September 28, 2023

Istanbul: top 10 attractions

I am thinking today of one of my favourite cities – it is almost two years since I visited Turkey and I have written a lot about Istanbul here in the past. Istanbul is also the European Capital of Culture for 2010 – so I decided to write again about the city before the year is over.

Here then is a list of my (and the world’s, I guess – not surprises here, really) top attractions in Istanbul (in no particular order) with images and links to older posts.

~ Topkapi Palace – not really among my favourites but for the gorgeous views of the Bosphorus from several places inside the palace complex. I guess growing up on a steady diet of opulent palaces and forts in India has spoilt me for palace-spotting anywhere else in the world. Worth a visit, however, especially the Harem Tour.


~ Blue Mosque – Istanbul’s most-recognized landmark, the Blue Mosque, also known as the Sultanahmet mosque dates back to the early 17th century. The mosque welcomes all visitors during non prayer hours and is a place of deep peace and quiet.

Prayer Buzz

~ Hagia Sofia – ah, now we are talking! The Hagia Sofia or the Aya Sofya was once a church, and then a mosque and is now a museum of sorts – a powerful symbol of the secular values that Turkey claims to hold dear. The Aya Sofya carries memories of all its earlier avatars and is a must-visit.

Inside Hagia Sophia

~ Basilica Cistern – located unobtrusively opposite the palace, the underground water cistern, also known as Yerebatan Sarayi is easy to miss. Definitely take time out to visit this – and not just because a scene from the Bond flick ‘From Russia with Love’ was shot here.

Water underground

~ Istiklal Cadessi – which houses all the major international brands and loads of local delights in the side-lanes. And also to watch, and perhaps ride in, the antique tram that traverses the narrow stretch of road filled with shoppers, both locals and visitors. And at the end of the street, the Galata Tower from the top of which the entire city is said to be visible.

~ Cafe 360 – And somewhere towards the end, on the top floor of an old, decrepit building, the Cafe 360 that offers stunning views of the city. Book a table on the terrace in advance to get the best out of this experience.

~ Bosphorous cruise – get on to a boat on the Bosphorus for a wonderful cruise that takes you past quaint fishing villages and prosperous settlements on either side. Or take a smaller boat and cross the river to the Asian side for a glimpse into how the other half in Istanbul lives.

Ortakoy morning

~ Whirling dervishes – call this touristy or whatever you wish but this was, for me, an experience of a lifetime. I watched the whirling dervish ritual at the Cemberlitas Pres Museum, just down the road from Sultanahmet Square, but I am told that the best place to watch it is the ancient Sirkeci railway station.


~ Grand Bazaar – along with the adjoining spice bazaar, the best place to fully take in the sights, smells and sounds of Istanbul. You can easily spend a whole day here just browsing through the shops and watching the vendors at their wheedling, bargaining best.

Inside the grand bazaar

~ Ortokoy weekend – and finally, my favourite experience of all, a Sunday morning spent at Ortokoy by the Bosphorus. Watching locals in their weekend best, couples walking hand in hand, fishermen talking their own secret language, street vendors offering irresistible temptations, hot chocolate in a street-side cafe and antiques at the weekend market. A perfect way to spend a Sunday morning.

Delight comes in several flavors

Have you visited Istanbul? What are your personal favourites?

Also read: Turkish delights – on the Istanbul experience

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