Here is our pick of the top five places to visit in Istanbul, Turkey in 2022.
5. The Grand Bazaar
What makes it one of the best places to visit in Istanbul, Turkey?
The Grand Bazar is indeed Grand. In fact, you could even go ahead and call it The Grandest Bazaar because it is the biggest covered market in the whole world. It covers an area of 30,700 sq. meters or about seven soccer fields and encloses 61 streets that have just above 4,000 shops.
The Grand Bazaar holds a very distinct position in the long history of Istanbul. The construction of this bazar was commissioned by Fatih Sultan Mehmet or as some call him “Mehmet the Conqueror” after he conquered the seemingly unconquerable city of Constantinople. It was a show of power along with an effort to raise money for the construction of Hagia Sophia. The market was established in 1461 and attracted traders to the heart of the Ottoman empire. It was later expanded under the rule of Suleiman I and has stood several fires and earthquakes.
If you look at the aerial view of the Grand Bazaar, you can see two distinct white-blue structures midst a sea of terracotta-colored roofs. Those white structures are rectangular in shape and have several domes on them. These are called Bedesten, a trademark architectural style of the Ottoman Empire and are named Cevahir and Sandal. The whole structure was designed in a way that facilitates movement and attraction and encourages shopping.
Currently there are 21 gates in the Bazaar each of which open to specialized sections of bazaars that sell particular products like books, clothes, porcelain products, etc.
The shopping, the food and the vibes
Well, the most important part: eating, spending money and taking in the colors of life. As mentioned above the Grand Bazaar has over 4,000 shops that sell almost everything you would want to buy in Turkey.
You can buy gold and silver jewelry on the Eastern and Southern sides of the Inner Bedesten / Ìç Bedesten. The Ìç Bedesten itself is famous for copper wares. Handbags and luggage along with ceramic and souvenirs on the Western side. You can also buy the traditional dresses for belly dancing here, antiques and leather materials like jackets. Of course, the market is also famous for carpets and rugs. The Bazaar also houses banks, restaurants and police station too! It’s an all encompassing ecosystem made for shopping enthusiasts.
This incredible mix of history, original architecture as well as architecture through different periods that tells the story of different eras and an incredible array of stuff you can buy makes the Grand Bazaar one of the best places to visit in Istanbul, Turkey.
4. Aya Sofya or Hagia Sophia
What makes it one of the best places to visit in Istanbul Turkey?
The landmark remains like an ancient guardian, watching the rulers and empires come and go and standing tall as time keeps rolling forward. It’s not just a monument, it’s almost like a living symbol of what the region was and what it is.
The older Hagia Sophia which had wooden ceilings was burnt down in revolts against the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I. Months later, in 532 AD Justinian I built the cathedral from the ground up for the third time. Completed in 537 AD the Hagia Sophia stands to this day as a strong pathway between centuries of not just Turkish but also the entire human history.
An architectural marvel throughout history.
I cannot stress enough, as an architectural geek, how impressive the Aya Sofya is. When it was built under the orders of Justinian I, the church had traditional elements of Christian basilica like an atrium in it’s front. Much of the atrium is now destroyed and what we have as an entrance was once the outer vestibule. You can enter the narthex of what once was a church through one of five doors. The ceilings of the narthex has golden mosaics and the floors were built of marbles that came from all parts of the Mediterranean.
The South End has the vestibule of the warriors whose bronze doors are older than the church itself. Above the door is the mosaic having Justinian I and Constantine flanking Mary and child Christ. You also have the imperial gate that was only opened for the Emperors and Sultans which has a mosaic of Christ, angels and Leo the VI.
The nave of the church is what you can only describe as awe inspiring. The central dome stands on curving crescendos standing on four colossal piers. You can see the paintings of the Seraphim, Mary and Child Christ and archangels Gabriel and the famous Weeping Column here under the magnificent domed nave. Near the Weeping column, you can take a staircase to the second level to the galleries which stands above the narthex.
The sheer time for which the monument has stood, the history, the architecture, religion and socio-politics associated with Aya Sofya makes it one of the best places to visit in Istanbul Turkey. It is one of the most important buildings made in the history of mankind.
3. The Blue Mosque
What makes it one of the best places to visit in Istanbul Turkey?
