The beautiful, ancient city of Istanbul in the country of Turkey is where continents and culture collide. Straddling eastern Europe and western Asia, and with cultural connections to ancient Greek, Persian, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires, Istanbul, formerly known as Constantinople, has been an important cultural and religious destination for more than three thousand years. Filled with amazing and historical architecture, Istanbul maintains its distinctive heritage while keeping pace with modern times.
Whether Istanbul is your intended destination or just a layover on your journey, here’s a must-see list of places to visit.
Also called the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, this elegant structure is nothing short of stunning. By day, visitors marvel at the grandiose behemoth that still functions as mosque today. Inside you’ll find hand painted blue tiles that contribute to the mosque’s name. At night, the mosque is bathed in blue lights. This mosque is thought to be the last one built in the Classic period.
Upon your departure from the Blue Mosque, head next door to Hagia Sophia, a former Greek Orthodox basilica currently functioning as a museum. Among the items of note are the marble door, two lustration urns, the wishing column, the Loge of the Empress, and a number of mosaics that were unearthed during the 20th-century restoration of the site.
Hippodrome: German Fountain
Travel across from the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia to find the German Fountain, a gazebo-esque fountain built in Germany before being transported piece by piece to Istanbul. The fountain has stood in Sultanahmet Square for over a century, having originally been commissioned to celebrate German Emperor Wilhelm II’s visit to the city in 1898.
Also residing in the Hippodrome is the legendary bronze column of three entwined snakes. This iconic structure was built in celebration of the Greeks who triumphed over the Persian empire at the Battle of Plataea in 479 BC. Having survived for nearly 2500 years, the column no longer has the adorning snake heads at its pinnacle, but you can see part of one of the heads in the Istanbul Archaeology Museum.
Obelisk of Theodosius
Not far from the Serpentine Column lies the towering Obelisk of Theodosius. Originally erected between 1479-1425 BC, the obelisk was relocated to Alexandria in 357 by Constantius II, then re-erected in its current location in 390. Once measuring around 30m high, damages to the lower portion during transport or display makes it only 18.54m.
Just a 10-minute walk from the Hippodrome area lies the Topkapi Palace, which once played home to Ottoman Sultans. Now thriving as a museum, visitors can glimpse the Spoonmaker’s Diamond, Topapi Dagger, Ottoman clothing, weapons, and manuscripts, among other artifacts.
Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts
After leaving the Topkapi Palace, head Southwest to the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts, a former palace now hosting collections of unique artifacts. Here you can see pieces of Turkish and Islamic culture, including calligraphy, rugs, tiles, and ethnographic tableaus.
And when it’s time to rest after a magnificent day of sightseeing, make sure you’ve booked a room at the Crowne Plaza Istanbul-Florya. A glorious waterfront hotel, the guest rooms are equipped to give guests the Crowne Plaza Sleep Advantage with luxurious bedding, Quiet Zones where you can opt not to be disturbed, and aromatherapy kits to promote better rest and relaxation.
Complimentary wireless Internet access is included with every stay at most Crowne Plaza Hotels & Resorts. And 24-hour fitness facilities and healthy meals–prepared fresh, just for you–help keep you on your game when traveling for business.
Travel Tip: Turkish Airlines can help you schedule a free sightseeing tour during your layover of six hours or more. Depending on the length between your arrival and next flight, there are plenty of guided tours to take you throughout the city and place you directly in the sights and sounds of Istanbul’s culture and history. And it’s definitely worth the time and effort, especially when the alternative is hanging out in an airport terminal.