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  • Sultan-Ahmed-Mosque-Istanbul-interior-2 - The stunning interior of the 17th-century Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey, popularly known as the Blue Mosque for the 20,000 blue tiles that adorn its walls.
  • Blue-Mosque-Istanbul - The Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey, dates to 1616. It's popularly known as the Blue Mosque for the blue tiles decorating its inside walls. Visit it as part of a Mediterranean itinerary aboard Tere Moana.
  • Blue-Mosque-interior-Istanbul - The cupola of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey, built from 1609 to 1616. See it as part of a cruise aboard Tere Moana.
  • Ortakoy-Mosque-Istanbul - The Ortaköy Mosque at night in Istanbul.
  • Blue-Mosque-Istanbul-with-ship - The magnificient 17th-century Sultan Ahmed Mosque, or Blue Mosque, in Istanbul, Turkey, is distinguished by a casdade of domes and six slender minarets.
  • interior-Hagia-Sophia-Istanbul - The interior of Hagia Sophia, built in 360 AD. It's now a museum called Ayasofya Müzesi, in Istanbul, Turkey.
  • Topkapi-Palace-interior-2.jpg - Gilded globes hang in many of the rooms at Istanbul's Topkapi Palace, a symbol of the sultan watching over the world.
  • Inside-Rustem-Pasha-Mosque-2.jpg - Wonderfully intricate tile artwork adorn the walls of the Rüstem Pasha Mosque in Istanbul.
  • Rumelihisari-Istanbul-Turkey - The fortress Rumelihisarı in the Sarıyer district of Istanbul, Turkey.
  • Sultanahmet-Istanbul - The iconic Sultanahmet Camii, or Blue Mosque, in Istanbul, Turkey.
  • interior-Blue-Mosque-Istanbul - An interior view of the Sultanahmet Camii, or Blue Mosque, in Istanbul, Turkey.
  • modern-turkish-carpets-2000.jpg - You'll see modern Turkish carpets for sale throughout the streets of Istanbul.
  • Sultan-Ahmed-Mosque-Istanbul-interior-cupola - The cascading domed ceiling and blue-tiled walls make the 400-year-old Sultan Ahmed Mosque, or Blue Mosque, one of the most beautiful sites in Istanbul, Turkey.
  • Sultan-Ahmed-Mosque-Istanbul-exterior - Explore the magnificient 400-year-old Sultan Ahmed Mosque, or Blue Mosque, during your port call in Istanbul, Turkey.
  • Mosque-of-Hagia-Sophia-Istanbul - A view of the interior cupola of Hagia Sophia, now a museum called Ayasofya Müzesi, in Istanbul, Turkey.
  • Rustem-Pasha-Mosque - Under the cupola of Rustem Pasha Mosque, a strikingly ornate 16th-century Ottoman mosque in Istanbul, Turkey.
  • pastries-Turkey - Turkish pastries in Istanbul, Turkey.
  • Gate-Salutation-Topaki-Palace-Istanbul - The Gate of Salutation that leads to the Topaki Palace in Istanbul.
  • Basilica-Cistern-Istanbul - The Basilica Cistern is the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns that lie beneath the city of Istanbul.
  • Medusa-statue-at-Basilica-Cistern.jpg - The upside-down Medusa carved into the base of a column at the back of the Basilica Cistern in Istanbul.
  • Inside-rear-entrance-of-the-Blue-Mosque.jpg - The cupola inside the rear entrance of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul.
  • blue-mosque-courtyard-dusk.jpg - The courtyard of the Blue Mosque, or Sultan Ahmed Mosque, at dusk in Istanbul.
  • Rustem-Pasha-Mosque-cupola.jpg - A closeup of the cupola inside the small  Rüstem Pasha Mosque in Istanbul.
  • Design-work-inside-Rustem-Pasha-Mosque.jpg - Detail of the intricately decorated Rüstem Pasha Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey.
