The Turkish city of Istanbul lies in two continents, Europe and Asia, separated by a narrow stretch of water known as the Bosphorous Strait. For thousands of years, the natural waterway has served as a significant waypoint for transporting goods and international travel. The importance of the maritime corridor colors the rich history of Istanbul, and its diverse attractions are a testament to the city's evolution.
The vibrant culture of modern-day Istanbul attracts tourists curious for a taste of the spirit that lives in the hearts of the city's residents. Visitors can expect to be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of historically significant monuments and what they say about the effect time has in a geographically valuable place. Travelers heading to Istanbul need to add these spots to their itineraries for a proper, well-rounded introduction to the aptly named "City of the World's Desire."
10 The Grand Bazaar
Visitors won't know where to look when they enter the Grand Bazaar: a long-standing, world-famous market spread over 100,000 square feet. Magically kaleidoscopic handcrafted lanterns, colorful and complex Turkish rugs, fresh locally grown produce, jewelry, ceramics, and so much more fill the thousands of stalls of a covered market that has been in existence since the Byzantine Empire. Much of the 15th-century architecture still stands, marrying past and present in a way that will stay with guests long after they've finished their shopping.
9 Galata Tower
The Galata Tower stands over 200 feet tall, coloring Istanbul's skyline in history. Originally constructed in the 14th century as a lighthouse and fortress to protect the region, several additions to the structure have altered the appearance and function of the medieval stone tower.
Over the centuries, Galata was damaged by an earthquake and fires, each occurrence leading to the restoration of the historical monument and additions to reflect its evolving uses. Today, lights from the tower illuminate the city at night, serving as an architectural North Star. Visitors can ascend the winding staircase to the top for a bird's eye view of Istanbul from the observatory deck, dine at the restaurant, and learn about the history in the museum inside Galata Tower.
8 The Basilica Cistern
One way to learn about a city is to explore the secrets hidden beneath it, and few underground structures are as impressive as the Basilica Cistern. There are hundreds of cisterns, or water storage tanks, beneath Istanbul. This is the largest of them all.
The structure is held up by hundreds of intricately carved marble columns, walls, and ceilings, giving a more eerie palace feel than a subterranean storage facility. The 6th-century reservoir has been decommissioned as a water tank but attracts visitors looking for a unique underground adventure. Tourists can explore the damp and dimly lit Basilica Cistern and discover the spooky Medusa heads scattered throughout the iconic attraction.
7 Hagia Sophia
Back when Istanbul was Constantinople, the Byzantine ruler decreed the erection of the Hagia Sophia, a construction that shaped architecture for centuries to come. The structure stood as the largest Christian church for several centuries until it was taken by the Latin Empire and transformed into a Catholic cathedral. The Latin Empire was subsequently toppled by the Ottoman Empire, which converted the Hagia Sophia into a mosque. The stunning work of architecture stands as a testament to the complex history of Istanbul, and the power religion has in shaping culture.
The complex and beautiful exterior almost demands admiration, the gorgeous array of domed buildings and towering spires underscoring the impressive architectural achievement. Luxurious marble columns and stunning mosaics color the interior. Tourists are welcome to explore Hagia Sophia but need to do so in a way that respects the culture that has invited them to do so.
6 Walls Of Constantinople
For several centuries, the Walls of Constantinople protected the region from various intruders who sought to gain control of the geographically significant swath of land known today as Istanbul. The fortification was built upon, destroyed, restored, and dismantled over the years, but a stretch of the original structure still stands in the city. Tourists can walk along the wall and run their fingers across bricks that were placed nearly a thousand years ago, an experience that will undoubtedly leave a lasting impression.
5 Topkapki Palace Museum
During his rule in the 15th century, Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror ordered the construction of the grand Topkapi Palace. Today, the sprawling former imperial castle serves as a museum exhibiting an extensive collection of artifacts from the Ottoman Empire. Tourists will be awestricken by the colorfully tiled walls, ornate furniture, stained glass windows, and lavish shutters made of ivory and pearl. The palace also contains a bygone harem that housed the wives of sultans who ruled over four centuries.
4 The Blue Mosque
The Blue Mosque gets its name from the thousands of hand-painted tiles that decorate its interior. Blue lights illuminate the mosque at night, an entrancing haze that pops against the dark sky. The 17th-century structure was purposefully placed next to the Hagia Sophia in an attempt to rival its magnificence. Visitors to Istanbul should make it a point to stop at both to decide for themselves which they find more impressive.
3 Galata Bridge
Bridges are built to connect places, and the Galata Bridge accomplishes that in more ways than one. It spans the Golden Horn, an estuary attached to the Bosphorous Strait. Galata Bridge also unites Old and New Istanbul, each part of the city with a distinct flavor. Guests can walk forward or backward in time across the bridge, noticing the differences that make each section of Istanbul unique. Visitors will likely spot a jellyfish or two lingering on the surface of the water and pass by residents fishing off the bridge.
2 Istiklal Avenue
For a bit of hip, modern hustle and bustle complemented by old-world charm, travelers should head to Istiklal Avenue. Millions of weekenders hit the street to check out the abundance of boutiques, restaurants, art galleries, libraries, and nightclubs located on the stretch of road. An old school tram runs down the pedestrianized avenue, allowing visitors to take in the big picture before examining Istiklal more closely.
Despite all it has to offer, the Istanbul neighborhood of Balat flies under the radars of many visitors. The once Jewish community is now home to a diverse group of residents, and one thing is for sure: they love color. Vibrant homes, coffee shops, and antique stores line the narrow, cobbled streets. The funky feel is enhanced by beautifully painted murals, making the ever-evolving neighborhood a must-see.