Istanbul's Top 20
Collected by Sunshine Flint, AFAR Contributor
Sultan Ahmet Mahallesi, Ayasofya Meydanı, 34122 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey
Walk into Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya) and look up to the heavens to see why so many conquerors and their respective religions claimed this basilica turned mosque turned museum as their own. Visitors will swoon over the Byzantine gilded mosaics,...
Sultan Ahmet Mahallesi, Atmeydanı Cd. No:7, 34122 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey
Adorned with more than 20,000 blue handcrafted İznik tiles, stained-glass windows, and the golden brushstrokes of a 17th-century calligrapher, the Blue Mosque is the legacy of Sultan Ahmet I (1590–1617). The young sultan audaciously wished...
Cankurtaran Mh., Mimar Mehmet Ağa Cd., 34122 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey
A paved open-air museum outlines the footprint of where the Hippodrome once stood in today’s Sultanahmet. In its Byzantium heyday, the circus accommodated 10,000 people who came to watch chariot races, and witnessed various protests and riots...
Cankurtaran Mh., 34122 Fatih/Istanbul, Turkey
If these walls could talk they’d recite plans for military campaigns and tales of love, lust and betrayal that make this former residence and imperial seat of the Ottoman Empire so intriguing. Walk the dazzling tile-and-mosaic-lined...
Cankurtaran Mh., 34122 Fatih/Istanbul, Turkey
The Archaeological Museum, Museum of the Ancient Orient, and Museum of Islamic Art in the gardens of Topkapı Palace make up the trio of Istanbul Archaeology Museums. An array of permanent and temporary exhibits display items from sculptures and...
Cankurtaran Mh., Kennedy Cd., 34122 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey
Gülhane Park, recently renovated with the zoo and other structures removed, sits on Sarayburnu peninsula at the base of Topkapı Palace of which it was formerly a part. In April, millions of tulips bloom in colorful displays to celebrate Turkey’s...
Rüstem Paşa Mahallesi, Erzak Ambarı Sok. No:92, 34116 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey
Smaller than the Grand Bazaar but more intense, the Spice Market is equal parts tourist trap and necessary shopping stop for cooks and foodies. Meet the original spice girl at Ucuzcular (remember Area 51 to find her booth), one of the few...
Beyazıt Mh., 34126 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey
Soon after conquering Constantinople and defeating the Byzantines in 1453, Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II commissioned the beginnings of the Grand Bazaar to reinvigorate trade with the city. More than 550 years later, the bazaar is one of the oldest...
Dervişali Mahallesi, Kariye Cami Sk. No:8, 34087 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey
According to Islamic tradition, only God can create images of holy beings, including angels and prophets. Therefore, when the Ottomans converted Chora Church into a mosque in the 16th century, they covered the 14th-century Byzantine mosaics and...
Merkez Mh., Camii Kebir Cd. No:1, 34050 Eyüp/İstanbul, Turkey
Towards the end of the Golden Horn lies an Islamic sacred site and one of the city’s most romantic lookouts. Eyüp Mosque attracts pilgrims who come to honor Ayoub Ansari—the standard bearer of the Prophet Muhammad—who died here in the 700s. Beyond...
Beyoğlu, the heart of contemporary Istanbul, is the city’s most popular entertainment, art, shopping, and nightlife district. Bisecting the area is the pedestrianized Istiklal Caddesi lined with cafés and shops that attract over three million...
Bereketzade Mahallesi, Galata Kulesi Sk., 34421 Beyoğlu/İstanbul, Turkey
The medieval round Galata Tower built in 1348 has played many roles for Istanbul over the years: A watchtower for Bosphorus trade, an observation deck for spotting fires, the setting of a legendary flight across the Bosphorus, and now a tourist...
Vişnezade Mahallesi, Dolmabahçe Cd., 34357 Beşiktaş/İstanbul, Turkey
This decadent palace, which overlooks the Bosphorus from the European side, holds great importance to Turkey. The late-19th-century sultans resided here and ruled the Ottoman Empire from here, and while the Turkish Republic's capital is in Ankara,...
Hobyar Mahallesi, 34112 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey
Whether you take the ferry between Europe and Asia or trace a loop up the Bosphorus toward the Black Sea, the must-do Bosphorus cruise gives you a chance to view the city’s best landmarks from the water. The two-hour cruise from...
Adalar, 34970 Adalar/İstanbul, Turkey
Less than 10 miles from Istanbul by ferry are the Princes’ Islands, once home to Greek, Jewish and Armenian settlers and a place of exile for Byzantine and Ottoman princes. The islands are an ideal day trip from the city, with wooden Ottoman...
Anadolu Kavağı Mahallesi, Eğri Boyun Cd., 34825 Beykoz/İstanbul, Turkey
The one-and-half-hour journey between Anadolu Kavağı—a quaint fishing village where the Bosphorus greets the Black Sea—and Eminönü passes all the top sites like Dolmabaçhe Palace and the Bosphorus bridges. You have enough time to relax at a local...
Salacak Mahallesi, Üsküdar Salacak Mevkii, 34668 Üsküdar/İstanbul, Turkey
The Maiden’s Tower, which seemingly floats in the Bosphorus off Asia, is one of the more popular symbols of the city. Once a Byzantine tollbooth and later an Ottoman lighthouse, it’s most famous for a legend involving a princess and a prophecy...
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