What to Do in Istanbul: 7 Must-see Sights in Türkiye’s Vibrant Capital

A low-angle view of the majestic Hagia Sophia, one of the most historically significant religious structures in the world.

Posted by on 28 May 2024

Istanbul is one of the oldest cities in the world. What once was the capital of the Roman Empire—back when it was the ancient city Constantinople—is now a modern metropolis with traces of centuries past in the form of magnificent, historically significant landmarks.

From grand mosques and palaces to some of the oldest street markets in the world, the capital city of Türkiye has plenty to offer to anyone travelling here.

Wondering what to do in Istanbul on your next Turkish getaway? Here are seven must-see attractions you don’t want to miss.

Hagia Sophia

The Hagia Sophia isn’t just one of the most popular Istanbul, Turkiye attractions. It’s also one of the only remaining religious structures built by the Eastern Roman Empire.

Hagia Sophia is steeped in history and has undergone countless reclamations and restorations through the centuries. It was originally built as a church, later serving as a mosque and a museum. Today, the magnificent historical and spiritual site is a mosque yet again.

The mosque’s interiors feature a stunning blend of Islamic and Christian art and design that greets you when you enter its halls. One of the most popular artefacts in Hagia Sophia is a mosaic depicting the Virgin Mary holding the Child Jesus in her lap.

The Blue Mosque

Right across Hagia Sophia is the Ottoman-era Blue Mosque, another of the most striking and recognisable monuments in Istanbul. This UNESCO World Heritage Site’s iconic blue and white central dome, gorgeous minarets and stunning courtyard make it a sight to behold. Inside, stained glass walls and high ceilings with thousands of beautiful tiles will leave you in awe.

Visiting the Blue Mosque is undeniably one of the most popular things to do in Istanbul, but it’s important to remember that it’s still a sacred building and a functioning mosque. So, remember to dress modestly, preferably with a headscarf. The mosque also isn’t open to visitors during the daily worshipping times, which is spread across five periods throughout the day.

Galata Tower

Across Istanbul’s old district and so-called Golden Horn sits the Galata Tower, the tallest structure in the city. Built in the 14th century, this mediaeval tower is a symbol of new Istanbul.

If you want to see the best, panoramic views of Istanbul, climb to the top of the tower and go to the upper balcony. Don’t worry—there’s an elevator to take you almost all the way to the top, leaving just one easy staircase to climb. The 360-degree view of Türkiye’s capital city will take your breath away.

Basilica Cistern

The Basilica Cistern is an underground reservoir originally built underneath a basilica to provide flowing water to the palaces of ancient Constantinople. In the centuries after, it continued to provide a water supply to Topkapi Palace and other modern structures. It is the last standing Byzantine cistern in all of Istanbul.

Since 1987, the subterranean water reserve has been open for public viewing and has become one of the most popular tourist spots in the city. Its tall, intricately designed columns, moody lighting and eerie atmosphere make it a must-visit for those who love visiting mysterious landmarks during their travels.

The Grand Bazaar

A trip to Istanbul isn’t complete without a mention of the Grand Bazaar, one of the oldest street markets not just in Türkiye, but the entire world.

This covered market has over 4,000 shops where you can buy souvenirs, from hand-tufted carpets, spices, ceramics, antiques, stunning jewellery and Turkish spices and teas. It’s without a doubt the best place to get lost in and shop for unique, artisan products to bring home to your loved ones.

And it’s not all about shopping. The Grand Bazaar is also a terrific market for food items, with stalls selling authentic Turkish dishes, from savoury kofta to sweet kunefe and baklava.

Topkapi Palace

Topkapi Palace in Fatih, Istanbul used to be the headquarters of the Ottoman Empire, as well as the residence of the sultans.

Exploring the palace gives you a glimpse into how the sultans lived back in the day, from the beautiful Imperial Council Chamber to the Treasury, home to plenty of Ottoman jewels and artefacts. Another popular area to visit is the Harem, where sultans were believed to have hosted hundreds of concubines.

While you’re here, don’t forget to visit Gülhane Park, one of Istanbul’s most popular parks, located within the palace grounds. With its imposing trees and blossoming flower beds, it’s the perfect place to take a breather in the middle of your travels and admire the gorgeous scenery.

Dolmabahçe Palace

When Dolmabahçe Palace was completed in 1856, it became the official headquarters of the Ottoman Empire. The palace is where the revered first president and founder of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, resided until his death. The clock in Atatürk’s old room in the palace is permanently set to 9:05 AM—his time of death.

The palace sits at the coast of the Bosphorus Strait, giving it stunning views of the glittering waters. Inspired by Rococo and Baroque architectural styles inside and out, it’s a feast for the eyes. It is also the biggest palace in all of Turkey with a whopping 285 rooms and six glorious hammams (or Turkish bath spas). One of the most popular spots in the palace is the Ceremonial Hall, which boasts one of the world’s biggest crystal chandeliers.

Explore Historic Landmarks with Entire Travel Group

There’s plenty to discover and admire in the city of Istanbul, from the iconic Ottoman-era mosques and castles in the old city of Sultanahmet to the majestic towers in Galata across the Golden Horn.

Want to see more of the world’s most gorgeous destinations? Check out the Entire Travel Group’s Holiday Packages today!

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