From the rainbow of fabrics in the Grand Bazaar to the radiance of the Blue Mosque at sunset, Istanbul offers transcendent sights unlike anywhere else on earth.
The Blue Mosque
Known just as the Blue Mosque, the Sultan Ahmet Mosque is one of the most beautiful and best-preserved monuments of the Ottoman era.
The mosque’s exterior is actually best viewed from other side of the Golden Horn estuary. At sunset, head to the rooftop restaurants that line the waterfront Karaköy district, or climb Galata Tower in Beyoğlu: you’ll see the Blue Mosque practically glow in the fading light as the ezan (the call to prayer) ring outs from its soaring minarets.
This is a house of worship and visitors should dress modestly in accordance with Islamic tradition. If you arrive on a hot day in a sundress or shorts, don’t panic: the mosque provides robes for visitors, including headscarves for women.
The Grand Bazaar
Built in the 15th Century, Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar lives up to its name as the oldest and one of the largest covered markets in the world. Over 4,000 shops offer a mind-boggling array of clothing, food, spices, art, antiques, jewellery, silk, fabric and carpets. Don’t be afraid to bargain hard but politely. You’re expected to, and it’s all part of the fun.
Like Rome and San Francisco, Istanbul was built on seven hills, and the spectacular Süleymaniye Mosque is the crown jewel that tops the Third Hill. From the European side of town, admire how its towering minarets rise high above the Golden Horn. After enjoying the rich details of the interior – from stained-glass windows and intricate tile work to the domed ablutions fountain – drink in the views of the Bosphorus river from the garden terrace. When you leave, take some time to explore the surrounding timber homes from the Ottoman Era – fascinating relics of everyday life in Istanbul from centuries past.
If you’ve ever dreamed about living a sultan’s life, here’s your chance to experience it for an hour or two. Take your time wandering through the lush courtyards through a series of elegant 15th Century buildings that once housed the sultan, his family and hundreds of servants. If it feels like a maze, it is: over a period of nearly 400 years, each sultan added a new section to the Topkapi Palace during his reign. Don’t miss a tour of the Harem (unlike its popular meaning in English, it means “forbidden” in Arabic).
The reward for climbing one of Istanbul’s most fetching streets, Galipdede Caddesi, is the glimpse from the top of the 14th Century Galata Tower. Climb up the stone steps to the panorama balcony during the sunset call to prayer, when views of the Golden Horn are downright ethereal. After you’ve snapped the last photo, decamp to one of the cafés in the square below for a Turkish coffee or an Efes beer. With buzzing restaurants and nightlife, the area around Galata Tower is also a charming place to stay.
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