Istanbul is full of history, so the old city is crowded with places and monuments for you to see. You feel the power and wealth of the old empire when entering the palace or the mosques.
Topkapi Palace (Topkapi Saray in Turkish) was the residence of the sultans for about 400 years. It is situated right in the historical city center, very close to Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. It is one of the most impressive palaces in the world, with hundreds of objects that remind us of the wealth of the Ottoman Empire. It is simply astonishing to see so much gold in one place. Weapons, furniture and all the “usual” objects you may find in a normal house are made of gold and are decorated with huge precious stones.
Another thing you will like about Topkapi Palace is its open air layout. Unlike an European palace, Topkapi is made up of a few separate buildings with nice courtyards between them. We are pretty sure the sultans were staying outside more than in the buildings, since air conditioning was not quite popular at that time. Topkapi Palace was also housing the famous Imperial Harem, where the sultan’s mother, the wives and the concubines had been living.
Topkapi Palace may get very crowded with tourists during summers, so go there early in the morning to avoid huge queues. It’s a pitty not to take your time to visit all the rooms in the complex, so choose a suitable time. It seems that weekends attract even more people to the palace, so Monday to Friday should work better. Tickets cost 20 TL for the palace and an additional 15 TL for the harem. They accept both cash and credit cards.
The official website of Topkapi Palace is www.topkapisarayi.gov.tr.
Blue Mosque (also known as Sultahanmet Mosque or Sultanahmet Camii in Turkish) is the symbol of Istanbul in terms of religious buildings. Its name derives from the blue tiles that are decorating its interior. Blue Mosque is one of the largest mosques in Istanbul and is definitely worth a visit. You will not be granted access during praying times, so plan your visit carefully. If you like to enjoy a beautiful performance in the evening, just go to the small park between Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia at sunset. The mosque and the water fountain are illuminated with various alternating colors.
Hagia Sophia (or Aya Sophya in Turkish) is a religious place in Istanbul with a very interesting story. It had been an Orthodox church until the 15th century, serving as the cathedral of Constantinople. After the Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople, the chucrh was transformed in a mosque. In order to make this process as fast as possible, the Ottomans painted their symbols directly over the Orthodox ones. Now the paint is wearing, so the Orthodox symbols become visible again. The church was transformed into a museum in 1935 and is now under an ambitious renovation.
Basilica Cistern is the largest structure designed for storing and providing water in old Istanbul. It has a capacity of 100,000 tons of water and had been providing filtered water to Topkapi Palace. The interior is really impressive, since the weight of the cistern and the water was sustained by a large number of columns. The most popular attractions in the cistern are the Medusa columns. These two columns have their bases in the form of Medusa heads, but the heads are upside down. The reason for this is not clear, it is believed the columns were brought from another building.
Official website: www.yerebatan.com.
Dolmabahce Palace was the new residence of the sultans, built in an European style. It was preferred instead of Topkapi Palace and inhabited by sultans between 1856 and 1924. It was also used as residence until his death by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the first president of the Republic of Turkey. This is the largest palace in Turkey. It can be visited only in guided tours, since the security is very strict. Many of the rooms in the palace are dedicated to Atatürk, you will see where he worked and where he died.
Official website: www.dolmabahce.gov.tr.
Galata Tower (or Galata Kulesi in Turkish) is a stone tower that derives its name from the Galata district where it is located. The tower survived very well from the Middle Ages to the present day. It was actually built by the Genoese. The tower is open for you to visit it and has a restaurant and a café at the top. You will have a beautiful overview of the city from above.
Official website: www.galatatower.net.
The Grand Bazaar is probably one of the most fabulous attractions of Istanbul. This is the place where you can negotiate almost everything with the merchants. The bazaar is very big and may get quite crowded sometimes. While you walk through it, you can admire the shops that exhibit a large variety of products, from clothes and leather accessories to jewels. Prices may vary greatly from one shop to another even for the very same product. Take your time to see more shops, ask for prices and when you find what you were looking for, don’t hesitate to negotiate the price. The success depends on your negotiation skills, on the seller and on the type of merchandise you are buying. You can get discounts from 1 – 2 TL up to half of the original price of the product. As a general rule, the more you buy from the same shop, the bigger the discount.
The Spice Bazaar in Istanbul is a paradise for your senses. The merchants sell here all kind of food and ingredients used for cooking. You have to see the traditional Turkish sweets, like the famous Baklava, in order to understand whey they look so tasty. You can also find here all sorts of nuts, spices, cheese, olives, fish and virtually anything that Turkish people eat. As with the Grand Bazaar, prices vary quite a lot between different shops, so take your time to compare them before actually letting your senses getting you in a shopping spree.