Guide Location: Turkey » Istanbul
Guide Type: Self-guided city tour
# of Attractions: 12
Tour Duration: 5 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 12.7 km
Image Courtesy of Wikimedia and Gryffindor
The city of Istanbul is one of the most interesting cities in the world. It began life as an important Roman city, subsequently becoming the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, known as Byzantine, and later the capital of the Ottoman empire. Nowadays it is the largest and most important city in Turkey. Here you can see thousands of years of history, art and religion. This guide will take you trough the most famous landmarks of the city.
Tour Stops and Attractions
1) OrtakoyOrtakoy literally translates from the Turkish language as “The Middle Village. This neighborhood is no doubt, one of Istanbul’s most chic and stylish, and is located on the European bank of the Bosphorus. It was once a small village and became a popular cosmopolitan area during the Ottoman Empire period.
Today, Ortakoy boasts coffee houses, trendy boutiques, art galleries, tea terraces, night clubs, cafes and elegant bistros. It attracts both the old and young visitors for a spectacular view of the Bosphorus and the city of Istanbul.
If you are into long, pleasant walks and window shopping, Ortakoy is the place for you. It has many rest stops where you can snack and enjoy the view of the Bosphorus Strait as well. The most famous landmark of Ortakoy is the Grand Imperial Mosque of Sultan Abdulmecid, also known as the Ortakoy Camii. This beautiful mosque boasts Islamic Calligraphy done by the great Sultan himself. The district also has centuries old synagogues and churches, showing the historical presence of many great religions in the area.
The famous Bosphorus Bridge that connects the European and Asian banks of the Bosphorus Strait is also present in this area. Tourists flock to this destination to enjoy the many attractions that Ortakoy has to offer, and experience the rich history and culture of the Bosphorus.
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2) Bosphorus BridgeThe Bosphorus Bridge is the famous bridge in Istanbul that connects the Asian and European banks of the Bosphorus Strait. This is the first of the two bridges that connect the banks, the other being the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge, also called the Second Bridge.
The Bosphorus Bridge links the chic Istanbul destination Ortakoy on the European side with the Beylerbeyi on the Asian side. This is a suspension bridge, and has the sixteenth longest span in the world over one thousand meters. The bridge was completed in 1973, constructed of inclined hangers and steel pylons, and cost more than 200 million US dollars to build.
The bridge offers a spectacular view of the Bosphorus Strait, both the Asian and European sides of Istanbul, which can be seen when you are crossing it. Centuries old architecture line the banks of the strait on either side and churches and mosques dot the landscape. When it was first built, a sidewalk was there for pedestrians, but now it has long been closed. The bridge can be best viewed from the Bosphorus cruise or tours that allow ample opportunities to view and photograph this spectacular architectural masterpiece.
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3) Yildiz Palace (Star Palace)The Yildiz palace also called the “Star Palace” is the second largest palace in Istanbul. It represents the vast complex of pavilions and villas and was built in 1880. It was also used as a residence by Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamid II.
Overlooking the Bosphorus and surrounded by high hills, the palace was built in an area that consisted of natural woodlands. Many Sultans including Sultan Ahmet, Sultan Abdulmecid and Sultan Abdulaziz built mansions here and enjoyed vacationing in the vast estate.
After the demise of the Ottoman Empire, the palace was used as a casino and eventually converted into a guest house for visiting royalty and heads of state.
Today, many parts of the palace including the old pavilions, porcelain workshops and the largest parts of the palace gardens are open to the public. The Sale Pavilion is the best known complex in the palace; it can be reached through the Yildiz Park (the palace gardens). The pavilion has been converted into a museum and has spectacular architecture, luxurious decorations and furnishings. The Yildic Palace Museum and famous Municipal Museum of Istanbul are both present in the vast estate. The palace is open daily from 9:30 am to 4:00 or 5:00 pm depending upon particular months of the year.
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4) Dolmabahce PalaceThe Dolmabahce Palace was built during the 19 century and is one of the most beautiful palaces in the world. It boasts stunning architecture and is located on the European side of the Bosphorus. It was used as the main administrative building of the Ottoman Empire from 1956 to 1922. The last Sultan of the Ottoman Empire also resided in the Dolmabahce Palace.
Mustafa Kamal Ataturk repeatedly stayed in the palace on his visits to Istanbul. He passed away here on the 10th of November 1938, so the Dolmabahce is also famed for being the last resting place of the great leader.
