1. You can’t travel to Istanbul without visiting the most famous sight in that city. Hagia Sophia (pronounced AyaSofaya), in Sultanahmet, was built in the year 537 A.D. by Emperor Justinian. It was formerly a church but was converted to a mosque and museum in 1935 A.D. There are a number of beautifully made mosaics and holy relics here. It was a major building during the Ottoman and Byzantine empires. Haghia Sophia is known throughout the world for its large dome ceiling, which was a common style in Byzantine architecture. (Timings- 9am-6pm, Tuesday-Sunday, upper gallery closes around 5.30pm; Phone- 0212 522 0989; Admission- Adults Rs.560 approximately | Children less than 6 years old free)
2. One of the largest monuments in Istanbul, the grand Topkapi Palace, built in 1453 during the Ottoman Empire, is a must visit. The palace is divided into four courtyards- the First Court, the Second Court, the Third Court, and the Fourth Court. The First Court contains a building known as Aya Irini, built in 540 A.D. as a church. The Second Court has the great Palace Kitchens, the Imperial Council Chamber as well as the Tower of Justice, leading to the most famous part of the palace, the Harem. It was the imperial family quarters. The Harem contains such attractions as the Courtyard of the Black Eunuchs, the Imperial Hall, Apartments of the Valide Sultan, among other places. The Third Court is the heart of the palace. It includes the Audience Chamber and another famous must see part, the Treasury and other places. The Fourth Court is occupied by pleasure pavilions. The Second Court is best for relaxing as it has a park-like setting. (Timings- 9am-6pm, Harem closes 5pm, Wednesday-Monday; Phone- 0212 512 0480; Admission- palace Rs.560 approximately | Harem Rs.420 approximately)
3. Visit the Blue Mosque; the most famous mosque in Istanbul. Like Ayasofya and Topkapi Palace, it is situated in Sultanahmet. It was built by Sultan Ahmet I, and is called so due to the blue coloured tiles that it is made of. Architecturally, it is more beautiful and marvellous than Hagia Sophia, another former mosque. The ceiling is one big dome and several smaller surrounding domes. There are multiple domes to support the weight of the big dome. Prayer music is added to the atmosphere of the mosque. As it is a religious place, visitors are required to remove their shoes. (Admission free)
4. Within the grounds of Topkapi Palace lie the Archaeological Museum (9am-6pm; Tuesday-Sunday; 0212 520 7740; admission Rs.280 approximately) and Museum of the History of Science and Technology in Islam (9am-4.30pm Wednesday-Monday; admission Rs.140 approximately) at some distance from each other. Both these museums are must visits for their amazing collections. The Archaeological Museum lies closer to the main part of the palace. The museum is divided into 3 parts- the first part is the main Archaeology Museum, which includes Ancient Greek and Egyptian relics. There is a Roman statue of the God Bes at the front door. This, according to me, is the most interesting part of the museum. The second part is the Museum of the Ancient Orient, which contains relics from the Hittite and Ottoman empires. The third part is Tiled Kiosk. The science and technology museum is located in Gulhane Park. It is a relatively newer museum as it was built only a few years ago. It displays mathematical instruments, maps, and inventions used in medieval times. The Astronomical wing consists of model globes and models of famous observatories in Europe and Asia such as Delhi’s Jantar Mantarand shows these places as they looked like long ago.
5. Take a trip to the extraordinary underground Basilica Cistern, which was built by Emperor Justinian in the year 532 A. D. On entering, you will feel as if you are setting foot into a cool cavern. It is a chilling and mysterious-looking place and has beautiful marble columns, which makes this eerie cistern great. A tour through this cistern takes at least half an hour. In Byzantium, water was stored in this cistern for the Great Palace. (9am-7.30pm daily; 0212 522 1259; admission Rs.280 approximately)
6. Grand Bazaar (8.30am-7.30pm, Monday-Saturday) and Spice Bazaar 8am-7pm Monday-Saturday) are the best places in Istanbul for shopping. Both are indoor markets. The Grand Bazaar was constructed during the reign of Mehmet the Conqueror. It has over 2,000 shops, making the bazaar a a giant labyrinth. You can get almost anything here from Turkish carpets to T-shirts. There also cafes here. The Spice Bazaar was built in the 1660s, part of the New Mosque complex. At the time, as goods available came from Cairo, it was called Egyptian market. Mainly, products like spices (of course!), nuts, soap made of olive oil, figs and Turkish delight (with many flavours like orange, nuts and even chocolate) are sold here, with the occasional shop selling T-shirts.
7. If you want to see the entirety of this beautiful city, from Europe to Asia on the Bosphorous Strait, head for a cruise. It is a must do. The departure point is at Eminonu. You can opt for either a one-way trip or a return trip back to Eminonu. The one-way trip costs approximately Rs.420 while the return trip costs approximately Rs.700.