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The Greeks, Persians, Romans and Ottomans all fought over Istanbul, a city strategically located at the crossroads of continents and at the end of the Silk Road. Today, it is graced with a glut of historic monuments from the Byzantine masterpiece of Hagia Sophia to the glittering Blue Mosque and the opulent Topkapi Palace. Wherever you wander, you’ll be struck by the complexity of its heritage, the vibrancy of its people, and the seamless blend of old and new as shoppers wander between souqs and malls, diners enjoy modern food with ancient roots, and art lovers seek out timeless icons as well as world-class contemporary works. 

Things to see and do in Istanbul

Sultanahmet

Istanbul's Old City, Sultanahmet, is home to the city’s landmark sights. Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque are here, as well as the vibrant Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar, the Suleymaniye Mosque and the Chora (Kariye) Museum, formerly an ancient church. From the secular to the sacred, it’s a beguiling place to explore with magnificent monuments dating from its thousands of years as a hub of trade, power and culture. Wander the narrow, cobbled streets and bustling bazaars, stop for a break in one of the many tea houses, or venture as far as the Golden Horn waterway to observe local life.

Hagia Sophia

Blue MosqueOne of the world’s greatest monuments, the 6th-century Hagia Sophia is Istanbul’s best-known landmark and is hailed as the epitome of Byzantine architecture. It sits on the city’s ancient acropolis and was designed to impress. At the time of its construction it was the world’s largest building, consecrated as an Eastern Orthodox cathedral in 537, converted into an imperial mosque in 1453 and designated a museum in 1935. Byzantine emperors were crowned below its soaring dome and the enormous nave, intricate detailing and glittering mosaic work make it just as impressive today.

Blue Mosque

Six graceful minarets and a cascading blanket of domes give the 17th-century Blue Mosque its graceful form, a dominating element of the Istanbul skyline. Officially known as the Sultanahmet Camii, the mosque is best known for its grand scale and interior decoration where 20,000 blue İznik (decorated ceramic) tiles line the light-filled interior, giving this magnificent monument its unofficial name. The building still functions as a mosque and the huge central prayer space is closed to non-Muslims at prayer times. Approach it from the huge courtyard for the best views and appreciation of its perfect proportions.

Topkapi Palace

The heart of the Ottoman Empire between the 15th and 19th centuries, the Topkapi Palace is a vast and opulent complex of buildings, gardens and courtyards that offers a fascinating glimpse into the lives of the sultans, courtiers and servants who lived here. Along with the private chambers of the sultan and the imperial council chambers, you can see the palace bakery, the 300-room harem, a Byzantine church, the restored palace kitchens, privy chambers and the imperial treasury, all of which are filled with precious objects of the era from robes and weapons to books, manuscripts and furniture.

Grand Bazaar

At the heart of Istanbul’s old city is the Ottoman-era Grand Bazaar, a sprawling, labyrinthine complex of over 4,000 stalls, shops and craft workshops piled high with every spice, fabric, food, clothing and household item imaginable. Wander the narrow laneways flanked by ornate lamps, intricate rugs, pyramids of dried fruit, necklaces and bangles, leather slippers, blankets, textiles and antiques, and you’ll most likely get lost – but it’s all part of the experience. This city within a city also has goldsmiths who can create custom-made items, lots of fresh food stalls, and banks, a post office and even a police station.

Beyond the Old Town

Each of Istanbul’s districts has its own distinct character and exploring beyond the main sights provides a welcome break from the inevitable crowds. Nişantaşi and the area around Istiklal Street are awash with top-end designer stores, art galleries and restaurants. The bohemian area of Çukurcuma is known for its kitsch antique shops, while the narrow alleyways of Karaköy are home to quirky coffee houses and tiny galleries. The Istanbul Modern, on the shores of the Bosphorus, is a haven of contemporary art, and the Sunday market at Ortaköy, almost beneath the Bosphorus Bridge, makes a great alternative to the Grand Bazaar, offering authentic products in a less touristy setting.

Best time to visit Istanbul

Istanbul can be visited year-round; mid-July to mid-September is the most popular time to arrive, but during these months it’s hot and humid, peak prices apply and higher visitor numbers mean longer lines to see the landmark sights. Our top tip is to visit between April and May or mid-September to mid-November when temperatures are more pleasant and there are fewer visitors.

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Start planning your tailor-made trip to Istanbul by contacting one of our Turkey specialists

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Suggested itineraries featuring Istanbul

Our itineraries will give you suggestions for what is possible when you travel in Istanbul, and they showcase routes we know work particularly well. Treat them as inspiration, because your trip will be created uniquely by one of our specialists.

Map of Istanbul

Places & hotels on the map

    Places near Istanbul

    Our expert guides to exploring Istanbul

    Written by our specialists from their own experiences of visiting Istanbul, these guides will help you make the most of your time there. We share both our practical recommendations and the best ways to appreciate Istanbul at its best.

