The sights of Istanbul Old Town

So you’re thinking of visiting Istanbul, and you don’t know which of the Old Town sights might interest you? During my trip over Easter I visited the following famous tourist locations, so here’s my cheat’s guide to the most famous sights.

The Blue Mosque / Sultan Ahmet Camii

This mosque dates from the 17th century and was built by Sultan Ahmet. It’s known as the Blue mosque due to all the intricate blue tiles that cover the interior. It was controversial when it was built, as it was basically a vanity project for the Sultan, built using the city’s funds (not from the profits of war, as was usual) and was built directly over the remains of the Byzantine Grand Palace. Also, it directly faces off the Hagia Sophia across a park.

The positive by product of this however is that standing in the park between the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia at prayer time, hearing these two huge buildings in call and response to each other, gave me chills.

Top tips
> Entry is free
> There wasn’t really much of a queue to get in
> Photographs are allowed

> You’ll need to be respectfully hushed but not silent
> You can’t go in at all during prayer times
> You will need to cover yourself thoroughly if you are a woman. There is a man in a kiosk near the front of the queue who assesses what you need to be acceptable and hands over the garments free of charge. Usually this is just a headscarf but a girl in front of me got given a maxi skirt to go over her skinny jeans.
> Both men and women need to take off your shoes whilst in the mosque. Plastic bags are provided so you can carry your shoes with you whilst you are inside and there are places to take off your shoes and put them back on again. Although, there are no chairs as such in either location so if you have difficulty with mobility you may struggle a little.

Hagia Sophia / Ayasofya

Hagia Sophia, built in the 6th century as a Greek Orthodox church, was converted through the years into a Roman Catholic church, then a mosque, and is now a museum. Clear signs of its time as both church and mosque remain in this delightful hodgepodge of a building; it’s a historical architect’s dream come true. The history and legacy of this building is quite fascinating, it having been by far the biggest church in the world for over 1000 years and influencing the design of churches and mosques for centuries after. It also contains the oldest mosaics and frescoes of Jesus that I have ever seen – some date from about 1200.

There are lots of these mosaics around the building, so take your time to look out for them. Some are in better condition than others, having been plastered over or obscured whilst the building was a mosque. They’re all beautiful, though.

Top tips
> Entry is 30 TL but can be included in the Istanbul Museum Pass
> There’s quite a big queue to get in. We waited for around half an hour – bear in mind this was low season
> There are tour guides outside who try and offer you their services. They all have official looking badges and promise that if you engage them, you can jump the queue. They can be bargained with extensively, but bear in mind that you still have to pay entrance fees and you will need to tip them at the end, too
> There is an audio guide available
> There is also a fantastic view from upstairs out over the domes of the Hagia Sophia over to the Blue Mosque. I think this view is iconic as I’ve seen it in lots of other places! Still, I found it breathtaking nonetheless

> You aren’t allowed to take tripods into the museum. It will be taken off you during the security screening (they have a metal detector and x-ray like at the airport) and returned to you once you leave

Basilica Cistern

This cistern is basically a huge water reservoir that was built under the city in the 6th century. It’s called the Basilica Cistern because it was built underneath a great basilica, which has now been lost to time. It’s famous for the beautiful construction and variety of stones that were used to build it, for example the famous medusas:

One is upside down, the other is sideways. These would have been brought from across the Byzantine empire, from old Roman buildings. It’s thought that these stones were placed in this fashion to negate the power of Medusa.

There is also a column carved with tears, which is supposed to commemorate the slaves who died building the cistern.

Top tips
> Entry is 10TL and is not included with any other card
> Tripods are not allowed. They aren’t taken off you, but they say if you do use one inside you will be subject to a fee, which is unspecified. We decided not to risk it, and used the railings and self timer function to quite reasonable success
> You have to go down two flights of steps to get in, with no other means of access. Those who find steps hard may struggle – it’s also quite slippery underfoot
> There are walkways over the foot or so of water that remains in the basilica, and places to sit
> There’s even an underground cafe!

