Istanbul, formerly known as Constantinople, sits at the crossroads of East and West. It straddles the boundary of Asia and Europe and contains reminders of both regions all over the city. My list of the best things to do while you are here can be found below.
1. Visit Hagia Sophia — This church, turned mosque, turned museum, dates to the reign of the Roman Emperor Justinian, around 530 AD. It has one of the largest domes in the world, and contains mosaics from its early days as a church, which had been covered up, under Muslim control. Some of these mosaics are now visible to vistors.
2. Marvel at the Blue Mosque — One of only two mosques in the world with six (6) minarets (the other is in Mecca), this active Muslim religious building is considered by many the most beautiful mosque in the world. It gets its name from the blue tiles which cover the walls and ceiling.
3. See How the Sultans Lived at Topkapi Palace — This incredible palace complex is located at the tip of the Golden Horn and consists of numerous buildings connected by several courtyards. On display here, in the Treasury, are some of the largest and most beautiful gems in the world. Other areas of interest include the Harem, the Council Chamber, and the Palace Kitchens, which offer a huge display of porcelain.
4. Stroll Through the Hippodrome — The ancient Roman stadium, where gladiators fought and chariot races were held, is gone, although the elliptical outline is still discernible. However, there are three obelisks which now occupy the arena floor, which are of interest to the tourist.
5. Check Out Dolmabahce Palace — This huge mansion, situated on the western shore of the Bosporus, is a more recent replacement for Topkapi Palace. It has numerous rooms and palatial grounds.
6. Take a Bosporus Cruise — One of the most important activities for any visitor to Istanbul is a cruise along this waterway which divides Asia and Europe. Most boat rides turn around just below the Black Sea.
7. Visit Beylerbeyi Palace — Another Sultan’s palace, this one on the Asian side of the Bosporus, features beautiful chandeliers and woodwork. It’s grounds are pleasant to stroll, as well.
8. Shop at the Grand Bazaar — Also known as the Covered Bazaar, this immense indoor mall, offering almost any kind of item imaginable, is so large that it is divided into streets, which house shops of a particular kind. One could easily spend hours here, just browsing. Be sure to haggle, if you decide to buy something!
9. Be Mesmerized in the Spice Bazaar — This unbelievable venue is located just opposite the dock area for Bosporus Cruise boats. The sights and smells are intoxicating and the colorful spices from all over the world are a delight to behold.
10. Stroll Down Istiklal Caddesi — The major, pedestrian, shopping street in Istanbul is located in the Beyoglu section of the city, across the Golden Horn from the Spice Market. The avenue is always crowded with people, and is lined with numerous shops and restaurants.
11. Climb the Galata Tower — This medieval stone tower, just south of the end of Istiklal Caddesi, offers spectacular views of Old Istanbul and the Bosporus.