Last Updated on September 20, 2022 by Nellie Huang
Once thought of the middle of the world, Istanbul is without doubt one of the most fascinating cities on the planet. Here’s a power-packed listing of issues to do in Istanbul by my good friend, Sean Lau from the Turkey Traveler.
Spanning throughout two totally different continents, Asia and Europe, Istanbul affords vacationers a novel expertise in contrast to anyplace else on the planet. It has a novel mix of Eastern and Western cultures, which will be seen in its structure, meals, and folks.
Istanbul is a metropolis of contrasts residence to attractive mosques, opulent palaces, and large bazaars. In latest years, Turkey has risen to change into one the most visited nations on the planet, and Istanbul – its crown jewel – is drawing in increasingly more vacationers with its mix of East-meets-West and old-meets-new.
With this Istanbul information, we hope you may get to expertise Istanbul greater than only a typical vacationer as a result of beneath the floor of Istanbul is a world of historical past and wonders ready to be found!
Best Things to Do in Istanbul, Turkey
1. Visit the Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia is a former Christian cathedral that was transformed right into a mosque within the fifteenth century. Built within the early sixth century by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I, it served because the imperial palace chapel for hundreds of years, and later as a mosque after town fell to the Ottoman Empire in 1453. It is now an energetic mosque and one of many metropolis’s hottest vacationer sights.
The Hagia Sophia is taken into account one of many nice architectural wonders of the world. Its large dome, measuring 33 meters in diameter, was the most important on the planet for a whole lot of years. The constructing’s inside is adorned with marble columns, mosaics, and complicated Islamic calligraphy.
2. Experience the Blue Mosque
Built within the early 1600s by the Ottoman Sultan Ahmed I, the Blue Mosque is without doubt one of the most well-known landmarks in Istanbul. At first look, you would possibly marvel why the Blue Mosque is known as as such. None of its exteriors could be very blue.
However, when you enter, you’ll perceive the origin of the identify. The Blue Mosque is adorned with stunning blue İznik tiles. More than 20,000 of those hand-painted ceramic tiles cowl the inside partitions, giving the mosque its identify and making it one of the stunning locations in Istanbul.
The Blue Mosque can also be notable for its six minarets, which solely essentially the most sacred mosque in Islamic tradition had on the time. It is believed that there was a misunderstanding between the architect and Sultan Ahmed I when setting up the mosque.
The sultan resolved this by including a seventh minaret to the mosque in Mecca, which was the one mosque with six minarets on the time.
3. See the Hippodrome
Just just a few ft away from the Blue Mosque stands the Hippodrome of Constantinople (Constantinopole was the identify of historic Istanbul). Where the Sultanahmet Square stands in the present day was a public area primarily for chariot races, seating as much as 100,000 spectators.
Throughout the Byzantine interval, the Hippodrome was the centre of town’s social life. The historic stadium was full of statues of gods, emperors, animals, and heroes. Today, solely the Egyptian obelisk nonetheless stands in the present day, together with a sculpture of three-headed serpents. If you’re taken with studying extra about this neighborhood and its historical past, we suggest taking a guided tour of the Hippodrome.
4. Get Lost within the Grand Bazaar
Grand Bazaar is a consumer’s paradise and a cultural icon of Istanbul. It’s one of many oldest and largest coated markets on the planet, relationship again to the fifteenth century.
The bazaar was initially constructed as a method to offer monetary sources for the Hagia Sophia. Over time, it developed right into a bustling market the place retailers from everywhere in the world promote their merchandise.
Grand Bazaar is price visiting for its historical past, structure, and retailers. The bazaar is a labyrinth of slender corridors and passageways, lined with retailers promoting souvenirs, handicrafts, jewellery, Turkish carpets, and lamps. It’s an important place to buy a Turkish memento to recollect your journey, however simply bear in mind to haggle otherwise you’ll be ripped off!
5. Soak up the Smell within the Spice Bazaar
Situated only a brief stroll from Grand Bazaar is one other certainly one of Istanbul’s most well-known locations to go to. The Spice Bazaar, because the identify suggests, is a coated market that focuses on spices, teas, and herbs. As quickly as you enter the Spice Bazaar, the scent will overwhelm you.
Unlike the Grand Bazaar which is huge, the Spice Bazaar is slightly small. It solely has two streets, and a lot of the merchandise offered listed here are related. If you’re available in the market for some spices, herbs, teas, or Turkish delight, that is the place to go.
Even for those who’re not taken with buying something, it’s nonetheless price visiting for the expertise and to absorb the sights and smells of this iconic Istanbul market.
