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What to see and do – a guide to some of the main attractions in Istanbul

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Istanbul is a colorful and historically rich city. As the center point of many former empires, the city is full of historical sites and monuments, most of which can be found in the Old City in the south. Or, to see Istanbul’s modern edge, head to New City to see the skyscrapers and shopping malls.

Alper Tutak

My Destination local expert on

Istanbul

Sultanahmet Square

 

Historically, Saultanahmet Square is the center of Istanbul and has the most historical attractions of any part of the city. The Hagia Sophia is one such attraction; a huge mosque whose structure dates back to the sixth century and was converted into a museum in 1935. A great dome 30 meters in diameter caps the ash-white building and overlooks the Sea of Marmara. Sultanahmet Mosque – or the Blue Mosque – is perhaps the most famous attraction here. With a pattern of domes between three lofty pillars on either side, this building is a feat of engineering and is immediately recognizable.

 

Hamams

 

Stopping by a Turkish Bath is essential to any kind of trip to Istanbul. There are around 60 operational Hamams in the city, where you can experience a way of life that has been passed down over centuries. A soak in the sauna is followed by a scrubbing, which is a very effective way of removing dead skin and any dirt that arises from your freshly-opened pores. Finally, of course, there is a massage, which will leave you feeling clean and relaxed and ready to continue venturing into the city.

 

Golden Horn

 

The Golden Horn district is west of the New City, north of Sultanahmet, and is home to Golden Horn estuary, which is the primary harbor of Istanbul. This picturesque corner of Istanbul is popular for its scenery, especially its parks from where you can sit and watch the golden sunset. The main attraction, however, is the Eyüp Mosque Complex, where you can visit the holiest Islamic shrine in the city. Much of this part still has remnants of daily life in ottoman Istanbul so a visit here is a wholly unique experience.

 

New City

 

The sight of skyscrapers is an indicator that you are near Istanbul’s main business district, New City. As the name suggests, this is the most modern part of the city full shopping malls and traditionally Turkish buildings from the turn of the twentieth century. Just to the east are the banks of Bosphorus, where you’ll find waterfront mansions and palaces, giving the ideal route for a leisurely walk full of photo opportunities.

 

Asian Side

 

The Asian Side marks the eastern part of the city and is centered around the historical districts of Kadıköy and Üsküdar, with the symbolic Maiden’s Tower on an islet just offshore. The coast here is lined with pleasant neighbourhoods with typically Mediterranean narrow and colourful streets. Çamlıca Hill is popular among locals and tourists; as one of the highest hills in the city, it offers far-reaching views of Istanbul from the café at the summit, where there is also a park, which is a perfect retreat from the energy of the city below.