Istanbul is the only city in the world that stretches into two continents. The main part of the city is located on the southeastern tip of Europe and is separated from its suburbs in Asia by the Bosphorus, the world’s narrowest strait used for international navigation.
Istanbul is rich in heritage and architectural sites as it has been the seat of two empires and the centre of art and science for several hundred years.
Where To Stay In Istanbul?
Sultanahmet is ideal for its proximity to the city’s major attractions such as the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Spice Bazaar, Grand Bazaar, Basilica Cistern etc. They are all within walking distance from most hostels.
I spent five days in Istanbul and called Avrasya Hostel home. It’s situated in the heart of Sultanahmet a few blocks away from major attractions of the city. This is an excellent choice for longer stays, couples or anybody wanting a relaxing time in the city. They also happen to have an excellent breakfast.
Getting To Sultanahmet from Attaturk airport:
All major airlines fly in and out of Istanbul’s Ataturk International Airport (IST). The airport is located on the European side of Istanbul. The cheapest way to reach Sultanahmet would be by Metro and Tram. You will need Turkish Lira coins or lower denomination (TL5 or TL 10) notes.
After exiting the customs area turn right and walk to the end of the terminal and look for signs to the METRO. Go down the elevator or escalator. Once you leave the terminal, turn right and follow the Metro signs along the concourse to the Havalimanı station on the left at the end.
From Istanbul Ataturk Airport (Attaturk Havalimani) take the M1A (Red Line) train to Zeytinburnu which would be the sixth station. Once in Zeytinburnu, exit the metro station and walk 4 blocks towards the tramway. From Zeytinburnu tramway station take the T1 (Blue Line) towards Kabatas an get down at Sultanahmet (15th stop).
Here is a guide to top activities in Istanbul, whether you’re on a budget or not.
#1 Sultanahmet Mosque (Blue Mosque)
Sultanahmet mosque also referred to as Blue Mosque was built in the early 17th century during the rule of Sultan Ahmed I. It is called the blue mosque because of the blue-green colour reflected by the cobalt tiles. It is one of the prominent mosques in Istanbul. Sultanahmet mosque is the only mosque in the world with six minarets. The mosque has three parts: The outer courtyard, the inner courtyard and the domed central building. The central dome is surrounded by smaller domes which creates a wave effect as they decrease in size and height from the centre.
Cost: Entrance is free
#2 Topkapi Palace
Topkapi Palace is the most extensive monument in Turkish Civil Architecture. It is a complex of courts, pavilions, mosques and fountains. The palace was composed of two parts, Enderun and Birun. The Enderun was the private residence of Sultan Mehmet, the conqueror who conquered the city in 1453. The Birun housed the government, the administration and services related to the Palace.
The museum in the complex houses Islamic relics like books, jewellery, weapons, manuscripts and garment collections.
Cost: 40 TL to enter the Topkapi palace museum | 25TL to visit Harlem and Halberdiers |
Topkapi Museum Palace could be visited using the Museum Pass.
#3 Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia in Greek means “Divine Wisdom”. It was built in 537 AD as Greek Orthodox Church. It was converted to Ottoman mosque in 1453 by Sultan Mehmet II on conquering the city and was then secularised and opened as a museum in 1935. Hagia Sophia is popular for its massive dome, it is considered the epitome of Byzantine architecture, and is said to have “changed the history of architecture”. It remained the world’s largest cathedral for nearly a thousand years.
Cost: 45 TL Per Person.
Hagia Sophia could be visited using the Museum Pass.
#4 Süleymaniye Mosque
Süleymaniye Mosque was built during the reign of Sultan Suleyman 1 in 1550-1557. It stands on one of the seven hills of Istanbul. It consists of an outer courtyard, an inner courtyard and a prayer room with a dome. The outer courtyard is surrounded by buildings which once served as the academy, hospital and baths.
Cost: Entrance is free
#5 Galata Tower
Galata Tower is also called the “Great Bastion” by the Byzantines and the “Jesus Tower” by the Genoese. The first foundation of the tower was laid in 528 AD. The tower was built in 1348. It rises 140 meters above the Golden Horn. The tower offers a magnificent view of Istanbul from its balcony.
Cost: 18.5 TL Per Person
#6 Basilica Cistern
Basilica Cistern is the grandest and the most impressive one of its kind. This spectacular underground cistern is an exquisite piece of Byzantine engineering. It was once used for bringing drinking water with aqueducts from current Bulgaria to Istanbul.
Cost: 20 TL Per Person.
#7 Spice Market
Also known as Egyptian Bazaar, the domed “L” shaped market have an oriental aura. The market is vibrant with rich aromas and colours. Those who have an affinity for food and spices could spend a whole day here, lost among the mixture of odours coming from shops selling everything from the finest pastirma, cheese and olives to linden tea, coconuts and variety of spices and herbs.
The market acquired its name due to the arrival of goods from Arab countries, India and the Far East by a special boat via Egypt.
#8 Grand Bazar
Grand Bazar as the name suggests is the biggest market in Istanbul. The domed building has over 5000 stores spread out in a giant labyrinth of small streets and passages which are arranged according to their trades; antiques, rugs, gold, silver, leather etc.
#9 Istiklal Street
Istiklal Street is the most famous Avenue in Istanbul. It is a 1.4 kilometres long elegant pedestrian street. Istiklal Street houses boutiques, music stores, cafes, pubs, nightclubs historical patisseries and restaurants. The avenue is located in the historic Beyoglu (Pera) district. It starts from Taksim square press through Galatasaray and then runs until Tunnel.