In this guide, we’ll explore 21 of the best things to do in Istanbul. From visiting world-famous landmarks like the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque to exploring the city’s many markets and street foods, we’ll make sure you don’t miss a thing.
So, without further ado, let’s jump right in! Here are 21 things to do in Istanbul:
Table of Contents
- 1. Visit the Hagia Sophia
- 2. Explore the Topkapi Palace
- 3. Shop at the Grand Bazaar
- 4. Take a cruise on the Bosphorus Strait
- 5. Visit the Blue Mosque
- 6. Eat your way through the Spice Market
- 7. Climb the Galata Tower
- 8. Go on a hot air balloon ride
- 9. Visit the Dolmabahce Palace
- 10. Stroll through Taksim Square
- 11. Shop for souvenirs at the Egyptian Bazaar
- 12. Take a day trip to Prince’s Islands
- 13. Visit the Basilica Cistern
- 14. See the city from the Bosphorus Bridge
- 15. Ride the historic Tünel funicular
- 16. Admire the city’s architecture
- 17. Relax in Yildiz Park
- 18. Take a cooking class
- 19. Watch a traditional Turkish dance performance
- 20. Sample the city’s street food
1. Visit the Hagia Sophia
One of the most popular things to do in Istanbul is to visit the Hagia Sophia. This world-famous landmark was originally built as a Christian cathedral in the 6th century AD, but later served as a mosque after the city fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453.
Today, the Hagia Sophia is one of Istanbul’s most popular tourist attractions, and it’s easy to see why. The building is absolutely stunning, with its massive dome, intricate mosaics, and beautiful Islamic calligraphy. Even if you’re not particularly interested in history or religion, the Hagia Sophia is definitely worth a visit.
2. Explore the Topkapi Palace
Another must-see landmark in Istanbul is the Topkapi Palace. This sprawling complex was once the home of the Ottoman sultans and their families, and it’s now one of the city’s most popular museums.
The palace grounds are massive, so you could easily spend a whole day exploring them. Highlights include the harem quarters, where the Sultan’s wives and concubines lived, as well as the Treasury, which houses an incredible collection of precious gems and jewelry.
3. Shop at the Grand Bazaar
No trip to Istanbul would be complete without a visit to the Grand Bazaar. This massive market is one of the largest covered markets in the world, and it’s a great place to find souvenirs, spices, and other traditional Turkish items.
Haggling is expected (and even encouraged) at the Grand Bazaar, so don’t be afraid to bargain with the vendors. It’s all part of the fun!
4. Take a cruise on the Bosphorus Strait
One of the best ways to see Istanbul is from the water. The city is located on both sides of the Bosphorus Strait, which separates Europe and Asia, and a cruise is a great way to get unparalleled views of both sides of the city.
There are plenty of different companies offering Bosphorus cruises, so you can choose one that fits your schedule and budget. Most cruises include a stop at the Bosphorus Bridge, which offers incredible views of the cityscape.
5. Visit the Blue Mosque
The Blue Mosque is one of Istanbul’s most iconic landmarks. This beautiful mosque was built in the early 1600s and is notable for its six minarets and magnificent blue Iznik tiles.
Visiting the mosque is free, but you’ll need to cover your head and shoulders before entering. If you don’t have a scarf with you, don’t worry – there are plenty of vendors outside who will be happy to sell you one.
6. Eat your way through the Spice Market
The Spice Market is one of Istanbul’s most popular tourist attractions, and it’s easy to see why. This vibrant market is a paradise for foodies, with its endless stalls selling every spice imaginable.
Even if you’re not interested in buying any spices, the Spice Market is still worth a visit. The atmosphere is electric, and it’s a great place to people-watch and soak up the sights and sounds of the city.
7. Climb the Galata Tower
For incredible views of Istanbul, head to the Galata Tower. This medieval stone tower was once the tallest building in the city, and today it’s one of the best places to get an aerial view of Istanbul’s skyline.
There’s an admission fee to climb the tower, but it’s worth it for the views. If you’re feeling brave, you can even walk out onto the glass-enclosed balcony for an even more impressive vantage point.
8. Go on a hot air balloon ride
For a truly unique way to see Istanbul, consider going on a hot air balloon ride. These rides typically take place early in the morning, when the city is still shrouded in mist.
