The happy meeting point between East and West
A shore excursion on your MSC Mediterranean cruise can be the opportunity to discover İstanbul which stands astride two continents, Europe and Asia.
As if its spectacular geographical location were not enough, it can also boast of being the only city to have played capital to consecutive Christian and Islamic empires, a role that has shaped the region’s history for more than 2500 years and bequeathed to İstanbul a staggering wealth of attractions.
Most cruise visitors spend all their holiday time in Sultanahmet, home to İstanbul’s main sightseeing attractions: the church of Aya Sofya, the greatest legacy of the Byzantine Empire; the Topkapı Palace, heart of the Ottoman Empire; and the massive Sultanahmet Camii (Blue Mosque). Here also are the ancient Hippodrome, the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art (housed in the former Palace of İbrahim Paşa), the eerily lit Yerebatan Sarnıcı, a fascinating Byzantine underground cistern, and the Grand Bazaar (Kapalı Çarşı), the largest covered bazaar in the world.
The monumental architecture, attractive parks and gardens, street-side cafés, and the benefits of a relatively traffic-free main road combine to make this area pleasant for both sightseeing and staying on an MSC Mediterranean cruise excursion. İstanbul’s Ottoman-era Grand Bazaar gets more than its fair share of souvenir-hungry visitors.
The area around it, however, is relatively little explored, which is a shame as it holds some very worthwhile attractions, from the historic Cembirlitaş Hamamı, one of the best Turkish baths in the country, to the city’s very best mosque, the hilltop Süleymaniye Camii. The best single reason to head across to the Asian shore of the city is to experience a Bosphorus cruise. The views from the Bosphorus are superb, with domes and minarets dominating the skyline of the Old City, and skyscrapers the business districts beyond Beyoğlu.