Grand Bazaar

This is an ancient warren of stalls, generally catering to the tourist market. You’ll find beautiful lamps, Turkish towels, patterned crockery, handbags (both knock off and non), carpets, and oil lamps and candles of all sorts. It’s a fascinating place to wander, to see all the variety of wares on sale and to marvel at the beautiful old building.

Top tips
> Entry is free
> It’s very busy inside but probably manageable with children
> All the shopkeepers will try and get you into their shops. To do so, they will tell you about all the famous people they have sold their wares to, usually tailored to your nationality. As we let on we were British, our celebrities of choice were Sting and the director of Skyfall.
> Therefore, you will need to take in the sights at a purposeful march to avoid being hassled too much by the stall owners
> There are a lot of similar stalls, so this is either great for bargaining purposes or you might find you get bored quickly
> Photography of the beautiful lamp displays is usually not allowed. I only discovered that after I took the picture above…
> Look up! There are interesting signs about the history of the building peppered along the lengths of the walkways, and the ceilings are beautifully painted

> It’s a good choice when the weather is poor as it’s all covered
> The prices inside the market are not usually the best you’ll find, as it is a tourist destination. Far better are the streets surrounding the bazaar, running out West and down to the Spice Markets. They look like this:

And crucially you will see normal Turkish people doing their shopping here, too. I think that’s usually a good sign.

Egyptian Spice Markets / Mısır Çarşısı

An easy walk from the Grand Bazaar (through the much more interesting side streets) is the Egyptian bazaar, or spice markets. It dates from 1660 and adjoins the New Mosque. In here you can find spices (funnily enough), but also dried fruits, lots of Turkish delight, and a few tourist souvenir shops.

Top tips
> Entry is free
> It’s extremely busy inside so I’d worry about taking children in who might run off or get lost
> Again, shopkeepers will try and get you in to their stalls, but this is usually done in a very good natured manner
> If you want to buy Turkish delight, make sure you get the rolled kind, and not the stuff in squares like you usually buy. More on this to come…
> As you leave, you might even catch the sunset behind the New Mosque:

Travel Tuesday

I’m delighted to have been nominated as a new co-host! Thanks, Anna. I look forward to reading what everyone has been up to. Please join me, Bonnie, Swags and Diana in linking up your post below… 

1. SHARE a post about travel! From road trips to trips abroad and from past travels to dream vacations. You can write about travel tips and tricks, favourite places to stay, or anything in between! Just make it about travelling somewhere!
2. GRAB the lovely button. If you run into trouble, just make sure to mention Bonnie in a link!
3. LINKUP goes live every Tuesday at 0800 GMT.

1. Please only one linked up post per blogger. Save other posts for future linkups!
2. The last Tuesday of every month is a themed prompt, if you want to join in.
3. Include a (vertical 735px x 1102px) pinnable image in your blog post; as at least one of the co-hosts will be going around pinning your posts!
4. HOP around and meet new travel loving bloggers! Check back to visit some of the newer travel posts!
5. Don’t forget to use the #TravelTuesday hashtag on your social media platforms!



  1. 12th April 2016 / 13:19

    Ugh! Why’d you have to mention that photography of the lamps is not allowed! Now I can’t go and “accidentally” take pictures! 🙁

    Oh well. At least in this post you’ve shown that there is far more than lamps to see, capture, and explore in Istanbul! Looks like you had a lovely trip! 🙂

    • 12th April 2016 / 18:22

      It’s ok, I won’t tell anyone that you already knew 😉

      There was SO much to do in Istanbul, way more than these sights. In particular I keep going on about the street art I found, but I still think it’s really cool.

  2. Kerri Taylor
    12th April 2016 / 13:33

    oh goodness i kept reading each one going “ok that one is is my favorite of the bunch” then scrolling more and finding that they are all too gorgeous. the basilica cistern is super cool!

    xoxo cheshire kat

    • 12th April 2016 / 18:22

      Yeah that’s basically what I said when I visited them! The basilica cistern is like something out of Harry Potter, isn’t it?! I loved it. It was probably my favourite of this list.

    • 12th April 2016 / 18:23

      Oh and also you used to be able to tour the cistern in boats. How cool would that have been??