  • Galata-Tower-in-Istanbul-at-night.jpg -   Galata Tower, a medieval stone tower in the Galata/Karaköy quarter of Istanbul, at night. Shot taken from aboard Viking Star.
  • Turkish-soldier-in-Istanbul.jpg - A Turkish soldier, with green beret and submachine gun, stationed near the entrance of a tourist attraction in Istanbul.
  • Turkish-vase-in-Istanbul - A Turkish vase seen in a shop in Istanbul, Turkey.
  • Blue-Mosque-interior-2-1.jpg - A semi-dome with 14 windows inside the Blue Mosque, or Sultan Ahmed Mosque.
  • artistic-Turkish-carpet.jpg - A contemporary Turkish carpet spotted at a storefront in Old Istanbul's Grand Bazaar.
  • Turkish-coffee - Turkish coffee — hope you like your coffee strong!
  • silver-jewelry-at-Olympic.jpg - You'll find silver jewelry in boutique shops, along with more exotic merchandise, at the Grand Bazaar.
  • colorful-lamps.jpg - Colorful lamps spotted at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Turkey.
  • turkish-carpets-istanbul.jpg - An assortment of Turkish carpets with intricate patterns at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul.
  • Blue-Mosque-interior-2.jpg - Interior of the ornate Sultan Ahmed Mosque, or Blue Mosque, in Istanbul, Turkey.
  • lamps-grand-bazaar.jpg - A women admires the assortment of colorful lamps at a shop in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul.
  • Sultan-Ahmed-Mosque-Istanbul-interior - The prayer area of the beautiful Sultan Ahmed Mosque, or Blue Mosque, in Istanbul, Turkey.
  • Turkish-rugs-in-Istanbul - Turkish rugs with a contemporary design seen along a walkway in Istanbul, Turkey.
  • Virgin-Mary-Jesus-John-Baptist-mosaic-c.-1300-Hagia-Sophia.jpg - The Deësis mosaic at Hagia Sophia dates from 1261 and depicts the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist imploring Christ on behalf of humanity on Judgment Day.
  • Karakoy-at-night3.jpg - Modern cafes and restaurants line the cobblestone streets of Karaköy, one of Istanbul's trendiest neighborhoods. 
  • Inside-Rustem-Pasha-Mosque-5.jpg - Windows illuminate the center of the Rüstem Pasha Mosque in Istanbul.
  • Inside-the-Blue-Mosque-3.jpg - One side of the interior of the  Blue Mosque, or Sultan Ahmed Mosque, in Istanbul.
  • Inside-the-Blue-Mosque-5.jpg - The blue-tinted main dome and semi-domes of the Blue Mosque, or Sultan Ahmed Mosque, in Istanbul.
  • Inside-Hagia-Sophia-14.jpg - Hagia Sophia was dedicated as a Greek Orthodox church by the emperor Justinian in 537 A.D.
  • Inside-Hagia-Sophia-11.jpg - The intricate artwork inside Hagia Sophia, which means  Holy Wisdom in Greek.
  • Inside-Hagia-Sophia-9.jpg - A golden-colored religious chamber, off-limits to the public, inside Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.
  • Inside-Hagia-Sophia-4.jpg - Columns line the intricately patterned interior of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.
  • Inside-Hagia-Sophia-5.jpg - Another view of the columns adorning the interior of Hagia Sophia, built in 537 A.D.
  • Inside-Hagia-Sophia-8.jpg - Second-story view of magnificent hand-painted signage with sayings from the Koran adorn the walls of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.
  • Inside-Hagia-Sophia-2.jpg - Built in 537 A.D., Hagia Sophia at various times was a Greek Orthodox church, an imperial mosque and now a museum.
  • Topkapi-Palace-entrance.jpg - The Gate of Salutation at the entrance to Topkapı Palace, or the Seraglio, which dates from the 1460s.
  • Hagia-Sophia-seen-from-the-Blue-Mosque.jpg - Visitors move between Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey.
