• The mosques of Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul, a visit to the city of Mosques and Bazaars

Istanbul is a very unique city due to the fact that it is part of both Europe and Asia, separated by the Bosphorus strait that connects the Black Sea with the Mediterranean.

About a third of Istanbul population inhabits the Asian side while most of the historical marvels and landmarks lie on the European side, including the Hagia Sophia, a church turned mosque turned museum.

Here’s a small practical guide to the top cultural attractions of Istanbul as well as tips about how to get a cheap Bosphorus cruise in this city of sultans and minarets.

Are you ready?

Inside the Blue Mosque in Istanbul

Inside the Blue Mosque in Istanbul

Things to do in Istanbul #01: The Mosques and Churches

Traveling to Istanbul without visiting a mosque it’s like traveling to Mexico without eating a taco: it’s simply not possible. Istanbul is home to more than 2900 mosques, all of which are open to the public during non praying hours.

The most impressive mosques are the Sultan Ahmet Mosque (Blue Mosque), the Suleymaniye Mosque and the Hagia Sophia which used to be a church before becoming a mosque and now it’s neither since it got turned into a museum by Turkey’s First President Ataturk.

In addition to that, you can find churches from Byzantine times and enjoy the amazing golden mosaics inside of them. The most beautiful one of these is the Chora Church located beyond the city walls of Istanbul. Entrance fee is 15TL and it’s included in the Istanbul Museum Pass.

Byzantine art at Chora Church

Byzantine art at Chora Church

Things to do in Istanbul #02: The Topkapi Palace and the Harem

If visiting historic palaces is more your thing, you will be pleased to know that the Topkapi Palace, former home of the Sultans of the Ottoman Empire, is open to the public and features many exhibitions of the Muslim world, including the swords used by Muhammad’s blessed companions as well as the staff of Moses. The palace is fairly big and you can easily spend one full day inside of it.

Entrance to the Topkapi Palace is 30 TL plus another 15 TL for the Harem. If you’re planning on visiting also the Hagia Sophia (30 TL), Chora Church (15 TL), Mosaic Museum (10 TL) and Archeology Museum (15 TL), it makes sense to buy the Museum Pass which costs 85 TL and it’s valid for 72 hours.

PS. With the Museum Pass you can also skip the queues so it’s very handy during high season.

Topkapi Palace, home of the Sultans in Istanbul

Topkapi Palace, home of the Sultans in Istanbul

Things to do in Istanbul #03: The Mosaic and Archeology Museums

The Mosaic museum is located near the Blue Mosque in an area that once housed a Byzantine Palace. Today, only the mosaics remain and they tell a very interesting tale about mythology and the daily life in the last days of the once glorious Roman Empire including mosaics of midgets fighting tigers that would make Tyrion Lannister very proud.

On the other side of the spectrum, we have the Archeology Museum of Istanbul in which you will find Hellenistic, Turkish, Babylonian, Byzantine and Egyptian archeology items, including a sarcophagus that people believed to have belonged to Alexander the Great.

Whoa, Turkey sure has some very interesting history doesn’t it?

The spices of Istanbul

The spices of Istanbul

Things to do in Istanbul #04: The Galata Tower and Taksim Square

If you’re looking for a spectacular view of Istanbul, the Galata Tower is your best bet. Entrance fee is 15 TL and you have to queue twice: Once at the bottom and once at the top.

Exploring the top of the tower is slightly annoying since you’ll always be surrounded by people and you’ll have to wait until everyone has taken a photo in order to continue since there’s not enough space. Add a couple of selfie sticks and you have the perfect recipe for disaster.

Since you’re already in the area, why not continue walking north of the tower towards Taksim Square and the party scene of Istanbul? Try the traditional Raki and get the party started yo!

Istanbul seen from Galata Tower

Istanbul seen from Galata Tower

Things to do in Istanbul #05: The Ancient City Walls and the Basilica Cistern

Each day, visitors to the city want to visit the Topkapi Palace and so they take the tramway to the stop called “Topkapi“. What they don’t know is that the stop to the Topkapi Palace is called “Sultanahmet” and the “Topkapi” stop is actually very far from the city center of Istanbul and it is home to the incredible Byzantine city walls and the Chora Church.

In order to complete the full Byzantine era experience, pay a visit to the Basilica Cistern located near the Hagia Sophia. This underground water system is one of the most romantic and quiet places of all Istanbul. My recommendation of wonders? Just relax and walk in the darkness of the place as the instrumental music transports you to a time gone by.

Don’t forget to throw a coin to the Medusa head to make a wish! I promise you she won’t turn you into stone!

Basilica Cistern

Basilica Cistern

Things to do in Istanbul #06: The Grand Bazaar and the Souvenirs

Before departing Istanbul, buying souvenirs is definitely a must! From Turkish Eyes of Evil to Hands of Fatima, there’s always something for everyone’s taste. Granted, the Grand Bazaar is very overpriced compared to the traditional markets that can be found in Istanbul but it’s definitely worth a visit just for the artwork alone.

If you’re looking for the cheapest prices, go to either the Sirkeci or Taksim area to buy your souvenirs and remember to always haggle for the best price. Can you believe I got an awesome Turkish hat for only 3 TL?

I look like a total boss when I wear it!