  3. Jen
    12th April 2016 / 14:38

    Wow! The blue mosque is absolutely gorgeous! I love the history and that is what attracts me.

    • 12th April 2016 / 18:24

      All the tiles were so intricate, and I like that the writing is part of the design. I’m all about the history, I was in my element!

  4. 12th April 2016 / 15:04

    That’s all so intriguing to me how you have to be covered in certain ways – the culture… it just is so interesting & so opposite of how we live.

    • 12th April 2016 / 18:26

      Yes, I really enjoyed going to a secular country with a majority Muslim population. It definitely busted some myths and I feel much more educated as a result. Maybe we should all go and spend time in different religious cultures, maybe that would help with tolerance?

  5. 12th April 2016 / 16:16

    I loved the cistern and the blue mosque! I was a bit annoyed at the grand bazaar, too much calling and grabbing my hand to have a look at their stuff:(

    • 12th April 2016 / 18:27

      Oh yikes I never had hand grabbing, that would have been too much. I realised I don’t really have any pictures from inside the Grand Bazaar as I was too busy walking briskly to avoid being heckled! Sad really, isn’t it?

    • 12th April 2016 / 20:48

      All the layers and shapes were just stunning. You know, I might just do that!

  6. 12th April 2016 / 20:58

    Gah, reading about all these places makes me super nostalgic! The blue mosque is so pretty… and the activity below in the Grand Bazaar was phenomenal! I think I came out with at least 5 marriage proposals from there hahaha

    • 12th April 2016 / 21:32

      Sorry about that! But I hope it was a good nostalgia? And you’ve got good game, I got zero marriage proposals (just lots of ‘buy this handbag, lady’) proposals which I do NOT feel is the same thing!

      • 12th April 2016 / 22:50

        Haha, definitely in a good way! Meh, I see it as “you look lonely and gullible” hahaha. So I think you’re better off 😉

    • 14th April 2016 / 12:45

      It was definitely a place where I had to keep pinching myself. And to think about how old everything was and how much history it encompassed just blew my mind. Glad you enjoyed it!

  7. Grey World Nomads
    12th April 2016 / 23:24

    You put together a very helpful guide to visit Istanbul. Short and sweet. Thank you very much! #TravelTuesday

    • 14th April 2016 / 12:45

      You’re welcome! I just wanted to share what we’d learned from our visit, really. I’m glad it helped you!

  8. 13th April 2016 / 00:33

    You’re seriously making me want to hop on a plane to Istanbul right now! I can’t believe how amazing the architecture is, and the market looks like so much fun!

    • 14th April 2016 / 12:46

      I highly encourage that! Although I understand that may not be the most practical urge to accommodate 😉 The architecture was out of this world. So incredible.

  9. 13th April 2016 / 01:39

    Beautiful pictures! I’d love to visit the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia 🙂

    • 14th April 2016 / 12:46

      They’re both gorgeous buildings, I’d highly recommend a visit if you can!

  10. 13th April 2016 / 02:56

    HI Rachel..thanks for stopping by my blog today! I love this post…all the buidlings in Europe look so ornate..I am dying to fly overseas..someday soon I hope! Thanks for sharing your breathtaking visit!

    • 14th April 2016 / 12:47

      You’re welcome, I really enjoyed reading your blog 🙂 We do have some ornate buildings in Europe, but those in Istanbul were totally different to anywhere else I’ve been in Europe. It was fantastic! I hope you can make it one day!

  11. 13th April 2016 / 04:28

    The mosques are beautiful! Sometimes I wish Australia had architecture this old, it’s beautiful too see the history in a place.

    Really thorough and helpful reviews too! 🙂

    Away From The Blue Blog

    • 14th April 2016 / 12:48

      They’re stunning aren’t they? And there was a mosque on every corner, some small, some large, but all absolutely beautiful. And the history was mind boggling, I don’t think I’ve gotten my head around it even now!

  12. 13th April 2016 / 05:12

    Oh, the insides of the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sofia are so intricate. I stopped once in Turkey on a cruise and that only increased my desire to discover more of the country.

