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Top 10 must-do’s in Istanbul

Probably the biggest challenge for tourists going to Istanbul is to make a list of local attractions; after all, this magnificent city offers myriad places and attractions. So to make your life easier, we suggest 10 things that you should definitely do while in Istanbul.

1. Discover the treasures of Sultanahmet

The oldest part of town is called Sultanahmet. Sometimes unofficially known as the Sultanahmet square, as here there are two the most venerable monuments of Istanbul, gazing at each other - the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. You will discover the Archaeological Museums, the remains of the Byzantine Hippodrome, a Turkish and Islamic Art Museum and many other well-known historical monuments. In fact, many tourists remain only within the Sultanahmet district.

Sultan Ahmet Camii (Blue Mosque). Istanbul
Photo taken by  Sultan Ahmet Camii (Blue Mosque). Istanbul

2. Take a cruise on the Bosphorus

What could be better than going by boat and and being able to see the wonderful villas, castles, mosques and fortresses from another angle? The moment you enter the pier, you will be offered a variety of tours with private or state boats. The fee depends solely on your ability to negotiate. Cruise time is not fixed, since boats leave only when there are enough passengers. Bosphorus cruise offers two types of journey: long and short. The average cost of the cruise with private vessel comes to about 3.5 euros. A state vessel cruise lasts up to 3 hours for 9 euros, up to 2 hours – 3 ½ euros.

3. Breathe in the sacred history in one of the city's mosques

Sleek domes and graceful minarets dominate in the skyline of Istanbul, giving the city a stunning, majestic look.  A visit to Istanbul would not be complete without visiting at least a few mosques in the city. Take some time to look around the Blue Mosque, the Suleymaniye Mosque and the New Mosque.

4. Enter Bazaar world

Istanbul's Grand Bazaar Kapali Carsi was opened in 1461. It is one of the largest indoor markets in the world with 60 streets, 5,000 shops and with up to 400,000 daily visitors. Here you can find jewellery items, handmade ceramics, carpets, embroidered products, spices and antiquities. It's a patchwork of colours, smells and tastes, which in size and historical value is hardly comparable to any other marketplace.

Today the Grand Bazaar premises are home to two mosques, two hammam baths, four fountains, and numerous restaurants and cafés. Grand Bazaar streets are not symmetrical - roaming them can feel like wandering in a maze.

Mall Grand Bazaar
Photo taken by  Mall Grand Bazaar

5. Appear in a cloud of hookah smoke

While strolling around Istanbul you will certainly smell the scent of hookah, known as narghile by locals. The water pipe is an integral part of the Ottoman Empire. Hookah has surely gained its popularity due to the relaxing and cosy atmosphere it creates. These days a hookah is smoked by both men and women, young and old.

Hookah produced in Istanbul can be considered a true work of art: dishes for water are made out of crystal, coloured glass or silver, decorated with fruit or flower images. Such luxury hookahs were a mandatory attribute in every wealthy Turkish household.

Sunset over The Blue Mosque, (Sultanahmet Camii), Istanbul
Photo taken by  Sunset over The Blue Mosque, (Sultanahmet Camii), Istanbul

6. See the marvelous Whirling Dervishes yourself

The Whirling Dervishes dance called Sema is closely related to the Turkish faith, history, customs and culture. This dance symbolizes the mystical journey through the human mind and love. Dervishes performing Sema wear a special white long clothes, a long hat (kûlah), they rotate on the right foot around the Sheikh, with their right hand reaching for the sky. This ceremony leads Dervishes to spiritual ecstasy, mystical union with God and absolute perfection. In 2005, UNESCO recognized Sema, the part Mevlevi Order as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

Gradually the Dervishes’ dance is becoming a tourist mark and nowadays you may find Dervishes often performing in restaurants, concerts, and at special events (a ticket to which can come to about 20 euros).

Whirling Dervishes perform a sacred dance of the Sufi Mevlevi Order at Serkeci Train Station
Photo taken by  Whirling Dervishes perform a sacred dance of the Sufi Mevlevi Order at Serkeci Train Station

7. Spend an evening in traditional Turkish tavern

Istanbul comes to life at night. If you want to see how the locals have fun, then visit the Meyhane (traditional Turkish tavern) and listen to fasil music - traditional tavern music, usually performed in a group with a violin, clarinet, lute, trombone, darbuka (hand drum), and kanun (a flat, stringed instrument). While listening to the intoxicating sounds of Turkey, you can sip Turkish raki and nibble mezes. Even if you can not understand the words, you will still move to the rhythm. Two good choices are the Zarif and Feraye restaurants, located in the Beyoglu district. Drop by the Galata Meyhanesi restaurant to listen to fasil music played every day, Monday to Saturday.

Royal Wings Hotel 5 *, Antalya, Turkey
Photo taken by  Royal Wings Hotel 5 *, Antalya, Turkey

8. Relax in the Turkish baths

Turkish bath or hammam is the perfect refreshment for body and soul alike. It’s also a place where you can see and feel the traditional Turkish bath culture. Several bathing procedures are performed in Turkish baths - traditional body scrub, soap foam massage and body massage with oils.

Traditional baths are common in many Muslim countries, since the Islamic religion pays great attention to hygiene and cleaning procedures, especially before prayer. However, hammam have not only religious functions; people usually gather simply to spend some time together and relax.

Istanbul currently has five historic luxuriously furnished hammams and hundreds of private small Turkish-style baths.

9. Move from Europe to Asia

Istanbul is a bridge between Europe and Asia. Asian and European cultures are closely intertwined here, and for Europeans it is the gateway to Asia, and for Asians - to Europe. The mere idea that you can go to another continent in just over an hour sounds bizarre, yet Istanbul makes it possible: You can get from Europe to Asia by bus over the Bosphorus Bridge (walking on it is prohibited), or you may take a ferry.

10. Have a kingly stay in Prince Islands

Prince Islands consist of nine Sea of Marmara islands, belonging to Turkey, which are great to escape to after your stay in rattling Istanbul. Cars are banned on the Islands, so the only means of transport here are horses, donkey-drawn carts and bicycles. The only allowed vehicles are those of the emergency services like ambulances and fire fighters, and the police. Prince Islands formerly belonged to Greece, and until now, it is home to a large Greek community.

You can get to the four largest Prince islands Buyukada, Heybeliada, Burgazada and Kınalıada by a city ferry. To get to the smaller ones - Sedef, Yassıada, Sivriada and Tavşan, you will need private water transport. A city ferry cruises from both the European part of Istanbul, Kabataş port, and from the Asian part, Kadıköy. A ticket costs two euros. During the winter season ferries cruise every couple hours, and in the summer - every hour. The nearest island from Istanbul, Kinaliada, is a little more than an hour away, the furthest one, Buyukada, - almost two hours.

Prince Islands in marmara sea,Turkey
Photo taken by  Prince Islands in marmara sea,Turkey

Comments (1)

  5 years ago  Edited
Istanbul is one of my favorite travel destination in the world. I visited there once in the past before. The Grand Bazaar is one of my favorite spot there. It is the world largest Bazaar in the world. I really enjoyed my Istanbul's trip.