Istanbul is more than a city. It is a vibrant metropolis, a meeting place for different cultures, a capital of centuries-old empires… Istanbul is the only city located on two continents and is visited every year by millions of travelers who want to catch a glimpse of its enchanting palaces and mosques. With its colorful daily life, rich cuisine and dynamic nightlife, Istanbul is unforgettable. If you plan your trip well, you can unravel the most important secrets of this magical city in three days. Text: Susan Poeder
Online editing: Mical Joseph

The crown jewel of Istanbul: the Bosphorus

Istanbul is perhaps best viewed from the sea. The Bosphorus Strait connects the Sea of ​​Marmara with the Black Sea and is seen as Istanbul's ultimate treasure. Both banks are dotted with so-called Yalı (historical mansions) and have several charming neighborhoods such as Ortaköy, Bebek, Arnavutköy, Rumelia Castle, Emirgan and Yenikoy on the European side and Kanlıca, Çengelköy, Beylerbeyi, Kuzguncuk and Anadoluhisarı on the Asian side. Istanbul's official ferry company offers three Bosphorus tours including a short two-hour cruise from Eminonu to Istinye, a full Bosphorus cruise and a bonus night cruise. For a full experience, the longer tours are recommended, which take you from Eminönü all the way to the Anadolu Kavagi in the Black Sea and back again. You sail close to the coast by boat and make regular stops to explore the surrounding areas. Here you can really see the beauty of the Bosphorus coast. This becomes apparent when you settle down in one of the picturesque restaurants with delicious fish dishes, trendy cafes, bars or bistros. With modern yachts in the water on one side and historic mansions on the other, this is one of the better places in the world for an extensive lunch.

The Bosphorus is also easy to explore on foot. Besiktas is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Istanbul and is a good starting point for your walking tour. A must see is the Dolmabahce Palace, the most important administrative center of the Ottoman Empire. The palace with its neoclassical appearance and impressive interior gives visitors a glimpse into an era when Istanbul was the capital of one of the world's greatest empires. Along the way you can also see Çıragan Palace and Ortaköy Mosque. In Ortaköy, take a coffee break at one of the many cafes or continue to Arnavutköy – a picturesque neighborhood known for its waterfront Ottoman mansions and seafood restaurants – and Bebek. This chic neighborhood has a beautiful waterfront park, as well as many boutiques and cafes surrounding the main street. From here you can stroll along the promenade or take a bus or taxi to explore the charming neighborhoods of Rumelihisarı (Rumelia Castle), Emirgan, Istinye, Yeniköy, Tarabya and Sarıyer, all the way to Rumeli Kavagi.

The capital of the ancient world

The peninsula is the center of Istanbul's cultural history, the point where all parts
of the glorious past come together. In the heart of the historic peninsula, the Sultanahmet district offers some highlights: mosques, palaces, churches and houses from the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman periods. Sultanahmet Square, the heart of the neighborhood, was called the Hippodrome by the Romans and Byzantines and is best explored on foot. Next stop: Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya), a former cathedral that was commissioned by Emperor Justinian in 537 and now serves as a museum. The Hagia Sophia stands under a 55 meter high dome and is a unique place with its impressive, mystical architecture. The adjacent Blue Mosque, also known as the Sultanahmet Mosque, is a 400-year-old monument and one of Istanbul's most iconic and historic landmarks. Right across from Hagia Sophia you'll find the Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarnıcı): a 1500-year-old water storage facility that fascinates visitors with its serene atmosphere.

Other notable sights on the island include Topkapı Palace, the archaeological museums and the Grand Bazaar. A visit to the palace's opulent pavilions with manicured courtyards, jewel-filled treasures and mysterious Harem, provides a fascinating glimpse into the daily life of the Ottoman court. The outer garden is called Gulhane Park and is perfect for a break overlooking the Bosphorus. The nearby archaeological museums house artefacts and historical works of art including the sacrophagus of Alexander the Great. Istanbul's Covered Grand Bazaar (Kapalıçarsi) in Beyazıt is just a short tram ride (or 30-minute walk) from Sultanahmet. Stroll through dozens of streets with thousands of shops, all dedicated to beautiful Turkish crafts and combine shopping with some sightseeing.


After exploring the historical wonders of Istanbul, it's time to spread your wings further. Cross the historic Galata Bridge and you'll enter the hip Karaköy neighborhood, full of trendy cafes, restaurants and boutiques. Also one of Istanbul's most important ports, Karaköy is home to renowned museums and art galleries. From here follow the Kumbaracı Yokusu, or take the historic cable car to Galata and Istiklâl Street. With the Galata Tower crowning this area, this is a very different center for entertainment and shopping with designer boutiques, charming cafes and trendy restaurants. The Galata Tower offers a 360-degree panoramic view of the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn and is one of the symbols of Istanbul. A walk through the famous Istiklâl Street is a must: this is the beating heart of the city. The boulevard was once called the Grand Rue de Pera and runs from Tünel to the busy entertainment district of Taksim. Visitors come here for its fascinating 19th century architecture whose buildings house most of the cultural centers, as well as cool boutiques and bistros. In addition to food and shopping, the street is also an important cultural and entertainment center with theaters, art galleries and museums.