Out & About in Istanbul

Out & About in Istanbul

Most people rave about Paris, Amsterdam, London, and New York. And don’t get me wrong – I absolutely love those cities too. But I’ve said it once before, and I’ll say it again – I’m madly in love with Istanbul. It’s probably one of my favorite urban destinations in the world to date, if not my favorite. The streets of Istanbul are flooded with history, and it seems that every corner houses a site of historical or religious significance.

As the only city that sits on both the Asian and European continents, Istanbul has played a critical role in empires past. From the Romans and the Byzantines to the Latins and the Ottomans, Istanbul was once the capital city of them all.

As a result, Istanbul has transformed from a Christian city to a secular one although the majority of the Turkish population are followers of Islam. With the sound of the azan, or the Islamic call to prayer, blaring from mosque minarets five times each day, the entire city pauses in reverence and in remembrance of God.

As our taxi made its way from the airport to our hotel in Sultanahmet, we noticed that pedestrians suddenly came to a standstill, our taxi and the cars around us halted in spite of green lights, and our cab driver turned down the radio. We didn’t know what was going on until we too quieted down and the azan came within earshot. It was a powerful experience, and though I’m not Muslim, I looked forward to the azan and was even glad to hear it in the wee hours of the morning while lying in bed, enveloped by darkness.

Another thing I love about Istanbul is its people. The Turkish people in general are so warm and hospitable, and so were Istanbulers, without exception.

And then there’s the food, but if I get started on that I’ll just keep going on and on. So what I really want to focus on in this post are Istanbul sites, most of which are within walking distance of Sultanahmet or easily accessible via tram or bus if staying in other parts of the city. In my opinion, these are the sites you shouldn’t miss when visiting my love, my city, my Istanbul…

Basilica Cistern

Basilica Cistern or Yerebatan Sarayı (the “Sunken Palace”) is a giant underground well that once provided a water filtration system for the Great Palace of Constantinople and other nearby buildings including the Topkapi Palace. You may recognize it from the 1963 James Bond flick, “From Russia with Love.”

Dolmabaçhe Palace

Functioning as the main administrative center of the Ottoman Empire from 1856 to 1922, this palace was built over 13 years beginning in 1843. Founder of the Turkish Republic, Kemal Atatürk, died in the palace in 1938 during a visit to Istanbul. This is probably the most opulent palace I’ve ever been in and it even features a 4.5 ton chandelier in its Ceremonial Hall. The Turkish police stand at the ready with machine guns, and a military unit is also on hand at all times. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take pictures inside of the palace.


Once a district of Istanbul, Byzantium was built on Eminönü. Not to be missed in Eminönü: the Galata Bridge, the ferry dock where you can purchase tickets for a ride across the Bosphorus and Marmara Sea to the Asian side of Istanbul, or the rocking boats that make the most scrumptious fish sandwiches I’ve ever eaten.

Ferry to the Asian side
Galata Tower


Hodjapasha Cultural Center

Turkish Dance Night at the Hodjapasha Cultural Center is an event not to be missed with live music and dances from different Anatolian regions. The show takes place in an old, restored hamam, and complimentary beverages and Turkish Delight service is available during the 15 minute intermission.


Spice Bazaar

Also known as the Egyptian Bazaar due to the fact that during the Ottoman rule, many spices were imported through Egypt, the Spice Bazaar is the second largest covered shopping complex in Istanbul and it still holds the title as the center of the city’s spice trade.


Grand Bazaar

At this bazaar – the largest covered market in Turkey – you can find carpets, clothes, and everything in between! Shop with the locals, put on your poker face, and bargain for some unique souvenirs and keepsakes.



Blue Mosque

This mosque was built from 1609-1616 and is located on the site of the palace of the Byzantine emperors. The Blue Mosque gets its nickname from the color of the interior tiles that are mostly found on the mosque’s upper level. In addition to serving as a house of worship, the Blue Mosque houses a school, a hospice, and the tomb of Ahmed I, the mosque’s founder.



Hagia Sofia

Ayasofya, also known as Hagia Sofia or the Church of the Divine Wisdom was once an Orthodox patriarchal basilica that served as Constantinople’s cathedral, but it’s now used as a museum.

In 1453, Mehmet the Conqueror declared the church a mosque not long after conquering the city from the Byzantines. The 30 million gold mosaic tiles in the interior are being restored so that they’ll be as brilliant as they were 1500 years ago. But they were pretty freaking brilliant when we visited. I literally gasped when we walked through the doors and saw this…


Topkapi Palace Museum

The Topkapi Palace was the official and main Istanbul residence of the Ottoman sultans from 1465-1856 for nearly 400 of their 624-year reign. This UNESCO World Heritage site served as a venue for official occasions and royal entertainment, and it houses the most holy relics of the Islamic faith including the Prophet Muhammed’s cloak and sword.

