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A majestic and alluring city straddling two continents, Istanbul has a long and fascinating history. But it is also a dynamic and exciting place. With a diverse crowd, the cultural scene explodes. And the food is certainly worth exploring.
Whether it’s strolling through one of the city’s many art galleries, picking up trinkets at the Grand Bazaar, or enjoying freshly prepared street food, read on to find out why Istanbul deserves a spot. items on your to-do list.
Immerse yourself in the culture
A cultural melting pot, Istanbul is steeped in history and no visit to this ancient city would be complete without visiting some of its many museums, art galleries, heritage sites and mosques.
Istanbul is home to many talented and up-and-coming designers and artists inspired by the city. Modern Istanbul is the place to head to the works of contemporary Turkish artists. And for emerging talent, explore the small galleries and modern art spaces of Karakoy, Galata and Cukurcuma.
The big names are based in Nisantasi, a modern European quarter. But here you will also find galleries showcasing classic Turkish painters, stylish designer boutiques, international shops and chic restaurants.
There is a fabulous calendar of art-related festivals and events, also. Watch out for the prestigious Istanbul Biennial and the city’s main art fair, Contemporary Istanbul.
History & Architecture
Istanbul has a distinctive skyline and four districts of the city have been added to the UNESCO World Heritage List. the old City is the ideal place to stroll and discover the many historical sites. the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, with its six minarets, is a landmark of the city – it is also known as the Blue Mosque. And the Ayasofya is easily recognizable with its vast dome and colorful marble columns.
Marvel at 15th-century Ottoman grandeur Topkapi Palace or enjoy a 360 degree view from the Galata Tower. It was once the tallest building in Constantinople. For an underground view of the city, descend the 52 steps to the 6th century Basilica cistern.
Archeology & museums
There are more than 80 museums in Istanbul. Admire centuries-old collections Ottoman palaces along the Bosphorus. Or explore the history of transport, industry and communications on the Golden Horn. Highlights also include the three sites and the beautiful garden that make up the Istanbul Archaeological Museums. And the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museumwhere you will find fantastic examples of Islamic calligraphy, tiles and carpets.
There are many other museums across the city, showcasing everything from mosaics to toys. Their diversity reflects the eclectic character of Istanbul.
Treat yourself to retail therapy
Istanbul has an allure that has been attracting shoppers for centuries. And from traditional covered bazaars to designer boutiques and high-end malls, it’s just as popular today.
No trip to Istanbul is complete without experiencing the smells, sounds and colors of the Grand Bazaar. Dating back to the 15th century, it is the largest and oldest covered market in the world. With over 4,000 shops, you can buy everything from handcrafted jewelry to hammam supplies.
The scent of egyptian bazaar is unmistakable. Follow your nose for freshly brewed coffee and heaps of multicolored herbs and spices. And don’t forget to try the dried fruit – Turkey is the biggest producer in the world and there’s plenty to choose from.
Treasure hunters should head to Cukurcuma district, which is home to around 150 antique dealers. Here you can chat with friendly shopkeepers and buy vintage toys or Ottoman-style jewelry and accessories.
High-end shopping centers
Istanbul has a staggering 120 shopping malls. They are all equipped with air conditioning, parking spaces and disabled facilities. It’s a shopper’s paradise, with luxury brands, clothing, jewelry and electronics, often at great prices.
With food courts and entertainment options including theme parks, children’s attractions and cinemas, the malls are a day out in themselves. Optimum Outlet Shopping Center has an ice rink, Istanbul Forum houses the Istanbul Marine Life Aquarium and the Istanbul Mall has its own hotel.
Taksim is Istanbul’s most cosmopolitan address, and on Istiklal Street you will find many great brands. There are also pretty neoclassical arcades with a variety of independent shops. Browse everything from vintage clothing to handmade ceramics.
One of the most elegant neighborhoods in the city, Nisantasi, combines luxury and authenticity. Explore fashion houses, art galleries and the city’s most exclusive shopping avenue, Abdi Ipekci Street. It is the spot for international luxury brands.
Avenue Bagdat is the main shopping street on the Asian side of the city. Here you will find well-known fashion brands, restaurants and cafes. Plus, the bars and pubs make it a lively place in the evening too.
feed your soul
Turkish cuisine is not just about kebabs and baklavas, however popular these specialties are. The country has an immense gastronomic heritage influenced by the meeting of two continents. And Istanbul is the crucible.
Today in Istanbul, many gourmet restaurants are inspired by the city’s heritage. They offer new versions of traditional recipes on their tasting menus. Expect unexpected flavor combinations like melon and lamb, yogurt in soups and sour cherries in stuffed grape leaves.
Follow your flair for the city’s favorite street food – roasted chestnuts or chickpeas in the winter, corn in the summer. And be sure to try the brightly colored pickles, served on street corners with heaps of rice and chickpeas. Simit (sesame bread) and all kinds of pastries are also excellent on the go. Or sample specialty mussels – fried or stuffed.
Esnaf lokantalari – or workers’ meal – is a centuries-old Turkish tradition. These places have been set up to serve lunch to local workers and prepare dozens of home-cooked meals daily. Try savory soups, stuffed vegetables and rich stews served with buttered rice or earthy bulgur.
Another age-old institution is the muhallebiciler, or pudding shop. Traditionally these served milk puddings, but today you can buy chicken soup, rice pilaf or puff pastry boreks. And, of course, the tea is always good.
Confectionery also occupies an important place in the culinary history of Turkey. Ottoman akide sekeri (handmade rock sweets) were invented in the 16th century and come in a rainbow of colors and flavors. The traditional sorbet – a refreshing drink made from fruit and flower petals – is a must. And you will find Turkish delights in every bazaar and tourist shop.
take me there
If you’re eager to explore the sights, sounds and smells of Istanbul, you’ll be pleased to know that you don’t need an entry visa. But you need Fill in this form no more than 72 hours before travel. Be sure to check out our latest offers and double-check all entry requirements with our live COVID-19 travel map before booking.