Note, some of the main historical attractions are only open on certain days of the week. Many are open from Tuesday through Sunday and are closed Mondays. The following attractions were visited by Dave in January 2004.
Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii) was constructed in the early 1600′s. Admission is free but donations are accepted. Because this is such a heavily visited tourist destination tourists are only allowed to enter from one of the main side doors (instead of through the main door). This is one of Istanbul’s most recognizable buildings from the outside. The Blue Mosques huge dome and tall spires can be seen from all over Istanbul. The name of this Mosque is taken from the many blue tiles that line the walls. Huge pillars support the inside of this mosque. This mosque is located directly across from the Hagia Sofia.
Dolmabahce Palace in Besiktas costs $8 for the escorted tour. If you plan on using your camera inside the palace expect to pay another $7 and you will be given a special ticket for this privilege. Note, you are required to wear green plastic booties over your shoes – this helps preserve the rugs and other walkways in the palace. This palace sits on the European side of Istanbul right next to the water. It was built in the mid 1850′s as a home to some of the last Sultans. Mustafa Kemal Attaturk (the Father of the Turks) died here in 1938. This is a guided tour among very elaborately furnished rooms, hamams, and the Throne room. The Throne room is an immense room which is where you end your tour. Note the huge chandelier hanging in this room. When this room was used for ceremonies and important gathering, It took 3 days to fully heat the room before it was ready for use.
Clock Museum is located on the grounds of this palace and you usually receive a free admission ticket to this museum with your main entrance fee. Visit: www.dolmabahcepalace.com
Hagia Sofia is located in the historical section of Istanbul called Sultanahmet, is simply one of the most amazing buildings in the world. Its breathtaking because it is such an old building but also in the way that it has been constructed.
It is an immense dome supported only by the walls that surround it. There are no visible columnar structures like in the neighboring Blue Mosque (the dome actually rests on huge pillars hidden inside the walls). Construction on the The Hagia Sofia was completed in the year 537 by the emperor Justinian as a Church, but was later converted to a Mosque in the year 1453.
Kemal Attaturk in 1935 converted it into a historic museum. Walking in this building is like walking into a building unlike any building you’ve been in before. The doors are 4x the height of a person. There are huge marble columns supporting small side rooms. The main dome towers many feet
above you and you will see the sun shining through high up stained glass windows. In early 2004 restoration was being undertaken on the main dome and a series of steel girders and trestles were in place from the floor to the ceiling.
One advantage of visiting the Hagia Sofia in the wintertime is that there are very few visitors. This is in vast contrast to the summer when you may not even get into his building because the crowds are so big. When I was there in January, there were very few people in this building and because its such a large building, you hardly notice the presence of the other visitors.
Be sure to walk up to the second floor. A sloped ramp instead of stairs leads to the second floor; this ramp is very medieval looking. Restoration of the ceiling on the second floor has already been done, and you can clearly see a difference in brilliance of the restored art work. Admission is $10.
Istanbul Archeology Museum is often missed by tourists and is under visited for the treasures it holds. Admission is about $4. This museum is located just down the hill from the Topkapi palace well within walking distance and is composed of several buildings situated on the side of a hill. The main buildings hold the best treasures. You enter the doors of the main museum by climbing up about 20 marble steps and then entering through 4 very tall columns. A great collection of Greek and Roman antiquities including many well preserved marble statues are contained within this building. (the only defects to these statues is that many of the noses on the faces are chipped or broken off entirely) Be sure to view the Sarcophagi from the city of Lebanon. These huge stone tombs are extremely detailed and well preserved. This is one of the main highlights of this museum.
Topkapi Palace is well worth visiting and you need at least a full day to visit. This palace was home to Ottaman sultans for many centuries and is the main attraction in Istanbul. This palace was built in the mid 1400′s. Admission is separated out into three main areas, the main palace, the Harem, and the Treasury. All of these sections are well worth seeing; the downside is that it costs $10 to get into each section. If you are a student and have a student card, discounts apply.
The main palace is a collection of courts, kitchens, and a variety of special rooms all surrounding garden courtyards and open spaces. Many historical government items are on display including clothing, weaponry, paintings, silverware and porcelain. Archeology exhibits also rotate.
The Harem is quite interesting – tours are guided here. Over three hundred rooms exist in the Harem and your tour will only touch on a small number of these. Some of the walls are exquisitely painted and or laid in beautiful tile. You will see the main greeting rooms and the private rooms all on the first level.
The treasury is well worth your visit. An amazing collection of gold, silver and gemstones are on display. The highlight of the treasury is an 86 carat diamond which is surrounded by many other smaller stones. A 7 pound uncut emerald is also worth seeing as are the incredible displays of golden crowns. Visit: www.topkapisarayi.gov.tr/eng
The Grand Bazaar is a collection of over 4500 shops – with this many shops located in one area its quite easy to get lost (part of the fun of shopping in The Grand Bazaar). The main walkways of this Bazaar tend to be a little more touristy than the side roads and as a result the prices are a little higher. Try to walk down some of the less visited back alleys for an authentic Grand Bazaar experience. Bargaining is accepted here unless the shops say “fixed price”. Jewelry, carpets, Turkish Nargile (water smoking pipes), Turkish antiquities, clothing, kitchen items, and most anything you can think of are sold here. Be very very careful with your money, purse, wallet, camera or any other valuable you are carrying here. I have heard several stories from friends who have had their valuables stolen here. Some of the vendors can also become verbally aggressive with trying to sell you their wares. If you are interested in something, shop around for it and remember, always bargain.
Photos of the Grand Bazaar: www.world-city-photos.org/Istanbul/photos/Istanbul_Grand_Bazaar
More info: www.turkeytravelplanner.com/go/Istanbul/Sights/Beyazit/GrandBazaar.html
Maiden Tower is one of the smaller less visited highlights of Istanbul. It is located in the Sea of Marmara on a very small Island just off the coast of the Anatolian side of Istanbul. Its amazing to think when you are standing on this island that the original tower was built here in 600BC – thats over 2600 years ago! This is a popular romantic getaway for Turkish lovers. The current tower contains a restaurant and a bar. A free non alcoholic drink at the bar is included with the price of a ticket. Boats depart from the Anatolian side of Istanbul. You can hike up to the walkway on the top of the tower for great views of Istanbul.
Hidiv Kasri is a large building that sits on a hill. Its worth visiting not only for the neat interior halls of this building, but also for the great views of Istanbul across the water. There are three main halls, the Marble Hall, the Konkav Hall, and the Crystal Hall. Each contains fountains, carved marble and other artwork.
A nargile smoking restaurant is available outside of the main building. Nargile pipe smoking is becoming more and more popular in Turkey and is a form of ‘water smoking’. There are many different types of flavors you can smoke – these flavors are put in the bowl of the pipe, which leads to hot water – so whenever you inhale you hear a bubbling sound. This restaurant is a good place to meet many young Turkish people. Sometimes live music will be played also; you can request your favorite songs.
Galata Tower is located in the district of Beyoglu and was built in 1348 by Italians. There is an observation deck on top which provides great views of Istanbul. Admission is $3.50. You can also eat dinner here, but have deep pockets. Dinner is a set meal at $80 per person! www.galatatower.net