What to do in Istanbul

the golden drops of the world

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Exploring Istanbul is like travelling back in time which will give you an unforgettable trip. In fact, only here you’ll find yourself in the core of a metropolis while also still straddling Europe and Asia, between the Orient and Occident. The draws of history are tremendous, and you can be in Constantinople as well as Byzantium, the core of the Ottoman Empire, and contemporary Turkey. 


On a journey to Istanbul, you will hear the exhilarating call to prayer for a minaret that resonates in the Bosphorus, see the treasures of historical empires, and admire districts and bazaars with ancient civilizations. Start planning your trip to Istanbul and get ready to fall in love with Istanbul’s charm, which will give you an unforgettable trip. The main monuments of the city are concentrated on the European side of Istanbul. In fact, ancient Constantinople was formed on the Western shore of the Bosphorus, where Byzantium and Ottoman Istanbul developed.


10 Things To Do In The European Side Of Istanbul

1. BLUE MOSQUE (Sultan Ahmet Camii)

plan your trip to Istanbul.

Is one of the most important mosques in the city, built in the 17th century by sultan Ahmet I, it also houses the tomb of Sultan Ahmet I.


The mosque has great historical and spiritual significance, as it was built to honour the conquest of Istanbul by the Ottomans in 1453.

Sultan Ahmet Camii is a classic example of Ottoman architecture. It is one of the most visited tourist attractions in Istanbul and is among the city’s most iconic landmarks. The mosque is distinctive for its six minarets and its large blue dome, hence its name ‘Blue Mosque’. Its dimensions are considerable, despite its dome measuring only half that of Hagia Sophia. 


The interior of the mosque is equally impressive, with its intricate marble walls, Islamic calligraphy, and gold embellishments. Furthermore, don’t underestimate the interior made up of approximately 20,000 turquoise ceramic tiles, 200 stained glass windows, and several crystal chandeliers. A genuine jewel!


Whether you need a self-guided or walking tour of Istanbul, a car rental with a personal driver, luggage service or simply a transfer from the airport to the hotel and vice versa, Kiwitaxi is a great choice.

2. HAGIA SOPHIA (Ayasofya Camii)

The Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya Camii) is another symbolic monument of the city, located in front of Sultanahmet, today’s central square of Istanbul which corresponds to the ancient Byzantine Hippodrome.


It was built in the 6th century as a Christian basilica and is considered to be one of the most important examples of Byzantine architecture. 

Istanbul Hagia Sophia

In 1453, it was converted into a mosque by the Ottoman Empire and served as such until 1931. In 1935, it was converted into a museum, which remains today. The interior of the building is adorned with stunning mosaics and marble decorations, as well as intricate Islamic calligraphy. The exterior is equally impressive, featuring large domes, a grand entrance portal, and four minarets. 

The dome is particularly awe-inspiring, being the second largest in the world and considered a feat of engineering genius. Hagia Sophia is one of the most visited sites in Istanbul, with millions of people coming each year to admire its beauty and learn about its history. It is a symbol of both religious and cultural significance in the city, being a reminder of its former Byzantine and Ottoman past.

3. BASILICA CISTERN (Yerebatan Sarnıcı Or Yerebatan Saray)

The Basilica Cistern, also known as the Yerebatan Sarnıcı, is a subterranean structure located in Istanbul, Turkey. It was built in the 6th century by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I. and is one of the most impressive examples of Roman engineering. The Cistern has a capacity of 80,000 cubic meters and is supported by 336 marble columns, each 9 meters tall. It contains a vast array of fish and is one of the most remarkable underground sites in Europe. Although it was originally used to store water for the Byzantine palaces, it was abandoned in the 10th century, only to be rediscovered in 1545 by a Frenchman.
Istanbul Basilica Cistern

 It was subsequently used as a source of water in times of drought and served as a place to store valuable objects.  Today, it is a popular tourist attraction, with its underwater columns, fish, and eerie atmosphere making it certainly one of the most particular and fascinating to visit.


