10 of the best sights in Istanbul

1. Hagia Sophia


Hagia Sophia or “Church of the Divine Wisdom”, cathedral built at Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey) in the 6th century ce (532–537) under the direction of the Byzantine emperor Justinian I. By general consensus, it is the most important Byzantine structure and one of the world’s great monuments. The Hagia Sophia was built in the remarkably short time of about six years, being completed in 537 ce. Unusual for the period in which it was built, the names of the building’s architects—Anthemius of Tralles and Isidorus of Miletus—. The Hagia Sophia is a component of a UNESCO. The original church on the site of the Hagia Sophia is said to have been built by Constantine I in 325 on the foundations of a pagan temple. After the Turkish conquest of Constantinople in 1453, Mehmed II had it repurposed as a mosque, with the addition of minarets (on the exterior, towers used for the summons to prayer), a great chandelier, a mihrab (niche indicating the direction of Mecca), a minbar (pulpit), and disks bearing Islamic calligraphy. Kemal Atatürk secularized the building in 1934, and in 1935 it was made into a museum. Art historians consider the building’s beautiful mosaics to be the main source of knowledge about the state of mosaic art in the time shortly after the end of the Iconoclastic Controversy in the 8th and 9th centuries.

2. Topkapi Palace

Topkapi Palace is the biggest and one of the most popular sites to visit in Istanbul. It was built in between 1466 and 1478 by the Sultan Mehmet II on top of a hill in a small peninsula, dominating the Golden Horn to the north, the Sea of Marmara to the south, and the Bosphorus strait to the north east, with great views of the Asian side as well. The palace was the political center of the Ottoman Empire between the 15th and 19th centuries. After the Conquest of Constantinople in 1453, Mehmet II ordered to built his palace in its present location on top of the ancient Byzantine ruins. There were originally around 700-800 residents of the Palace at the beginning, but during the centuries it dramatically raised to 5,000 during normal days and 10,000 during festivals, approximately. The palace became the largest palace in the world, a city within a city. During the 400 hundred years of reign at Topkapi, each sultan added a different section or hall to the palace, depending on his taste or on the needs of the time. The palace was opened to the public as a museum in 1924 by the order of Ataturk.

3. The Blue Mosque

The cascading domes and six slender minares of the ‘’Sultanahmet Mosque ‘’ dominate the skyline of Istanbul. In the 17 th century, Sultan Ahmet wished to build an islamic place of worship that would be better than Hagia Sophia, and the mosque named for him is the result. The two great architectural achievements now stand next to each other in Istanbul’s main square.The construction work began in 1609 and took seven years. The mosque was designed by architect Mehmet Aga. One of the most notable features of the Blue Mosque is visible from far away: its six minarets. According to one account, the Sultan directed his architect to make gold (altın) minarets, which was misunderstood as six (altı) minarets. None of the exterior is blue – the name “Blue Mosque” comes from the blue tiles inside.

4. The Basilica Cistern

There are hundreds of ancient cisterns hidden underneath the streets and houses of Istanbul. Of the two that are open to the public. This immense underground water container was built during the reign of Emperor Justinian I in 532 to meet the water needs of the Great Palace. This marvelous piece of engineering only confirms yet again that those were the heydays of the Byzantine Empire. The Basilica Cistern, which borrowed its name from the Ilius Basilica, is 143 meters long and 65 meters wide. The roof is supported by 336 marble columns, mostly in Ionic or Corinthian styles, each measuring 9 meters in length. Spaced at four-meter intervals, they are arranged in 12 rows of 28 columns each. The cistern could hold 80.000 cubic meters of water, coming from the Eğrikapı Water Distribution Centre in the Belgrade Forest, 19 kilometers from the city. Make sure you walk all the way to the far left-hand corner of the cistern, to see the two Medusa heads After cleaning and restoring the Basilica Cistern, the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality opened it to the public in 1987.

5. Grand Bazaar

Kapali Carsi “Covered Market” was the first shopping mall ever built. During Byzantine times, built in the 15th century, is the oldest covered market in the world.

The Bazaar can boast a total of 64 streets and no fewer than 22 entrances, the most commonly used ones being the Beyazıt Kapısı and the Nuruosmaniye Kapısı and housing over 4.000 shops. The original historical core of the Bazaar is the İç Bedesten, completed by Mehmet II (or Mehmet the Conqueror) in 1461. A bedesten (the word is a Persian borrowing) refers to an indoor arcade with shops; the İç Bedesten or Interior Bedestenhas thus become a building-within-a-building in the Grand Bazaar. While the Grand Bazaar has not been the commercial center of Istanbul for quite some time, it is still one of the best places to get a taste of life in Ottoman-era.