Simply put, the Blue Mosque or known by the name of it’s maker, the Sultan Ahmed Mosque is one of the most iconic landmarks of the classical style of Ottoman architecture. The tumultuous history of it’s making, the placing of the mosque, the fact that it is an active praying spot for the Muslim community in Istanbul along with a popular tourist spot makes it a must-visit place.
The location of the mosque is very strategic as it is was built on some portions of the Grand Palace of Constantinople and some portions of the hippodrome. It sits next to Hagia Sophia and infront of the hippodrome. After the crushing defeat against Safavid Persia in the 1603 to 1618 war, Ottoman Emperor Sultan Ahmed I constructed this mosque among other important landmarks of the Ottoman empire as a show of reassertion of power. The historical importance of the place doesn’t stop here. The mosque was designed by architect Mehmed Aga, the last student of Mimar Sinan who is considered by many as the greatest architect to ever live.
The Mosque combines the elements from both the Byzantine architecture from Hagia Sophia and traditional Ottoman architecture. It has 5 main domes, 8 secondary domes and 6 minarets. No other mosque had more than 4 minarets at that time except the much revered Haram Mosque of Mecca.
The interiors of the mosque have various motifs like tulips, roses and trees. These motifs are embedded upon by 20,000 handmade ceramic tiles that came from the town of Iznik. Most of these tiles are blueish in hue and thus lend the name “Blue Mosque” to the Sultan Ahmed Mosque. The colorful glass that grace the 260 windows are said to have come from the Venetian government as gifts to the Sultan. The walls have beautiful calligraphy inscribing the lines from the holy Quran and the name of Allah.
The courtyard on the Western side has an entrance that is obstructed from above by iron chains. This was made so as to remind the Sultan, who was the only person allowed to ride into the mosque in horseback that he too must bow in front of Allah.
The Sultan Ahmed Mosque is one of the best places to visit in Istanbul Turkey also because it is a Külliye: a complex that houses not just an active mosque but also a madrassa, a hospis and also the tomb of Sultan Ahmed I.
2. Topkapi Palace
Why is it one of the best places to visit in Istanbul Turkey?
The Topkapi Palace is often called “The City within a city”. When you visit it, you quickly understand why. It is a massive palace which was converted into a museum in 1924 and contains courtyards, ornate chambers, pavilions, treasuries, the harem and a museum so full of history and artifacts that you could easily separate a week of your vacation just to deeply visit each part of this place. Once you enter this palace, you wonder, if walls could talk, would any other single place on Earth have stories as colorful as the Topkapi Palace!
The palace is located on a peninsula and is surrounded by The Golden Horn and The Sea of Marmara. Mehmed the Conqueror, after his conquest of Constantinople, built the first phase of this palace and later other Sultans kept adding different sections making it a large 700,000 sq meter complex that we see today. It remained the administrative center, imperial residence, and educational hub for statesmen until 1854 when the administrative center was moved to Dolmabahçe Palace.
What to see.
The Imperial Gate and it’s inscriptions as a symbol of strength and functionality of the Ottoman Empire.
The Hagia Eirene is a Byzantine era church and is located in the first court of the Palace. It was never converted into a mosque and instead served as an armory during until the 19th Century. Now it’s a museum and also hosts various concerts. The Royal Mint also survives to this day.
The gate that leads away from the First Court, deeper into the Palace is called Bab-üs Selâm. It’s a fascinating structure of medieval architecture in itself and leads to the Second Court. You can see the Palace Kitchens towards East which has the Chinese porcelain collection. On the Western side is the Imperial Council Chamber which also houses the clock collection. The Outer Treasury which houses Ottoman and European weaponry is to the North of the Imperial Council.
On the Western side, you can also see the Harem, which was made even more popular worldwide by the Turkish soap opera, Magnificent Century. It was a place for the Sultan’s concubines and contrary to popular beliefs wasn’t some wild place of lust and debauchery instead this is where the families of the imperium lived. The Hall with Fountain and Mosque of the Black Eunuchs can also be visited here.
In the Third Court, you can visit the Audience Chamber, Library of Ahmed III and Dormitory of the Privy Chamber.
Then comes perhaps the most impressive part of the Palace, the Imperial Palace. Here you can see the jewels and weapons and armors assembled by the Ottoman Emperors. The Arife Throne, Topkapi Dagger and the 86 carat Spoon maker’s diamond are the stars of the show.
