Top destinations to explore in Istanbul on a Mediterranean Cruise

Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey
Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey

Located on both sides of the Bosphorus strait - which connects the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea, Istanbul is the only city in the world that is situated on two continents, Asia and Europe. Because of this, it's no wonder that this historic Turkish city has earned the name "the crossroads of the world." Prior to its current incarnation, Istanbul was known as Constantinople and represented the beating heart of the Eastern Roman Empire, also known as the Byzantine Empire. Even earlier than that, the city existed as the ancient Greek colony of Byzantium.

Here are three of the incredible sites you'll discover in this ancient city on your Mediterranean cruise.

The Grand Bazaar
Perhaps the largest covered market in the entire world, there are nearly 5,000 shops and 60 winding streets that make up the Grand Bazaar, which caters to nearly a half-million visitors every day. The bazaar was originally built under the direction of Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror in the mid-15th century and then expanded by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent more than a century later.

If you want a first-hand look at some of the marketplace's expert craftsmen and their work, consider stopping by for a carpet weaving demonstration. You can gain an educational perspective at how some of the world's most beautiful and elaborate carpets are constructed from beginning to end.

The Hippodrome
An architectural cousin to the Circus Maximus that lies in the center of Rome, Istanbul's Byzantine Hippodrome stands as an ancient reminder of the Eastern Roman Empire of Emperor Constantine that once dominated the land. Once the site of various political events as well as chariot and horse races, only a few remnants of the Hippodrome remain today including the Walled Obelisk and Thutmosis' Obelisk. The rest of the area has been transformed into a modern square referred to as Sultan Ahmet Square, but you can still see the course of the old racetrack.

Topkapi Palace Harem
For a more scandalous glimpse into Istanbul's history, consider checking out the Topkapi Palace Harem. This secretive section of the palace was constructed so that visitors could not see the harem from the state apartments or courtyards. The harem was built in the 16th century and served as the private residences for members of the royal family and distinguished guests - outsiders were rarely allowed beyond the site's gates. For centuries, concubines and odalisques roamed the halls of the Topkapi Palace Harem. Finally, under the rule of Sultan Selim III in the late 18th century, artists were allowed inside the walls to illustrate the architecture and layout of this well-kept royal secret.

If you're ready to embark on the adventure of a lifetime and explore the streets of one of history's most storied cities, begin your Istanbul adventure on a Mediterranean cruise.