    Accommodation choices for Istanbul

    We’ve selected a range of accommodation options for when you visit Istanbul. Our choices usually come recommended for their character, facilities and service or location. Our specialists always aim to suggest properties that match your preferences.

    • Pera Palace Hotel , Istanbul

      Pera Palace Hotel

      First Class

      Pera Palace Hotel Jumeirah is located in the heart of the Beyoglu district, within walking distance of the Bosphorus, Galata Tower and the shopping street of Istiklal

    • Park Hyatt Istanbul, Maçka Palas, Istanbul

      Park Hyatt Istanbul, Maçka Palas

      Deluxe

      Located in a quiet area of Nişantaşi, the Park Hyatt Maçka is close to luxury designer shops and excellent dining options. Its rooms are spacious, beautifully decorated and fitted with all modern amenities.

    • The House Hotel Karaköy, Istanbul

      The House Hotel Karaköy

      First Class

      Situated at the foot of the Camondo Stairs, which lead up to Galata, the The House Hotel Karaköy is within an old bank. All its rooms have vintage decor, high ceilings and modern amenities.

    • Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at the Bosphorus, Istanbul

      Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at the Bosphorus

      Opulent

      The Four Seasons is set in an old Ottoman Palace, located on the shores of the Bosphorus. Its rooms are large and elegantly decorated, with the highest levels of comfort.

    • Shangri-La Bosphorus, Istanbul

      Shangri-La Bosphorus

      Deluxe

      Rooms at the Shangri-La Bosphorus are spacious and the public areas are highly attractive, with flower displays sending an enticing aroma through the hotel.

    • Titanic City Hotel, Istanbul

      Titanic City Taksim

      Medium

      Ideally located for exploring Istiklal Street, Istanbul's Titanic City Taksim has comfortable rooms, a spa, swimming pool and a restaurant with a choice of a buffet or a la carte menu.

    • Ciragan Palace Kempinski, Istanbul

      Ciragan Palace Kempinski

      Opulent

      The Ciragan Palace was once the summer palace of the sultans, lavishly decorated and in prime position on the shores of the Bosphorus. Today, the palace and adjacent building house this top-level luxury Kempinski hotel.

    • Hotel Sultanhan

      Hotel Sultanhan

      Medium

      Close to the Grand Bazaar, Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace, the Hotel Sultanhan is ideally located for exploring the winding alleys that surround these ancient sites in the Old City.

    • Levni Hotel, Istanbul

      Levni Hotel

      Medium

      Situated in the heart of the Old City, close to Topkapi Palace, the Levni Hotel is ideally located for sightseeing during the day or finding local restaurants in the evening.

    • The Ritz Carlton, Istanbul

      The Ritz Carlton

      Deluxe

      The Ritz Carlton sits on the hillside close to Taksim Square with views out across the Bosphorus. Inside it's beautifully decorated with classic Turkish decor in a red and gold theme.

    Ideas for experiencing Istanbul

    Our specialists seek out authentic ways to get to know the places that could feature in your trip. These activities reflect some of the experiences they've most enjoyed while visiting Istanbul, and which use the best local guides.

    • Dolmabahce Palace seen from the Bosphorus, Istanbul

      Bosphorus cruise

      Istanbul

      Starting from the marina just in front of the Spice Market, your cruise will take you out onto the Bosphorus to view many of Istanbul's different architectural styles.

    • Blue Mosque interior, Istanbul

      Blue Mosque guided tour

      Istanbul

      Take a guided tour of the Blue Mosque, perhaps the most photographed site in Istanbul with its distinctive shape dominating the Sultanahmet skyline.

    • Suleymaniye Mosque

      Guided tour of Suleymaniye Mosque

      Istanbul

      This excursion will take you to the Suleymaniye Mosque, which dominates Istanbul's skyline, to see its Iznik tiles, mother of pearl inlays and stained glass windows.

    • Topkapi Palace

      Trip to the Topkapi Palace

      Istanbul

      Learn about life in the imperial household of the Ottoman sultans with this guided excursion of the Topkapi Palace’s buildings and Treasury.

    • The Grand Bazaar, Istanbul

      Tour of the Grand Bazaar

      Istanbul

      This privately guided tour will take you beneath the domed roof of the Grand Bazaar to explore its labyrinthine alleys and stalls.

    • Dolmabahce Palace

      Shared tour of Dolmabahce Palace

      Istanbul

      Take a guided tour of the interior of the Dolmabahce Palace, which is sumptuously decorated from floor to ceiling with gold and crystal.

    • Basilica Cistern

      Private tour of the Basilica Cistern

      Istanbul

      Visit the Basilica Cistern’s underground cavern. Descending beneath the streets, you’ll be met with the sight of hundreds of columns rising from the waters, with towering, arched brick ceilings overhead.

    • The Spice Market, Istanbul

      Spice Market tour

      Istanbul

      Experience the smells and sounds of the Spice Market with this guided tour through its narrow streets and stalls selling herbs and spices, Turkish delight, tea and other delicacies.