Romantic getaway for two, shopping spree, cultural trip, nights at the Bosphorus… Istanbul is suitable for all kinds of short stays. Winter and summer alike, but preferably in spring, the Turkish metropolis, at the crossroads of East and West, never ceases to charm the traveler. Short guide to the must-sees of Constantinople, to do in three or four days.
Istanbul can roughly be divided into three main areas: on one side of the Bosphorus, the Asian part of the city, the least touristy. The other, Blue, old Istanbul, separated by the Golden Horn estuary from the Beyoglu, which forms modern Istanbul.
It is logically through Sultanahmet that any visit to the city must begin. A thousand years of history at the crossroads of two civilizations bring you to old Istanbul.
One of the symbols of Istanbul, the Hagia Sophia mosque was for ten centuries, from 537 until the capture of Constantinople in 1453, the largest religious monument of Christendom. It was transformed into a mosque by Sultan Mehmet II and into a museum in 1935. The building is an architectural wonder: its 32-meter-diameter dome rises 56 meters from the ground, resting on four huge pillars.
Facing Hagia Sophia, the other Istanbul emblem: the blue mosque (photo), erected in the 21th century and surrounded by six minarets. It owes its name to the 000 blue earthenware tiles which decorate its interior. On the other side of Divanyolu Street, a curiosity: the basilica cistern. Built by Constantine, this Byzantine cistern, 140 meters long, 70 meters wide, 8 meters high and with a capacity of 80 m000, is worth a visit.
Another must-see in Sultanahmet: the Topkapı palace. Located on the tip of the Serail, which dominates both the Golden Horn, the Bosphorus and the Sea of Marmara, it was the residence of the sultans for four centuries from the capture of Constantinople. Do not miss the harem and, above all, the treasure. Nearby, the archaeological museums are also worth seeing.
Last tourist hotspot: the Grand Bazaar, the largest covered market in the world, which has existed since the 4th century. There are some 000 stalls, spread over some sixty alleys grouped by type of product: glassware, carpets, jewelry ... Compulsory bargaining and guaranteed spectacle.
You have to cross the Golden Horn by the galata bridge (magnificent view) to discover another Istanbul: more modern, less touristy, quite Europeanized. It is in the district of Beyoglu, where the neighborhoods of Pear and Galata, take the pulse of contemporary Istanbul.
Dominated by Genoese tower of Galata, from where one has a breathtaking view of the city and the Bosphorus, these are the cosmopolitan and trendy districts of Istanbul.
La taksim square, the heart of modern Istanbul, is easily reached by metro. From there leaves the main artery of the Péra district, theIstiklâl Caddesi which, having become pedestrian, has regained its former splendor. Lined with passages (like in Paris!), Embassies, shops, bars, clubs and restaurants, it is full of people, day and night.
Do not hesitate to rush into the alleys of Pera, where sumptuous vestiges of its past glory still remain, such as the mythical hotel Pera Palace. Greta Garbo, Josephine Baker, Hemingway and Mata-Hari had their habits there.
Below Pera, descending towards the Golden Horn, the Galata district, dominated by a Genoese tower of the XIIIth century, does not lack charm with its patrician and Levantine houses clinging to the hill which goes down towards the sea.
The presence of the church Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul and a Jewish museum bear witness to the intermingling of cultures of which Istanbul has always been the seat.
On all sides, Istanbul is bordered by the big blue. Golden Horn, Bosphorus or Sea of Marmara, there are no shortage of cruising possibilities.
From the Eminönü ferry terminal, a boat goes up every hour the Golden Horn to the Eyüp district. Along the way, beautiful view of the Fener and Balat hills. In Eyüp, panorama over the city from the Pierre-Loti coffee, who was a regular here. To be noted, deep in the Golden Horn, the Santral Istanbul Contemporary Art Museum.
Another nice walk: the Bosphorus cruise. Two options: the shorter one is to use the boats connecting the Asian and European shores from the Karakoÿ and Eminönü ferry terminals and go from pier to pier.
An essential stop at the Kabataş pier to visit the superb Dolmabahçe Palace, residence of the last sultans in the XNUMXth century. Another option: take the ferry to Anadolu Kavağı, north of the Bosphorus, or 1h30 cruise with several stops along the way (tickets from 20 pounds, or 10 €).
Last maritime escape: the Princes' Islands, in the Sea of Marmara, to be favored on sunny days. Several departures per day from Kabataş and Eminönü. About twenty kilometers south of Istanbul, these islets have been, since the XNUMXth century, privileged vacation spots for Istanbulites. Ideal for walking and swimming in the intense blue of the Sea of Marmara.
Nights of Constantinople
If you are a night owl, no hesitation: find a hotel in the modern part, in Beyoglu. This is where it happens ! Profusion of bars and clubs of all kinds around Istiklâl Caddesi, and for all plumages. Istanbul vibrates and you can feel it!
Unmissable, the 360 ° is a panoramic bar with an exceptional view, located on the top floor of the'Mısır building where many art galleries nestle. Other places to go out, the Babylon with its live concerts, or the Ara Kafé opened by the famous photographer Ara Güler.
Quieter and more sore, the Cihangir district, between Taksim Square and the Bosphorus, has seen the emergence of cool and alternative bars in recent years, frequented by an arty and intellectual clientele.
Finally, in a completely different genre, the golden Istanbul youth meet in the restaurants and open-air clubs ofOrtaköyas an Output, gigantic restaurant box (not cheap) on the water's edge, to dance (almost) on the Bosphorus with your head in the stars.
To prepare for your stay, consult our Istanbul and Turkey fact sheets.
Turkish Tourist Board
Turkish Airlines and Air France serve Istanbul Atatürk International Airport daily from France. The low cost Pegasus Airlines connects Orly, Saint-Etienne, Nice, Lyon and Marseille to Sabiha Gökçen airport (50 km from old Istanbul, on the Asian side, frequent bus shuttles to Taksim).
Book your plane ticket to Istanbul.
Where to sleep ?
See our Express addresses in Istanbul.
Please note, most museums close on Mondays.