For over a thousand years, Istanbul straddled essential trade routes across Europe and Asia, the crown jewel of massive empires that rose and fell, leaving a unique blend of religions and cultures that still shape this modern city. Visit mosques and ancient palaces, stroll down the alleys of the Grand Bazaar, or take in the iconic skyline on a leisurely cruise down the Bosphorus, the river that splits the city in two. Get lost in the streets of Istanbul, surrounded by living history.
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What To Do
Explore beyond the city with a day trip to the Princes' Islands. A popular getaway for travelers and locals alike, these sunny islands were once places of exile. Now, swimming beaches, unique architecture and a quaint atmosphere are the main attractions. Tour by bike or horse-drawn carriage - there's no cars or motorcyles permitted on the islands.
Shop 'til you drop. The Grand Bazaar is a massive covered market built more than 500 years ago. With over 3,000 shops selling everything from traditional rugs and cookware to gourmet food and jewelry, this is the perfect place to haggle for souveniers.
Grab a cup of Turkish coffee. UNESCO World Heritage recognized, this ancient tradition combines community gathering and a unique way of brewing to produce an unmissable cultural experience. Once restricted to men only, coffee houses now welcome women, and there are plenty to choose from throughout the city.
What To See
Blue Mosque. Built in the 1600s, the Sultanahmet Camii is known as the Blue Mosque due to the blue tiles that decorate its interior. Over 20,000 tiles in total were used in its construction, and guests to the mosque will delight in the vast courtyard and intricate mosaics.
Hagia Sophia. Once a Greek Orthodox church, then a mosque and now a museum. Built in 537, the Hagia Sophia is a familiar silhouette on the Istanbul skyline with its massive dome and towering minarets. The dual history of the church is unmistakable, from the architecture to the carefully restored mosaics.
Basilica Cistern. This ancient underground waterway provided fresh water to nearby residents, and, much like the rest of Istanbul, it's an eclectic mix of cultures and eras. The stone above is shored up by a variety of columns from ages past, scavenged from ruins and other construction projects. Notable columns include the carved Hen's Eye, with its tearful motif, and two columns set on large sculptures of the head of Medusa.
Topkapı Palace. Built in the 1400s, this was the seat of power for the Ottoman Empire. Now a museum, you can visit the vast grounds and see exhibits showcasing the rich history of this place. Stroll through the gardens, courtyards, secluded passageways and the ornate interiors of the harem, and step back in time.