Istanbul is a living, breathing museum. As a fascinating and historic city, Istanbul offers much to see and do for new arrivals. Expats will have a great time finding their way around, soaking up the culture and learning more about their new home.
Although there are innumerable interesting sites all over Istanbul, the ones listed here are some of the most famous.
Attractions in Istanbul
Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Camii)
Turkey’s most iconic mosque, the Blue Mosque, is one of the most distinguishable features of Istanbul’s skyline. It's one of the finest examples of Ottoman architecture and is still in use today.
Topkapı Palace Museum
Boasting spectacular views over the Bosphorus River and the Golden Horn, Topkapı Palace Museum was the seat of the Ottoman Empire for almost 400 years and home to nearly 3,000 people. Take a tour of the apartments, harem terraces and the royal bedchamber. They all provide a glimpse into Istanbul’s fascinating past and the opulence of the sultans of the Ottoman Empire.
Famed for its incredible size and Byzantine architecture, the Hagia Sophia is one of Istanbul’s most prominent attractions. It was commissioned as a cathedral in the 6th century and was one of Christianity’s most important churches for over 900 years. It was conquered in the 15th century by Mehmet II and turned into a mosque. Since 1935 the building has functioned as a museum.
Grand Bazaar (Kapalıçarşı)
Expats will love discovering the oldest and largest covered bazaar in the world when they come to Kapalıçarşı. Visitors can wind their way around the 65 streets, brimming with more than 4,000 shops, teahouses, hamams (Turkish baths), storehouses, mosques and fountains.
Turkish and Islamic Art Museum
The Turkish and Islamic Art Museum is housed in what used to be the 16th-century palace of the Grand Vizier, Ibrahim Pasha. It features 40,000 examples of Selçuk, Mamluk and Ottoman Turkish art, as well as one of the richest and oldest collections of prayer rugs, carpets and kilims in the world.
Sunken Palace (Basilica Cistern)
Built around 532 AD by Constantinople the Great, the Sunken Palace is a subterranean cavern which is held up by 336 columns. It famously features in the James Bond film From Russia with Love. Featuring art and intricate designs on the columns themselves, approximately two million visitors a year flock to cross the walkways of the cavern.
Providing the best 360-degree panoramic view across the old town of Istanbul, the Galata Tower was originally erected in the 14th century as a bastion for the walls of the Galata colony. Nowadays, expats are sure to enjoy visiting the restaurant nestled at the foot of the tower.
The Dolmabahçe Palace was the last residence of the Sultans of the Ottoman Empire and is one of the most glamorous palaces in the world. It has been converted into a museum, and locals and tourists alike can wander through and admire the sultans of the past.
►See Lifestyle in Istanbul for more on what to see and do in the city.
►Read Weekend Breaks in Istanbul for travel ideas outside of the city.
"There’s always something to do in Istanbul. You can eat at a range of restaurants featuring regional specialities, see international art exhibitions, enjoy intimate or arena-size music concerts, walk in a forest or by the sea… the list is endless." Read about Lisa's expat life in Istanbul.
Are you an expat living in Istanbul?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Istanbul. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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