6. Go Underground into the Basilica Cistern
The Basilica Cistern is certainly one of Istanbul’s most historic sights. It is a big underground chamber that was used as a water storage tank within the Byzantine period. The cistern was constructed below the Stoa Basilica, which was a significant middle of commerce, justice, and artwork between the third and 4th centuries. It can also be the place it obtained its identify.
The cistern is an eerie and engaging place. It is dimly lit with flickering lights, and the sound of dripping water echoes by means of the chamber. The cistern is supported by 336 columns, lots of that are recycled from Roman temples.
If you’re in search of a novel expertise in Istanbul, remember to add the Basilica Cistern to your Istanbul itinerary! Book these tickets to skip the road!
7. Climb Galata Tower
Galata Tower is a medieval stone tower in Istanbul recognized for its historical past and views of town. The tower was inbuilt 1348 by the Genoese and was the tallest constructing in Constantinople. It was used as a watchtower to observe the actions within the Golden Horn and Bosphorus Strait.
After the autumn of Constantinople, the Ottomans used the Galata Tower as a jail after which as a hearth watch tower, till it was broken by a hearth (the irony huh?). In truth, the tower has been broken many occasions over the centuries however has been restored a number of occasions. The present restoration was accomplished in 2020.
One of essentially the most iconic options of the Galata Tower is the 360-degree observatory deck, which sits over 50 meters excessive. From the deck, guests can see the Golden Horn, Bosphorus, Sultanahmet, and even the Asian facet on a superb day.
8. Wander round Topkapi Palace
Topkapi Palace is a must-see for any historical past lover visiting Istanbul. It was the primary residence of the Ottoman Sultans for practically 400 years and is stuffed with stunning structure and historic artifacts.
This Istanbul palace was constructed within the fifteenth century by Mehmed the Conqueror and has been renovated and expanded over time. It is now residence to a number of museums, together with the Imperial Treasury, which homes one of the spectacular arms collections. The palace can also be surrounded by pretty gardens that are price exploring.
But maybe essentially the most fascinating a part of the Topkapi Palace is the Harem (or “forbidden place” in English), the dwelling quarters for the feminine members of the sultan’s household. The Harem was a secluded and opulent world unto itself, with its attractive mosaic-tiled chambers and personal gardens. Though there’s an additional entrance payment to enter the Harem, it’s price each Turkish Lira!
9. Admire the Süleymaniye Mosque
While the Blue Mosque is Istanbul’s most well-known mosque, the Süleymaniye temple has a extra dramatic setting and exquisite exterior than the Blue Mosque. The Süleymaniye mosque is positioned on the third of Istanbul’s seven hills, which overlooks the Golden Horn. You can see its gray domes and minarets poking excessive above town’s skyline from afar.
It served as Sultan Suleyman I’s primary mosque throughout Ottoman occasions and was constructed in the course of the sixteenth century below Sultan Suleiman. Keep in thoughts there are lengthy strains and lengthy wait, so ebook your tickets prematurely.
10. Stroll alongside Istiklal Street
No go to to Istanbul is full with out strolling down Istiklal Street, town’s most well-known pedestrian-friendly road. Located within the Beyoglu district, Istiklal Street is stuffed with retailers, cafes, eating places, and historic websites.
The road dates again to the Ottoman Empire and was as soon as often called the Grand Rue de Pera. It was renamed Istiklal Street (or “Independence Street”) after Turkey’s independence in 1923.
In the daytime, Istiklal Street is bustling with locals and vacationers alike. At night time, the road comes alive with music, and folks of all ages benefit from the energetic environment. It is without doubt one of the finest locations to benefit from the nightlife in Istanbul, as there are a number of nightclubs and bars within the space.
11. Take the Historic Tram
One of essentially the most iconic sights on Istiklal Street is the historic Istiklal tram. Officially often called the Taksim-Tünel Nostalgia Tramway, this tram runs from Taksim Square (Istanbul’s transport hub) all the way in which down Istiklal Street to Tunel Square, servicing a complete of 1.64 km (1 mile).
This brilliant purple tram has change into a logo of Istanbul, however though it’s a mode of public transportation, it’s nearly all the time quicker to only stroll down Istiklal road. The tram makes many stops resulting from pedestrian site visitors.
12. Marvel the Biggest Mosque in Turkey
When it involves mosques in Istanbul, guests would possibly instantly consider Hagia Sophia or the Blue Mosque, however few will point out the Camlica Mosque. In truth, the Camlica Mosque is the greatest mosque in Turkey, a powerful achievement when the opposite mosques are already so huge.
