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Raffles The Bosphorus - 22 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Istanbul
January 19th 2022

22 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Istanbul

İstanbul, home to three empires emerging on the shores of the Bosphorus, the waterway that runs through the city connecting Europe to Asia, is a dynamic, vibrant cosmopolitan city with layers of history, culture, and character to be unfolded by globe trotters. Here are some of the top-rated touristic attractions in town:

Start your Istanbul tour at the Old City district also called Sultanahmet. This is where you can book your Istanbul hotel, visit the Byzantine and Ottoman monuments and shop at the Grand Bazaar; one of the world’s largest bazaars dating back to the 1400s have 22 gates taking you into the fascinating world of shopping with its 4.500 stores where one can find anything from pottery to jewelry, spices to carpets.

Hagia Sophia is another must-see. A highlight spot in the bestseller Dan Brown book Inferno, Hagia Sophia is the epitome of Byzantine architecture dating back to the sixth century. The striking dome, famous mosaics, sacred imagery from Christianity as well as Islamic elements, and the light funneling in from its 40 windows seem to turn Hagia Sophia – meaning Divine Wisdom – into an otherworldly space making the visiting experience almost a transcendental one. It wouldn’t be wrong to call Istanbul a city of underground cisterns as there are a few hundred of them of which Basilica Cistern is the largest. Storing and providing water to many palaces including Topkapı Palace, the Cistern became famous thanks to the Inferno movie as it was one of the filming locations. Basilica Cistern is used for special events today and can be visited during the day.

Topkapi Palace is neigbouring Hagia Sophia on the historic peninsula. Home to Ottoman Sultans for over 400 years, this seraglio is one of the iconic structures that define the İstanbul skyline. Take a ferry between Asia and Europe (Kadıköy-Karaköy line) to see the palace from the sea for best views. Built over 700 thousand square meters, the palace consists of four transitional courtyards and surrounding structures. At the footsteps of the palace is Gülhane Park. Wandering around the park, one can’t help but reflect back on days where Ottoman sultans strolled around to cherish the same greenery, trees and flowers.

 

Golden Horn is another historic vicinity formed by the Bosphorus waterway extending further into the land like a canal. Both sides of the canal were home to wooden pavillons of wealthy families of the Ottoman period making this district the social center of the times. Today, Golden Horn is an emerging, vibrant part of the city with boutique luxury hotels, historical monuments, hip cafes and restaurants. Chora Museum in Edirnekapı should be on every traveller’s list while here with its georgeous mosaics and frescoes all dating back to the Byzantine peripod of the city. It may be regarded as a hidden gem as it receives just a fraction of the visitors of the grand Hagia Sophia while in reality, the attractions inside Chora are no less. Take some time to go up at Pierre Loti Cafe to take in the beautiful sunset enjoying the views of the Gold Horn all the way to the Old City’s domes and modern skyline of the opposite shore of Pera region sipping a glass of Turkish tea at this hilltop cafe.

The most famous street in Istanbul is İstiklal Street, joining Taksim Square to Tünel. Historically, this street was called “Grand Rue de Pera” and was habitated mostly by the European nations of the city, home to some of the oldest Istanbul hotels you may prefer for your Istanbul accommodation. Once you walk all the way from Taksim Square – home to Atatürk Culture Center that recently re-opened after renovations – to Tünel Square, you can take the funicular to Karaköy or walk downhill to Galata. Watching the Bosphorus view from Galata Tower, built-in 6th century and used for many decades as a fire watchtower, stretching to Eminönü – a traditional commercial and shopping area housing Spice Market – and Asian shores any time of the day is once in a lifetime experience.

Going downhill from Galata, you will see the sea again. This is Karaköy neighborhood, one of the trendiest districts of the city with its young buzz, chef restaurants, third generation coffee houses and the new Galataport where cruise ships will deck and will be housing new Istanbul hotels, dining facilities and shops. The contemporary art museum Istanbul Modern, located in its temporary building in Beyoğlu now, will soon be visited in Karaköy.

Walking from Karaköy to Beşiktaş, you will come across Dolmabahçe Palace with the famous clock tower greeting you first. Built between 1843 – 1856, Dolmabahçe Palace has become the modern house for the royal family compared to the older, grander Topkapi. Dolmabahçe Palace is also where Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder of the Turkish Republic had spent his last days and passed away.

Another local spot to see in this vicinity is Beşiktaş Fish Market. To experience the local way of living spare some time to visit this positively chaotic fish market!

There are more than a dozen downtowns in Istanbul thanks to wide spread neighborhoods. One destination is the striking complex of Zorlu Center with luxury lifestyle stores, performing arts center topped by high-rise residences and luxury hotel Raffles Istanbul. Zorlu Center, connected to the city through the metro system buzzes with locals and tourists visiting retails shops, art center or dining facilities.

An Istanbul visit cannot be complete without a ferry ride to Princess Islands; an archipelago of islands on the Marmara Sea. Ferries departing both from European or Asian shores will take you to the idyllic islands; an interesting option for your Istanbul accommodation in summer. The four islands are a wonderful mix of ethnic and cultural mix that has made Istanbul what is it today. Wooden mansions, churches or synagogues, beautiful villas, piers filled with fishermen are some of what will be seen here. Take your swimming costumes to enjoy the beaches.