Istanbul is without a doubt one of the world’s most fascinating cities. It’s impossible to describe in just a few words the hundreds of things to do and see in this city that is brimming over with exoticism, light, colours and aromas.
Yet among these countless places of interest there are several that are simply not to be missed. So here’s your list of must-sees:
· Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet): These two mosques stand facing each other, separated by a park. Hagia Sophia is Istanbul’s most familiar landmark, one that has witnessed almost 1,500 years of the city’s history and a masterpiece of Byzantine art. Today it houses a museum and women do not have to cover their heads with a scarf when visiting. In contrast, the Blue Mosque continues to be a place of worship and visitors are therefore required to remove their shoes and cover their heads. The Blue Mosque boasts no fewer than six minarets, which, at the time of construction, caused a great deal of controversy as this number matched that of Mecca. At a later date, and in order to pacify the faithful, a seventh minaret was constructed in Mecca in order to mark the difference.
· Topkapi Palace: This is the finest monument to Istanbul’s imperial age and symbolises the power Constantinople once held as the seat of the Ottoman Empire. From this palace the sultans ruled over their empire until the mid 19th century. Covering an impressive 700,000 m2, Topkapi Palace has four courtyards and numerous inner buildings, including the armoury, kitchens, the imperial stables, the treasury and many more. The palace walls also house the Archaeological Museum. Of all the parts that make up the palace, the Treasury is undoubtedly one of the most important.
The Treasury houses some of the world’s most valuable objects, including the Spoonmaker’s Diamond (an 88 carat diamond that once belonged to Napoleon’s mother) or the Topkapi Dagger (the world’s most expensive weapon, made of stone and encrusted with emeralds).
Visitors to the palace should also take the time to tour the Harem, the area of the palace where the sultan and his family resided, together with between 500 and 800 exceptionally educated women, skilled in a wide range of arts. The Valide Sultan – effectively the Queen Mother – was in charge of the Harem.
· The Basilica Cistern: Although not included on the most typical guided tours, the Basilica Cistern (also known as the Sunken Palace) is one of my favourite places in Istanbul. It has a total of 336 columns and is 9 metres high. The columns feature a wide variety of styles, as they were taken from ancient structures and monuments. This is an authentic haven of tranquillity among the hustle and bustle of Istanbul: the subdued light, the gentle background music and the sense of coolness given off by the water make it a visit not to be missed.
· Galata Tower: Occupied by Sultan Mehmed II during the conquest of Constantinople, the Galata Tower is one of the oldest in the world. Originally built as a lighthouse, its height – a mere 61 metres – is not its most striking feature. What really catches the visitor’s eye is its diameter and the thickness of its walls, which are 3.7 metres wide at the base. After climbing to the top of the Galata Tower you will be rewarded by some of the finest views of Istanbul. If you’d like to take a trip through history, then the best way to reach this tower is via the Tünel or Tunnel Funicular from Galata Bridge.
· The Grand Bazaar: Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar (Kapalıçarşı) is one of the oldest and largest markets in the world. It’s one of the best areas in the city to shop for crafts, jewellery and clothing, and above all to experience the hustle and bustle of this lively city. A trip to Istanbul without venturing into the Grand Bazaar is like going to Marrakech and forgetting to visit the souk. You’ll lose track of time as you stroll around the thousands of brightly- coloured stalls where hundreds of market traders eagerly await the chance to engage you in a little bartering. Don’t disappoint them and have fun haggling over the prices!
· A cruise on the Bosphorus: A boat trip on the Bosphorus is a must for any visitor to Istanbul; the views by day or by night are quite simply stunning. The trip will take you past several palaces and you’ll have the chance to observe all the excitement of life in Istanbul. As you make your way along the river, you’ll realise that the city’s bustling atmosphere is not limited to its historic centre.
These are just a few of the many sights to be seen in Istanbul, although they are probably the most famous. Enjoy a fabulous break in Istanbul and you’ll return with memories that will last a lifetime!
IBEROSTAR Hotels & Resorts has a hotel in Antalya, situated in the south-west of Turkey. The hotel IBEROSTAR Bellis is a 5 star All Inclusive resort situated on the beachfront of Antalya. It’s the perfect choice for relaxing after enjoying a busy few days exploring the streets of Istanbul.