A Travel Guide to Istanbul

In Destinations, Europe, Turkey by wanderlost

Istanbul is a remarkable destination known for it’s sights, cuisine, and culture. Here is my travel guide to Istanbul!

Istanbul is a unique city where east meets west as the city lies on both the European and Asian continents. A visit to Istanbul is not complete without a visit to bazaars, beautiful mosques, and sampling the food.  Below, check out the top attractions for a multi-day excursion in Istanbul!


Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue Mosque)

This mosque is popularly known as the Blue Mosque due to the blue mosaic tiles on the inside of the structure.  The mosque was completed in 1616 and consists of six minarets and nine domes.  The mosque is open to the public free of charge, except during the five daily prayer times and the Friday sermons.

Remember to prepare your visit by wearing modest attire, avoid showing skin and use a head scarf if you’re female.  In case you are improperly attired, most mosques in Istanbul provide coverings free of charge.  You need to remove your shoes before entering and place them in provided plastic bags, which you take with you through the mosque.  If you have time, visit the culture office inside the mosque for more detailed information on the Islamic religion or just to say hello.

Hagia Sofia - Istanbul

Hagia Sofia

Another popular mosque for tourists and located just opposite the Blue Mosque is the Hagia Sofia.  Lines often appear long, but move quickly.  This mosque has served as Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches and is now a museum.  The price as of October 2015 is 30 TL with some exceptions for free entry.  This attraction is also included in the Museum Pass making it cheaper if you plan to visit several attractions run by the Turkish ministry of Culture and Tourism.  Many of the local hotels sell the Museum Pass or you can buy online.

Topkapi Palace 2 - Istanbul

Topkapi Palace

This palace was home to the Ottoman Sultans between 1465 and 1856 and also the location for state dinners and royal entertainment.  The entrance fee is 30 TL not including the Harem Section which is an additional 15 TL.  Purchase of the Museum Pass includes entry to both these areas.  Here you will also get extraordinary views of the city of Istanbul as well as the Bosphorus Strait and the Sea of Marmara.

Basilica Cistern - Istanbul

Photo by Eric Haglund via Flickr

Basilica Cistern

Built by the Byzantinians in the 6th century, this section of cisterns is one part of an intricate system that lies beneath the city of Istanbul.  These cisterns were used when the city was known as Constantinople.  Inside, the beautiful pillars are illuminated in warm orange lighting and reflect upon the water.  Here, you will find two heads of Medusa, one on its side and one upside down as well as the Hen’s Eye column.

Galata Tower - Istanbul

Galata Tower

Built in 1348, the Galata Tower is one of the most prominent tourist attractions for its stunning views of the city of Istanbul.  At nine stories tall, the tower provides exceptional views of the Bosphorus Strait and the skyline of Istanbul.  If you’re afraid of heights, have a coffee or fresh squeezed juice and a traditional pastry at one of the many cafes located at its base.


Bosphorus Boat Tour

The Bosphorus Strait divides the European and Asian Continents. It is a great way to see both sides as well as to take breathtaking pictures of most popular landmarks.  The tours are offered largely in two versions.  A short tour consists of 1.5-2 hours and a long tour consists of 6 hours.  Several companies offer boat tours, although the official provider is Şehir Hatları.  You can also find several other operators at the dock Eminent.  Make sure to shop around as the boat providers can charge higher prices.  Through Şehir Hatları, the short tour is 12 TL and and the long tour is 25 TL.  Tickets are purchased at the ticket office on the left side docks when coming off the Galata bridge or online.

Grand Bazaar - Istanbul

The Grand Bazaar 

Here you can get a great feel for the Turkish culture while walking up and down winding aisles of goods.  You’ll find everything from leather shoes and bags to elaborately decorated tea sets and pashmina scarves.  Make sure to shop around and feel free to haggle with the shop keepers.  Be prepared to encounter aggressive sales tactics.  Remember that a firm “No thank you” and continuing on your way is the best way to avoid feeling pressured into buying something or an uncomfortable situation.  Also, keep a close eye on your belongings as the small aisles are crowded.  Make sure to appreciate the beautiful stands of lanterns and be careful of taking pictures without asking.

Spice Bazaar - Istanbul

Spice Bazaar

The spice bazaar is another great place to check out local products, particularly spices.  The aromas here are abundant and so is the opportunity to taste a variety of turkish desserts and candies.  As with the Grand Bazaar, keep an eye on your belongings particularly if you venture to the outskirts of the bazaar.  There you will find everything from knock off versions of Armani sweaters to pantyhose and discount watches.