Things To Do In Istanbul
The transcontinental city of Istanbul (known as Constantinople prior to 1930) is famous for its historical sites, found on both its European and its Asian sides. Sultanahmet Sirkeshi, Bosphorus, Topkapi, Taksim, Karaka, and Hagia Sophia -- this is only a small list of Istanbul’s greatest attractions to visit. You can walk slowly down authentic streets and admire the hints of former times, or stop along the way to meet wonderful people. Feel the unusual sensations when you are in the historic part of the city -- it's as if you were thrown back into another time or even a different dimension, as you begin to understand the story of this awesome treasure located between two continents.
The recognized crossroads of civilization contains so many historical layers -- Rome, Byzantine and the Ottoman Empire. In Istanbul, even the most ordinary homes stand on ancient foundations.
When To Go:
The periodic ebb and flow of tourism in Istanbul occurs according to some basic weather patterns. The months of April and May (and once in a while late March) introduce the beginning of spring, when flowers are in bloom and the weather is pleasant. Things are even better in June and July, when sunny days are followed by delightful evenings often spent outdoors. The city likewise treats its visitors to a full supplement of social celebrations in June and July, so it’s no big surprise that during these months the hotel rates skyrocket to daunting levels.
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The high season is flanked by May and September, in spite of the fact that hotels are normally fully booked in September because of the numerous occasions occurring at that time. By August, the Mediterranean sun has sent most guests to the coasts, leaving only a few to visit the scenic beaches near the outskirts of the city. Istanbul is still reasonably pleasant in October, but by November the city assumes a dismal, cloudy, and overcast rainy season into February.
These are the things to do in the city of Istanbul:
The Suleymaniye Mosque is a famous masterpiece of the famous Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan. The old mosque is located in the cemetery where the tombs of Suleiman the Magnificent and his beloved wife, known around the world under the name Roxolana, are buried. Everything here conjures up thoughts of eternity, life, and death. The huge hall is filled with prayers, low lights, and simple interior decoration. Towering above the hustle and bustle of Istanbul, it embodies all the majesty and power of the Ottoman Empire. The large surrounding park impresses everyone with its size and solemn ambience. All around the mosque there are many restaurants.
At the entrance you need to take off your shoes and women are given scarves to cover their hair. There is no entrance fee and everyone is advised to observe silence. There are separate entrances for tourists and worshipers. Inside, the beautiful Azaan (call to prayer) fills the air. Be sure to come back here more than once. Both the well-kept park and the mosque are on a hill and offer great views of the Bosphorus and the old town. At dusk, everything is nicely highlighted. At this famous mosque, there is an opportunity to plunge into the old days, just sit still, relax, pray, and reflect. Even the abundance of tourists will not disturb your thoughts.
Hagia Sophia Museum / Church (Ayasofya)
The Hagia Sophia Museum / Church is a symbol of the "golden age" of the Byzantine era and the former main Orthodox Cathedral of Constantinople. Having been in Constantinople, Princess Olga accepted Orthodoxy and returned home to Russia; she began to eradicate paganism among the Russian people and to instill a new religion. Although real conversion of Russia came much later, it is clear that much of the original impetus emanated from this very place. Most of the original frescoes and mosaics remain intact, and some researchers believe that is due to the fact that for several centuries all of them were covered with plaster -- designed as Muslim symbols.
But there are also murals that unfortunately could not be saved. In these cases you can imagine how they must have looked in original condition. Set aside at least an hour of inspection, take your time, and enjoy a moment of happiness in this cathedral that is worth a visit for the sake of curiosity. You cannot find here oriental luxury and special refinement, but the beautiful mosaics, statues, and murals have an interesting story to tell and more than justify a visit to the cathedral. It is also recommended to take a walk to the fountains located in the vicinity.
The Sultanahmet District is the center of a huge square that is surrounded by all the most important monuments of Istanbul: Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Basilica Cistern, Hippodrome, and the Bath of Roxelane. In this tree-lined square, adorned with fountains and flowerbeds, you can observe the entirety of life in Istanbul. There are visiting tourists, vendors with their calls, the stylish bar, the smell of Turkish coffee and tea, freshly baked bread, and everything here is a mixture showing the richness of this city's culture and traditions.
In the main street of the neighborhood there are nice shops with precious objects, restaurants, and pastry shops displaying delicacies beyond imagination. Here is the heart of the fascinating city that is worth knowing from one corner to another. While you are here be sure to explore the market -- you will quickly learn how to negotiate with the sellers and haggle for the lowest price.
Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Camii)
When visiting the Blue Mosque, be sure to make it there before sunset, when the golden rays envelop the magnificent structure and the shimmering effect dips far into its colorful past. It is the only known mosque with six minarets and from anywhere in Istanbul, you will be in awe of its beauty and grace. The walls are covered with blue tiles, and the tile work is in itself a masterpiece. The ornamentation is diverse, with tulips, roses, carnations, and lilies in abundance. It is nice to be inside when the sunlight is shining in and reflecting on its 260 windows, creating the impression of a blue outer glow.
