Istanbul, the city that straddles two continents and is able to tell much of the history of humanity, is one of the most popular and captivating tourist destinations in the world.
An attraction that will be enhanced as never before this Saturday, June 10, when in the Turkish city Inter Milan and Manchester City face each other, in what promises to be a spectacular final of the Champions League, the most competitive club cup in the world.
It will be another condiment for a city with a history so rich that it seems unfathomable, and that offers a unique combination of tradition and modernity, an exquisite gastronomy and a surprising rhythm, cheerful and full of life; during the day especially in its countless historical sites, and at night in areas where the energy never seems to go out, such as Taksim or Ortaköy, on the shores of the Bosphorus strait, which divides -or better, unites- Europe and Asia.
The Mosque of Saint Sophia under the Lena Moon. Photo EFE/EPA/ERDEM SAHIN
For those who are fortunate enough to travel to this impressive city, here are ten must-see sites, to take advantage of a getaway and do good tourism, before or after the grand finale.
1. Hagia Sophia
A majestic building that began to be built in 532 and was inaugurated in 537 as a Christian Orthodox basilica, and that after the conquest of the city by the Ottomans was transformed into the main mosque of Istanbul for almost 500 years.
Faithful. In 2020, Hagia Sophia became a mosque again. REUTERS Photo/Murad Sezer
In 1934, in the heat of the reforms of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, it became a museum, and since 2020 it is again a mosque. With more than 1,500 years of history on its thick walls, Hagia Sophia is a living testimony to the architectural grandeur and history of Istanbul.
A place to visit without haste, admiring its imposing dome and its magnificent mosaics, such as the one representing Christ Pantocrator, from the thirteenth century, considered one of the most beautiful of Byzantine art.
An illuminated fountain in front of the Blue Mosque. Foto / AFP PHOTO / BULENT KILIC
2. Blue Mosque
Recognizable from afar by its six minarets and its impressive interior decoration of beautiful blue tiles from the ancient city of Iznik, the Blue Mosque is an emblematic landmark of Istanbul, perhaps the main place of worship in the city.
It is an impressive monument. Opened in 1617 in a mixture of Byzantine style and elements of Islamic art, the mosque was built by Sultan Ahmed I to compete with Hagia Sophia, from which it is separated by a beautiful garden of fountains and flowers: Sultan Ahmet Square.
People praying in the stunning interior of the Blue Mosque. Photo AFP PHOTO/OZAN KOSE
Attention here, in the heart of ancient Istanbul, where in addition to the mosque and Hagia Sophia, you can see remains of the ancient Hippodrome of Constantinople and other relics such as the Obelisk of Theodosius, which 3,500 years ago belonged to the Egyptian pharaoh Thutmose III, but transported from Egypt re-erected here by the Roman Emperor Theodosius I in the year 390.
It also dazzles Column of Serpents, which is almost 2,500 years old and came from the Greek city of Delphi, that of the oracle.
Topkapi Palace was the administrative center of the Ottoman Empire for almost 400 years. Photo Shutterstock.
3. Topkapi Palace
This historic palace was the administrative center of the Ottoman Empire from 1465 to 1853, and residence of the sultans. It was built by order of the famous Sultan Mehmed II and is located on the Sarayburnu, between the Golden Horn and the Sea of Marmara, with a splendid view of the Bosphorus.
Topkapi consists of several small buildings surrounded by four beautiful gardens. You can tour different rooms and admire collections of treasures, jewels and historical relics.
The Basilica Cistern is the largest of the 60 cisterns built under the floors of Istanbul. Foto AP Photo/Emrah Gurel
4. Basilica Cistern
A fantastic underground world. The ancient cistern that lies beneath the streets of the old city, with its columns and mysterious atmosphere, is a perfect site for those seeking history and mysticism.
Visitors are reflected in the water of the Basilica Cistern. Photo Yasin AKGUL / AFP
Built in 532, it is the largest of the 60 ancient cisterns built under the city during the Byzantine era. It is only 100 meters from Hagia Sophia, on the historic Sarayburnu peninsula, and resembles an immense underground cathedral, with its columns and domes distributed in 143 meters long by 65 wide.
It can store up to 80 million liters of water; It is crossed by wooden walkways over the waters and for its great acoustics, it usually hosts concerts and events.
The Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar offer some of the best popular Turkish dishes.
5. Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar
The Grand Bazaar is another of Istanbul's great emblems, a centuries-old testament to the city's vibrant commercial life.
In the center of the old city, about 15 minutes walk from the Topkapi Palace, it is one of the largest bazaars in the world, with 64 streets and avenues, 16 courtyards and 4,000 shops, and every day receives between 250,000 and 400,000 visitors.
The Grand Bazaar is a center of commerce since the fifteenth century. Photo Yasin AKGUL / AFP
Among its shops are those of trades such as jewelry, goldsmithing or carpet making and those that exhibit thousands of colorful and aromatic spices and delicacies such as the irresistible lokum, Turkish sweets made from a mixture of starch and sugar with edible coloring.