The palace consists of three parts the Muayede Salonu (the ceremonial hall), the Mabeyn-i Hümâyûn (or Selamlık, the men’s quarters), and the Harem-i Hümâyûn (the residential apartments of the Sultan’s family). One of the most famous monuments present here is the Crystal Staircase, with the shape of a double horse shoe, and is built of brass, mahogany and Baccarat crystal. The palace also boats a large number of Hereke Carpets.
Today the palace, built on an area of over 45,000 m2 has been converted into a museum. It contains 46 halls, 6 baths, 68 toilets and 285 rooms. It is open to the public on week days except Mondays and Thursdays from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm.
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5) Istanbul Modern MuseumThe Istanbul modern museum of art is a museum of contemporary art located in the Beyoglu district. Istanbul has always been a rich centre of culture and history, and the modern museum of art gives visitors a taste of the “new city”.
This museum features the contemporary works of Turkish and also international artists. This was once a warehouse in the Tophane neighborhood on the Bosphorus and it is unique throughout Turkey, being the first of its kind found in the country. The museum is also a break from the centuries old mosques, churches and architecture found throughout the city of Istanbul. The building was inaugurated on the 11th of December 2004.
The Istanbul modern museum exhibits art collections on 2 floors. It has a permanent collection on the top floor, with works by Orhan Peker, Ismet Dogan, Seker Ahmet Ali Pasa, Omer Kalesi , Cihat Burak, Avni Arbas, Ihsan Cemal Karaburçak and Sema Gürbüz amongst others. A shop and a restaurant are also present on the top floor while temporary exhibits are held on the ground floor. This floor also consists of a library and a cinema hall along with a new media art area and a video art area.
The museum is accessible by the tram system and also has parking for those visitors who have their own cars. It is open from 10:00 am-6:00 pm from Tuesdays to Sunday, and from 10:00am-8:00pm on Thursday. It is closed on Mondays.
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6) The Galata TowerThe Galata Tower is also called Galata Kulesi in Turkish or Christea Turris (“The Tower of Christ”) in Latin. This medieval stone tower is present in the Galata district of Istanbul, and it is located just north of the Golden Horn. Galata tower has been in existence since 1348 and it is actually one of the best places to get a spectacular view of the city of Istanbul.
Galata was originally a Genoese colony, and this tower provided the vantage point over the city walls. It functioned as a fire look-out tower until as recently as the 1960s. The tower is nine stories tall, and is approximately 66.90 meters. By the time it was built, it was the tallest structure in the city.
Today, the Galata tower is a thriving tourist spot for visitors to Istanbul. Its upper floors have a restaurant, a cafe and a night club and it also has a balcony that offers a panoramic view of Istanbul and the Bosphorus for visitors. One of the best times to visit the Galata tower is during sunset. Turkish shows are held regularly in the night club and there are two elevators that transport tourist to its top floors.
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7) Istanbul Archaeology MuseumThe Istanbul Archeology Museum actually consists of three museums which include:
1. The Archeological Museum
2. The Museum of the Ancient Orient and
3. The Museum of Islamic Art
These three museums are collectively called the Istanbul Archeology Museum, which is located in the Eminonu district of Istanbul, near the Topkapi Palace.
The museum houses some of the most remarkable objects and collections that span over a millennium in world history. The most distinctive and famous item exhibited in the museum is the Alexander Sarcophagus which was once believed to be made for Alexander the Great. The Kadesh Peace Treaty (1258 BC) is also present here which was signed between Hattusili III of the Hittite Empire and Ramsesses II of Egypt.
There are over one million objects housed in the museum and the oldest objects age thousands of years Before Christ. The museum is distinctive as it has a vast collection of locally found artifacts, which are reminiscent of the origin of the city of Istanbul. Over 800,000 Ottoman decorations, coins, seals medals, stone works and statues are housed on the upper floors of the building where there is also a library with over 70,000 books. The museum working hours are from 9 am to 5 pm from Sunday to Tuesday.
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8) Topkapi PalaceThe Topkapi Palace is usually number one on the list of places to visit in Istanbul for most tourists. This grand palace was the official residence of the Ottoman Sultans for almost 400 years and ever since 1985, the palace is also a UNESCO world heritage site.
The Topkapi Palace is built on a huge scale with four court yards and a Harem, and each location in the Palace houses incredible displays of Islamic art, holy relics and history. The most prized collection is that of the Islamic relics which include the Prophet Mohamed’s (PBUH) sword along with the swords of his closest companions, the cloak of his daughter Fatima and other holy relics.
The palace is open from 9:00 am till 5:00 pm and is closed on Tuesdays.