Completed in 2019, the Camlica Mosque is certainly one of Istanbul’s latest and most fashionable mosques. The mosque is positioned on the Asian facet of Istanbul, atop the hill often called Çamlıca, which affords gorgeous views of town. The advanced additionally has a museum, artwork gallery, library, convention corridor, and underground car parking zone for 3,500 autos. It also can accommodate round 63,000 worshippers.
Camlica Mosque is without doubt one of the finest locations to go to in Istanbul and but it’s a hidden gem!
13. Admire the Walls of Constantinopole
The historic partitions of Constantinople stood for hundreds of years earlier than they had been demolished within the nineteenth century. Since the Nineteen Eighties, many areas of the previous metropolis partitions have been restored and opened to the general public. The tower on the Wall of Constantinople’s Wall is without doubt one of the best vantage factors for seeing remnants.
This Byzantine tour takes you again in time to see Istanbul earlier than Ottoman invasion. You’ll undergo town’s historic partitions and gates, in addition to different sights outdoors of Istanbul’s Old City.
14. Take a Turkish Bath
The Turkish bathtub is, for sure, one of many quirkiest and funniest issues to do in Istanbul. It was the spotlight of our first journey to Turkey and an expertise I’ll always remember. Commonly often called hammam, the normal Turkish Bath is a quintessential a part of every day life for locals. But for foreigners, it may be a peculiar and amusing expertise.
First, you’ll should be fully bare in a hammam (most hammams are single-sex). Then put together to have strangers vigorously scrub you up and down with scorching scorching, foamy water. They have a tendency proceed to therapeutic massage your individual physique with all of the power they’ve! It’s unusual, heavenly, and humorous suddenly. Book your Turkish bathtub right here!
15. Eat Street Food in Kadikoy
Kadikoy is certainly one of my favourite areas in Istanbul: it’s much less visited by vacationers and affords a extra native expertise. The Kadikoy market is residence to among the oldest eating places and institutions within the space. It’s road meals galore right here, and there are tons of kebab stalls and lahmacun stands right here.
Sample a few of Istanbul’s hottest road meals together with midye dolma, kokoreç and crispy pide. Remember to avoid wasting house in your abdomen to savour the syrupy goodness of certainly one of Istanbul’s oldest and most scrumptious baklavas. I like to recommend reserving a Kadikoy road meals tour with an area to grasp extra of Turkish culinary traditions.
16. Sip Turkish Coffee
Turkish Coffee has gained fairly a reputation for itself world wide, for good cause. Istanbul is in fact an important spot to strive among the finest espresso in Turkey.
For a real Turkish espresso expertise, I like to recommend heading to Okkali Kahave the place you possibly can pattern a variety of blended coffees and flavors from round Turkey. Many cafes are concentrated alongside the streets Mim Kemal Öke and Atiye and so they serve a variety of native coffees and yummy Turkish sweets.
Things to Do in Istanbul At Night
17. Catch Sunset at Ortakoy
In the night, head over to the district of Ortakoy. It’s a energetic space centered on its waterfront sq., the place locals collect to take heed to impromptu concert events or sip tea on cafe terraces. Stands serving waffles or kumpir (stuffed baked potatoes) share busy alleys with memento stalls.
The ornate, light-filled Ortaköy Camii mosque sits on the water’s edge within the shadow of the Bosphorus Bridge. Catching sundown right here is undoubtedly the most effective issues to do in Istanbul, particularly for photographers.
18. Go on a Bosphorus Cruise
Istanbul is a metropolis the place East meets West, and there’s no higher technique to expertise this than by taking a cruise down the Bosphorus. This slender strait connects the Black Sea to the Marmara Sea and divides Istanbul into European and Asian sides.
From the cruise, you possibly can see a few of Istanbul’s most iconic sights, together with the Bosphorus Bridge, Maiden’s Tower, and Dolmabahce Palace. The cruise additionally affords nice views of Istanbul’s bustling waterfront neighborhoods, with their markets, mosques, and picket homes.
There are many Bosphorus cruises to select from: Some provide sundown cruises on yachts, whereas different Bosphorus dinner cruises embody leisure akin to the normal Turkish stomach dancing and whirling dervishes!
19. See the Whirling Dervishes
Turkey is well-known for the whirling dervish, clad head-to-toe in white and spinning expertly as if in a trance. But the dervish is way more than a visible spectacle, relationship again over 700 years as a part of Sufism and the Mevlevi Order.
In Istanbul’s Hodjapasha theater, you possibly can watch the magical ritual of the Mevlevi Order, whose whirling dance has been declared a UNESCO Heritage of Humanity. The Sema ceremony is a journey by means of man’s non secular ascent to “perfection” by means of thoughts and love—a really unmissable and astonishing expertise of music and strikes. Book your tickets right here.
