Top 5 Favorite Historical Sites and Experiences in Istanbul in Photos

After about 10 years of saying to each other ‘I want to go there’, my husband and I finally had a chance to visit Istanbul, Turkey a few weeks ago. While it’s not a city that even claims to be sustainable or green-minded, the historical treasures of Istanbul are worth a visit perhaps in combination with a sailing or cycling trip along the coast.

Here’s listing of my top 5 favorite historical experiences:

Hagia Sophia – The Blue Mosque (pictured below) is imposing and impressive, but for me, it was Hagia Sophia just across the promenade that was more interesting to me. The former Greek Orthodox Church turned mosque and now historical museum was at its time the world’s largest cathedral. Today, although many mosaics have been plastered over, the ones that remain are striking in their colors.


Hagia Sophia in Istanbul Turkey

Bosphorus Cruise – There are many ways to take a trip up the Bosphorus Strait, including taking the regular ferry or one of the many daily trips offered at the dock at Eminönü. Most of the trips offer a “personal guide” that explains the different palaces and sites along the European and Asian sides of the Strait, but the more interesting opportunity for us was to stop at the villages along the way for a hike, meal, drink, dessert or just to relax away from the crowds of the center city.

Bosphorus Bosphorus Strait Cruise in Istanbul Turkey

Whirling Dervishes – The Whirling Dervish is a dance (almost meditation) performed by a Sufi religious order to commemorate their reverence for God. It’s an unusual sight you can see the participating men take on a different state of consciousness, as seen in the video below. There are a few places in Istanbul that offer this experience, but we chose to go to HodjaPasha Culture Center.

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Hamam – One experience that is an absolute must (if you can get past the nudity) is to take a Hamam or Turkish bath. Essentially, you are scrubbed and bathed (as perhaps your mother bathed you as a child) until your skin is so smooth and you are so relaxed, you just don’t want to leave. Instead of Mom though, it’s a person (of the same gender) who gently guides you through the treatment. After undressing, you first go to a sauna room so your skin gets prepared for the bath (for me, the sauna was such a welcome relief to the damp and chilly air outside, I was in a state of meditation very quickly). Then, you are taken to a marble-encased room (pictured below) where you first sit near a sink and have lots of warm water poured all over you in preparation for the scrubbing, which is intense and rejuvenating. After more warm water rinsing, you are given a bubble massage, which is heaven! The treatment ends with a relaxing hair wash and even more rinsing. There are many places all over Istanbul to take a hamam, but we chose to go where a lot of locals go, the Swissotel.

Hamman Hamam Turkish Bath Room in Istanbul Turkey

Spice Bazaar/Grand Bazaar – I talked about visiting the Spice Bazaar and Grand Bazaar in a previous post, which you can read about here.