Istanbul has been the center of empires for centuries. It spans both Europe, Asia and is considered one of the most important metropolises on the planet. Around 1000 BC, the colony called Byzantium became Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire. After the Ottoman conquest, Istanbul remained their heartland. Istanbul officially renamed Istanbul following the founding and maintenance of the Turkish Republic, is brimming with the glorious remnants of its long and rich history. Even the most seasoned tourist will be impressed by the sight-seeking opportunities available.
Make sure you have enough time to see the rest of the sights. While many tourist attractions are found in the old city of Sultanate, there are many more to explore.
Plan your trip with our list of the top tourist attractions in Istanbul.
1. Aya Sofya
It is said that Justinian, Byzantine Emperor, entered his finished church in AD 536. He cried out, “Glory! God! I’ve been judged worthy!” Solomon, you have outdone me! The Aya Sophia, formerly known as the Hagia Sophia, was the emperor’s braggadocious declaration about his wealth and technical capabilities. The official center of all things was, according to tradition, the area surrounding the emperor’s throne within a church.
From its conversion to an Ottoman mosque in Constantinople to its later conversion into a museum, the Aya Sofya remains one of Istanbul’s most beloved landmarks.
2. Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Camii)
This beautiful mosque is the grand architectural gift Sultan Ahmet I made to his capital. It’s commonly known today as The Blue Mosque. Built between 1609-1616, the mosque caused controversy throughout the Muslim World because it had six minarets, the same number as the Great Mosque of Mecca. Mecca received the seventh Minaret to end the dissent.
The nickname of the mosque comes from its interior decoration with tens of thousands of Iznik tiles. The interior of the mosque is one of the most significant examples of Ottoman architecture. A fantastic way to enjoy Istanbul is to wander among the gardens sandwiched between two of the most famous Ottoman architectures, the Aya Sofya. Here you can see their respective domes in all their Glory. The extra ambiance is available when you visit Istanbul at night, as the Blue Mosque’s Minaret rings out with the call to prayer.
Just behind the Blue Mosque lies the Arasta Bazaar. This is an excellent stop for a shopping trip as the handicraft shops offer high-quality souvenirs. Even if you don’t want to browse the museum, visit the Great Palace Mosaic Museum, located between the Arasta Bazaar (the mosque) and the mosque. This museum showcases the 250-meter-wide mosaic pavement that was found here in the 1950s. Extensive information panels provide excellent explanations of the recovery and subsequent rescue of the mosaic floor.
Septimius Severus started the ancient Hippodrome in AD203. Constantine, the Great, completed it in AD330. It was the heart of Byzantine public life. This area was home to spectacular games, chariot races, and even factional conflict. The Hippodrome is no longer visible, except for a small portion of the gallery walls to the south. However, the At Meydani (park) is now located on the site and houses several monuments.
The fountain is located on the northwest side. It was presented to the Ottoman Sultan by the German Emperor William II in 1898. Three ancient monuments are located to the southwest: an Egyptian obelisk (20 m high) (from Heliopolis); a Serpent Column brought from Delphi by Constantine; a stone obelisk, which was initially covered in bronze plating and gold until it was stolen by soldiers of the 4th Crusade (1204).
4. Süleymaniye Mosque
The Suleymaniye Mosque sits high on the hill overlooking Sultanahmet. It is one of the most well-known landmarks in Istanbul. It was built by Sinan, the famous Ottoman architect between 1549-1575 for Suleyman The Magnificent. The dome, which rises to 53 meters high, dominates the interior. It is known for its harmonious proportions as well as the unity of design. In the peaceful garden is an Ottoman Cemetery. It is also home to the tubes (tombs) of Sultan Suleyman and Haseki Hurrem Sultan.
5. Istiklal Caddesi and Taksim
The bustling, modern shopping area of Pedestrianized Istiklal Caddesi has several restaurants and cafes. From the Tunel (near Galata Bridge), you can reach the lower part of the street via the world’s oldest underground railroad. It was built in 1875. Another option is a tramway that runs its length up to Taksim Square on the top of the hill. Taksim Square is lined up with shops, restaurants, hotels, and high-rises. Macka Park, located just east of the square, houses the fascinating Military Museum.
You will find many churches and old consulates with elaborate facades in the Istiklal Caddesi area. Orhan Pamuk’s Museo of Innocence can be located nearby. Pamuk, Turkey’s most celebrated author and the Nobel Prize for Literature winner, is Turkey’s most famous writer. This museum of conceptual art was inspired by the theme of his novel The Museum of Innocence. It’s a bizarre, funky, and wonderfully atmospheric place.