Five Things to do in Istanbul

Honeymoons & Destination Weddings
What to See in Istanbul - The Blue Mosque

Photo: Courtesy of The Turkish Tourism Board

Calling all culture vultures: If you want a city honeymoon that's a little unexpected, consider traveling to Istanbul. This exotic hotspot at the crossroads of Asia and Europe has fabulous, over-the-top hotels, and enough sights and sounds to keep newlyweds busy for at least a week. Here, five must dos.

Four Seasons Sultanhamet in Istanbul

Photo: Courtesy of Four Seasons Sultanhamet

Stay in a former prison! Fun location alert: The 65-room, three-story Four Seasons Sultanhamet (above) was actually once a jail. A hundred years on, it's a posh hotel with soaring arches and dramatic stairways, and rooms that overlook a quiet courtyard or the world-famous Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia (more on those to come). Grab two glasses of champagne in the glass-enclosed courtyard after sightseeing. Doubles from $519.

Ayasofya Turkish Bath in Istanbul

Photo: Courtesy of The Turkish Tourism Board

Have a spa day at a hammam. The ritual of a thorough scrub, massage, and soak in healing waters at a hamman (Turkish bathhouse) is an ancient, local tradition. Commissioned by royalty in 1556, the popular Ayasofya Baths (above) were top to bottom renovated in 2008 to the tune of $9.5 million. Think 14,000 square feet of marble, gold-covered fixtures, and hot and cold plunge pools literally fit for a sultan. Be prepared to spend at least three hours here to get the full experience of a scrub/exfoliation, massage, and tea.

Explore the historic Sultanhamet area, where you can see the Hagia Sophia. Built in 537, it's famous for its massive, 18-story-high dome, a masterpiece of Byzantine architecture. Nearby is the 17th-century Blue Mosque, which has six soaring minarets, and a large dome, recognizable for its intricate, heart-stoppingly gorgeous mosaics and striking blue tiles.

Shop at the Covered Bazaar. Also known as The Grand Bazaar, this major shopping mecca is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, a maze of 61 covered streets and over 3,000 shops, selling jewelry, slippers, colorful carpets, spices and hand-painted ceramics. Bargain away with vendors—you can snap up everything from cheap-but-chic leather sandals to expensive gold earrings. It's insanely big and packed with people (which is part of the fun), but consider hiring a guide to show you around.

Bosphorus River cruise in Istanbul

Photo: Courtesy of The Turkish Tourism Board

Take a boat tour along the Bosphorus River. You'll Instagram the beautiful buildings that line both the Asian and European shores—everything from waterfront palaces of sultans to villas of pashas. Zoe Yacht Bosphorus Cruises offers private lunch, sunset, and dinner sails, where you can enjoy mezzahs (appetizers/shared plates) like eggplant salad topped with yoghurt and octopus salad with sundried tomatoes, in total luxury.

How to get there: Top-rated Turkish Airlines flies non-stop from New York (JFK), Chicago, Los Angeles (LAX) and Washington D.C. to Istanbul.

—Jacqueline Gifford

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