Things to Do Near Istanbul
20. Take a Ferry to Princes’ Islands (Adalar)
Prince’ Islands are a set of 9 small islands positioned within the Sea of Marmara, simply south of Istanbul. The islands are a preferred day journey vacation spot for guests to Istanbul, as they provide a quiet and peaceable escape from town.
The hottest technique to get to the Princes’ Islands is by ferry. Ferries depart from a number of factors in Istanbul, together with Eminönü and Kabataş. The journey takes about an hour, and ferries run incessantly all through the day.
Though there are 9 islands within the Adalar archipelago, solely 4 are sometimes visited by vacationers. The greatest is Buyukada, which is residence to historic mansions. The island has a ban on all fuel-driven autos, serving to to maintain the peace and the air high quality clear. Some of the preferred issues to do there embody climbing its trails, going swimming on certainly one of its seashores, and simply strolling round city and admiring the attractive buildings!
21. Explore the City of Bursa
If you’re seeking to discover extra of Turkey’s historical past and tradition, contemplate taking a day journey from Istanbul to Bursa. Located about 2 hours south of Istanbul, Bursa was as soon as the most important middle of the silk commerce within the Byzantine and Ottoman empires. It was additionally the capital of the Ottoman Empire earlier than they took over Constantinople.
Today, it’s a preferred vacationer vacation spot because of its well-preserved historic websites and Ottoman structure. The metropolis’s primary attraction is the Uludag National Park, which is residence to ski resorts, thermal baths, and climbing trails. But for those who don’t have time to discover the park, there are many fashionable websites in Bursa.
The Green Mosque is without doubt one of the metropolis’s most iconic buildings, and its identify refers back to the colour of its inside tiles. The Bursa Grand Mosque is one other must-see, because it’s one of many largest mosques in Turkey. For a style of Ottoman structure, remember to go to the Emir Sultan Mosque. And lastly, no journey to Bursa can be full with no go to to the Silk Market!
22. Visit the WWI Battlefields of Gallipolli
History buffs alert! The infamous WWI battlefields of Gallipolli are positioned round 3 hours from Istanbul, which is a bit far for a day journey (I like to recommend staying in a single day). Located on a peninsula proper between the Aegean Sea and the Dardanelles straits, Gallipolli witnessed one of many greatest bloodbaths in historical past. Over half 1,000,000 troopers perished right here and now you can pay your respects to the fallen ones.
Gallipolli isn’t just a big a part of European and World War I historical past but additionally a big a part of Turkey’s modern-day historical past. This guided Gallipolli tour will convey you to the the ANZAC Cove, the place the troops first landed, go to the ANZAC Commemorative Site, and be taught concerning the struggle from each views as you view the Allied and Turkish trenches at Johnston’s Jolly.
Istanbul Travel Guide
How To Get To Istanbul
There are two energetic airports in Istanbul: the brand new Istanbul International Airport (IST) and the Sabiha Gokcen Airport (SAW).
Istanbul International Airport (IST) is town’s major airport and one of many busiest airports in Europe. It’s positioned about 40km (25 miles) outdoors of Sultanahmet (the historic middle) . Sabiha Gokcen Airport (SAW) is Istanbul’s second airport and is positioned on the Asian facet of town in Pendik, about 44km (27 miles) from Istanbul’s historic middle.
Most worldwide guests will fly into Istanbul International Airport (IST), because it has a a lot wider collection of flights from world wide. You can get flights from New York to Istanbul as little as $500 round-trip and London to Istanbul for simply $150 return.
Once you arrive at one of many airports in Istanbul, you’ll discover loads of choices to get to town middle. For finances vacationers, you possibly can take one of many IETT public buses, HAVAIST or HAVABUS. Alternatively, for those who don’t thoughts spending a bit extra, there’s Uber in Istanbul, and you’ll name one straight from the airport.
How to Get Around Istanbul
Public transportation in Istanbul could be very environment friendly and may get you to most locations it’s worthwhile to go. The metropolis has an expansive metro, bus, and tram system that may take guests just about anyplace they need. There can also be the ferry system, which may transport passengers throughout the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn.
For the general public transportation system, you’ll have to get your self an Istanbulkart, which is a chargeable contactless card that can be utilized on the entire metropolis’s public transportation. You can buy these playing cards at any metro station, bus station, or tram cease.
But maybe one of the best ways to get round Istanbul is on foot. The metropolis has loads of slender alleys, bazaars, and different indoor sights you could solely entry on foot. Besides, there are such a lot of issues to see in Istanbul that nearly each road is full of one thing attention-grabbing.
