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Istanbul, the city that spans two continents, is a fascinating mix of cultures, history, and modernity. The former capital of the Ottoman Empire is now Turkey’s largest city and an important hub for trade, tourism, and culture.
Here are five things you can’t miss on your visit.
5. Have a Spa Day at a Turkish Bath
Hammams are traditional Turkish baths that have been around for centuries. They offer a unique spa experience where you can relax in hot steam rooms, get a scrub down, and a massage. Don’t expect this to be a relaxing scrub/massage. It’s more akin to waterboarding than calming with water dumped over you while you’re thrown against a hot stone base. There are about 60 active hammams in Istanbul and some date back to the 1500s. Hurrem Sultan Hammam is one of the oldest and most opulent.
Can’t Miss: Get the scrub. It’s an experience and one you’ll be glad you did once you feel how soft your skin becomes.
Address: Cankurtaran, Ayasofya Meydanı No:2, 34122 Fatih/İstanbul, Türkiye
4. Explore the Basilica Cistern
The ancient underground water reservoir, known as the Basilica Cistern, was built in the 6th century and was used to supply water to the city for centuries. It’s now open to visitors, and you can walk along the raised platforms while marveling at the columns and the water reflections.
Can’t Miss: If you’ve read Dan Brown’s Inferno, you’ll want to find the Medusa heads that anchor the columns in the northwestern corner.
Address: Alemdar, Yerebatan Cd. 1/3, 34110 Fatih/İstanbul, Türkiye
3. Visit the Blue Mosque
Also known as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, the Blue Mosque is one of the most famous landmarks in Istanbul. Its six minarets and intricate blue tiles make it a must-visit destination. Note that the mosque is closed to visitors during prayer times, so plan accordingly.
Can’t Miss: Look for the tomb of Sultan Ahmed. He was buried in the courtyard in 1617.
Address: Binbirdirek, At Meydanı Cd No:10, 34122 Fatih/İstanbul, Türkiye
2. Wander through the Grand Bazaar
I’m a sucker for any market. The Grand Bazaar is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, with over 4,000 shops selling everything from spices to jewelry to textiles. It’s a sensory overload, but also a great place to pick up souvenirs and haggle with the locals.
Can’t Miss: Pick up some Turkish sweets, ceramics, or even a rug at this enormous marketplace.
Address: Beyazıt, 34126 Fatih/İstanbul, Türkiye
1. Visit the Hagia Sophia
The ancient cathedral, known as Hagia Sophia, was built by the Byzantine emperor Justinian I in the 6th century and converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest in the 15th century. Now it is a museum and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and you can marvel at its magnificent architecture and stunning mosaics.
Can’t Miss: Wander what was once the largest cathedral in Christendom for a quiet break from the busy city.
Address: Sultan Ahmet, Ayasofya Meydanı No:1, 34122 Fatih/İstanbul, Türkiye
Istanbul is a city that offers something for everyone, from ancient history to modern nightlife. These top things to do are just a starting point, and you’ll discover many more hidden gems as you explore this fascinating city.
Bonus Hotel Pick: The W Istanbul is located in the center of Istanbul’s historic Akaretler Row Houses. Blending contemporary style with the city’s rich cultural heritage, the hotel offers a unique and sophisticated experience for travelers seeking both comfort and adventure. Each of the hotel’s rooms and suites is elegantly appointed and its restaurants and bars offer a diverse range of international cuisine. With its prime location near some of Istanbul’s most iconic landmarks, including the Bosphorus Bridge and Taksim Square, the W Istanbul is the perfect base for exploring this vibrant and dynamic city.
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