6. Süleymaniye Mosque

Suleymaniye mosque, or better known as the mosque of Suleyman the Magnificent, was built in the 16th century by the great Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan for Sultan Suleyman the Magnificient, also known as the Legislator. It stands on a hilltop (3rd hill) dominating the Golden Horn and contributing to the skyline of Istanbul. The mosque is the largest mosque of Istanbul. There are 3 entrances to inside of the mosque, one being from the inner courtyard on the axis of the mosque and other two being on the sides of the outer courtyard. Inside, the floor is covered with carpets. The chandeliers are low and dim so it gives you an idea of the time when it was lit with candles,and there are 138 windows. In the outer courtyard to the southeast, there is an old cemetary where important people were buried once upon a time. Sultan Süleyman, his wife Hürrem, and architect Sinan have their own mausoleums within the compound as well.

Today Suleyman’s mosque is one of the most popular sights in Istanbul. Normally tourists enter the mosque from the inner courtyard and after taking the shoes off. Camera and flash is allowed in the mosque.

7. Dolmabahçe Palace

The Dolmabahce Palace is located along the European shore of the Bosphorus Strait. The palace which was built by Abdulmecid between 1850 –1856, covered an area of 110,000 m2. The main structure of the palace was designed by Karabet and Nikogos Balyan, major architects of the period, and consists of three sections: Mabeyn-i Humayun (Imperial Men’s Section), Reception Hall for Holidays, and the Imperial Harem. Mabeyn-i Humayun was used for administrative purposes, while the Imperial Harem was the location for the private life of the Sultan and his family. In between the two sections is a Reception Hall where some important state ceremonies were held. The Dolmabahce Palace has significance for the Turkish nation. The fact that Mustafa Kemal Ataturk also used this place as a residence, and spent his last days here when his illness was at its worst, is perhaps the most important reason for us to visit the palace with a special feeling . The first attempt to turn the Dolmabahçe Palace into a museum was again Mustafa Kemal’s. Dolmabahce Palace is only one of the marvelous places of Istanbul.

8. Spice Bazaar

Vividly coloured spices are displayed alongside jewel-like lokum(Turkish delight) at this Ottoman-era marketplace, providing eye candy for the thousands of tourists and locals who make their way here every day. The market was constructed in the 1660s as part of the New Mosque, with rent from the shops supporting the upkeep of the mosque as well as its charitable activities, which included a school, hamam and hospital. The market’s Turkish name, the Mısır Çarşısı . On the west side of the market there are outdoor produce stalls selling fresh foodstuff from all over Anatolia, including a wonderful selection of cheeses. Also here is the most famous coffee supplier in İstanbul, Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi, established over 100 years ago. This is located on the corner of Hasırcılar Caddesi, which is full of shops selling food and kitchenware.

9. Galata Tower

The Romanesque style tower was built as Christea Turris (Tower of Christ) in 1348 during an expansion of the Genoese colony in Constantinople. Galata Tower was the tallest building in Istanbul at 219.5 ft (66.9 m) when it was built in 1348.It was built to replace the old Tower of Galata, an original Byzantine tower named Megalos Pyrgos (English: Great Tower) which controlled the northern end of the massive sea chain that closed the entrance to the Golden Horn. The Galata Tower is one of Istanbul’s most iconic visuals, overlooking Beyoğlu and Karaköy from its perched position, while the colorful lights of the tower can be seen at night from all over the city.  During the reign of Ottoman Sultan Süleiman the Magnificent, the tower had a very different purpose, as it was used to hold prisoners who were sentenced to work at the Kasımpaşa Naval Dockyard. By the end of the 16th century, an observatory was added at the very top by the astrologer, Takiyüddin Efendi, but the tower was destined to become a prison once more during the reign of Sultan Murat III between 1546 and 1595.  Nowadays, the  tower serves as a touristic attraction only, for visitors, to head to the top for a spectacular 360-degree view of Istanbul from the balcony. Luckily, an elevator takes visitors up seven floors, but the last two floors are only accessible by climbing the stairs.

10. Chora Church

Like so many of Istanbul’s historical buildings, the Kariye Museum has a long and chequered past, that reveals as much about the history of Istanbul, as it does the museum itself:

The first Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora (as it was originally known) was built during the reign of Justinian (527-565)  on the site of a former chapel that was located just outside the first city walls (but within the Theodosian walls that still exist today) that surrounded the capital of the Byzantine Empire, Constantinople.

It was destroyed when the Fourth Crusade saw invaders from Western Europe form the short-lived Latin Empire (1204-1261) – which caused the final split between the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches. However, it was later repaired and expanded during the 13th and 14th centuries when it was also decorated with the stunning mosaics and frescoes visitors can see today. After the Ottomans took the city in 1453, it continued to serve as a church until Vizier Hadim Ali Pasha converted it into a mosque in 1511. The mosaics and frescoes lay covered in dirt, paint, and plaster until it became a museum in 1945 and restoration works uncovered the stunning works.