Attractions and sights in Istanbul
The most magnificent building in Istanbul is the Byzantine Cathedral Aya Sofia, which was built around the year 535 as a tribute to the whole Byzantine culture. It was considered one of the largest churches of Christianity until the Ottoman Muslims occupied the city and turned it into a mosque. Since 1934, Aya Sofia has been a museum. From the outside, Aya Sofia may not look as impressive, but when you come in, most people stand and gasp amazed.
The dome was the largest in the world for a thousand years. You have probably never seen the mix of Christian and Islamic art. The museum is open daily at. 0900-1930. The entrance fee costs TRY 15 (about NOK 60).
The Blue Mosque
The enormous size and location in the middle of the main square of Sultanahmet makes the mosque one of Istanbul’s most visited attractions. It is actually called Sultan Ahmet’s Mosque and was built around 1612. It has been nicknamed The Blue Mosque because of the twenty thousand blue tiles that characterize the interior. From the outside, the six major minarets are the most striking feature and what has made the building one of Istanbul’s landmarks.
If you visit the mosque, as in all other mosques, you must take off your shoes at the entrance, wear clothing that covers at least shoulders and knees. Women need to cover their hair.
The mosque is open daily from sunrise to late evening. There is free admission, but a symbolic donation is expected.
This palace was the center of the Ottoman Empire for 350 years, which at its greatest stretched from Vienna and Algeria to the Indian Ocean. In the Topkapi Palace lived and ruled the Sultans, and the palace has given rise to numerous stories and legends. This is especially true of the part where the sultan’s harem lived, and where only evangelicals escaped without blindfold. Set aside a full day for this visit! The palace is open all days except Tuesdays at From 0930 to 1700. A ticket that gives access to the whole complex costs 20 liters (about 80 kroner), but you can also get a cheaper ticket for approx. 40 kroner, but then you do not enter the treasury and where the harem was located.
Grand Bazaar (Kapali Carsi) The
Grand Bazaar dates from the end of the 14th century and is one of the oldest shopping centers in the world. If you were to stop for only three minutes at each store and store, you would have to spend two full weeks visiting the bazaar. Every day, 250,000 to 400,000 visitors flock to the 58 streets in the bazaar area and bargain at the merchants’ goods. Here you can find everything, but the selection is dominated by leather and leather, gold and silver, clothing and shoes, rugs, lamps and bags. Take your time and don’t be fooled! And keep in mind the allowable luggage weight on your plane home. At the Grand Bazaar, there are many pickpockets, so watch out for your wallet and purse. The bazaar is open daily at. 0800-2000.
The Spice Bazaar (Misir Carsisi)
Grand Bazaar’s little brother a few hundred meters away is called the Egyptian Market. The Spice Bazaar is from 1660 and originally sold goods from the East. Here you will find all kinds of spices, tea, coffee, dates, nuts, dried fruits, honey, oil and soaps. The bazaar is open daily at 0800-2000.
One of the few historical sights on the north side of the Golden Horn is the Galata Tower. This 61-meter-high tower, located on Galata Square in Beyoglu, was built in 1348 as a lookout and watchtower. The Galata district was a trade station for merchants from Genoa and was considered to be the western terminus of the Silk Road (to China). For a while, the Galata Tower served as a prison. There is a lift up to the panoramic balcony with the best views of the city. On the eighth floor there is a restaurant. The Galata Tower is open every day at. From 0930 to 1700. It costs lira 2.25 (about 11 kroner) to get in.
Basilica Stars (Yerebatan Sarayi)
Just below one of the Old City’s busiest intersections, you may find Istanbul’s most special building, the underground water reservoir Basilica. It was built in the 5th century by the Byzantines. They used Greek and Roman columns to support the 20-meter-high vault. The mysterious atmosphere is enhanced by dark lighting and classical music. The cistern is open daily at 0900-1800. It costs Lira 16.50 (about NOK 65) to enter.
This is not the largest of the Ottoman mosques, but it is undoubtedly one of the most magnificent. It was built as a tribute to the kingdom’s greatest sultan, Sultan Süleyman. The mosque dates from the mid-1500s. You will also find the tombs of both the sultan and the architect here. Here you will also find the tomb of the sultan’s great love, the Russian slave girl Roxelana. The mosque is open daily from sunrise to late evening. It’s free admission. The burial chambers can be visited Wednesday through Sunday at. 0930-1630.
Bridge The Bosphorus Bridge was the world’s fourth longest suspension bridge when it opened in 1973. If you do not find this interesting in itself, at least you have the opportunity to stroll from Europe to Asia and back again in one afternoon! The Bosphorus Bridge is the only direct connection between Asia and Europe beyond the connection through Russia.
Turkish bath (hammam)
A visit to a hammam, the sauna’s Turkish cousin, is mandatory when you are in Istanbul. First you get soaked in a hot steam bath, then you are scrubbed with sponge and massaged according to all the rules of art. Many of the older bathrooms have a beautiful interior. Try Cemberlitar Hamami, located in a 16th-century building, just off the Grand Bazaar. The bathrooms in Istanbul are open daily from 6 am to 1 pm. 0600 till late at night. Prices range from around NOK 100 to NOK 250 for the best and most exclusive.
Tourist in Istanbul
There are several guided tours in Istanbul, which you can book yourself, either on the Internet, through a travel agent or at the hotel. There are also tour buses that run around, but since most of Istanbul’s attractions are within walking distance of each other, it is not particularly necessary to take such a tour as long as you are healthy and fast. Then it is better to take a tour with a knowledgeable guide in places like the Topkapi Palace.
