Top 5 Things to Do in Istanbul (and two more tips)

Few countries in the world have as much history from different civilizations as Turkey, and there is no doubt that this is one of the reasons there are so many things to do in Istanbul, its capital city. Connecting Europe and Asia through a single bridge Istanbul has a plethora of sights, sounds and smells that flourish everywhere you go, and with cheap flights from Europe making it an affordable destination there is no better time to explore the best of it all. These are the top 5 things to do in Istanbul- I recommend you don’t miss any:

Visit the Hagia Sophia Church

The church of Hagia Sophia (literally “Holy Wisdom”) in Constantinople, now Istanbul, was first dedicated in 360 by Emperor Constantius, son of the city’s founder, Emperor Constantine. Today it is one of the most magnificent pieces of architecture in the city and easily recognizable from afar.

hagia sophia

Inside the Hagia Sophia Museum- photo @ Flickr by Spirosk photography

Whirling Dervishes

The white costumes represent death shrouds; the hats, tombstones. In the mystical Islam that was taught by Jalal ad-Din Rumi, sometimes known as Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi, the spinning dancers are a link between earthly existence and rapturous divine love. Their constant spins and melancholic head movements of the Whirling Dervishes are almost hypnotic to the first time viewer.

Whirling dervishes

Whirling dervishes- photo @ Flickr by Carlo Rainone

Visit an authentic Hammam

The hammam, also known as the Turkish hammam or Turkish bath, is the Middle Eastern variant of a steam bath, which can be categorized as a wet relative of the sauna. The Hammam experience also includes a vibrant massage and stretching, which might not be for everybody (it is not pleasant), but relaxes your body for days to come.

hammam istanbul

Hammam in Istanbul- photo @ Flickr by smkays2

Visit the Grand Bazaar

Sprawling over a huge area in the city center, Kapali Çarsi  (“Covered Market”) was the first shopping mall ever built. The Bazaar is free to enter and to browse, and you are sure to find great deals on carpets, silver, jewelry and more after a good dose of haggling.

grand bazaar

The Grand Bazaar- Photo @ Flickr by enderzero

Visit the Sultan Ahmed Mosque

The Sultan Ahmed Mosque has become one of the most popular tourist attractions in Istanbul. It is the national mosque of Turkey and is one of several mosques known as the Blue Mosque for the blue tiles adorning the walls of its interior. Also recognizable from the distance, it is perhaps the city’s most famous building.

sultan ahmed mosque

Sultan Ahmed mosque- photo @ Flickr by Guillermo Fdez

A few more tips

What else is there to do? Here are some more tips by two well-known seasoned travel bloggers.

Earl Baron from www.wanderingearl.com recommends the following:

“At first I was going to list one of my favorite places to eat in Istanbul, but then I realized that I have three favorite places to eat in this wonderful city. So, I shall mention them all! First, I recommend eating lunch at Kismet Muhallebecisi, a local eatery that looks like such a hole-in-the-wall that you’ll probably hesitate to enter. But behind that dirty window and creaky door happens to be a chef who serves up some incredible chicken dishes. Believe me, walk through the door, take a seat on the second floor and just eat whatever the waiter brings you. You’ll be happy you did!

After lunch, it’s time for a sweet snack over at Gulluoglu in the Karakoy district…perhaps the most famous baklava company and shop in Istanbul. You can choose from dozens of varieties of baklava and they are all mouth-watering and simply divine. Just be careful…it’s quite addicting!

And then, sometime around 9pm, when you’re ready for dinner, do yourself a favor and book a table at a place called Yakub 2. It’s a mehane-style restaurant just off Istiklal Street where you choose from dozens of hot and cold appetizers to share among your group while sipping the local alcohol known as raki. It’s a true Turkish experience and and absolute must for any visitor to this city.”

Chicken dish

Chicken dish by Wandering Earl

Gulluoglu baklava

Gulluoglu baklava by Wandering Earl

Marcelo Arrambide from www.wanderingtrader.com  says:

“Turkey is one of the very few places in the world that has been conquered by so many different empires. Due to that unique mix of history there are times of things to see throughout the country. It is already the seventh most visited country in the world and it by providing the pathway from Asia to Europe it has great Greek, Roman, and of course Ottoman history to explore.

 You can see great unique natural features like the ones in Cappadocia, some of the best Greek ruins in the world (similar to Sicily), and explore what used to be the Eastern capital of the Roman Empire.  Turkey holds no bars when it comes to architecture and history and the capital, some of the highlights that you should are the Church of Hagia Sophia, the sacred palace of the emperors, the hippodrome, and the Golden Gate.”

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Have you visited Istanbul? What did you like most? Anything you did not like? Share your experience and tips with us in the comments section below, and this post too if you think others might find it useful!

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