Where to go in Istanbul if you have only short period of time? Hagia Sophia and The Blue Mosque will always be suggested to travelers who are going to visit this city that was once known as Constatinople. Those mosques are pretty, but Istanbul is more than that.
I was lucky enough to have a full 3-day visit, so I could visit a lot of museums there. Museums are my thing, so they always have a spot on my travel agenda wherever I go. But what if you have shorter visit than mine, where would you go? Here are some other interesting places that I went to.
On this day I was mainly having a good rest to recover from the flight and bracing for the cold windy weather of Istanbul. The photo above was the view from my room.
In the 15th century, Topkapi Palace served as the main residence and administrative headquarters of the Ottoman Sultans. The palace consists of four main courtyards and many smaller buildings. The most popular section of the palace is the Harem, where female members of the royal family lived there.
The Harem was the first building I went to. As I walked from one room to another, I imagined what was it like to live here and how did the people do their daily activities. It certainly was not easy to gather hundreds of women in one building, let alone manage them to stay away from conflicts and live in harmony.
Istanbul Archaeology Museum
Istanbul Archaeology Museum consists of three museums; Archaeological Museum located in the main building, Museum of the Ancient Orient, and Museum of Islamic Art in the Tiled Kiosk.
There are many interesting collections of Turkish, Hellenic and Roman artifacts in the museum. I saw a lot of statues or at least what once were parts of it, tombs, and fragments from the temple of Athena. But what I liked the most was the glazed tile images of Ishtar Gate from Babylon. The lion represents Ishtar, the Babylonian goddess, that King Nebuchadnezzar II worshipped.
Babylon, now Iraq, was once a kingdom in Mesopotamia and it was also the largest city in the world from 1770 to 1670 BC and King Nebuchadnezzar II was mentioned in the Bible as the king whose dreams were interpreted by Daniel.
The collections of the museum were very interesting to observe, but unfortunately, the way they were displayed was not really interactive. The artifacts look like they were bored and have no stories to tell, I hope the museum management would do something to make the museum much more attractive.
Literature Museum & Library
I found this library unexpectedly while we were about to go from one museum to another. This library is located inside the Gulhane Park and it is so pretty that I think it deserves a single blog post. I will link the post here later once it’s published.
If you are tired from museum-hopping, this park will be the perfect spot to rest and relax for awhile. You can stroll around enjoying the view or just sit down and observe the birds and flowers in the park. This park will look much more beautiful in the spring when colorful flowers are blooming.
Museum of Innocence
If you know Orhan Pamuk, you must have read or at least heard some of his published novels. He is the recipient of Nobel Prize in Literature in 2006 and he is very well-known, not only in Turkey but all over the world. One of his novels entitled Museum of Innocence was brought up to a real-life museum and I went to visit it.
It looks more like a house than a museum and it displays a lot of things that will resonate with the novel’s plot. I’d suggest you read the novel first before visiting this museum so a lot of things will make sense to you. But even if you haven’t, this museum is very interesting and you will learn a lot from both the novel and the writer itself.
Watching The Whirling Dervishes at Hodjapasha Cultural Center
This is a must-do in Istanbul. The Whirling Dervishes is a performance done by the Mevlevi Order who are whirling as a form of dhikr (remembrance of God). The Mevlevi Order was founded by the famous poet and Sufi mystic, Rumi.
We were lucky to get front row seats that enable us to watch the whirling dervishes from a very close distance. No photography or video making is allowed while the performance is being done because this is considered sacred. I really enjoyed watching it and if you want to do the same, I suggest you book the tickets in advance so you can get the front row seats, too.
Sultanahmet Cami (The Blue Mosque)
This mosque and Hagia Sophia are a must-visit when you are in Istanbul. The two mosques are facing each other so there is no way you will skip either one of them. The mosque looks beautiful all day long, you can literally take hundreds of pictures of it during the daytime or in the evening.
Hagia Sophia used to be a Greek Orthodox Christian church in the past until Constantinople was conquered by Sultan Mehmet II or Mehmet the Conqueror. In 1453, he ordered the church to be converted into a mosque and the Christian relics depicting Jesus, Mother Mary, and the Christian Saints were destroyed. There is, however, one remaining painting of Mother Mary and the Child on the high ceilings inside Hagia Sophia. The mosque architecturally inspired many other Ottoman mosques like Şehzade Mosque and Süleymaniye Mosque.
My boyfriend told me that this was one of the locations for the movie “Inferno” which was adapted from a novel with the same title by Dan Brown. I haven’t watched the movie until we came back from Istanbul and decided to watch it.
I don’t really like the movie, but I like watching the final scene where the protagonists are trying to stop the bad guys from exploding a plastic bag full of viruses under the water at the Basilica Cistern. Anyway, the cistern looks nice with the lighting, it was too bad that during my visit the two Medusa heads were being covered and under renovation.
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That’s where I went to when I was in Istanbul. I hope this post helps you decide which places to visit when you are in the city either for a short layover or for a proper (more than 2 days) trip. If you recently visited the city and know some other places to go and would like to recommend it, too, drop your comment below 🙂