Girl looking over Bosporus Strait

Istanbul is divided by the Bosporus Strait, which is a narrow yet significant waterway. The Bosporus physically separates the continental landmasses of Europe and Asia, per World Atlas. Throughout history, the strait has welcomed visitors from all over the world, as Istanbul has served as an epicenter of cultural, political, and commercial exchange for millennia.

To give an idea of the importance of Istanbul’s strategic location, the ancient Greeks and Romans, as well as the not-so-ancient Ottomans, all laid claim to Istanbul over the last 3,000 years of recorded history, per ThoughtCo. If modern Istanbul is a city formed by its history, then the Bosporus represents the confluence of cultures that ran and still runs directly through the heart of the city.

While this history lesson may not have been necessary, the insight may help give context to one of the coolest activities you can do in Istanbul — taking a cruise down the Bosporus to see the city’s unbelievable architecture.

Panoramic views of new and old Istanbul

Blue Mosque in Istanbul

By taking a cruise along the Bosporus Strait, you’ll have the chance to see the historical neighborhoods settled along its banks. You’ll pass by the synagogues, churches, and mosques of Ortaköy, the old, wooden Ottoman houses of Arnavutköy, and the opulent palaces in the Beşiktaş neighborhood.

While we recommend you also walk the streets of these celebrated and lively neighborhoods, a Bosphorus cruise offers you incredible, panoramic vantage points. You’ll see Istanbul the same way as other seafaring travelers have for centuries.

According to Bosphorus Cruise, some of the historic landmarks you may pass during your tour include Beylerbeyi Palace, Rumeli Fortress, Hagia Sophia, Küçüksu Palace, Topkapi Palace, Basilica Cistern, and the Blue Mosque.

While the landmarks you see may depend on the type and duration of the cruise, you’re assured to view plenty of epic, historical architecture. However, along with ancient monuments and palaces, you’ll also see the new buildings and impressive mansions of a modern and evolving Istanbul.

Cruises for history buffs and pleasure-seekers

Boat cruising on Bosporus Strait

Not only does taking a Bosporus cruise give you the chance to see incredible architecture, you can also choose what type of cruise you’d prefer. According to Istanbeautiful, tours are typically given by either public ferries (sehir hatları) or by private boat.

While the public tours are generally informative and worthwhile (and less expensive), you can also choose from wide variety of specialized tours. You can take a sunset or night tour, eat dinner or lunch while taking in the scenery, or turn the cruise into a night out with dinner, drinks, and Turkish entertainment. So, essentially, if you choose a high-end, private cruise, you’ll be dining and/or partying while cruising past the best views available of Istanbul. Not bad.

However, if you’re a history buff or simply sightseeing on a strict timeline, the narrated tours on public ferries may be a better option. Honestly, you may be too interested in the unbelievable architecture and the city’s rich history to carry on decent dinner convos.