  • Hagia-Sophia-main-floor.jpg - The sprawling main floor of Hagia Sophia, which attracts visitors from all cultures.
  • Design-details-inside-Rustem-Pasha-Mosque3.jpg - Detail of the intricately decorated Rüstem Pasha Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey.
  • Blue-Mosque-stained-glass-windows.jpg - Elaborately patterned stained glass windows inside the Blue Mosque, or Sultan Ahmed Mosque.
  • Blue-Mosque-stained-glass-windows-3.jpg - Stained glass windows inside one of the semi-domes in the Blue Mosque, or Sultan Ahmed Mosque.
  • Blue-Mosque-stained-glass-windows-2.jpg - Stained glass windows inside the Blue Mosque, or Sultan Ahmed Mosque, in Istanbul.
  • Blue-Mosque-interior-3.jpg - Centuries-old intricate patterns inside the Blue Mosque, or Sultan Ahmed Mosque, in Istanbul.
  • Blue-Mosque-from-a-distance.jpg - The Blue Mosque, or Sultan Ahmed Mosque, is one of the most striking landmarks in Istanbul.
  • Topkapi-Palace-ceiling.jpg - Intricate tile patterns line the ceiling of one building at Topkapi Palace in Istanbul.
  • Topkapi-Palace-architecture.jpg - Columns and a gold-colored ceiling line a wing of Topkapi Palace in Istanbul.
  • Topkapi-Palace-tapestry.jpg - İznik tiles, dating to the 16th or 17th century, at Topkapi Palace.
  • Topkapi-Palace.jpg - Main entrance to the Audience Chamber, with the small fountain of Suleiman I to the right, and a gifts window to the left.
  • Virgin-Mary-&-Christ-child-on-ceiling-of-Hagia-Sophia.jpg - The Virgin and Child mosaic is located on the half dome of the apse inside Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. It dates from 867 A.D.
  • amazing-lamps-2.jpg - An assortment of colorful, intricately designed lamps at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul.
  • Biblo-Zirh.jpg - A warrior statuette, marked Biblo Zirh, along one of the main walkways in Istanbul's Grand Bazaar.
  • carpet-and-clothing-shop.jpg - A shop selling Turkish carpets and clothing along the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul.
  • grand-bazaar-ceramics.jpg - A shop selling colorful ceramics and decorative items in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul.
  • colorful-lamps-grand-bazaar.jpg - Colorful lamps along a side walkway at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Turkey.
  • decorative-ornaments-grand-bazaar.jpg - Decorative ornaments in a shop window at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul.
  • fashionable-handbags.jpg - Fashionable Western-style handbags in a store's display case at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul.
  • gold-jewelry-at-Engin.jpg - Gold jewelry at Engin, a boutique shop at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul.
  • gold-plated-chest.jpg - A gold-plated chest in a store window at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul.
  • hakki-zade.jpg - Pastries in the window of Hakki Zade, an eatery just outside the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul.
  • inside-grand-bazaar.jpg - Visitors eye the boutique stores along the main hallway of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul.
  • istanbul-grand-bazaar-entrance.jpg - The entrance to the Kapalicarsi Grand Bazaar in Istanbul.
  • istanbul-grand-bazaar-inside.jpg - Shopkeepers at the entrance of their stores in Istanbul's Grand Bazaar.
  • Ruby-Princess-Istanbul-Turkey - Ruby Princess in Istanbul at the Bosphorus Strait.
  • grand-bazaar-lanterns.jpg - Do not rub the magic lanterns! At the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul.
