Istanbul is a city where you can be busy 24 hours a day. It is not for nothing that it is called "The city that never sleeps" in Turkey. Therefore, it can be difficult to choose what to do during a trip to Istanbul, especially if you don't know the city very well or if you are going to stay there for a short time. In this article, we will review the 20 best things to do in Istanbul.
1. Take a cruise on the Bosphorus
The Bosphorus boat tour is a unique experience that you won’t soon forget. Not only will you see beautiful scenery, but you will also see Istanbul from an angle that is impossible to see otherwise.
If there was only one activity to do in Istanbul, it would definitely be a boat cruise on the Bosphorus. There are several kinds but the most classic is the 2-hour cruise. The activity is cheap (less than 20 euros) and very pleasant for the whole family. Choose a sunny day to take nice pictures and especially not to be cold. And take a scarf with you whatever the weather!
It is on the first list on our 20 Best Things to do istanbul..
2. Visit the Blue Mosque
You have probably heard about it thousands of times, the Blue Mosque, whose real name is Sultanahmet Cami, is also one of the main activities to do in Istanbul. And it’s free (all places of worship have free access in Turkey, as long as you cover up before entering).
Located on the square of the same name, in the European district of Fatih, the Sultanahmet mosque is one of the most impressive in Istanbul, from the outside as well as the inside. Built between 1609 and 1616, this place of worship is open to visitors through a special entrance, every day (except Fridays between noon and 2am, time of the Friday prayer).
It is on the second list on 20 Best Things to do istanbul
Book a private guide to the Blue Mosque and Sultanahmet Square to get to know all the details of the place
3. Visit the Topkapi Palace
Still in the top 5 of things to do in Istanbul, the Topkapi Palace is a place that will teach you a lot about the Ottoman culture and history and the ancient Constantinople. You will be amazed by the collections offered in this museum. Topkapi is a must-see that will probably require you to block a whole afternoon. Don’t hesitate to take a quick ticket to avoid wasting too much time.
4. Shopping in the Bazaars
If you go to Istanbul, it is mainly to discover the history of this city rich in culture. But a small part of you is also thinking about the shopping aspect and the good deals you can do in Istanbul, right?
To get an idea of what the city has to offer in terms of shopping, there is nothing better than going to the famous Istanbul bazaar, called Kapali Carsi in Turkish.
You will find all kinds of objects, ceramics, clothes, spices, jewels, dresses, watches, kilims… Beware, haggling is a must. Visit several similar stores to see the prices.
The best would be to be accompanied by a guide who will know the place like the back of his hand and will advise you on the practices…
You can also stroll in the other bazaars just as interesting as the Grand Bazaar, but less touristy.
- More info with the article on Istanbul Grand Bazaar History And Shopping Tips
5. Go to the Hammam
Returning from Istanbul without having been to the hammam would be a real crime (unless you hate the steam). It is therefore highly recommended to live this typically Turkish experience. Yes, the hammam was invented by the Ottomans and is a tradition that persists.
The Turks go regularly to the hammam (at least once a month) in order to relax while doing the great cleaning, which includes a body scrub with a glove and black soap. When you leave there, you will feel like a newborn.
6. Eat in a rooftop restaurant
Imagine yourself on a terrace, sipping a drink or eating a good meal while admiring the line of the Bosphorus. You will be amazed by the beauty of the city from above, both during the day and in the evening. Don’t neglect a good evening on a rooftop in Istanbul.
7. Climbing the Galata Tower
The Galata Tower is one of the favorite monument in Istanbul. You will find this tower pretty and symbolically important. It is definitely one of the must-see monuments for a first trip to Istanbul. If you buy a ticket in advance, you can also show on it (unless you want to wait in line for 2 hours, and yes, you have to take an elevator to show, so the wait is VERY long).
Book your ticket to visit the Galata Tower and the Old Quarter
8. Stroll along Istiklal Avenue
Istiklal Avenue, located in the Beyoglu district (the modern and picturesque district of Istanbul), is often compared to the Champs-Élysées in Paris. It is the most famous avenue in the city, where you can shop, drink, eat and stroll. Don’t miss it, even just to look around.
