Straddling the border of Europe and Asia, Turkey‘s largest city is home to a rich culture that reflects its split personality. Here are our top five things to do in this storied urban center.
Marvel at the Blue Mosque
Officially known as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, the Blue Mosque owes its nickname to the more than 20,000 handmade ceramic tiles lining the interior, many of them a dazzling blue. In the daytime, over 200 stained glass windows filter natural light into the huge structure, which peaks at 140 feet. Be advised that female visitors must wear head coverings and everyone must remove shoes before entering.
Explore the Basilica Cistern
Descend into the depths of “the Sunken Palace.” Once an underground water storage site, the cathedral-sized Cistern can hold nearly 2,800,000 cubic feet of water. Now, water runs in only a few areas, allowing visitors to explore the army of 336 marble columns, as well as the famed Medusa head blocks.
Shop the Grand Bazaar
One of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world this sprawling landmark recently celebrated its 550th birthday. The market features 61 covered streets, houses more than 3,000 shops and sees upwards of 400,000 visitors daily. Walk the streets and browse the never-ending selection of leather goods, jewelry, furniture and carpets. Want more? Stop by the nearby Egyptian Spice Market, the center of the city’s spice trade.
Enter the Hagia Sophia
Then this Basilica was completed for the Byzantine Emperor Justinian in 360 A.D., it was so lavishly decorated that he loudly proclaimed, “Solomon, I have outdone thee!” The structure was turned into a mosque in the 15th century and then converted into a museum in 1935. Best known for its massive 182-foot dome, it is one of the greatest surviving examples of Byzantine architecture and boasts gorgeously restored mosaics and an impressive marble door.
Relax at a Turkish Bath
The hamams are central to the Turkish culture and promote tranquility and relaxation. Don your cotton wrap and slippers before enjoying a cleansing sweat upon a heated stone. Next, ease into a massage and a scrub (or you can DIY) before cooling down with a cup of tea. Now that you’ve had a chance to unwind, get back out there and explore the city!
What is your favorite thing to do in Istanbul? Tell us in the comments!