Nestled between Europe and Asia, Turkey offers a blend of both worlds. The country has been a bridge between the two continents for thousands of years, which you might catch a glimpse of on your cruise to Europe. Istanbul offers sensory delights at every turn, from its towering, colorful minarets to the scent of coffee brewing in fragrant cardamom and sugar.
History lovers will find plenty to occupy their time during their Istanbul cruise, like touring the Blue Mosque or the Basilica Cistern. See the Hagia Sophia, one of the most enduring and famous sights in all of Istanbul. Shop and haggle at the Grand Bazaar, or make a day of admiring artisanal goods at the Kadıköy Produce Market just a ferry ride away. Admire the strait of Bosphorus, which connects the continents of Europe and Asia, from an awe-inspiring suspension bridge spanning 19 miles. Istanbul is both modern and historied at once.
Istanbul’s most famous sight was once a Greek Orthodox Cathedral, then a mosque. Its construction dates back to the 6th century. Now, the Hagia Sophia is a museum and one of Turkey’s most beloved structures. Since becoming a museum in 1935, it’s one of the most visited sights in the entire world. Walk the grounds and peer up into the massive, ornately designed dome. The Hagia Sophia is open for tours seven days a week.
Over 5 million people visit the Blue Mosque each year. Built between 1609 and 1616, the mosque is still fully functional today, so you are likely to observe services while you’re there. Remove your shoes before entering. Men should wear long pants, and women should wear a headscarf or covering. The stark blue tiles will captivate your senses in this bustling, historic place.
Descend underground to the Basilica Cistern, a large network of subterranean columns that were built to capture rainwater. A rich history accompanies the Basilica Cistern, which you’ll discover during a walking tour. Nearly 400 marble columns sustain the architectural integrity of the cistern.
You can take a ferry ride along the strait of Bosphorus or drive over the 15 July Martyrs Bridge that connects Europe and Asia. If architectural marvels are your thing, you have to see the strait of Bosphorus.
The tea gardens in Istanbul, known as çay bahçesis, are a social fixture in Turkish society. They often offer waterfront views and relaxing atmospheres, perfect for sipping tea, resting, and taking in the beauty of the day while in port on an Istanbul cruise.
The Kariye Museum is not only a mosaic-clad former church that perfectly sums up the spirit of the Byzantine architecture, but also a place that celebrates a rich tradition of frescos and landscapes that make the region so unique.
It’s easy to get lost in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, which offers some of the biggest bargains from Turkish artisans in the city. You can make an all-day affair of shopping here or simply go for the people watching. The Bazaar is one of the few places remaining in Istanbul where the art of haggling is welcomed and encouraged.
On cruises including Istanbul, the food and drink are unparalleled. Turkish coffee is specially brewed in sugar and cardamom for a sweeter (and stronger) cup of coffee, and it’s a hallmark of the daily routine and culture in Istanbul. Another Istanbul classic is a Turkish Delight, a sweet dessert often containing nuts and dried fruits coated in confectioner’s sugar. Try lahmacun, a popular street food consisting of crispy, thin flatbread topped with minced meat and lemon juice. Fresh Turkish baklava is a must-try for anyone with a sweet tooth. The immersive Kadıköy Produce Market offers local produce, nuts, olive oil, coffee, yogurt, and more.
People originally settled in this area due to the coastal access offered by the strait of Bosphorus, which was key for trade, and the Black Sea. Over the centuries, control of Istanbul changed hands various times among the Romans, Persians, Byzantines, Arabs, and others. Eventually, Ottoman conquest of what was once called Constantinople became Istanbul. The main language spoken here is Turkish, though you may hear English at major sights in town as tourism from English-speaking countries is common.
Your Istanbul cruise ship will dock in a facility called Karakoy, which is minimally equipped but walkable to major destinations like the Museum of Modern Art and the quirky Madame Tussaud's of Istanbul. You’ll find a selection of cafes and hookah bars close to where your ship docks.
Ferry travel is popular with Istanbul residents and provides both waterside views and a relaxed journey to various destinations across the city. There is an extensive bus network and subway system. Yellow taxis are abundant and widely used by tourists. In a bustling city like Istanbul, expect traffic and congestion on the highways.
There’s not much near the port itself, but you’ll find artisan goods, the region’s famous Turkish rugs, and local delicacies at the Grand Bazaar in town. While it may be difficult to bring home larger items, you should consider Turkish treats and desserts for a quick, pocket-sized souvenir.
You’ll use the Turkish lira during your Istanbul cruise. Many stores will accept euros as well, but be sure to ask. ATMs are scattered around the city, and paying with cash at restaurants is preferred. Many establishments accept credit cards, specifically Visa and Mastercard. Round up to the next lira when you’re tipping a taxi driver, and leave a 10% tip at restaurants.