Day 1 in Istanbul
Start your day with an early and hearty breakfast at the hotel, as this will be a hectic day and you will go far!
The obvious starting point for a tour is Sultanahmet Square, the large green area between the Blue Mosque and Aya Sofia. At nine o’clock the doors open to Aya Sofia, which is also called Hagia Sofia or St. Sofia Cathedral. This is the largest and most impressive building in Istanbul, although several tourists prefer to be dazzled by the look of the Blue Mosque. Aya Sofia is 1600 years old and has been both a Byzantine cathedral and an Ottoman mosque. Both cultures are reflected today in the ornate interior. Aya Sofia has been a museum for the last seventy years.
Just northeast of Aya Sofia lies the huge Topkapi Palace, where the Ottoman government had its headquarters for 400 years. The Topkapi Palace was built in the years 1459–1465 and consists of several buildings with three parks located in a huge courtyard.
The main entrance to the palace area passes through Bab-i-Humayun, an impressive gate. From here you walk through a large green courtyard up to the ticket office, at the entrance to the palace itself. If you do not have your own guide, you can either hire a player with headphones for an extra five-pin app, or you can join one of the tours with the palace’s own guides. New guide round starts every half hour. You can easily spend the whole day at this complex, especially if you buy the most expensive ticket that also gives access to the harem section and treasury. Here you can can see macabre relics such as Baptist John’s skull and arm or Prophet Muhammad’s tooth and beard.
When you start getting ready for lunch, you can, for example, visit Konyali, the restaurant in the palace area. Konyali has both an expensive à la carte restaurant and a less expensive cafeteria, but both have the same glorious view of Lake Marmara.
From the Topkapi Palace it is not far down to the underground Byzantine water cisterns. These are located just 50 meters west of Aya Sofia. This 1700 year old beautiful water reservoir is a remarkable piece of engineering.
At the end of today’s sightseeing, take a tour of the Blue Mosque, Istanbul’s most photographed building. The Blue Mosque is an impressive sight with its huge judgment and its six minarets. It doesn’t cost anything to get in, but you should make a small donation. As with all mosques, you should have clothing that covers at least shoulders and knees; singlet and short shorts are not accepted. Women must also cover their hair. If you do not have anything to cover your hair with, you will get a shawl borrowed at the entrance.
After visiting the hotel, showering and relaxing, we suggest you take a taxi to the Ortaköy area on the other side of the Golden Horn. Here is a pleasant harbor promenade with many small squares, shops, restaurants and bars. For example, try Cinar, which is a reasonably priced but good seafood restaurant with great views of both the sea and the square within.
If you still have more energy and want to experience Istanbul’s nightlife, it is most often life and stir in Beyoglu. The main street of Istikal Caddesi has the most: small English pubs, lively Irish pubs, fancy nightclubs, discos and sophisticated cocktail bars.
In the Sultanahmet area you will also find some pubs that mainly have a younger, European clientele, but little else, since old Istanbul is a lot more conservative in terms of opening hours and alcohol serving.
Day 2 in Istanbul
Getting out of the city center can be liberating. We recommend a day trip out to the small archipelago of the Princes’ Islands. These are nine car-free, green little islands two miles south of town. They are a very popular destination for Istanbul residents. If you have the opportunity, try to avoid Saturdays and Sundays, because there are quite a few people going out here on weekends.
Ferries leave Sirkeci, just below the Istanbul train station. The ticket costs around ten kroner each way. The ferries pass through the Kadiköy Islands on Istanbul’s Asian side before continuing to four of the islands. For tourists, probably the two most interesting Heybeliada and Büyükada. These have several hotels, parks, beaches, woods, monasteries and restaurants.
The beaches of the Princes’ Islands are not large and consist mostly of pebbles and rocks, but the contrast to Istanbul’s noisy congestion a few miles away is striking, making this an enjoyable visit for both young and old.
Spice Market and Grand Bazaar
When you return to the center of Istanbul in the afternoon, it is not far to go to the Spice Market, only approx. 300 meters straight west. Here you have been able to buy all kinds of spices, tea and other items that were transported from Silk Road all the way from China for 350 years.
400-500 meters to the south you will find the mother of all markets, the Grand Bazaar. Go in here with a relaxed attitude, have fun and don’t be stressed by the salesperson’s push. Don’t be annoyed if they basically demand unreasonably high prices; it is part of the game that you are expected to join. Please note that if you first invite you into a carpet shop, sit down and have a cup of tea and a long pleasant chat with the proprietor, it is very difficult to say no to an offer afterwards, get up and leave. Before you know it, you sit and discuss the price of a hundred-dollar blanket that you had no intention of buying at all. And when you finally get tempted to say a price you think the rug is worth, he says, “Deal!” These guys are scary talented sellers!!!
After taking your shopping and getting a shower, you’re probably ready for dinner. If you spent more money than intended at the Grand Bazaar, the Sultan Pub, in the middle of Sultanahmet Square, is an affordable option. Here you get large portions of food from the Middle East or Asia, good service and nice views.
In Seyit Hasankuyu Sok 1 lies Balikci Sabahattin, who has served fresh fish for 70 years. This is something as unusual as a relatively quiet restaurant in Sultanahmet, and it has an outdoor terrace. The price range is somewhat higher than at the Sultan Pub.