The top 10 sights in Istanbul

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Here’s our list of the top 10 sights in Istanbul – if you want to create your own tour of Istanbul. We suggest that you take an organized tour of Istanbul because of the language barrier and the fact that you’ll have to cab it between some of these sights. Also, consider that entrance fees will add up doing Istanbul on your own.

We do suggest once you arrive in Istanbul to take one of the organized Istanbul city tours such as the Full Day Classical Tour of Istanbul which includes a Turkish lunch. Rest up in your hotel in Istanbul, grab a guide book, your phrase book and a bottle of water if you’re going to do Istanbul on your own. You could, for example take an off-the-beaten path walking tour or explore old Istanbul. Specialty tours of Istanbul can also be found from viewing the mystical Whirling Dervishes, to visiting the Egyptian Spice Market, or experiencing the ancient tradition of the Turkish baths.  You can even take Turkish lessons if you are going to be in Istanbul long enough to make it worthwhile.  Other ideas for separate tours or “experiences” include Turkish cooking classes or even belly dancing lessons.

As far as accessibility in Istanbul goes, there are some parts of the city which have uneven pavement and the traffic congestion is massive. Be warned, crossing the roads can be highly risky and pedestrians do not have the right of way. What this means is you’d better watch out for cars. My experience is that the drivers are not very concerned about running you over. So watch the roads and pay attention to traffic.

Most hotels have a copy of “Istanbul’s Bazaar Quarter: Back Street Walking Tours.” Read this guide so that you will know where you’re going, details about the site you are visiting, and what to expect.  Your hotel in Istanbul will probably be able to assist you in booking recommended Istanbul city tours.  Most of the hotel staff will do this for you whether you are staying in a budget or a luxury hotel.  You’ll find Turkish people very helpful, friendly and always willing to practice their English speaking skills.

Istanbul is a major metropolis but thankfully, most of the historic sites are located in the central historic  part of the city – the Sultanahmet district, which is a relatively easy walk, but you’ll have to cross over the Galata bridge. Walking along the monuments gives a more close up view of the city, its history and its people. A walking tours can be taken for around four to six hours, but that depends on many factors.

If you do decide to design your own walking tour, start out early around 9 am. around 11.30 am to 1 pm, many shops do close down as Muslims stop for afternoon prayers. Note that during prayer time, you will not be allowed to enter the mosques.

Here’s our suggestion for your own walking tour of Istanbul, including top 10 sights in Istanbul:

Start your walking tour at the Grand Bazaar. This large covered market offers good quality shopping at very cheap prices. There are over 4000 shops in the Grand Bazaar. Go back to the Grand Bazaar later to do some souvenir shopping because you don’t want to end up carrying your shopping around with you.

Exit the Grand Bazaar and ask someone for Carsi Caddesi Street. This place is usually congested with shoppers and you can buy anything and everything here.

Follow the road to the bottom of the hill and you will see the Rustem Pasha Mosque. This superb mosque was built by Rustem Pasha, son in law of Suleyman the Great. The Mosque has very unique architecture depicting the artistic talents of people who lived during the Ottoman Dynasty.

By now you might be thirsty so ask for directions to Hasircilar Caddesi where you will find many quaint little coffee shops which sell delicious Turkish pastries and various types of baklava – you’ll enjoy. The area is full of shops which sell Turkish delight, almonds, cashews, pistachios and spices.

Next on your tour of Istanbul, walk to the Egyptian Bazaar where you will find the spice market and more shops selling every type of food and spice.

Head to the New Mosque and you’ll another vibrant market right by the Mosque. At the very end of Galata Bridge you’ll see the Great Imperial Mosque developed by the Sultan Safiye.

From Yeni Cami mosque it is best to ride the tram line to Sultanahmet or go across the Galata Bridge to Karakoy. If you are crossing the street to get to the Galata Bridge, be extra careful of the speeding traffic.

If you are still not tired, take time to visit the shores of the Bosphorus. You can even walk along the Bosphorus, something many families do in the daytime.

For a half day, you could take one of the boats from the station in Eminonu and travel  up the Bosphorus, the body of water that separates the European side of Istanbul from the Asian side.  The boat will travel as far as the Rumeli Fortress and then return.  Along the way, you’ll see beautiful villas, wooden mansions from Ottoman times,  small fishing villages and the sea side view of the Dolmabahçe Palace. This is possible to do by yourself and it is not expensive to take the tour on one of the many boats available at the dock.

Here’s are recommended the top 10 sights in Istanbul that you must see, either on your own or on a tour.  From this list, you will be able to create your own tour if you are traveling on a budget, backpacking or just being careful about money.

1) The Grand Bazaar – with over 3,000 shops, good for “window shopping” or shopping for souvenirs.

2) The Hagia Sophia – stunning mosque

3) The Egyptian Spice Market – which is full of spices, things to eat, coffee.

4) The Blue Mosque – also known as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque is probably the most famous mosque of Istanbul and stunningly beautiful

5) Topkapi Palace and the pink painted famous Harem

6) The Dolmabahce Palace:  The magnificent residential palace of the sultans

7) The Byzantine Hippodrome

8) The Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum

9) The Sunken Palace Cistern (Yerebatan Saray)

10) The Prince’s Islands:  Take a boat ride over for the day to see the lovely wooden houses, superb scenic views and take a horse drawn carriage ride around the island.  There are hotels, restaurants and cafes on the Islands, making this a day well spent in Istanbul.

It’s possible to do an Istanbul sightseeing tour in one day if your time is limited. However, it’s recommended that you go back and visit places you’re most interested in visiting again.  Our list of the top 10 sights in Istanbul will help you plan your visit to the city.  Remember to bring your digital camera and comfortable walking shoes.