The Hippodrome of Constantinople was a large public gathering place located at the south end of the Imperial Forum in Constantinople, the former capital of the Byzantine Empire. It was constructed in the 4th-century ad and served as the main centre of sport and entertainment for the people of Constantinople. 


It was the site of chariot races, sporting competitions, and numerous other public spectacles. It also served as a public space where people could come to socialize and watch the races and was an important centre of political activity. Citizens of Constantinople would come to the Hippodrome to discuss, debate, and protest political issues. It also served as a site of imperial ceremonies, religious events, and public executions. 


It served as the backdrop for many of Constantinople’s most famous events. The Hippodrome of Constantinople was destroyed in 1453 during the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople. The site is now a public park, with little evidence remaining of its former grandeur, however, the Obelisk of Theodosius, the bronze serpentine column and the column of Constantine VII remain perfectly intact.

5. SULEIMAN MOSQUE (Süleymaniye Camii)

Istanbul Suleiman Mosque

Suleiman Mosque, also known as Süleymaniye Camii in Turkish, is a magnificent Ottoman-era mosque that stands on top of one of the city’s seven hills overlooking the Golden Horn. It may be seen all over the city. It was built between 1550 and 1557, during the reign of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, and it was designed by the famous Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan. 


It is considered one of the most significant works of Ottoman architecture and is known for its elegant and symmetrical design, massive dome, and four towering minarets. The exterior is made of white marble, and its interior is decorated with intricate tile work, calligraphy, and stained-glass windows. The mosque complex also includes a hospital, a public kitchen, a school, and a library. 


These additional structures were built to serve the local community and provide education, healthcare, and food to the needy. It is open to visitors for prayer and tourism, and it is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Istanbul. Visitors are required to remove their shoes before entering the mosque, and women are expected to cover their heads and dress modestly. 

6. TOPKAPI PALACE (Topkapı Sarayı)

Topkapi Palace cannot be missing from the list when planning your trip to Istanbul. The largest and most opulent attraction of Ottoman Istanbul is undoubtedly the Topkapi Palace. Overlooking the entrance to the Bosphorus and near the natural harbour of the Golden Horn, it has been the residence of the Sultans for over four centuries. In fact, its construction dates back to 1466 under the leadership of Mehmet II and maintained its function until the beginning of the 20th century. 


The palace complex has hundreds of rooms and chambers, but only the most important are accessible to the public. The building is made up of three large courtyards. The first is an immense and luxuriant internal garden, while the second is undoubtedly the most interesting and most visited. You will find the harem area where the sultan, his wives and concubines lived, as well as the palace kitchens, which had to feed more than 500 people. 


The third court is instead occupied by the audience hall of the sultan and the immense library of Ahmet III. Here, the main treasures of the empire are kept, among which the famous diamond of the spoon maker and the Topkapi dagger stand out. Among the other exhibits, you will also find objects in precious stones such as pendants, clubs, candlesticks, chandeliers, illuminated books, splendid carpets, and tapestries in precious fabrics.

7. GALATA BRIDGE & TOWER (Galata Köprüsü)

And to have an unforgettable trip let’s not forget about the Galata Bridge and Tower. Is one of Istanbul’s best-known landmarks, spanning the Golden Horn in the heart of the city. Built in the 15th century, the bridge has been reconstructed several times, with the current version dating back to the 18th century. 


The bridge itself is nearly 500 meters long, made up of nine wooden spans supported by two stone piers. At the northern end of the bridge is the Galata Tower, a nine-story stone structure that was once the tallest building in Istanbul. From the top of the tower, visitors can enjoy panoramic views of the city, the Golden Horn, and the Bosphorus Strait. 


Every day, people from all walks of life gather on the bridge to enjoy the views, buy souvenirs, or simply enjoy the atmosphere. From the tower, you can also take in the breathtaking scenery of the city, providing a unique backdrop for photographs and memories that will last a lifetime.


