Explore Istanbul

Istanbul is one of the most fascinating cities in the world to explore. With so much to discover, and a limited time in which to spend in the city for visitors, a little planning is useful in making the most of your time, and finding what you are most interested in.

Some suggestions for your Istanbul exploration:

    Topkapi Palace

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The home of Ottoman sultans for over 400 years, and once the centre of government, Topkapi palace is perhaps the best place to start your exploration. The palace comprises a collection of Pavillions and courtyards set around beautiful gardens, and housing exhibitions and displays of some truly magnificent jewels, thrones of gold that once belonged to ruling families, and the beautiful network of exquisitely tiled rooms that were once home to the Sultans private residences and Harem.

Once home to as many as 4000 people, the museum houses many important Muslim holy relics.

There are a number of cafes, restaurants and book/ gift shops at the museum, and the gardens are a lovely place to enjoy a picnic.

Website - muze.gen.tr/Museums

    The Grand Bazaar

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Sixty streets and over 5000 shops make the Grand Bazaar one of the largest covered markets in the world. Well known for ceramics, leather goods carpets, spices, and jewellery the market is grouped by goods type, and offers incredible choice, and a fascinating exploration of the vaults, domed buildings and characters that make this market what it is. Since 1461, the market has been Istanbul's most important trading centre, and was enlarged significantly in the 16th century. In 1894, following an earthquake, the bazaar was improved by a major restoration programme.

As well as the many shops, the Grand Bazaar is also home to Mosques, restaurants, cafes and hamams. There are 21 gates to enter, of which the four main gates are:

Second-hand Book Sellers' Gate" (Sahaflar Kapısı) in the north,

  • "Skullcap Sellers' Gate" (Takkeciler Kapısı) in the south,
  • "Jewellers' Gate" (Kuyumcular Kapısı) in the east, and;
  • "Women's Clothiers' Gate" (Zenneciler Kapısı) in the west
  • Open from 9am to 7pm Monday to Saturday. Closed on Sundays and bank holidays. 
    Take a walk.

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Many consider the best way to explore Istanbul is on foot. The ancient narrow streets in the historic part of the city, and considerable congestion often mean that pedestrians can cover more ground in the city than tours by car or bus.

The walk around the old city walls is around 6km and provides an absolutely fascinating glimpse into Istanbul's past. Parts of the wall are very well preserved and one can imagine the period in time when this great city was defending itself.

Visit mosques, try the delicious street food, visit the architectural wonders of the city, and feel the vibe of the cities eateries, taverns and lively streets.

Walk the Galata Bridge at sunset to experience the city at its most magical.


Look up to discover some of Istanbul's most interesting bars and restaurants. Notoriously difficult to find, you will discover some of the most compelling eateries on terraces.

It is easy to stick to the main drag and miss some of the most interesting shops in the city. Head off down the side streets and old passages that lead off Istiklal Street to discover them

    Aya Sofya

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Known in English as St Sophia, and Hagia Sophia in Greek was until the 16th century the largest cathedral in the world. It was constructed from 532 to 537AD and designed to be the most magnificent monument to God ever built.

On the site of two previous churches, marble and columns from some of the Ottoman empires greatest dismantled temples was used to create a building that surpassed all others. The dome rises 54 metres high and has a diameter of 33 metres at its widest. It is quite something to behold, and is the template for many mosques in Turkey, including the Blue Mosque, built some 1000 years later.

Also worth seeing are the incredible Byzantine mosaics, some of which date from the 9th century.

    Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii )

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Facing the Aya Sofya across a park the Blue mosque is an icon of Istanbul, and to most immediately recognisable by its six minarets.

Built between 1603 and 1617 on the site of the Great Palace of Byzantium, the mosque is one of the most visted historical sites in Istanbul.

Best approached from the Hippodrome to really appreciate it's architecture, the mosque, named for its Iznik blue tiles is open to visitors and charges no entrance fee. The mosque is closed to visitors for a period 5 times a day to allow prayer. The first call to prayer is at dawn and the last at nightfall. Mid-morning is a good time to visit. Everybody is required to remove their shoes before entrance into the mosque. You will be provided with a plastic bag to store them in at the entrance. There is no charge for this. Head scarves should be worn by women, and are provided free at the entrance if required. Flash photography is not permitted inside the mosque.