Things to do in Istanbul are so many, so diverse and so important from historical point of view that it is probably one of the most amazing cities in the world. Because Istanbul lies on two continents (Europe and Asia), this makes it a perfect mix of different cultures, traditions and religions.
TOP things to do in Istanbul
- See the world’s most remarkable building Hagia Sophia – in the 6th century Hagia Sophia was a basilica of Greek Orthodox Church, but after Constantinople was conquered (15th Century), it was turned into an imperial mosque. The frescos were covered with Islamic ornaments and 4 minarets were built. Ever since 1934 Hagia Sophia is known as a museum.
- Explore the underground with a walk through Basilica Cistern – It is almost hard to believe, but the city of Istanbul has more than hundred underground water cisterns and this Basilica Cistern is the largest of them all. There are 336 columns inside, darkness and an echo, which will make this place even more remarkable than it is. One of my favorite Istanbul sights!
- Travel back in time by visiting the Topkapı palace – if we would judge by the row in front of the ticket counters, this (apart from Hagia Sophia) would definitely be the most visited historical sight in Istanbul. The magnificent Topkapı palace, which was once home for Sultans and their wives, concubines and eunuchs, lie on a small hill, overlooking strategically on the Bosporus. Wander around chambers, decorated with colorful Islamic ornaments tiles, see the wealth, armors, clothes, portraits and try to picture yourself the life, which once was lived here. Don’t forget on the Harem, where Sultan kept his wives.
- Get to know the Ottoman and Anatole history in the Istanbul Archeological museum – Not far from the Topkapı palace, stands this Archeological museum of Istanbul, which will be perfect for all the history fans. There are rich collections of Sultans jewels and armors, perfectly decorated chambers and amazing sarcophagus, where the one of Alexander the Great stands out.
- Run away from the crowds and relax in the Blue Mosque – Istanbul is rich with different mosques, but one of the most visited by tourists in the Blue Mosque or Sultan Ahmet Camii. This is the only ottoman mosque with 6 minarets in the world and to top it off, you will be amazed over its the many cascades and dooms. The interior is rich with handmade Persian carpets, glass chandeliers, blue tiles. While we hear the crowds outside, inside is quiet and peaceful. Don’t forget on the dress code (men long trousers, women headscarves, long sleeves and ankle-length skirt/trousers. Before entering we need to take off our shoes and leave them at the entrance.).
- Get lost in the narrow streets of The Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar – I could say Istanbul is most famous for its many bazaars. From the small local bazaars/markets, the most recognizable and most visited is The Grand Bazaar. You will not experience the real Istanbul if you miss it. Prepare yourself for the crowds, as not only tourist visit the Grand Bazaar, but as well many locals. The Grand Bazar is more than 500 years old, but still one of the biggest covered markets in the world – it has more than 60 streets, 5000 shops, 60 restaurants, 18 fountains, 12 mosques and even a school. If you are good at bargaining, you will love it here! If you want to buy spices, teas and sweets, you should spend your time visiting the Spice Bazaar as well.
- Take a walk around the Hippodrome – Byzantine Empire was full with hippodromes, so no surprise we find it in its capital as well. Unfortunately all what is left from once a magnificent building is just a very large square with two obelisks and Serpent Column. The Obelisk of Theodosius was brought from Egypt in 390 AD.
- Relax in a popular Gülhane park – If you exploring Istanbul near the famous Topkapı palace, you must stop here. The park is designed nicely and has lots of green areas, which mostly local people use over the weekends and free afternoons. It is pretty crowded, but staying in Istanbul longer, you will get use to this as well.
- Enjoy the view on Istanbul from the Galata Tower – The Galata Tower was long the highest building in Istanbul and you still can see 360° panoramic view over the city from here. The nearby restaurants and cafés are full with local people as this is one of their favorite hang-out spot.
- Shop ’till you drop on the Istiklal Caddesi and Taksim Square – if you don’t like bazaars and bargaining, you can shop at this popular pedestrian street Istiklal. This part of Istanbul has fashionable clothes stores and lots of nightlife as well and is ideal for the youngest generation. Over the weekend, more than 3 million people per day visit this area. Don’t miss out on the historical tram drive.
- Take the Bosporus cruise – If you have time to spend, I would recommend you to do a cruise trip on the Bosporus. It is ideal way to see the city from the water perspective as well. Go to the Eminönü pier and book yourself a 1,5 hour long cruise for less than 4 EUR/pp.
- Visit the Dolmabahçe Palace – See the death bed of the most loved Turkey ruler Atatürk, the father of modern Turkey, and get to know the home of last Sultans. The best time to go is early in the morning and over the weekdays, as there is a limit for visitors – 3000/day.
- Get to know the atmosphere of today’s Istanbul – Istanbul has lots of neighborhoods and districts well worth visiting, especially when you are fed up with tourists and need some relaxation and mingling with the local people. I would definitely recommend you the Ortaköy neighborhood, which is very popular during warm and sunny days. The location is perfect also for observing the well known Bosporus Bridge. Together with cafes and restaurants you can also enjoy the view on a nice mosque, which was unfortunately under construction during my last visit.
- Take a photo of yourself on the Rainbow stairs – one of the latest and well kept Istanbul secrets are these colorful stairs. The rainbow stairs are popular with the local people and they visit them just to take photos. You can find them in different districts in Istanbul, but the original ones are between two tram stations (Karaköy and Tophane). They were colored to lighting up the city and put a smile on people’s faces.
- Eat until you cannot breath – I know this does not sound healthy at all, but you will have hard time not to put yourself in this situation as food in Istanbul (and all round Turkey) is simply amazing! Where ever you are, food will circled you, so don’t avoid it and try as much as possible. If you don’t you will most likely be sorry not to, when you reach home. Sea food or meat, pasta or sweets…you have it all in Istanbul!
If my list of TOP things to do in Istanbul did not convince you, I suggest you check out the city by yourself and see, why Istanbul charmed many! I strongly believe you will not be disappointed to put it on your bucket list and I am sure, you will want to visit it again –I am there almost every year and all I can say is, I just love it!