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.
Historical Places To Visit
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.
Hagia Sophia Tips and Info
Don’ t miss these things:
- The magnificent dome
- Byzantine mosaics
- Islamic calligraphy
- The minarets and mihrab
- Sultan’s tombs
- The upper galleries as well as the bottom floor
- The garden also has many artifacts
Opening Hours: During the summer Hagia Sophia is open from 9:00 – 7:00, but in winter it’s only open until 6:00.
It is open everyday except Mondays, and it will be closed for a few Turkish holidays. If you are there during Ramadan or other holidays, check before going.
Cost: Currently the cost is 72 Tl. If you are thinking of buying the Istanbul museum pass it will cost you 295 Tl. It is good for five full days and you can order it here.
Best time to go: Hagia Sophia will always have plenty of tourists, but avoid going at high traffic times like mid-morning or mid-afternoon. Either go early when it first opens or go late, an hour or so before closing.
Photo Tip: Getting a good photograph inside can be difficult and tripods are not allowed. Try supporting your body by leaning on a pillar or putting your camera on a banister.
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.
Blue Mosque Tips and Info
- The blue Iznik tiles
- The gigantic chandelier
- The mihrab and kiosk
- The six minarets
- Look for tulips, a symbol of Turkey
- The domes and their stained glass windows
How to visit a mosque:
The Blue Mosque or Sultanahmet Camii, is still a working mosque. I’ve never been there when someone was not praying, so it’s important to note that talking in hushed tones and wearing appropriate clothing is much appreciated, if not required.
- Everyone should take off your shoes and put them on a shelf.
- Men should wear long pants and socks.
- Women should wear conservative clothes that cover your shoulders and knees, as well as wear a headscarf. You can borrow one at the door, however you are allowed in all mosques in Turkey and you will use it again, so buy one. We like this wrinkle free one. Scarves should cover all of your hair.
The only time the mosque closes is for 30 minutes during each prayer time, which you will know because of the call to prayer over the loudspeaker.
- A wide angle lens will help you get the full view of the interior
- Tripods are not allowed, so try to stabilize your camera by holding your camera and arms tight to your body
- Avoid taking photos of worshippers
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.
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!
Basilica Cistern Tips and Info
- Because of the dampness, wear comfortable and stable walking shoes, preferably with a no slip bottom.
- You will be going up and down stairs, so it’s difficult for people with knee problems.
- Taking photos is very difficult, because it’s so dark.
- Opening hours: 9:00 – 5:30 daily.
- Cost: 20 Tl.
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!
Topkapi Tips and Info
- The view of the Golden Horn
- The Topkapi Dagger (with three emeralds)
- Moses’ Staff
- The Harem
- One of the best weapons collections
- Palace Kitchens
Opening Hours: Summer 9:00 – 6:45 and Winter 9:00 – 4:45, with the ticket booth closing each day 45 minutes earlier.
Topkapi is closed on Tuesdays.
Costs: Just to enter the palace grounds you will pay 73 TL, but there is an additional cost of 42 TL to see the Harem, which is pretty much a must-see.
- Plan on spending a good amount of time here. You won’t want to miss anything.
- Going on a rainy or cold day would be best, because you’ll be inside most of the time.
- There is a café on site, so you can get a drink and have a snack.
Rustem Pasa Mosque
Things to Do in Istanbul
Take a Ferry
Watch The Whirling Dervishes
Markets and Shopping in Istanbul
Turkish Rugs and Kilims
Other Turkish Products
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.