Where To Stay In Istanbul
Without a doubt, the very best neighborhood to remain in Istanbul is Sultanahmet, or the historic middle. This space is residence to among the most iconic landmarks in Istanbul, such because the Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, and Basilica Cistern. Not to say, there are many eating places and cafes within the space.
Budget: Cheers Vintage Hostel
If you’re in search of a finances place to remain in Istanbul, Cheers Vintage is my favourite choice. This hostel is located in Sultanahmet, simply minutes away from the well-known Blue Mosque. The most excellent function of this hostel is its charming classic decor. Besides comfy dormitory-style rooms, visitors can take pleasure in a beautiful view of the Bosphorus Strait from the balcony! Check charges right here.
Mid Range: Kaftan Hotel
If you’re in search of an reasonably priced lodge with good worth for cash, I extremely suggest the Kaftan Hotel. This lodging is located in Sultanahmet, so guests are inside strolling distance of all the primary sights. The rooms are comfy and spacious, however maybe its finest function is the massive eating space the place an incredible breakfast buffet is served each morning. Check charges right here.
Luxury: Magnaura Palace Hotel
Magnaura Palace Hotel is arguably the most effective luxurious accommodations in Istanbul (pictured). Situated in Sultanahmet, its cozy rooms provide panoramic views of town’s stunning mosques. Most rooms even have a balcony, the place you possibly can snap the right photograph on your Instagram! The inside is adorned with conventional Turkish textiles, making your keep on this lodge a novel expertise! Check charges right here.
Where To Eat In Istanbul
There are loads of wonderful eating places in Istanbul and guests are by no means going to expire of choices. Here are among the locations we like.
Mivan Restaurant & Cafe
If you’re in search of a classy restaurant to strive some Turkish delicacies in type, then Mivan Restaurant & Cafe is the right place to go. Located within the Sultanahmet district, this restaurant serves all kinds of dishes akin to kebabs, meze, casseroles, and extra.
The meat dishes are among the most flavorful and freshest you’ll discover in Istanbul. The service can also be nice, and the employees is more than pleased that can assist you select the right dish. Book a desk right here!
Fish Home Ahhir Kapi Restaurant
Istanbul is surrounded by water, so naturally, it has among the finest seafood on the planet. One of the very best locations to pattern a few of it in Sultanahmet is Fish Home Ahhir Kapi Restaurant.
They have a variety of seafood dishes, together with grilled fish, calamari, oysters, mussels, and extra. If you aren’t certain what to get, the ocean bass is a must-try in Istanbul. The better part about this restaurant is the complimentary dessert! Reserve a desk right here!
Seven Hills Restaurant
If you’re in search of a restaurant with a view of Hagia Sophia and The Blue Mosque, then head to Seven Hills Restaurant. This restaurant is positioned on the highest flooring of a lodge, so you possibly can take pleasure in gorgeous views of town whilst you eat.
The menu options Turkish and worldwide delicacies, and there are many vegetarian and vegan choices out there. Just remember to make a reservation prematurely if you wish to get a superb desk on the terrace. We suggest coming for sundown!
Cost of Travel in Istanbul
Istanbul (and Turkey) was one of the costly locations to go to on the planet. But the nation’s financial disaster has devalued the Turkish Lira a lot that it has change into a preferred vacation spot even for finances vacationers.
Though that doesn’t imply that guests received’t discover luxurious right here. There are loads of locations the place you possibly can splurge, akin to a pleasant historic lodge, eating places with spectacular views, and extra.
But for finances vacationers, there are many methods to maintain your bills low. Simple issues akin to staying in a hostel, consuming extra domestically, and taking public transportation can already prevent tons of cash.
For finances backpackers, it’s doable to go to Istanbul on a every day finances of 35 to 40 USD!
Further Reading on Turkey
I hope our complete Istanbul information has given you all the pieces it’s worthwhile to plan the right journey to Istanbul! It is certainly one of our favourite cities on the planet and we wish you to take pleasure in it as a lot as we did!
If you’re seeking to learn extra on Turkey and different elements of the Middle East, take a look at these articles:
About the Author: Sean Lau
Sean is the co-founder of The Turkey Traveler, the #1 journey weblog on all issues Turkey associated. Offering insider ideas, suggestions, and guides, The Turkey Traveler is your final useful resource that can assist you plan the right journey to Turkey.
Disclaimer: This put up comprises affiliate hyperlinks i.e. for those who ebook one thing by means of my hyperlink, I’ll earn a small fee at NO EXTRA COST to you. Thank you on your help!
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