The Grand Bazaar of Istanbul

The Grand Bazaar of Istanbul

Things to do in Istanbul #07: The Bosphorus and the Maiden’s Tower

In Istanbul, there are a lot of touristy cruises that navigate the Bosphorus all the way to the Asian side, passing through majestic palaces lying on the banks of the strait as well as making a short stop at the extremely touristy Maiden’s Tower.

The price of these touristy boats ranges from 30 to 100 TL normally. The plot twist? You can get them for as little as 10 TL (3.5 Euros) if you go directly to the Eminonu pier located right next to the Galata bridge.

The low budget Bosphorus cruise will last two hours and goes all the way to the Black Sea before going back to Eminonu. Sadly, it won’t stop at the Maiden’s tower but you can take a local ferry (4 TL each way) from Eminonu to Uskudar in order to see it up close.

Why buy tickets from the touts if you can do it yourself?

The Maiden's Tower of Istanbul

The Maiden’s Tower of Istanbul

Where to stay in Istanbul, Turkey

Accommodation in Istanbul is mostly focused on the European side (mostly around Sultanahmet and Taksim Square) although there are some interesting properties on the Asian side as well.

Here’s a list of my recommendations for all types of budget: Sirkeci Mansion, Heirloom Istanbul, Cheers Hostel and Downtown Istanbul Hostel.

PS. You can make a booking for this and more properties via our Booking.com affiliate link of Wonders!

Same price for you and a small pocket money commission for this website of yours.

Sweet deal, uh?

The mosques of Istanbul, Turkey

The mosques of Istanbul, Turkey

I hope you have enjoyed this travel guide to Istanbul’s top attractions. Don’t forget to subscribe in order to get more awesome updates and tips straight to your e-mail!

Have you ever been to Istanbul? Would you like to? Share your thoughts and let me know what you think of this amazing city!

Want to know more about Turkey? Here’s some related articles:

Istanbul, the perfect Middle Eastern destination

Pamukkale, Turkey’s weirdest wonder

Cave Hotels, the hidden luxury of Cappadocia

Freedom! The Hot Air Balloons of Cappadocia

The 7 Wonders of Cappadocia, a self guided tour

Sailing around Fethiye’s 12 Islands

Selçuk and the Byzantine Castle of Ayasuluk

Should you let terrorist attacks change your travel plans?

Until next time, my friends!

The best things to do in #Istanbul #Turkey #Travel

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The best things to do in #Istanbul #Turkey #Travel

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February 5th, 2016|Categories: Asia Travel|Tags: |
Raphael Alexander is a Nomadic Digital Marketer and Travel Influencer who overcame the chains of the local economy and found a way to achieve his dream of having a professional life while traveling the world non-stop. His goal in life is to inspire the people of the world to unleash their full inner potential. A perfect day for him includes exotic animals, ancient pyramids, breath-taking waterfalls and tasty tacos. Lots of tacos.

18 Comments

  1. Franca Calabretta October 10, 2014 at 4:20 am - Reply

    I really need to get myself to Turkey and Istanbul. It looks simply an amazing and vibrant city and its architecture is simply stunning! 🙂

  2. megan_claire October 13, 2014 at 9:48 pm - Reply

    Istanbul is looking more and more attractive to me every day! I love the churches and mosques! Looks like an amazing city to be in!

  3. Sammi Egan October 14, 2014 at 11:02 am - Reply

    great list raphael, and great tips about the museum pass too 🙂

  4. Antonette Spaan October 14, 2014 at 12:51 pm - Reply

    Awesome, Istanbul looks so colorful, would love to visit one day…

  5. Lauren | Justin Plus Lauren October 14, 2014 at 3:18 pm - Reply

    Fantastic overview, Raphael! You’ve summarized it all perfectly for those visiting with some helpful tips, too!

  6. Hannah Logan October 14, 2014 at 3:45 pm - Reply

    Great list! Something to keep track of when I eventually get there myself. I love all the colours

  7. The Crowded Planet October 17, 2014 at 3:19 pm - Reply

    Amazing list of the best of what’s to see and do in Istanbul. Love the city, I have visited 4 times!

  8. Eric January 6, 2015 at 11:16 am - Reply

    I have been to Istanbul. It was a port stop on a cruise, so we were just there for the day. I took an organized tour that was an excursion offered by the ship. We went to a number of places you mentioned. As we were there for just a day it was a bit of a whirl wind, and we were on a bus, and the city traffic was terrible, so a lot of time was wasted just sitting in traffic getting from one point to the next. I look at cruises as being a sample platter of places to go back and spend more time later, and there are so many other places in Turkey that it would be time well spent.

    • Raphael Alexander, The Man of Wonders February 24, 2016 at 4:34 am - Reply

      Yes, I remember the Istanbul traffic very well haha With short time I recommend using public transportation (tramway + metro + ferries) since they’re the fastest ones.

  9. Peter May 27, 2016 at 5:08 am - Reply

    I’m gonna be in Istanbul for 21 hours on a layover going to Italy. What 1 or 2 attractions would say are a must? I was thinking the Grand Bazaar and Bosphorus Cruise.

  10. Olivia Sila January 11, 2017 at 9:55 am - Reply

    Thanks for sharing this lovely post. Istanbul is very beautiful place. Recently I had visited and enjoyed my trip alot. Istanbul is the largest city in Turkey. Istanbul Tours for tourists offers visitors to catch mesmerizing views of the beautiful city (istanbuldaily-citytours.com)

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