Istanbul is one of the greatest cities the world has ever known. Inhabited for at least 5,000 years, it was capital of two of the world’s most powerful empires – those of the Byzantines and the Ottomans – and its every stone is steeped in history. The highlights are easy; you can cover the major attractions in the first couple of days. But after that, the choice can be overwhelming, especially as this ancient city is reinventing itself once more as a modern centre for nightlife, food and shopping. The only answer is to come back again – and again. If you do, this endlessly fascinating city will certainly reward you.
Top 10 Istanbul Attractions
1. Topkapı Palace
A palace fit for a sultan, several wives, hundreds of concubines and thousands of retainers, the Topkapı was not only a royal residence, but also the Ottoman Empire’s centre of government.
2. Haghia Sophia
One of the greatest icons of the Christian church, Haghia Sophia has stood for 1,500 years – a miraculous feat of design and engineering that has survived fire, war and earthquake, and outlived two great
3. Blue Mosque
Sultan Ahmet I’s great mosque is one of the world’s most famous religious buildings – “blue“ on account of the delicately patterned İznik tiles which adorn the interior.
4. Archaeological Museum
Turkey’s world-class national collection, which remarkably was begun only in the mid-19th century, contains ancient treasures from across the length and
breadth of the Ottoman Empire and beyond, including artifacts from Babylon, Syria, Egypt, Greece, Rome and Persia.
5. Grand Bazaar
More mall than market since its last restoration, the Grand Bazaar remains a true Turkish delight, a shopaholic’s colourful fantasy that is also a photographer’s dream. Whether you are after a Hereke carpet or a pair of silk slippers, you will be satisfied here – in the bazaar at the western end of the Silk Road.
6. Süleymaniye Mosque
Sultan Süleyman I, the Ottomans’ greatest emperor, and Sinan, the empire’s most talented architect, created more than 400 buildings together.
This imposing mosque is their masterwork.
7. Church of St Saviour in Chora
With more than 100 profoundly beautiful early-14th-century mosaics and frescoes of biblical scenes, this church is one of the greatest of Istanbul’s many Byzantine treasures.
8. Çemberlitaş Baths
The perfect way to recuperate from an overdose of sightseeing is to steam gently beneath the marble domes of a traditional Turkish bath before allowing an attendant to massage those aching feet. The experience is cleansing, cultural and reviving.
9. Dolmabahçe Palace
This 19th-century Occidental fantasy was a key component in the downfall of the Ottoman Empire. Sultan Abdül Mecit’s decision to build a lavishly opulent European-style palace almost bankrupted the Treasury, and in the end could be financed only by foreign loans.
10. Bosphorus Cruise
Take to the water on a ferry trip up the Bosphorus, and enjoy a fabulously lazy day off. The air is clean, the pace unhurried and, best of all, sightseeing can be done from the deck, with the promise of a great lunch ahead.