Welcome back to the second part of my Istanbul blog post. I hope you enjoyed the first part which focused on the essentials to consider when travelling to Istanbul. In this part I will be focusing on all the amazing things to do and see in Istanbul.
As I mentioned in my previous blog post Istanbul is one of my favourite cities. There is so much history and so much to see and do. Istanbul has different areas or districts. Sultan Ahmet is the area known as the Old City and is home to many of the most iconic sites in Istanbul.
One of the most iconic places in the city is the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, more commonly known as the Blue Mosque. The historic Masjid is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was built-in the early 1600 during the Ottoman rule. The Masjid has 6 minarets and is beautifully decorated with hand painted tiles. It sits close to Hagia Sophia and still operates as a Masjid. The Masjid is free to visit and open to all visitors except during prayer times, when you can only enter if you are praying. As the Masjid is free to visit I would also recommend visiting after dark when the Masjid has a totally different atmosphere and vibe. If you get the chance to pray Jummah there on a Friday it is really a special experience with thousands of other Muslims.
Hagia Sophia is another UNESCO World Heritage Site in Istanbul. It was formally a Greek Orthodox cathedral that became an imperial Ottoman Masjid and is now a museum. It was built-in 537 AD during the Byzantine Empire and at its time was the biggest building and an engineering marvel. The museum is very interesting to visit as you can see the remains of both the church and the Masjid’s architecture and design. The museum costs about £7 to visit and can have very long queues during peak times.
Sultan Ahmet Square is the area between the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia and is the hub of the old city. The square has lots of vendors and merchants selling all kinds of snacks and souvenirs including traditional Turkish ice cream. All around the square are historical places of significance including the Hippodrome, the Basilica Cistern and The Fountain of Sultan Ahmed III. Sultan Ahmet square also has a great vibe and atmosphere in the evening.
In the Fatih district of Istanbul you will find the stunning Topkapi Palace. In the 15th century, it served as the main residence and administrative headquarters of the Ottoman Empire. It is now a museum that you can visit. The palace complex has hundreds of rooms and chambers with courtyards and gardens. The museum is another UNESCO World Heritage site in Istanbul and homes Ottoman clothing, weapons, armour, manuscripts and religious relics. Tickets cost about £10 per person with additional costs to visit some of the extra sections. I would highly recommend visiting this stunning historical palace.
Another stunning palace in Istanbul is the Dolmabahçe Palace. The palace is located in the Beşiktaş district of Istanbul, on the European coast of the Bosphorus River. The palace was completed in 1856 when the Sultan and his family moved from Topkapi to this newer, more contemporary palace. The Sultans remained living at Dolmabahçe Palace up until the abolition of the Caliphate in 1924. Next to the palace is also the stunning Dolmabahçe Mosque.
There are lots of beautiful Ottoman Masjids throughout the city. The Süleymaniye Mosque is the second largest in the city and one of my favourite. The Masjid was completed in 1557 and served as an imperial Masjid. Over the years the Masjid has been damaged by an earthquake and a fire in World War 1. Due to its location being higher up on the top of a hill the Masjid offers incredible views of the city.
Due to its location Istanbul has always been a key trading point between Asia and Europe. The Grand Bazaar in the district of Fatih is often regarded as one of the first shopping centres in the world. It continues to be one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world. The construction of the original bazaar started in 1455 shortly after the Ottoman conquest. The Bazaar continues to thrive till this day with 4,000 stores, 26,000 employees and over 250,000 visitors daily. When visiting the Bazaar you feel like you have stepped back in time when vendors selling all kinds of trinkets and treats.
In contrast to the traditional Grand Bazaar Taksim on the European side of Istanbul is a major tourist and leisure district famed for its restaurants, shops, and hotels. It is considered the heart of modern Istanbul with lots of well known international stores and restaurants. Istiklal Avenue the most well known and popular street in Taksim.
As mentioned in the previous blog post Istanbul is best explored on foot. When walking through the city you can explore all the different areas. A number of bridges connect the different sides of the city and offer views of the Bosphorus River. Local people line the sides of well known bridges like the Bosphorus and Galata Bridge to fish.
I would also really recommend going for a boat ride along the Bosphorus River. On the river you get to see some amazing views of the iconic Istanbul sites including the Rumeli Fortress and the Dolmabache Masjid. You can easily buy a ticket for a boat ride from a number of companies along the pier.
There is so much more to see and do in Istanbul depending on how long you are visiting for. There are lots of other historic locations you could visit including the Galata Tower and the Beylerbeyi Palace. There are also a number of museums including Istanbul Modern and The Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts. Istanbul also some lovely parks including Yildiz Park.
If you are visiting with children there is also the Aquarium, Lego Centre and Miniaturk – a miniture model park.
If you want to explore the city from different views there is also the Istanbul cable car or sight seeing bus tour.
Final Thoughts: Istanbul is a unique and special city split between two continents. The Bosphorus River splits the city into the historic old quarters scattered with Ottoman domes and palaces and the modern, contemporary side with its shops and quirky cafes. Istanbul has so much to offer and is truly an extraordinary and memorable place to visit. With it’s magnificent Masjids and incredible halal food it really is a must for Muslim travellers.