When planning your trip to Istanbul, be sure to include a visit to Fatih, Fener, and Balat which are three of the most culturally significant and historically rich districts in Istanbul. Fatih is the oldest of the three neighbourhoods and is named after the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed the conqueror, who conquered Constantinople in 1453. 


Fatih is known for its many historic sites, including the Byzantine-era city walls, the famous grand bazaar, the Süleymaniye Mosque, and the Fatih Mosque. The neighbourhood is also home to many traditional Turkish restaurants and cafes, making it a popular destination for tourists and locals alike. Fener is a historically Greek neighbourhood located on the Western side of the Golden Horn. It is named after the Greek word for the lighthouse, which was once home to the city’s primary lighthouse.  


It is also home to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, which is considered the spiritual centre of the Orthodox Christian world. Balat is a historically Jewish neighbourhood located on the Eastern side of the Golden Horn. It is named after the Hebrew word for purity and is known for its rich Jewish history and culture. Balat is home to several historic synagogues, including the Ahrida Synagogue and the Balat Synagogue.

9. GRAND BAZAR (Kapalıçarşı)

A visit to the Grand Bazaar is a must on your Istanbul trip plan. The Grand Bazaar, or Kapalıçarşı in Turkish, is one of the oldest and largest covered markets in the world. The market was first built in the 15th century during the Ottoman Empire, and it has since been expanded and renovated multiple times. The Bazaar covers an area of over 60 streets and includes over 4,000 shops and stalls selling a wide variety of goods, including jewellery, textiles, ceramics, spices, and leather goods. 


It is estimated that the market attracts around 250,000 visitors each day, making it one of the most popular tourist destinations in Istanbul. The architecture of the Grand Bazaar is a stunning example of Ottoman design, with its vaulted ceilings, domes, and intricate tilework. The Bazaar is organized into sections, each concentrating on a particular type of goods. For example, the Bedesten section of the market sells gold and silver jewellery, while the Cevahir Bedesten section sells textiles and carpets. 


In addition to shopping, the Grand Bazaar also offers visitors a chance to experience Turkish culture and cuisine. The market is home to several traditional Turkish restaurants and cafes, where visitors can enjoy delicious Turkish dishes and drinks like Turkish tea and coffee. Inevitably, the Grand Bazaar must be on the itinerary for everyone visiting Istanbul.

We recomand this book which is a current guidance on what to see and skip, as well as what surprises are waiting for you. With your dependable travel buddy, you may browse the vibrant bazaars, tour the magnificent Aya Sofya basilica, or board a ferry to the Black Sea. Start your adventure!


A trip to Istanbul cannot miss a cruise on the Bosphorus. Is a popular activity for tourists visiting Istanbul. When you start looking for information about Bosphorus boat tours, you will find many options. A Bosphorus sunset cruise is a unique and memorable way to experience Istanbul’s beauty and culture.



Bosphorus sunset cruise tips:

Decide on the type and duration of the cruise: Bosphorus sunset cruises can range from a simple ferry ride to a private yacht rental and can last anywhere from 1 hour to several hours, depending on your schedule, budget and preferences. 

Book in advance: it is advisable to book your Bosphorus sunset cruise in advance, especially during peak tourist seasons, to avoid disappointment. You can book your cruise online or through a travel agency. 

Check the departure location: Bosphorus sunset cruises typically depart from the kabataş and eminönü docks on the European side of Istanbul. be sure to check the departure location of your chosen cruise operator in advance. Bring warm clothing: even in summer, the temperature can drop during a Bosphorus sunset cruise, so be sure to bring warm clothing.

Enjoy the views: the Bosphorus is a beautiful strait that separates Europe and Asia, and a sunset cruise provides stunning views of Istanbul’s iconic landmarks, such as the maiden’s tower, dolmabahçe palace, and the Bosphorus bridge. Now that we have seen 10 things to see in Istanbul for your vacation, you are ready to go! We always remind you to inform yourself about the documents required for your entry into Turkey.

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