istanbul gap year

What to see and do in Istanbul on your gap year

Located between the east of Europe and the west of Asia, Turkey is a country that has been shaped by a diverse array of cultural influences. This has culminated in the creation of one of the most distinctive areas in the world. At its core is Istanbul – a capital that is visually remarkable. This has made a city worth visiting on its scenic merits alone. Here are a few ideas of what to see and do in Istanbul on your gap year.


Süleymaniye Mosque

In its original form, the Süleymaniye mosque was built in 1558 and is a prominent feature of the ‘Golden Horn.’ Named after the longest running Sultan of the Ottoman era, Suleiman the Magnificent, the religious building is an architectural marvel.

Its exterior is punctuated on each corner by four minarets (a number that signifies that it was made for a sultan) that are married by several domes as well as a sizeable one, standing at almost 28 metres high. The interior has high ceilings and the walls are decorated with minimalist Iznik tiles. The mosque also includes a beautiful garden area that offers a superb view from the top of the hills.

istanbul gap year
The interior of the mosque

Dolmabahçe Palace

It was the wish of sultan Abdülmecit to have built a structure that would inspire and impress those who visited Istanbul. What was created was the largest palace in the country with close to 300 rooms. The building has elements of European architecture as well Ottoman designs, too – a striking example of Turkey’s multicultural blend.

istanbul gap year
Dolmabahçe Palace faces out onto the Bosphorus strait


Grand Bazaar

The historic structures of Istanbul are one thing, but walking head first into the Grand Bazaar is a living, breathing walk into the past. There are many sights and smells awaiting one’s every turn in this roofed market, which has been in use since 1461. It’s an exciting experience where you’ll come across fabrics, ornaments and foods you won’t find anywhere else. If you’re worried getting lost, you should read up on our guide to handling souks that we did recently.

istanbul gap year
The Grand Bazaar sells beautiful little trinkets 

Museums and art galleries

Museum of Turkish & Islamic Arts

Previously a palace, the Museum is a great way to look at Islamic expression as well as pre-Ottoman era art. This includes pottery, the palace floor tiles of Caliph Mutasim and many types of ceremonial relics.

Archaeology Museum

There are three archaeology-orientated based museums Osman Hamdi Bey slope, which is perfect for an all-around exploration into the area’s beautiful architecture. Within this trio of buildings, visitors will be able to look at the art of external forces that made a dent in the artistic landscape, like Alexander Sarcophagus. The Hellenistic stone coffin was found in Lebanon and has illustrations along the side, which include the Battle of Issus.

An example of the Alexander Sarcophagus’ detailed depictions

Where would you like to visit in Istanbul on your gap year? Let us know in the comments.

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