Gorgeous Istanbul lies between the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara - only to be dissected by the Bosphorus creating a European side and an Asian side. So picturesque is this city that popular Hollywood flicks like ‘The World Is Not Enough’ and ‘Taken 2’ chose Istanbul as their major filming site. Historically rich and culturally abundant, Istanbul, Turkey was nominated as a European Capital of Culture in 2010.
Things to Do in Istanbul
No trip is complete without a visit to the city’s two most iconic buildings. The Hagia Sofia, with its complex Christian and Ottoman history, is often featured as the city’s landmark monument. This 6th century building, which has served as both a church and a mosque at different times over its 1000 years, is now a museum open to tourists. Its mosaics and marble pillars, the Marble Door and Wishing Column are among its many fascinating features.
The Blue Mosque sits opposite the Hagia Sophia and is perhaps just as popular and iconic. It’s gorgeous exterior with six minarets as well as the splendid interior inlaid with blue tiles makes it a fascinating sight. It is even more beautiful at night when lights illuminate its majestic exterior.
Other attractions include the gorgeous jewels in Topkapi Palace, the Dolmabahçe Palace in Beşiktaş, the Istanbul Archaeology Museums and the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum. Every itinerary must include a trip to the Grand Bazaar - it is extremely popular with tourists, especially if you like to haggle! From carpets to teacups and silks to hookahs - this place has everything you could possibly want. With its sights, tastes and smells, the Grand Bazaar is a sensory delight. And right next door is the city’s spice market - Mahmutpasha Bazaar. If you’re looking for luxury shopping, Bağdat Avenue and Abdi İpekçi Street have a ton of high-end stores.
Popular summer destinations are Emirgan Park on the European side and Belgrad Forest to the north. Princes’ Islands or ‘Adalar’ too make for a great day trip in the summer - of the nine islands, Heybeliada and Büyükada are most popular. This is a complete car-free zone and a quick ferry-ride away - bicycles are available for rent on the islands. Take a bath in a Turkish Hamam or smoke a hookah at a local cafe in Taksim Square. Drink apple flavored tea in see-through cups while you take a stroll down bustling Istiklal Street. And once you’re done, you can grab a beer on Nevizade Street or hang out at a popular nightspot in Ortaköy or Nişantaşı. If you’re looking to do something more relaxing, cruise the gorgeous blue waters of the Bosphorus between May and September or if you’re lucky you could catch one of the Istanbul Sailing Club’s events on the waterways. Have dinner at one of 50 seafood restaurants in Kumkapi or visit the Basilica Cistern, where you can take a picture with Medusa’s head, as it provides great insight into ancient water storage systems.
Istanbul has over 11 million international visitors each year and a lot of people choose to stay in Istanbul vacation rentals so they can experience the rich culture in a more local way. Apartments for rent in the Beyoğlu district around Taksim Square may be pricey but is a great location. Rentals in Nişantaşı and Ortaköy are close to all the nightlife. Homes for rent on Istiklal Street would be great for those looking to be close to restaurants and shopping. Istanbul vacation rentals on Princes' Islands are also a favorite with tourists - these should be booked much in advance as this is a popular destination with locals as well.