are other places you might want to go in Turkey. It’s pretty cheap to get around. If you have any questions while you’re planning your trip let me know!

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