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Istanbul is overflowing with interesting sights and attractions and it is unlikely to get to see all those that you want to in one short break, so investigate before you travel and select those that you would most like to see.
The city is divided into clear sections from Sultanahmet, Eminonu, the Western District and Beyoglu, each with its own collection of places to visit. Sultanahmet is the heart of old Istanbul. The Blue Mosque, Ayasofya and Topkapi Palace are all to be found there, along with several other interesting museums. The Western District on the other hand has the traditional religious districts of Fener, Balat, and Eyup and lies on the south bank of the Halic (Golden Horn), forming a fascinating area of churches, mosques and historic Greek and Jewish districts within the city walls.
Don’t just stay in the centre of the city. You can’t fully experience Istanbul without taking to the water, on ferries that cross the Bosphorus between the Asian and European shores, passing decadent Ottoman palaces built by the sultans during the dying days of the empire.
Read more on this destination in the AA Citypack Guide to Istanbul.
Must see attractions in Istanbul
At Meydani - This translates as Horses’ Square and was originally a racecourse for chariots. The hippodromes most remarkable item is the Egyptian Obelisk dating back to the 16th century BC. The hieroglyphs are so sharply etched that the column looks like a reproduction.
Sultanahmet Camii - Better known to Western visitors as the ‘Blue Mosque’ because of the Cobalt tiles in the prayer hall, this awesome building is particularly impressive when illuminated at night.
Ayasofya Camii - Despite the peeling mosaics and the crumbling masonry, this remains one of the world’s architectural masterpieces. You should insert your finger into the ‘weeping column’ in the nave as it is said to have miraculous healing powers.
Yerebatan Sarnici - The Basilica Cistern can easily be missed as it lies some 6m (19.5ft) below the ground, yet it is one of the most impressive sights in Istanbul, dating back to AD532.
Galata Bridge - Spanning the mouth of the Golden Horn, Galata Bridge is a city landmark. Fishermen dangle their rods from the bridge while ferries bustle to and fro. This is the perfect location for a romantic sunset viewpoint.
Topkapi Sarayi - The heartbeat of the Ottoman Empire for nearly 400 years, Topkapi Palace is now a museum with extensive collections of imperial porcelain, jewels, costumes and arms.
Istanbul Modern - With Contemporary Turkish and international art housed in a dramatic waterfront setting, this modern art museum aims to put Istanbul on the European cultural map, alongside London, Paris and Barcelona.
Taksim Meydani - This vast square at the top end of Istiklal Caddesi takes its name from the stone reservoir on its western side. At its heart is the Cumhuriyet (Republic) Monument, designed by Italian sculpture Pietro Canonica in 1928 and depicting Ataturk and other revolutionary leaders.
Arkeoloji Muzesi - The archaeological museums collections span 5,000 years. The star attraction is the Alexander sarcophagus, adorned with hunting and battle scenes of astonishing intensity.
Suleymaniye Camii - Mimar Sinan’s masterpiece was built for his patron, Suleyman the Magnificent, who is buried in a mausoleum in the garden alongside his wife Haseki Hurrem, better known as Roxelana.