The fourth Court contains Mecidiye Kiosk, Kiosk of Mustafa Pasha, Tulip Garden, Marble Terrace, Revan Kiosk, Bagdhad Kiosk and the Circumcision Room.
1. Take a ferry trip to Kadiköy
Why is it one of the best places to visit in Istanbul Turkey?
Not only is this the best place to watch the local vendors and people selling and buying the freshest local fruits, vegetables, and spices, to taste local cuisine but also the ferry ride to Kadiköy market is one of the best trips you can do in all of Istanbul. A must-do.
We all have heard the almost cliché like phrase for Istanbul, it’s the connection between both Europe and Asia. It is. Taking a ferry ride from Eminönü in the European side to Kadiköy in the Asian side will be one of the most rewarding journeys you will take in this city filled with monuments, mosques, churches and museums. The ferry ride is about 15 minutes long and from the deck of the ferry you will get the best views of this incredible city. You will get a whole new view of the Topkapi Palace, one which you cannot get from the land. A little further, weather permitting and granted that you have your camera at hand, you will get the Aya Sofya and The Blue Mosque in a single frame. If you are an avid reader of socio-politics and history, that juxtaposition of those two monuments, the reign of Mehmed the Conqueror and Ahmed I, the rise and perhaps the start of decline of the Ottoman Empire will absolutely fascinate you.
Walk along with the port of Kadiköy upon landing. Take in the sights, streets and the bustling energy of the neighborhood. You can see the beautiful Haydarpasa Train Station by the seaside. Join the locals at Bahariye street, which is a perfect place for someone who loves sitting down and watching crowds as the evening passes by. Local cultural programs and opera can be enjoyed at the Süreyya Opera House.
If you happen to visit close to a football match, you may get to see the passionate Fenerbache fans singing and shouting near the stadium.
The best place for foodies who want to try local produce and local food you can visit Kadiköy Market which hosts local bazaars on Tuesdays and Fridays.
The ride to Kadiköy, the energy, crowd, and local experience along with unbeatable food of the Asian side of Istanbul in the vibrant neighborhood of Kadiköy is absolutely one of the best places to visit in Istanbul Turkey.
Special mention for families with young ones that are looking to have a fun and adventure-filled time in Turkey.
I began writing the first drafts of this blog during my visit to Istanbul. I had my entire family with me and as I sat down in the evening to jot down notes for places I had visited, my young nieces and 10 year old nephew would be by my side. As a testament to my stupidity, I was surprised to find out that the kids didn’t really enjoy their visits to Istanbul’s historical and religious places as much as I did! A few days later, we travelled to a place where the kids simply refused to leave when our holiday was up. But mind you, it’s nit just for the kids. I as an adult, enjoyed the place even more than the kids.
Take a Vacation of your lifetime to Land of Legends, Antalya
The Land of Legends in Antalya is for people who are looking for a fun-filled, adventurous holiday trip with their families with kids. This is not to say that this place is just a theme park for kids, far from it. Rixos Hotel Group runs the Land of Legends which incorporates a theme park, shopping avenues, restaurants, pubs and bars. If you are living in one of the hotels run by Rixos Group you get free entry here. You can enjoy, lounge, and have fun while your children have the experience if their lifetime. It’s a true entertainment vacation destination.
You can have a mind-tingling experience at the 5D cinema and revive the kid in you going to the theme park. The “Happy Coaster” in the park reaches speeds upto 115 km/hr and goes as high as 62 meters. It will leave you feeling emotions that are more than happy, like fear and the rush of adrenaline.
If the heat of the Mediterranean is bothering you, the Rixos Land of Legends has just the right adventures that include water. You can get on the Typhoon Coaster that will take you high up at 43 meters and race you down at 86km/hr to the water. How about diving lessons? Or fancy a swim with the Dolphins? Absolutely why not. You can do it all here.
If all of this adrenaline-pumping stuff isn’t for you and you wish to have a more chill time, the establishment offers you Shopping Park Avenues where you can spend your money in one of more than a hundred shops from local Turkish to international brands. When you are tired from all the shopping you can have delicacies from all around the globe in one of several top-notch restaurants nearby.
The Land of Legends comes alive at night. The canal, and the fairy castle at the end of the canal are lit up by jaw-dropping lights and performances by DJs, exhibitions, fun games are aplenty here.
All these facilities included in one place make the Land of Legends in Antalya one of the best places to visit in Istanbul, Turkey 2022.