Istanbul(Turkish): is the largest city in Turkey, constituting the country’s economic, cultural, and historical heart. With a population of 14.1 million, the city forms one of the largest urban agglomerations in Europe and is the third-largest city in the world by population within city limits. Istanbul’s vast area of 5,343 square kilometers is coterminous with Istanbul Province, of which the city is the administrative capital. Istanbul is a trans continental city, straddling the Bosphorus one of the world’s busiest waterways—in northwestern Turkey, between the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea. Its commercial and historical center lies in Europe, while a third of its population lives in Asia.
The top 5 are all in Sultanahmet – the ancient Quarter of Istanbul.
Aya Sofya (also known as Hagia Sophia – The Church of the Divine Wisdom) this originally Christian basilica, is Istanbul’s finest site, vast interior, stunning mosaics and a towering dome. The present building is the third to stand on the site. The first was built in AD 360 during the reign of Constantius, many times until this final structure was completed in 537. For a thousand years this was the largest building in the world. When Ottoman MehmetII conquered the city in 1453 his first act was to declare Aya Sofya a mosque.Apart from removing some of the marble crosses and whitewashing the mosaic icons he left the church as it was. The 4 Islamic minarets which now stand at the corners were added after the Turkish conquest. In 1935 Aya Sofya was declared a museum and is the most visited site in the country with more than 2 million visitors a year.
Topkapi Palace: For 400 years this pavilion palace was the residence of the Ottoman sultans who were the most powerful empire rulers in the world. It was built by Mehmet the Conqueror shortly after his conquest in 1453, both as his command centre and as his indulgent home. The Palace is a city within a city consisting of interconnecting courts and between 5,000 and 7,000 people worked and lived inside to serve the sultan household. The Harem alone had 300 rooms – just 40 are open to the public.
The Blue Mosque: One of the most magnificent mosques in the Muslim world it takes its name from the blue iznik tiles which line its walls. Built during the reign of Sultan Ahmet (1603 – 1617) with 6 minarets, which at the time was a cause of controversy as only Mecca – the holiest site in Islam also had six. There is a stunning vast central dome.
The Grand Bazaar (also known as Covered Bazaar) Istanbul’s famed emporium. The heart of the Bazaar dates from the Ottoman conquest of 1456-61 and is a labyrinth of passageways and corridors with 64 streets, 3,000 shops,22 entrances and 25,000 employees. It’s tourist who shop and barter here rather than locals. There is a huge range of goods including jewellery, antiques,leather goods, ceramics – and of course the infamous carpets.
Suleymaniye Mosque: This mosque dominates the ancient city skyline –standing on the highest hill. The mosque was the crowning achievement of the Ottoman superstar chief architect – Mimar Sinan, who designed a vast number of buildings in Istanbul. Commissioned by Suleyman the Magnificent and complete din 1557 when the Ottoman Empire was at its height, as an Islamic answer to the Byzantine Aya Sofya. It’s the interior which is most impressive with a vast central dome and Tiered domes surrounding it.
By plane: Most planes arrive at Istanbul Atatürk Airport (http://ataturkairport.com/) (IATA: IST), 20 km west of the citycentre. From the airport, there arevarious options for getting intoIstanbul: you can take a taxi (about30-35 TL to Taksim, and 25-30 TL to Sultanahmet),the express bus service run by the local airport service called”Havaş” (http://havas.com.tr/) which departs half-hourly between 4 AM-midnight and costs 10 TL to Taksim(and also to Etiler, and Kozyatağı), the public bus (line #96T) run by İETTcosting 2.50 TL, which also stops atAksaray close to Sultanahmet. Travel times are 20–40 minutes, but depend a lot on traffic, and Istanbul isheavily congested! Then, there isthe metro (signposted “light rail” in the airport, when you get outside the baggage claim itsabout a 10 minute walk in the airportto the metro line. Just follow the signs), which will take you directly to the Otogar (bus station)or to numerous stops within Istanbul(Aksaray in the city centre is the last stop, transfer stations for tram heading for deeper into oldcity is available at Zeytinburnu andAksaray). It costs 1.50 TL (+an extra 1.50 TL when boarding the tram) and getting to Aksaray takesaround 45 minutes. It is possible tobe at your bus departing from Otogar within less than one hour after landing by taking the metro.This will get you on the red metroline (towards Aksaray). From this line, if you are going to Sultanahmet, you can transfer at Zeytinburnu and buy another jeton (1.50 lira). Note thatthe jeton token here is different thanthe first one. From Zeytinburnu, take the blue tram line T1, towards Kabataş which passes by:Sultanahmet, Eminönu and Tophane.The trip from the airport to Sultanahmet takes about 45 min.