It’s an unforgettable experience, and one that will give you some of the best views of Istanbul that you’ll ever see. Just be sure to book your ride in advance, as they often sell out well in advance.
9. Visit the Dolmabahce Palace
The Dolmabahce Palace is another must-see for anyone visiting Istanbul. This grand palace was once the home of the Ottoman sultans, and it’s now a museum that’s open to the public.
The palace is massive, and it’s filled with opulent furnishings and artwork. Highlights include the beautiful Crystal Staircase, as well as the Sultan’s harem quarters.
10. Stroll through Taksim Square
Taksim Square is Istanbul’s most popular meeting place, and it’s easy to see why. This vibrant square is always buzzing with activity, day or night.
There’s plenty to see and do in Taksim Square, from people-watching to shopping at the nearby stores. There are also a number of restaurants and cafes, making it the perfect place to grab a bite to eat.
11. Shop for souvenirs at the Egyptian Bazaar
If you’re looking for souvenirs to bring home from Istanbul, head to the Egyptian Bazaar. This market is filled with stalls selling everything from Turkish delight to hand-painted ceramics.
Even if you’re not in the market for souvenirs, the Egyptian Bazaar is still worth a visit. The atmosphere is intoxicating, and it’s a great place to soak up the sights and sounds of the city.
12. Take a day trip to Prince’s Islands
Just a short ferry ride from Istanbul, Prince’s Islands are a great option for a day trip. These nine islands are car-free and make for a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Visitors can explore the island’s small villages, go for a swim at one of the beaches, or take a horse-drawn carriage ride.
13. Visit the Basilica Cistern
The basilica Cistern is one of Istanbul’s most popular tourist attractions, and it’s easy to see why. This ancient underground cistern was built in the 6th century, and it’s truly a sight to behold.
The cistern is massive, and it’s filled with intricate columns and stone carvings. Visitors can explore the cistern on their own, or take a guided tour.
14. See the city from the Bosphorus Bridge
For incredible views of Istanbul, head to the Bosphorus Bridge. This bridge spans the Bosphorus Strait, connecting Europe and Asia.
Visitors can walk or bike across the bridge, and there are also a number of tour buses that offer rides across. Either way, it’s a great way to see the city from a different perspective.
15. Ride the historic Tünel funicular
For a taste of Istanbul’s history, ride the Tünel funicular. This historic train has been in operation since 1875, and it’s the second oldest underground railway in the world.
The Tünel funicular is a great way to experience a slice of Istanbul’s past, and it offers some stunning views of the city as well. Just be sure to purchase your ticket before boarding, as they are not sold on board.
16. Admire the city’s architecture
Istanbul is home to some truly stunning architecture, from grand mosques to elaborate palaces. A great way to admire the city’s architecture is to take a walking tour.
There are a number of different walking tours available, each highlighting different aspects of the city’s architecture. Whether you’re interested in learning about Istanbul’s history or just want to enjoy the sights, a walking tour is a great option.
17. Relax in Yildiz Park
For a break from the hustle and bustle of the city, head to Yildiz Park. This sprawling park is one of Istanbul’s largest, and it’s a great place to relax and unwind.
The park is filled with trees and flowers, and there are a number of walking trails to explore. There’s also a cafe and a playground, making it a great option for families.
18. Take a cooking class
If you’re interested in learning about Turkish cuisine, consider taking a cooking class. This is a great way to not only learn about the country’s food but also to get a taste of it as well.
There are a number of different cooking classes available, each teaching different dishes. Whether you want to learn how to make traditional Turkish kebabs or delicate baklava, you’ll be sure to find a class that interests you.
19. Watch a traditional Turkish dance performance
For a truly memorable experience, watch a traditional Turkish dance performance. These performances are usually held in touristy areas, but they’re well worth seeking out.
The dancers are incredibly talented, and the performances are often quite moving. It’s a great way to learn about Turkish culture and see some amazing dancing at the same time.
20. Sample the city’s street food
Istanbul is known for its delicious street food, so be sure to sample some while you’re in town. From savory kebabs to sweet baklava, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.
The best way to find street food is to simply wander around and see what looks good. However, if you’re not sure where to start, there are a number of tours that focus on the city’s street food scene.
These are just a few of the many things to do in Istanbul. Whether you’re interested in exploring the city’s history or just want to enjoy its delicious food, you’re sure to find plenty to keep you busy.