At the entrance to the stairs you can sit around with young people, families, and tourists, just admiring the city views. Near the mosque is a beautiful park with fountains, benches, flowers and lawn. If you are attracted to the Muslim religion and all that is connected with it -- or if you are not Muslim but appreciate stunning architecture -- visit the Blue Mosque. This is a very grand building, there are many tourists and as many locals coming to the mosque for prayer and to spend moments of quiet contemplation. If you get to the evening prayer, the experience will be even greater.
Rahmi M. Koc Museum
The Rahmi M. Koc Museum is a conglomeration of many vehicles, aircraft, boats, ships, railways, etc. Occupying a space of over 12,000 square yards, these exhibits are carefully and beautifully presented. Apparently Mr. Koc pretty much collected everything that could transport human beings. The vehicles, especially in the closed halls, appear remarkably renovated. The museum is quite fun, as it holds a lot of unusual models of equipment, lots of interactive booths, and a huge number of vehicles ranging from a 15th-century child's bicycle to aircraft and submarines. The site is conveniently located near the bus stop by the sea.
If you are traveling with children, this museum should definitely be on your agenda. Plan to arrive when it opens and leave after closing. This museum is not boring for a second -- because it consists of several separate buildings, there is an exit to the sea, and you can meander around at your own pace and really enjoy its interactive exhibits.
Rustem Pasha Mosque
The Rustem Pasha Mosque is hidden among market stalls and neighborhood "restaurants" near the Galata Bridge. The mosque is lined with beautiful tiles that have tulip patterns and are a real feast for the eyes. Photographers will need a sensitive camera, as it is quite dark inside. The mosque is known for its rich decor making use of the distinctive Iznik tiles. In this regard, perhaps it is one of the most beautiful mosques in Istanbul. One can easily find the entrance, as there is a staircase. The installation of the mosque is quite small, but it serves as a tranquil oasis in the bustle and trading activity in and around the Spice Bazaar. It is open to the public and the many blue tiles make this place look huge. It is not as crowded as some other tourist attractions in Istanbul.
A Bosphorus Strait boat trip is a must when visiting Istanbul. The rides are offered from several locations: from the left of the Galata Bridge, you can take the shorter rides (about 1.5 hours, they go to the second Bosphorus Bridge.) On the right of the Galata Bridge you will find boats leaving two times a day for a longer ride away (about 6 hours, and the ride goes to the Black Sea.) Both trips are recommended, the choice will depend on how much time you have and what you want to see.
A little travel tip: if you set out by taxi, you will probably be brought to the boats on the left side despite a clear reference to "right side". If you have time, plan your travel to the boat by tram, as you can control your destination better by yourself!
The Topkapi Palace is a complex of several buildings and parks, and it feels like a small world inside a huge city. On the palace grounds there is a wonderful park with trees, flowers, fountains, and clean fresh air. In the Palace there are some excellent lookouts with views of the Bosphorus and the entire city. The palace is located near the area of Sultanahmet and very easy to find. It has an interesting exhibition of jewelry, as well as a breathtaking view of the confluence of the Golden Horn and the imposing mosques. It is interesting to look at the collection of the Ottoman Empire, which includes weapons, costumes, and the idea of being in an interior Harem.
You can walk through the palace all day, as the area is huge and very much open to all. It is a treasure trove of information about the interesting Sultans (4 rooms of exhibits) with an 86-carat diamond and some Russian imperial orders that are also paved with diamonds. Then there are separate rooms with weapons of the Sultans, as well as clothing, old clocks, and halls with sacred objects -- the keys of the Kaaba (most sacred shrine of Islam), the trace of the Prophet Muhammad in the stone, as well as the staff of Moses and a part of the arm of St.John the Baptist.
The Basilica Cistern is located next to Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya). When you go down into the reservoir there is a feeling of really touching centuries-old history. It is dark, with monumental columns, water, huge carp fish -- and time seems to stop. There are 336 marble columns each 30 feet high, in rows of 12, and it is quite imposing. The tank’s attractions include two columns standing on Medusa heads -- one placed sideways and the second upside down (according to legend, to avoid the Gorgon's gaze, but more likely for structural reasons.) All this conjures up memories of myths and legends.
The dimly lit halls, lights and soft music contribute to a very unique atmosphere. All of this was built (by over 7,000 slaves) in order to supply water in case of a siege of the city in the Middle Ages -- the capacity is for 100,000 tons of water. Right there under the ground, there is a small café where you can drink tea, have coffee, and eat a sandwich. This is another must-see attraction in Istanbul -- definitely a unique way to tour the underground part of the city.
Kariye Museum (The Chora Church)
The Kariye Museum (The Chora Museum) is not easy to find, as it is hidden in the winding streets of Istanbul and very far from the city center. But the museum certainly deserves a visit to better understand its great role in Turkey’s history. The original church was built in the 5th century as part of a monastery complex. It was rebuilt several times, and today's structure -- decorated with splendid frescoes and mosaics -- dates from the early 1300s.
After the capture of Constantinople by the Turks, the church was converted into a mosque -- and the decorative work was all covered by plaster due to the Islamist prohibition of images. Since 1948, it has been transformed into a museum and much restoration work done -- including plaster removal. There are also unique pieces to see that reflect the life of Constantinople from different ages, including his weapons and ornaments.
From the Sultanahmet district it is about $24 by taxi, and the entrance to the museum is the same amount.
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