This place is huge as it consists of four main courtyards and several smaller buildings, and it also housed a mosque, a hospital, bakeries, and a mint. Towards the end of the 17th century, the Ottoman sultans began spending more time in their new palaces along the coast of the Bosphorus, so Topkapi eventually lost its importance. Now, the palace is a museum that houses great collections of Ottoman artifacts including the biggest diamond I’ve ever seen in my life.



Do you love Istanbul? What are your favorite Istanbul sites?

  • I’m normally not a huge big city gal, but I loved, loved, LOVED Istanbul. I spent nearly a week there and could easily go back and spend more time. I had so much fun exploring all of the neighborhoods and sites (and I certainly missed a few too, and would love to go back for that reason.) Plus, I felt completely safe as a solo female wandering around. My experience there was far better than I could have ever anticipated.

    • Dana Carmel

      I was traveling with a bunch of guys, but we all felt very safe in Istanbul. The next time I go, I want to spend a lot of time exploring the Asian side as well as more of the modern side of the city. Glad you enjoyed your time there!

  • The sights of Istanbul are amazing. You have captured pretty much all of it. Great photos, Dana!

    • Dana Carmel

      I agree – the sites are breathtaking. Thanks, Salika!

  • Totally agree, Dana! Istanbul is a mad beautiful city – I love the mix of old and new. There’s just something mysterious and nostalgic about Istanbul… it speaks to your spirit. Love the photos!

    • Dana Carmel

      I love that, Peggy – “it speaks to your spirit.” So true!

  • Gorgeous photos – I particularly love the Palace ones! Istanbul has never been on my list but I may have to add it now! Great post!

    • Dana Carmel

      Thanks for reading and thanks for your comment. I definitely think that Istanbul should be on every traveler’s list!

  • This is fabulous! Istanbul was on my “travel to” list before, but you definitely just bumped it up a few slots! I love all your photos, they capture the trip just perfectly.

    • Dana Carmel

      Thanks, Jess. I hope you make it to Istanbul soon!

  • Istanbul has always been on the top of my list of places to visit. So much history! I love those pictures of the view across the water.

    • Dana Carmel

      It’s definitely a place that belongs at the top of your list, Jess!

  • I have wanted to visit Istanbul for a long time. All these beautiful pictures and attractions you listed just make me want to go even more. There are so many things about it that appeal to me – the history, architecture, food and of course, all the shopping at the Grand and Spice bazaars.

    • Dana Carmel

      You definitely won’t be disappointed when you go, Mary!

  • Hi Dana,

    Just by seeing your pictures I think I would love Istanbul! It is definitely one of the destinations we want to visit.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Dana Carmel

      You should definitely go! Thanks for reading, Monique.

  • I loved the Topkapi Palace. I was amazed at first glance but it even got better and better the more you saw. Istanbul is one of the most impressive cities I’ve been to.

    • Dana Carmel

      That’s exactly how I feel about the city in general. It just keeps getting better and better at every corner you turn! Thanks for reading!

  • I read that Istanbul is the 6th most visited city in the world. It is also running for host city of the 2020 Olimpics along with Tokyo and Madrid. Sorry can’t read your blog too much these days. I am on the road and have limited connectivity. I saw your earlier post and it looked very interesting. I will return to read your posts more in depth later.

    • Dana Carmel

      I had no idea that Istanbul is in the running for the Olympics. How cool would that be?!

  • My jaw dropped at the pictures from Hagia Sofia, Dana! Wow! I remember watching a reality tv travel around the world cooking competition. They had a stop in Istanbul and said the same thing as you about how wonderful the people were 🙂

    • Dana Carmel

      Absolutely – I found the Turkish people to be some of the most welcoming I’ve ever met!

  • I spent a couple of weeks in Turkey a rather long time ago – seeing these pictures makes me want to go back!

    Cheers – Stewart M – Melbourne

    • Dana Carmel

      You should definitely go back. I want to go back. Next time I want to spend more time along the Turkish coasts.

  • So much to see! I think I’d need at least two weeks to get my fill of Istanbul. I’ve been wanting to go for ages and actually have some family living there. I’m guessing you loved the food 😉 Maybe write a whole separate post about it?!

    Happy travels!

    • Dana Carmel

      How lucky are you to have family in Istanbul?! I wish I had more family living in different parts of the world. Jave has family all over the place, so I guess we’ll have to wear out our welcome visiting them! 😉

  • Some friends were living in Istanbul and had only good things to say. It seems to be a good location to have a long holiday.

    • Dana Carmel

      It’s definitely the perfect place for a long holiday. I’d be interested in staying on the Asian side the next time I’m there.

  • I loved the azan too. Even though I don’t understand Arabic, it sounded poetic. I was surprised though that nobody stopped to pray or reflect on the moment. I see that you had a different experience while you were in the taxi.

    My favourite sight was Topkapi palace. Dolmabahçe palace left instead with a bitter aftertaste: the compulsory tour was too hasty.

    • Dana Carmel

      The tour at Dolmabahçe was rather quick, but at least it was guided. I kind of wish that we had a guide through Topkapi since the place is so massive! Both are the definition of opulence.


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