These are all the best things to do in Istanbul to make the most of your stay. If there is one city that can truly claim the title of being the gateway to both Europe and Asia, it’s Istanbul. Straddling two continents, Istanbul is a city divided by the narrow waterway known as the Bosphorus. The city embraces its mixture of European and Asian cultures and visitors will sense the contrasts with each turn.
One of the best things to do in Istanbul is to visit Hagia Sophia. Hagia Standing in the middle of the staggering spacious nave under the 43 meter wide dome 65 meters above your head defies belief – and physics for that matter. Climb up the spiral ramp to get to the gallery and gaze at the splendid Byzantine mosaics, including Christ flanked by Emperor Constantine IX and his wife Empress Zoe.This splendid church-turned-mosque-turned-museum is among the world’s greatest architectural achievements. After years of restoration works, the Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya) is finally scaffolding free, enabling you to absorb its splendor as it was meant to be.
Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarniçi)
The Basilica Cistern is one of Istanbul’s most surprising tourist attractions. This huge, palace-like underground hall, supported by 336 columns in 12 rows, once stored the imperial water supply for the Byzantine emperors. The project was begun by Constantine the Great but finished by Emperor Justinian in the 6th century.
Many of the columns used in construction were recycled from earlier classical structures and feature decorative carvings. The most famous of these are the column bases known as the Medusa stones in the northwest corner with their Medusa head carvings. A visit here is very atmospheric with the columns beautifully lit and the soft, steady trickle of water all around you. This is one of the best things to do in Istanbul.
Istanbul Archaeology Museum
Just a hop, skip, and jump away from Topkapi Palace, this important museum complex brings together a staggering array of artifacts from Turkey and throughout the Middle East, which sweeps through the vast breadth of history of this region. There are three separate sections in the complex, each of which are worthy of a visit: the Museum of the Ancient Orient; the main Archaeology Museum; and the Tiled Pavilion of Mehmet the Conqueror, which holds a staggering collection of ceramic art. As well as all the wonderful artifacts on display, don’t miss the interesting Istanbul Through the Ages exhibit room in the main Archaeology Museum.
For many people, a trip to Istanbul isn’t complete without at least one trip to a carpet shop. Head here, to find out more about the incredible heritage and artistry of carpets before you purchase your own rug to bring home. Housed in one of the outer buildings of the Aya Sofya complex, the three galleries here walk you through the history of Turkish carpets and the dazzling array of motifs and styles from different regions of the country. Think of it as your Turkish carpet 101.
Sitting high on the hill above Sultanahmet district, the Süleymaniye Mosque is one of the most recognized landmarks of Istanbul. It was built for Süleyman the Magnificent by the famed Ottoman architect Sinan between 1549 and 75. The interior, dominated by its soaring 53-meter-high dome is notable for its harmonious proportions and unity of design. Outside in the tranquil garden area is an interesting Ottoman cemetery that is also home to the türbes (tombs) of the Sultan Süleyman and his wife Haseki Hürrem Sultan (known in the west as Roxelana). So visiting Süleymaniye Mosque is always the best things to do in Istanbul.
Yedikule Fortress (Yedikule Hisari)
Although it’s a bit of a schlep on the suburban train to get out to Yedikule, this commanding fortress is well worth it. Built in the 5th century by the Emperor Theodosius II, the fortress made up the southern section of Constantinople’s defensive walls. The mammoth arch (blocked up in the late Byzantine period) was known as Porta Aurea (Golden Gate), with doors plated in gold. When the Ottomans conquered the city, they used the fortress for defense, and later as a prison and execution place.
Yedikule has been restored in recent years, and you can climb up to the top of the battlements for superb views across the Sea of Marmara.
This Genoese tower was built in the 14th century and is one of Istanbul’s most recognizable landmarks. Take the elevator or the stairs for great panoramic views over the city from the top balcony. Be aware, though, that it’s a super popular sight, so come early or be prepared to wait in line.
Hopefully, with the list of the best things to do in Istanbul in the article, you will have the best preparation before visiting Istanbul.