  • modern-decorative-Turkish-carpet.jpg - A modern decorative Turkish carpet at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul.
  • modern-turkish-carpets.jpg - Modern Turkish carpets line the entrance to a shop in Istanbul's Grand Bazaar.
  • ornamental-decorations.jpg - Gold- and silver-colored ornamental decorations at the Grand Bazaar.
  • ornamental-platters.jpg - Platters and other decorative ornaments at a shop in the Grand Bazaar.
  • pedestrian-mall-leading-to-grand-bazaar.jpg - The pedestrian walkway leading to the Grand Bazaar in Old Istanbul at twilight.
  • silver-and-gift-shop.jpg - Hilat Silver & Gift Shop at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul.
  • modern-turkish-carpets-1.jpg - You'll find Turkish carpets in thousands of different patterns and sizes at the Grand Bazaar.
  • crystal-symphony-in-istanbul.jpg - Crystal Symphony passes by the iconic Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey.
  • Blue-Mosque-interior-4.jpg - Inside the stunning Sultan Ahmed Mosque, or Blue Mosque, in Istanbul, Turkey.
  • Blue-Mosque-interior-4-1.jpg - The stunning interior of the Blue Mosque, or Sultan Ahmed Mosque, in Istanbul.
  • Blue-Mosque-interior-5.jpg - The Sultan Ahmed Mosque, or Blue Mosque, was completed in 1616.
  • Blue-Mosque-interior-8.jpg -  Another view of the surreal-looking Sultan Ahmed Mosque, or Blue Mosque, in Istanbul.
  • Commercial-street-in-Istanbul.jpg - A quiet cobblestone street with shops selling keepsakes in Istanbul.
  • Fortress-along-Bosphorus.jpg - Rumelihisarı or Boğazkesen Castle, a fortress on the European side of the Bosphorus strait.
  • hagia-sofya-cupola.jpg - The ancient cupola inside Hagia Sophia, which dates from 537 A.D.
  • Inside-Hagia-Sophia-12.jpg - Signage with a passage from the Koran inside Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.
  • Tour-guide-inside-Hagia-Sophia.jpg - A multimedia presentation is given to the devout in the nave near the entrance of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.
  • passport-control-in-Istanbul.jpg - Passport Control in Istanbul, Turkey.
  • Rustem-Pasha-Mosque-cupola-2.jpg - The cupola inside Rüstem Pasha Mosque, a 16th-century Ottoman mosque in the Tahtakale neighborhood of Istanbul.
  • Selfie-stick-in-istanbul.jpg - A mother and daughter use a selfie stick outside Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.
  • Seven-Hills-restaurant-in-Old-Istanbul.jpg - Cruiseable co-founder JD Lasica has tea at the Seven Hills restaurant in Old Istanbul overlooking the Bosphorus strait.
  • Topkapi-Palace-interior-3.jpg - An intricate mosaic pattern on the ceiling of a chamber at Topkapi Palace in Istanbul.
  • Tour-guide-at-Rustem-Pasha-Mosque.jpg - A tour guide gathers his group at Rüstem Pasha Mosque in Istanbul.
  • Tour-guide-inside-Hagia-Sophia-1.jpg -
  • Hagia-Sophia-Virgin-Mary-&-Jesus-mosaic.jpg - The Comnenus mosaic in Hagia Sophia dates from 1122. The Virgin Mary holds the Christ child on her lap. To the left is emperor John II Comnenus, to the right is empress Irene.
  • Virgin-&-Christ-child-at-Hagia-Sophia.jpg - The southwestern entrance mosaic at Hagia Sophia depicts the Virgin Mary holding the Christ child with emperor Justinian I at the left and emperor Constantin at the right.
  • blue-mosque-cupola.jpg - The stunning cupola of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul.
  • hagia-sofia-passageway.jpg - A passageway inside Hagia Sofia in Istanbul.
  • Topkapi-Palace-entrance-1.jpg - The entrance of Topkapi Palace in Istanbul.

