ISTANBUL'S TOP SIGHTS
These are the sights you should be sure to see, ranked in order of importance and ease of access. Luckily, the first six are close together near Sultanahmet Square. You can visit them on your own, or on a half-day or full-day city tour.
1. Topkapi Palace: home (and Harem!) of the sultans
2. Ayasofya (Hagia Sophia): changed the course of Western architecture; greatest church in Christendom for 1000 years
3. Sultanahmet (Blue) Mosque: Islam's elegant answer to Ayasofya, with six minarets and blue interior tiles
4. Byzantine Hippodrome: the political and recreational heart of Byzantine Constantinople and Ottoman Istanbul
5. Turkish & Islamic Arts Museum: facing the Blue Mosque on the Hippodrome, a treasure-house of 1000 years of fine art
6. Sunken Palace Cistern (Yerebatan Saray): an eerie subterranean "sunken palace" of 336 marble columns which could hold 80,000 cubic feet of water in case of drought or siege
7. Grand Bazaar: the ultimate medieval "shopping center," with 4000 shops, fun whether you buy or just browse
8. Egyptian (Spice) Market: food, spices, coffee, snacks and some touristy stuff
9. Beyoglu: the romance of 19th-century Istanbul
10. Dolmabahce Palace: the sultan's sumptuous new (1856) European-style palace on the Bosphorus
11. Bosphorus Cruise: the perfect half-day Istanbul excursion, up toward the Black Sea past castles, palaces and Ottoman-Victorian villages
12. Princes' Islands: get away to islands with Victorian-era towns free of motor vehicles: walk, bicycle, or take a horse-drawn carriage tour
MORE ISTANBUL SIGHTS
These sights are also important but more difficult to get to, or of narrower appeal. Details.
EXCURSIONS FROM ISTANBUL
Want to get out of the city? Here are the best one-day and overnight destinations.