The spacious grounds, many gardens and rest stops are ideal for strolling at your leisure, but most of the exhibits have very long waiting lines especially the Harem and the Islamic Relics displays. There is a museum shop, a café and also a coffee shop present for tourists. To visit all the exciting places and displays in the Topkapi Palace, you need a full day or ideally a tour should be booked.
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9) Hagia SophiaHagia Sophia means “Holy Wisdom” in Greek. This monumental structure was once an Orthodox patriarchal Basilica, then a mosque, and now, finally, is a Museum in the city of Istanbul. It was built in the fourth century by Constantine the Great as a Church, and it has seen much of the changing ruling powers of Istanbul ever since.
Many people mistake it as being dedicated to Saint Sofia, but the church was originally dedicated to the second person of the Holy Trinity, and its full Greek name is “Church of the Holy Wisdom of God”, with Sophia meaning “Wisdom”.
Before its takeover by the Ottoman Turks in 1435, the church housed many holy relics. It was converted into a Mosque by Sultan Mehmed II, and it remained a mosque for the next 500 years.
Hagia Sophia is located in the Sultanahmet neighborhood and it is no doubt, one of the most important museums of Istanbul. It is one of the best examples of Byzantine architecture and was declared a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1985. It houses many decorations that make it distinctive and it is famous for its beautiful mosaics that decorate the entire structure.
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10) Yerebatan SarayiThe Yerebatan Sarayi or the Basilica Cistern translates as “Sunken Palace” and is one of the many ancient cisterns that are present in the city of Istanbul, Turkey. It is located near the Hagia Sophia and present on the peninsula of Sarayburnu.
The Yerbatan Sarayi was built in the 6th century AD by the Byzantine emperor Justinian the first. The name of the Yerbatan Sarayi is derived from the Stoa Basilica upon which it was built. The Basilica was said to be built by Ilias and housed many structures and gardens. Historical texts state that over seven thousand slaves were involved in the construction of the Cistern.
The cistern used to provide a filtration system for the water for the Great Palace of Constantinople and surrounding buildings on the historic First Hill. After the Ottoman conquest, it continued to provide water to the Topkapi Palace and continues to do so in modern times. It has undergone many restorations both, by Ottoman emperors and the Roman emperors before them.
Today, the cistern is open to visitors and houses many historical relics like medusa columns and triumphal arches. The medusa columns can be viewed in the North West corner of the cistern.
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11) Blue MosqueThe Sultan Ahmed Mosque is also called Sultanahmet Camii in Turkish, and is one of the most frequently visited and famous tourist spots in Istanbul. The mosque is popularly known as the “Blue Mosque” due to the blue tiles that adorn the walls of its interior.
The Blue Mosque was built between 1609 and 1616 during the reign of Ahmed the First. It contains a tomb of the Sultan, a madrassah (religious school) and also a hospice. The Blue Mosque is a very famous tourist attraction, but it still functions as a mosque, and a call for prayer (azaan) still draws the faithful to its gates from far and wide. Usually open 24 hours a day, the mosque is not open for tourists during prayer time, which is approximately half an hour, five times a day, unless they are there to pray.
Built near the Hagia Sophia, and surrounded by a popular tourist district, visitors to the mosque can enjoy several museums, cafes, restaurants and parks that are present in the nearby vicinity.
The Blue Mosque was originally built on the site of the ancient Byzantine Imperial Palace and hippodrome and took nearly seven years to complete. This masterpiece of Ottoman architecture boasts many examples of Islamic Art and calligraphy that adorn the walls of the Mosque from the inside.
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12) Grand BazaarThe Grand bazaar or the Kapalicarsi meaning the “covered bazaar” is a famous covered market in Istanbul. This bazaar is one of the oldest bazaars in the world, and has more than fifty eight covered streets, and more than four thousand shops. Anywhere from a quarter to half a million visitors visit the bazaar daily.
The Grand Bazaar was built from 1455 to 1461, and has been open ever since. It is famed for its exquisite Turkish jewelry, silver decoration pieces, spices, Turkish delight (a famous Turkish sweet), pottery and carpet shops. Visitors can also find leather goods, gold and diamond jewelry and clothing in various parts of the bazaar.
The bazaar is famous for the “Turkish Evil Eye” which is an amulet made of blue and white glass, and is considered to ward off evil. Almost every street has an “evil eye” stall with, many variations of the amulet being sold to tourists.
Originally the bazaar contained bedestens, these are domed structures used for storage, and it was enlarged during the 16th century. After a major earthquake in 1894, the bazaar went under major restoration. Today, the Grand Bazaar contains two hammams (Turkish baths), two mosques, four fountains, many cafes and restaurants.
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