Istanbul is one of the world’s great cities, period. For millennia, this point where Europe meets Asia has been the crossroads of civilization. Few places on earth have seen more history than this sprawling metropolis on the Bosphorus. Once called Byzantium, then Constantinople, Istanbul boasts the opulent trappings of an epic past — from the Byzantine emperors and the Ottoman sultans of distant ages, to the modern Republic-builders and “Eurocrats” of our own time. And, as the biggest city of a moderate Muslim nation, Istanbul also offers the inquisitive traveler a unique opportunity to grapple with the rich and inspiring Islamic faith: Hear the eerie wail of the call to prayer echo across the rooftops, poke into a neighborhood mosque, and watch a dervish whirl in prayer. Set sail on the Golden Horn, and take in a spine-tingling skyline bristling with minarets.
At a Glance
▲▲▲ Hagia Sophia Constantinople’s Great Church, later converted to an Ottoman mosque, and now a museum.
▲▲▲ Blue Mosque Ahmet I’s 17th-century “so there!” response to Hagia Sophia, named for its brightly colored tiles.
▲▲▲ Topkapı Palace Storied residence of the sultans, with endless museum exhibits, astonishing artifacts, and the famous Harem.
▲▲▲ Grand Bazaar World’s oldest shopping mall, with more than 4,000 playfully pushy merchants.
▲▲▲ Mosque of Süleyman the Magnificent The architect Sinan’s 16th-century masterpiece, known for its serene interior and the tombs of Süleyman and his wife, Roxelana.
▲▲▲ Bosphorus Cruise Public ferry ride on the Bosphorus Strait, offering a glimpse of untouristy Istanbul (and an Asian adventure).
▲▲▲ İstiklal Street Cosmopolitan pedestrian-only street in the New District, teeming with shops, eateries, and people.
▲▲ Underground Cistern Vast sixth-century subterranean water reservoir built with recycled Roman columns.
▲▲ Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum Carpets, calligraphy, ceramics, and other traditional arts on display at the former İbrahim Paşa Palace.
▲▲ Istanbul Archaeological Museum Complex covering Istanbul’s ancient civilizations, including sumptuous tiles and highly decorated sarcophagi.
▲▲ Spice Market Fragrant and colorful spices, dried fruit, and roasted nuts inside a 350-year-old market hall.
▲▲ Galata Bridge Restaurant-lined bridge spanning the Golden Horn, bristling with fishermen’s poles and offering sweeping views of the Old Town.
▲▲ Chora Church Modest church on the edge of the Old Town with some of the best Byzantine mosaics in captivity.
▲▲ Galata Tower 14th-century stone Genoese tower with the city’s best views.
▲ Hippodrome Roman chariot racetrack-turned-square, linking Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque.
▲ Gülhane Park Former imperial rose garden, now a grassy park.
▲ Rüstem Paşa Mosque Small 16th-century mosque of Süleyman’s Grand Vizier with extravagant tile decor.
▲ Taksim Square Gateway to the pedestrianized İstiklal Street, and heart of Istanbul’s New District.
▲ Pera Museum Compact New District collection of world-class Oriental paintings, Anatolian weights and measures, and Kütahya tiles.
▲ Galata Dervish Monastery Meeting place for dervishes, who whirl here once a week.
▲ Dolmabahçe Palace Opulent 19th-century European-style home of the sultans, accessible only by guided tour.