    • 14th April 2016 / 12:49

      They are, aren’t they? I can’t imagine the amount of handiwork that went into constructing them, especially given the tools and equipment they’d have had at the time. Crazy. I do hope you manage to get back one day!

  13. 14th April 2016 / 00:23

    What a wealth of knowledge you’ve shared. Some exquisite pictures too! I’ve never dreamed of Istanbul, but looking at this, I’ve definitely missed the mark. Adding to wishlist now.

    • 14th April 2016 / 12:50

      I just wanted to share what I wish I’d known before I went, really! The pictures were easy, with sights like that you just point your camera anywhere and it’s a masterpiece. Such a beautiful place. I do hope you manage to go one day!

  14. 14th April 2016 / 00:36

    I loved your last post on Istanbul and this one is just as good! the architecture of those buildings and the colorfulness inside, that kind of stuff is right up my alley!

    • 14th April 2016 / 12:51

      Aww thanks! The whole of Istanbul was right up my alley to be honest, that’s why I can’t seem to stop going on about it. I was like a camera maniac, snapping pictures the whole time. Everything was just so beautiful and interesting.

  15. 14th April 2016 / 02:58

    Wow Istanbul’s architecture and history sound so interesting! I’d love to visit and explore thanks to your travel recap!

    • 14th April 2016 / 12:51

      They are! Absolutely fascinating. I had such a brilliant time, I just wish I could have stayed longer. I hope you manage to make it one day too!

  16. 15th April 2016 / 15:06

    I went to Istanbul many years ago and visited all but the cistern. You took beautiful photos. Thank you for the trip down memory lane! I was just thinking I hadn’t joined this linkup in awhile. I will be sure to join in again soon, especially since you are co-hosting!

    • 17th April 2016 / 22:31

      Glad you enjoyed it! I know it’s kind of far for you for a return trip, but if you ever go back I highly recommend the cistern. It was one of my favourite of the ‘big sights’.

      And yes it would be great to have you back on board, I hope you can link up soon!

  17. Kelly Michelle
    15th April 2016 / 20:45

    I absolutely adore Istanbul…we would love to return and I’ve yet to visit the cistern! xx

    • 17th April 2016 / 22:32

      It’s magical isn’t it? I was blown away by the whole experience and I’d love to go back. The cistern was brilliant, if you can go back I’d encourage a visit. Beautiful place.

  18. 16th April 2016 / 13:37

    I love the fact that you can enter the Blue Mosque without any fees. I haven’t been there yet but I’ve heard so many times of how gorgeous it is! Soon, I hope. 🙂

    • 17th April 2016 / 22:32

      It’s really gorgeous, the whole city was just a delight. I really hope you do make it soon, and if you do please let me know!

  19. 16th April 2016 / 21:59

    Yay, co-host!! 😀 Love your Istanbul posts, makes it feel very achievable and easy-to-do. Thanks for getting on board with co-hosting! 😀

    • 17th April 2016 / 22:33

      Woop fellow co-host! Thanks, I’m really glad you like them. I’m similarly enjoying my tour around Vienna via your blog! 🙂

  20. 17th April 2016 / 07:23

    Oooh congrats on becoming a new co-host – such fun! You’ve brought back some lovely memories of my trip to Istanbul. Such gorgeous architecture!

    • 18th April 2016 / 11:57

      Thanks! Glad I reminded you of good times, I absolutely adored it there. What was your favourite thing from your visit?

      • 26th April 2016 / 08:22

        I think the Spice market – all the colours and smells! Or the beautiful Blue Mosque

  21. 17th April 2016 / 17:05

    This is so helpful! I would definitely need this when I go to Istanbul!

    • 18th April 2016 / 11:57

      Glad you like it! Do you have any plans to head there at some point?

      • 18th April 2016 / 13:26

        Not until the kids are old enough to be left at home alone!

  22. 25th November 2016 / 06:05

    This guide is very useful. I haven’t been to Istanbul but have always wondered which site to visit because there are so many! Aside from Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, the Basilica Cistern is something which I will add “must visit” in my bucket list 🙂

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