9. See a whirling dervish show
Although this attraction has become very touristy, the symbolism of the whirling dervish show, called Semazen in Turkish, is religious and very spiritual. You can discover one of these shows supervised by the Mevlevi (Sufi) community. The profits from these shows are often used to finance the community in question. The most famous shows in Istanbul are the Galata Museum Mevlevihanesi show and the Hocapasa (Hodjapasha) show.
10. Visit the Museum of Archaeology
Among the most interesting museums in Istanbul, you will find the Museum of Archaeology, arkeoloji muzesi in Turkish. This is the first museum in Turkey to exhibit about a million artifacts from a variety of different cultures, brought from the imperial lands. Each of the 3 parts of this museum is a discovery about the civilization and history of the Ottomans. A museum not to be missed.
11. Walking in the district of Kadiköy
Although more and more visitors understand the value of crossing the Bosphorus, the shore is little known. The laid-back neighborhood of Kadiköy is a very accessible part of Istanbul (by boat and metro) and a perfect representation of the more relaxed life this shore offers.
Visit the neighborhood and enjoy a slow life, through the market, the street of bars, the pier and the small cafes or the beach of Moda!
12. Visit the Hagia Sophia Mosque
This mosque is one of the first that you will see on site. Indeed, just opposite the Blue Mosque, find the Hagia Sophia Mosque, which was a museum for decades but which, since 2019, has been rehabilitated as a mosque. It is therefore free and free access as all places of worship “in activity” in Istanbul.
Book your ticket to visit the Hagia Sophia and have a private English speaking guide accompany you to understand the long and rich history of this impressive mosque.
13. Visit the Dolmabahçe Palace
If you know the history of Turkey’s founding father, Atatürk, you know that this palace was his home in Istanbul. Did you also know that he died here? You can see his deathbed, a wonderful chandelier, dozens of rooms and a royal decoration. The best part is waiting for you on the terrace by the water.
14. Make a huge brunch Turkish style
Social networks are invaded by pictures of the famous Turkish brunches, which are called Kahvalti in Turkish. The big kahvalti is a meal that is taken in the morning or late morning, with friends or family, with an incredible number of small dishes and food available on the table. A treat!
15. Stroll through the local markets
Each neighborhood has its own charm and market. You will find specialized markets as well as general markets. The institution of the market is very important in Turkey, so don’t leave without shopping there, even if it’s just to buy a Tupperware.
16. Drink a coffee at Pierre Loti
The French novelist Pierre Loti (Louis-Marie-Julien Viaud of his real name) had a fantastic admiration for the city of Istanbul. He visited it regularly at the end of the last century and even wrote several books that take place in the city: Aziyade and its sequel Phantom of the East.
A café overlooking the tip of the Golden Horn bears his name and is the meeting place for lovers of the city in search of inspiration or peace. Breathtaking view…
17. Visit the Basilica Cistern
In the historic district of Istanbul, one of the museums to queue for will be the Basilica Cistern, Yerebatan Sarnici in Turkish. This very popular and popular place for visitors is a must-see in the city. It is an incredible underground cistern built in the time of Justinian I (527-565) to supply the palace with water. There is a legend about the medusa head that you will see carved in the cistern and I invite you to discover it without spoiling you too much. Not to be missed!
18. Visit the popular district of Balat
You probably see it a lot on Instagram, the Balat neighborhood and its neighboring Fener neighborhood are popular and full of life. They are really popular but trendy at the same time. A lot of visitors who like to get out of the classic tourist paths go there and have lunch, then visit the timeless surroundings, including the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.
19. Go to the Chora Museum
The Chora Mosque, Kariye in Turkish, is a former medieval Greek Orthodox church converted into a mosque today. What remains of the mosaics and frescoes of this vestige are the finest examples of art in the Byzantine period (14th century).
20. Visit the Süleymaniye Mosque
Suleymaniye Mosque will be your favorite mosque in Istanbul. Less visited than the two main ones, it has a more intimate and cosy atmosphere, a wonderful setting on a hill, and great restaurants around. One relaxes and meditates there. Then you go outside and watch the horizon of the Bosphorus. A wonderful moment.