Istanbul travel guide & photo tour

our guide

The vibe

For 2,500 years, Istanbul (once known as Constantinople) was the capital of three different empires: Rome, Byzantine and, until 1923, Ottoman. Its location — half in Europe, half in Asia — has made it an advantageous location over the centuries and a center for trade and culture.

It may not be an imperial capital anymore, but over the last three decades, it’s gone through an evolution that has transformed it into a dynamic metropolis of about 15 million residents. Full of extraordinary outdoor vendors, wonderful restaurants, interesting sites and glorious museums, Istanbul can seem overwhelming. Your eyes and ears will be inundated with intoxicating sights and sounds. Your best bet is to line up three or four activities that particularly interest you and spend your time exploring these in depth, as a visit to Istanbul without a definite plan is a chaotic visit.

Cruise ships that call on Istanbul

Top reasons to go

  • Sultanahmet, the Old City, is essentially the Constantinople of the Roman, Eastern Roman/Byzantine, and much of the Ottoman periods. The majority of the famous historical sights of Istanbul are located here.
  • The banks of the Golden Horn, the estuary that separates the European side into distinctive districts. Eyüp, an area known for its Ottoman ambience, is located here.
  • Princes’ Islands, which is made up of an archipelago of nine car-free islands with wooden mansions, verdant pine gardens and beautiful views.
The interior cupola of Hagia Sophia.
GoTurkey.comThe interior cupola of Hagia Sophia.

Things to do & see in Istanbul

Hagia Sophia

One of the finest man-made works of architecture in the world, this artistic masterpiece is known as Megalo Ecclesia, which translates to Colossal Church. The Hagia Sophia was built in 360 AD as a tribute to Christianity, the newly sanctioned religion of Byzantium. After a fire destroyed a portion of this remarkable edifice, restorations were done during the years 408-450. Centuries of renovations and additions led eventually to the building as it exists today.

Instanbul Archaeology Museum

Osman Hamdi Bey, a 19th-century archeologist, diplomat and painter, founded this museum in 1891. Throughout his life, he fought valiantly to save valuable antiques from being smuggled out of Turkey. Located in Topkapi Palace (0212/520-7740), the Istanbul Archaeology Museum is spread out over three buildings and over one million unique and fascinating objects can be seen here. Check out the Istanbul Through the Ages exhibits, which is the best way to catch a glimpse of the culture, history, and heritage of this spectacular city.

Grand Bazaar

Open since 1461, this sprawling outdoor marketplace is full of stalls selling everything, from handmade rugs to live chickens. It is a bargainer's paradise, and if you are strong in your bargaining skills, you can get some tremendous deals here while soaking in a true Turkish cultural establishment. Watch out for an abundance of ruthless salesmen, but don't be too defensive. The citizens of Istanbul are respectful and friendly, but once you enter a store or bazaar, the game is on. If you are shopping, you are in the hunt, and if you are in the hunt, you are fair game for the merchants to attempt to force a sale on you. Simply stick to your guns, and you will find the bargains you are looking for. 

The iconic Sultanahmet Camii, or Blue Mosque, in Istanbul, Turkey.
GoTurkey.comThe iconic Sultanahmet Camii, or Blue Mosque, in Istanbul, Turkey.

Blue Mosque

Located on Sultan Ahmet Camii, the world famous Blue Mosque was constructed in 1617 at the request of Sultan Ahmet I. It features six towering minarets, adding to the mosques overall grandeur, as well as stunning stained glass windows. If you visit the mosque in the early morning, the sun shining through the windows will radiate blue, thus highlighting the mosque's colorful namesake.

For entering mosques in Istanbul you need to cover your shoulders and knees, and women will also need to cover their heads. Coverings are provided by the larges mosques, i.e. the Blue Mosque, but you might want to bring your own (a foldable shawl is perfect for warmer weather). Also be prepared to take off your shoes before entering the mosque.

Best bets for dining

Turkish coffee.
GoTurkey.comTurkish coffee.
Middle Eastern foods such as kabobs, pita and hummus make food in Istanbul shine. However, given the city's location as the bridge between Europe and Asia, you're sure to find a variety of other European and Asian dishes available here to sample. 
In the summertime, there are plenty of rooftop restaurants and bars available for you to try out. Given that restaurants are a huge part of Turkish life, be prepared to make reservations at almost any of the high-end places you want to go. In addition to the high-end restaurants, Istanbul has no shortage of delicious street food or neighborhood cafes. 
In its February 2015 issue, Travel + Leisure magazine named these hot restaurants in Istanbul:
  • Yeni Lokanta (66 Kumbaracı Yokuşu, Beyoğlu), specializing in small tummy dishes with heirloom foodstuffs.
  • Balat Agora Meyhanesi (Balat Mh., 34087 Fatih), for inventive salads and meze.
  • Ristorante Italia (at Zorlu shopping center) for pan-Italian classics. 

