Bridging East and West – Europe and Asia – Istanbul possesses a richly complicated heritage. Once the capital of the Ottoman and Byzantine empires, this city’s prestigious history has left us with many monuments to cherish. Plus, it integrates its past and present to create a unique mix of architecture; a glass skyscraper next to a Byzantine church or a colorful bazaar in the shadow of a shopping mall. The natural landscape is also impressive. The Bosphorus, a narrow strait, cuts the city in two and connects the Sea of Marmara in the south to the Black Sea in the north. From the blue waters, visitors will see a skyline of domes, steeples and modern towers.
Although Istanbul looks serene from afar, the internal atmosphere is wonderfully chaotic. Discover the bustling streets and busy bazaar stalls that have characterized the city for hundreds of years. Drivers will jockey for position; shopkeepers will barter in an avalanche of chatter; and you’ll be struggling to digest all of the sights, sounds and smells. Speaking of smells … during your exploration, taste the distinctly Turkish treats off the streets, including döner, Istanbul’s version of fast food. And when the sun goes down, you’ll see that Istanbul sheds some of its conservative facade to reveal a thriving nightlife. At the intersection of civilizations and continents for centuries, Istanbul surprises visitors with its fast pace, its ancient history and its present culture.
Touring Istanbul’s ornate houses of worship and palaces could keep history buffs and culture hounds busy for weeks. Most attractions are clustered in the Fatih area, though districts like Beyoglu (where Taksim Square resides) and Besiktas (which features Ortaköy and Dolmabahçe Palace) are no less exciting. The Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia Museum are essential, but simply exploring the street traffic and observing daily life here are equally fascinating. Food is a central part of the culture, so menus should be studied just as seriously as a map (which is also a must). And you should check out the many bazaars around town when looking for souvenirs, but if you only have time for one, be sure to visit the largest and most famous: the Grand Bazaar. How we rank Things to Do.
Istanbul is ranked as:
#11 in Best Affordable Vacations in Europe
Best Things to Do in Istanbul
#1 Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii)
#2 Hagia Sophia Museum (Ayasofya Müzesi)
#3 Süleymaniye Mosque (Süleymaniye Camii)
#4 Topkapi Palace Museum (Topkapi Sarayi Müzesi)
$5 Grand Bazaar (Kapaliçarsi)
Best Hotels in Istanbul
#1 Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at Sultanahmet
#2 Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at the Bosphorus
#3 Tomtom Suites
#4 Pera Palace Hotel Jumeirah
#5 Sumahan on the Water – Special Class