Istanbul, formerly Constantinople and Byzantium, sits at the crossroads of Asia and Europe. In fact, much of the city is geographically a part of Europe, since the Bosporus divides the two continents and Istanbul straddles the waterway. Historically, the city was so important that it became the eastern capital of the Roman Empire.
It is still a major commercial hub, so that the waterways which abut the city are teeming with barges, ferries, freighters, cruise ships, and recreational craft.
From a tourist standpoint, Istanbul is replete with must-see attractions, so that a minimum of 3-4 days is necessary to do it justice. Begin your exploration with probably the most important sight in the city, Hagia Sophia. This church-turned-mosque-turned-museum had its origins in the 6th century AD with the Roman Emperor Justinian (it was completed in 537 AD). The minarets were more recent additions, following the Turkish conquest of Constantinople.
Some of the mosaics which adorn the walls, which were uncovered when Hagia Sophia became a museum (they had been covered over when the church became a mosque because images cannot don the walls of mosques) date to this early time.
Nearby is one of Islam’s most beautiful mosques, the Blue Mosque, actually Sultan Ahmet Mosque.
The name, Blue Mosque, comes from the striking blue tiles which adorn the interior.
Ottoman Sultans resided in a royal complex known as Topkapi Palace from the 1400’s to the 19th Century, another must-see while in Istanbul. The palace is composed of many buildings and courtyards, many of which have become museums. Be sure to check out the Treasury which contains an incredible cache of gold and jewels.
If shopping is your passion, Istanbul is the place to be. The Grand (or Covered) Bazaar is the world’s largest indoor shopping center, with over 3,000 shops selling just about anything imaginable. There are “streets” of jewelry shops, rug shops, ceramics, etc.
Another shopping experience not-to-be-missed is the Spice Bazaar, located near the Bosporus ferry terminal. An dizzying array of spices may be purchased in any quantity.
One of the remnants from Roman times is the Hippodrome, a relic of the city’s chariot-racing days. Now the elliptical space contains several Egyptian obelisks.
Be sure to take a Bosporus cruise while in Istanbul. The cruise originates at the Golden Horn, a spur from the Bosporus, and travels north to the Black Sea before returning. Along the way, you can see the Dolmbahce Palace, where current Turkish leaders reside.
Another palace visible on the cruise is on the Asian side of the Bosporus. Beylerbeyi Palace was the summer palace of the Sultans who ruled in the 19th Century.
A more modern section of the city, Beyoglu, features a long pedestrian-only street, Istiklal Caddesi, with many shops and restaurants, and Taksim Square, where many major events take place..