Opened in 1464, the historic Grand Bazaar remains, almost 600 years later, a shopper's paradise, where you can find everything from exotic spices to Turkish handicrafts.
Impossible to resist Turkish spices. Photo Shutterstock
Nearby, the Spice Bazaar, also known as Egyptian Bazaar, is famous for its intoxicating aromas and exotic products. A guided tour of the aromas of spices, Turkish sweets and herbal teas. Although it also has a wide variety of nuts, sweets, flowers, seeds and plants.
It was opened in 1664 and is opposite the Yeni Camii or New Mosque complex (from the seventeenth century), which also has a series of shops, a cemetery, two fountains and a school.
The Spice Bazaar is right in front of the Golden Horn, that 7 km marine strip that crosses the European part of the city, and that bears that curious name for the brightness that its waters acquire with the sunset sun.
Dolmabahçe was the seat of the Ottoman sultans since the nineteenth century. Photo Shutterstock
6. Dolmabahçe Palace
On the banks of the Bosphorus, this palace combines Ottoman and European influences and transports you to a world of luxury and opulence.
It was built by order of Sultan Abdülmecid I in the nineteenth century and replaced the medieval palace of Topkapi as the seat of the Ottoman sultans. With 46 halls, 285 rooms, 6 hammams (Turkish baths), two museums, a mosque and a clock tower on 45,000 square meters, it is the largest palace in Turkey.
It meant a modernization of the empire with respect to Topkapi, since its construction was directed by the famous Ottoman-Armenian architect Garabet Balyan, of European training, in an eclectic style that combines baroque, rococo and neoclassical, in addition to traditional Ottoman architecture.
The Galata Bridge over the Golden Horn, a symbol of the city. Photo Shutterstock
7. Galata Bridge and Tower
With its almost 500 meters in length on the Golden Horn, the Galata Bridge is the most famous bridge in Istanbul, and links the Old City with the modern area.
It has two floors: upstairs cars, buses, trucks and pedestrians circulate, while the lower floor is a fascinating world full of restaurants and cafes where you can taste fresh fish and other typical dishes, contemplating the incessant journey of the ferries.
From the north end of the bridge it's a 12-minute walk (uphill) to Galata Tower, an iconic medieval tower built around 507 AD, during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian.
The Galata Tower at night. Photo Shutterstock
It measures 66.9 meters high (like the Obelisk of Buenos Aires) and can be ascended by its old spiral staircase to enjoy stunning panoramic views of the city, especially to the neighborhoods of Beyoglu and Karakoy.
View of Ortaköy Mosque. on the shores of the Bosphorus.
On the banks of the Bosphorus, this charming neighborhood is famous for its bohemian atmosphere and mix of cultures, and for its cobbled streets lined with cafes, craft shops and restaurants.
Located on the European side of Istanbul, Ortaköy was originally the settlement of a Byzantine-era fishing community called Eleutherios, which became a center of trade and business throughout the Ottoman era.
It experienced strong growth in the nineteenth century, when new buildings, mosques and other monuments were built there. Today, among restaurants, shops and a stroll along the banks of the Bosphorus, Ortaköy still exhibits much of the beauty of the Ottoman era, in its small-town atmosphere of colorful houses and refined architecture.
The charming bohemian neighborhood of Çukurcuma. Photo Shutterstock
It is pronounced something like "chujúrcuma", and is the most bohemian neighborhood of the city, with streets up and down, old houses, dozens of antique and furniture shops, carpenters' workshops, tea houses and small and cozy cafes.
Another attraction of the neighborhood is the Museum of Innocence, created by the writer Orhan Pamuk (Nobel Prize in 2006), which opened in 2012 and bears the same name as one of the author's novels.
The tram on the always busy pedestrian Istiklal. Shutterstock
The heart of today's Istanbul, the place where everything and everyone happens, the epicenter for good and bad, the inescapable point to soak up the lively and lively atmosphere of the city.
With its epicenter in the huge Taksim Square, the neighborhood of the same name is a commercial and gastronomic district with a very lively nightlife, whose backbone is the pedestrian Istiklal, full of walkers -office workers, workers, tourists- at all times, and with an old tram through the center.
The mosque and the monument to the Republic, in Taksim Square. Photo Shutterstock
Bare, restaurants, shops, food stalls where you can have panzadas with typical flavors such as sarma, dolma or kebab, and even Turkish beers such as Bomonti, Efes or Tubor. Also street artists, clothing stores, crafts, museums, art galleries, men smoking the traditional hookah at any time, aromas and flavors, protests, celebrations of all kinds
Everything is manifested, everything is lived in Taksim, including rides on an old tram turned tourist attraction. Taksim, with its chaotic and colorful charm, is the pulse of Istanbul.