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10 Places You Have To See During Your First Visit To Istanbul

Pack your bags. Like, ASAP.

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1. Galata Tower

The Galata Tower is a medieval stone tower located in the Karaköy neighborhood of Istanbul. It is one of the city's most striking landmarks and because it is a high cylinder that dominates the skyline it provides you with a gorgeous panoramic view of the city.

2. Grand Bazaar

The Grand Bazaar (also known as Kapalıçarşı) is perhaps one of the oldest covered markets in the world. With over 3,000 shops, it is currently listed as the most-visited tourist attraction in the world with over 90 million annual visitors. If you're looking for some gold and textiles, this is the place.

3. Spice Bazaar

The Spice Bazaar (also known as Mısır Çarşısı) is one of the largest bazaars in the city and the second-most famous covered shopping complex after the Grand Bazaar. Here, you will find authentic spices, teas, and some of the most beautiful silver jewelry you have ever seen.

4. Basilica Cistern

The Sunken Palace is the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns that lie beneath Istanbul. There are 336 columns; however, the main attraction is The Two Heads of Medusa, both of which are located in the northwest corner of the cistern. Used as the base of two columns, the heads are masterpieces left behind from the Roman period.

5. Hagia Sophia

Literally right across the street from the Basilica Cistern, the Hagia Sophia is an important structure with its architecture, mosaic art, and overall grandness. While you're taking in all of its treasures—including some of the mosaics hidden in the corners—make sure to keep an eye out for Gli, a devout, cross-eyed cat that has made the mosque its permanent home.

6. Sultan Ahmed Mosque

Just a 5-minute walk from the Hagia Sophia, the Sultan Ahmed Mosque is also known as the "Blue Mosque." In addition to its blue paint and the 20,000 handmade İznik style tiles that line the walls, the mosque also features 200 stained glass windows, which admit natural light, with some help from a few chandeliers. It is very much open to the public. However, if you do decide to pray inside the mosque, there are some rules: all visitors must take off their shoes and women must cover their heads.

7. Istanbul Archeological Museums

Located in Istanbul's Sultanahmet District, the Istanbul Archeological Museums is made up of three separate museums—the Archeology Museum, the Ancient Orient Museum, and the Tiled Kiosk Museum. Once you've visited the Alexander Sarcophagus and the Treaty of Kadesh, the first written peace treaty in history, take a break and grab a bite to eat at the museum's cafe, which sits in a garden of ruins and sculptures.

8. Topkapı Palace

Built between 1460 and 1478, Topkapı Palace served as the primary residence of the Ottoman sultans. Made up of four courtyards and a harem, the palace, which is a 5-minute walk from the Istanbul Archeology Museums, sits on a hill that overlooks the Bosphorus Strait and the Marmara Sea. It is also the home of the Spoonmaker's Diamond, an 86-carat pear-shaped diamond.

9. Ortaköy Mosque

The Ortaköy Mosque sits right on the Bosphorus in Ortaköy pier square. It differs from other mosques like Hagia Sophia and Sultan Ahmed due to its Neo-baroque style and the panels of calligraphy created by Sultan Abdülmecid I. Make sure to stay after dark so that you can see the mosque (and the Bosphorus Bridge) light up!

10. Anadolu Kavağı

Anadolu Kavağı is a small fishing village located outside the city and all it takes to get there is a ferry ride, which doubles as a bout tour. It's perfect if you're looking to escape the big city for a day and you want to keep it low-key. Once you arrive, hike up to Yoros Castle, which overlooks the Black Sea, and then go back down to the harbor to enjoy some authentic seafood at Kavak Çapari, which offers a spectacular view of the Bosphorus Strait.

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