Top 5 Things to See in Istanbul


Istanbul offers an endless possibility of choices on what to see and do, but for the first-time traveler, there are a handful of things that just have to be checked off the list. Yes, they are 'touristy' but they are for a reason and leaving the country without experiencing these following five things would be downright blasphemous so to speak. Here are my top 5 things to see in Istanbul, chock full of alluring artistry and design genius.

The beauty and grandeur of these structures are most notable from the inside. The best known of the bunch may be the Blue Mosque but that should certainly not be where your tour of these places of worship ends. Make time for Süleymaniye Mosque and Rüstem Pasha in the Bazaar District. Designed by Sinan, chief architect of the Ottoman empire, he is considered the world's first 'starchitect' and has drawn comparisons to Michaelangelo. Also noteworthy is the 400 year old 'new' mosque Yeni Camii.

Ever wondered what sheer and utter opulence looks like? Look no further, the primary residence of the Sultans during the Ottoman empire is just the place to see it. Architectural craftsmanship in this palace is displayed in every jaw-dropping detail of the interiors, gilded ceilings and curved archways. Set aside a good half-day to see it all, including the Harem, the royal jewels and historical artifacts that date back to the days of the bible and the Islamic prophet Mohammad.

No trip to Istanbul is complete without the extravaganza of a shopping experience that is the Grand Bazaar with its labryinth of over 4000 boutiques and shops. You can find almost anything here, from fine jewelry to nargileh pipes. Come ready for combat though! Besides battling the crowds, you can exercise your fighting chops in the art of bargaining. Combine with a trip to the more authentic (not to mention enticing) nearby Spice Bazaar, also known as the Egyptian Bazaar.. it is a feast for all your senses. Make sure to pick up some fresh sumac and Turkish Delights, yum.

First an Orthodox (Christian) basilica, then a mosque and now finally a museum, the Hagia Sophia is probably THE site of sites in Istanbul, alongside the Blue Mosque. It is one of the greatest Byzantine examples of architecture, complete with glittering mosaics, domed ceilings, and ornamental stone inlays. The Hagia Sophia was the pinnacle of design in Late Antiquity and had a lasting influence over the all of the surrounding cultures and religions including Catholic and Islamic. Take at least 2 hours here and visit the adjacent sultan tombs.

This was probably the most intriguing as I didn't know anything about it prior to my arrival in Istanbul. Before being converted to one of several hundred ancient cisterns (reservoirs) this was the site of a grand church. Descend a set of mysterious, dark steps and emerge in a vast underworld of glowing red lights and water-filled passages. Walk all the way to the back for the carved Medusa head columns and toss in a coin for a good luck wish.

—All photos are original, please ask permission before use and must link back to this site.


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