Best time to go

Spring and fall are the best times to visit, although it can still get cold in the springtime. The best weather and lowest prices are usually between September and November. Summers are usually peak travel seasons, but the weather gets hot and it can often get congested in the city.

Fun facts

  • Istanbul is the world’s fifth-most-popular tourist destination and is one of the fastest-growing metropolitan economies in the world.
  • Istanbul is situated near the North Anatolian Fault, close to the boundary between the African and Eurasian Plates. This position makes it vulnerable to many smaller and also bigger earthquakes.

When you arrive

Docking information

Cruise ships dock at the Port of Istanbul. Cruise ships dock at the northern side of the Galata bridge which is situated at the Karaköy neighborhood of the Beyoğlu district. The location is on the northern side of the Bosporus, the European part of Istanbul. From there, you can take a taxi to your destination in the capital city.

Getting around

Bus: Buses are an economic as well as efficient way to get around Istanbul. However, be sure that you get on the right bus! Route maps and precise schedules are non-existent, so tell the driver your destination so he can confirm that you aren't headed in the opposite direction. A bus ride will cost you a modest 70 cents. If you are so inclined, which you shouldn't be considering the nightmarish traffic in Istanbul combined with a high rate of car theft, you can rent a car in the city by contacting Avis (0212-297-9610).

Taxis are plentiful available at the cruise terminal, and you can hail a taxi on any street corner in the city. Drivers will try to negotiate the fare upfront with you which is usually not a favorable price. Bargaining reduces the price significantly. Be aware that the traffic is usually heavy in Istanbul making it difficult to predict arrival times. Leave enough time for a transfer, especially when Istanbul is a start or end destination of your cruise.

Need to know

Documents: U.S. and Canadian passengers need a passport and likely a visa. 

Language: Turkish. However, most of the younger population in the city also speaks English.

Store hours: Opening times differ a lot around Turkey, but generally are Monday to Saturday from 9.30 am to 7 pm. On Sundays shops are closed.

Tipping: In Turkey, tipping is discretionary, but expected. Tipping in Turkish liras is better than dollar or euro. Tips on credit cards are not possible.

Safety: Istanbul is considered a safe city on the whole. As always, be aware of your surroundings and lock up your valuables.

ShoreFox contributed to this guide.

Your take

Have you been in Istanbul? What was the highlight? Do you have any tips you can share? 

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Overheard

“Then I went underground at the fascinating Basilica Cistern, a subterranean storage system for 22-million gallons of water brought 12 miles by aqueduct from the Belgrade Forest. Supported by 336 columns, each 26 feet high, it was constructed to serve the needs of the Topkapi Palace and looks like an eerily flooded temple. The echo of dripping water is enhanced with piped-in music.”

Cruise Travel magazine

“Sixty-four streets, more than 4,000 vendors, ferociously expensive retail spaces: the 15th-century Grand Bazaar is both tourist trap and fantastical treasure trove. Textiles? Ikat silks and wood-block prints at Sivasli Istanbul Yazmacisi draws the likes of Jean Paul Gaultier. Rugs? Choose  between geometric patchworks recycled from old kilims at Ethnicon and gorgeous classics collected by the Sorbonne-educated owner at Sisko Osman. Snack on a slender doner wrap from the cult favorite Gul Ebru Kantin nearby.”

Travel + Leisure magazine

“In Istanbul, where I have an apartment, weeks would pass without a straitjacket sit-down dinner. Instead, we'd start with drinks and wood-fired pide (Turkish pizza) on the rooftop terrace of the Adahan Hotel; walk two blocks to smoky Canim Cigerim for sizzling liver kebabs, then  prowl the streets for a certain chickpea pilaf cart — before winding down with a glass of çay at a makeshift tea garden near the Karaköy docks with breathtaking view of Hagia Sophia.”

Travel + Leisure magazine

 

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