Guide to Istanbul
Istanbul, the capital and largest city in Turkey is home to over 13 million inhabitants, and one of the largest cities in the world.
Visitors flock to Istanbul’s modern and ancient sides, which often coincide. Find your bearings in this extraordinary capital by way of a city tour, before hand-picking landmarks to further explore.
Experience Istanbul’s vibrant history at the unmissable 15th-century Topkapi Palace. This former Ottoman residence has a colourful past, in the main, due to its former hedonistic occupants, the sultans and their famous harem. Explore the palace’s ornate décor, mysterious harem and Turkish bath, the green courtyard and spectacular sea views. Beat the rush of tourist crowds by going early morning or late afternoon.
See the stunning architecture of Istanbul’s spiritual spectacle, the Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii). Dating back to the early 17th-century, this fascinating mosque is one of the city’s most visited sights and is still in use today. Check visiting times as tours are normally organised outwith hours of worship. Visitors are advised to enter via the mosque’s west entrance for the optimum view of the mosque.
The Byzantine Chora Church, in the old city walls, is another of Istanbul’s grand religious effigies. The church is one of the finest surviving examples of its kind, with some parts dating back to the 11th-century. Marvel at the church’s beautiful mosaic design and painted frescoes.
Slightly off the traditional tourist track, the Byzantine Basilica Cistern is a surprising, but must-see, attraction. This ancient underground system was designed in the 6th-century to channel water into the city, known then as Constantinople. The cistern ceiling is supported by a network of staggering ornate marble columns, at around 9 metres tall (30 ft). Although presently empty, the cistern has capacity for more than 100,000 tonnes of water.
Above ground, this extraordinary ‘mega-polis’ invites visitors to indulge. The city’s infamous Turkish baths (hamans) are ideal for relaxing after a day’s touring. Here you can self-serve or enjoy a wash, scrub and massage from a willing attendant. Check out the etiquette before a visit to avoid embarrassment.
For retail therapy on a grand scale, shop at Istanbul’s world famous Grand Bazaar. This is one of the oldest and largest covered markets in the world dating back to the 15th-century with thousands of shops and many more visitors. It closes on Sundays and some bank holidays. After the bustle of the Bazaar, try a reviving Turkish Coffee and some authentic food in a local cafe.
Foodies will appreciate Istanbul’s many cosmopolitan restaurants and bars. After dark, watch the city come alive at one of the city’s numerous nightclubs. Nightlife is a huge part of Istanbul’s modern culture.