Istanbul is one of the world's great cities, period. For millennia, it's been at the crossroads of civilizations, where Europe meets Asia. Few places on earth have seen more history than this sprawling metropolis on the Bosphorus. Over the centuries, Istanbul served as the capital of two grand empires: the Byzantine (as "Constantinople"), then of the conquering Ottomans. Monuments to those empires still impress: the great church, then mosque, of Hagia Sophia; the gorgeous Blue Mosque; and Topkapı Palace, once the seat of sultans. But today's dynamic city — where fishermen sell sandwiches from bobbing boats, and sturdy trams and ferries carry thousands of people daily — offers more than history lessons. Sample sweets at the busy Spice Market. Pause to hear the call to prayer echoing across rooftops. Inhale apple-flavored smoke from a water pipe, let yourself be mesmerized by whirling dervishes, get cleaner than you've ever been at a Turkish bath. Linger over a seafood feast, then take in a skyline of floodlit minarets.
At a Glance
▲▲▲ Hagia Sophia Constantinople's Great Church, later converted to an Ottoman mosque.
▲▲▲ Blue Mosque Ahmet I's 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.
▲▲ Basilica 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 Museums 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 and New District.
▲▲ Chora Church Modest church outside 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 Orientalist 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.