One of the few cities in the world, that in my opinion, needs at least a week to appreciate fully (along with London and New York). Istanbul is one of my favourite places, packed with history, architecture, and a few tulips.
Don’t miss Hagia Sophia. Built in 537AD, it was the largest domed building in the world for a thousand years. It’s difficult to describe the sheer presence of the building, the huge sense of scale, like no other building I’ve ever been in.
Walk everywhere. Istanbul is a huge city of over 14 million people but the Old City part is relatively small with everything walkable within half an hour. It’s a safe city and a pleasure just to wander around and explore.
Visit the Grand Bazaar. The largest covered market in the world with over 3,000 shops. It’s a shopper’s paradise, though with 58 streets it’s easy to get lost in.
Beware carpet sellers. Around the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque they’re impossible to avoid and before you know it you’ll be whisked into a carpet shop, even if you really don’t want one.
See at least three mosques. There are literally hundreds of mosques in Istanbul, the skyline is dotted with the distinctive minarets spires of mosques, but after visiting a large number of them, three stand out.
Blue Mosque – the best known mosque and the most beautiful from outside, particularly from the parkland between it and Hagia Sophia.
Rüstem Pasha Mosque – a small mosque hidden away in the middle of the Spice Bazaar, it’s interior features an amazing display of blue tiles.
Süleymaniye Camii – the largest mosque in the city, and the most impressive. It is the best example of Ottoman era architecture.
See the city from the Galata Tower. One of the city’s most striking landmarks, the 60m tower helps you understand the huge expanse of Istanbul, with buildings stretching as far as the eye can see.
Take a break in the Old Baths. Tucked between Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque the building is now a carpet shop but remains an oasis of calm and tranquillity in a busy and vibrant city.
Check out some museums. The Archaeological Museum is the Turkish equivalent of the British Museum and includes an impressive display on the city of Troy. A hidden treasure is the Mosaic Museum, which features the remains of a once huge Roman palace.
Visit the homes of the sultans of the Ottoman Empire. Topkapi Palace demonstrates the scale and wealth of the empire at its peak. The treasury contains an almost surreal excess of gold, emeralds and diamonds along with the severed arm and skull of St. John the Baptist. Dolmabahçe Palace was the replacement palace, equally grand in scale, with the largest chandelier in the world, a gift from Queen Victoria.
Admire the architecture of the Haydarpasa Train Station. On the Asian side of Istanbul, and built by the Germans, this is where trains to the east depart. I caught a train from here to Aleppo in Syria, one of those journeys which sadly won’t be repeatable for some time.
Marvel at the epic City Walls. They kept Constantinople safe for a thousand years but were finally breached by the Ottoman’s in 1453. They remain huge and impressive.
For more see an account of my first trip to Istanbul back in 2005.