Wondering what to do in Istanbul?  Istanbul is a city brimming with history, culture, colors and flavors.  There are tons of things to do in Istanbul that you can easily spend a week in this city and not be able to experience it all.

Istanbul is the largest city in Turkey (Türkiye) and its unique mix of East and West make it a fascinating destination.  From the Blue Mosque to the bustling Grand Bazaar, there are plenty of sights in Istanbul to explore.  The city is also filled with delicious restaurants, cafes and grab and go doner shops.

After we’ve gone over what to do in Istanbul and the best day trips from Istanbul, at the end of this post I’ll also include some practical information that will aid you in your trip to Istanbul, including where to stay, how to get there, best time to visit and any useful tips to know before you go.  Whether you’re traveling to Istanbul as the jump off point to your Turkey travels or have a fun filled week planned, these are the best places to visit in Istanbul.

Things to do in Istanbul

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    • Galata Tower
    • Taksim Square
    • Stroll along the former walls of Constantinople
    • Check out the Asian side of Istanbul
    • Breaking Bad Cafe
    • Sample Traditional Turkish Foods on a Food Tour
    • Ride a Cable Car
    • Turkish Ice Cream
    • Sunset on the Bosphorus Bridge
    • Balat District
    • Mevlevi Sema Ceremony
    • Corlulu Ali Pasa Medresesi
    • Sahaflar Carsisi
    • Turkish Coffee

      Day Trips from Istanbul Quick List

        Istanbul Travel Vlogs

        Would you rather see what visiting Istanbul is like?  Istanbul was the last stop on my month long Turkey travels and Joe and I were in the city for a week.  From the popular Blue Mosque to the chaotic Spice Bazaar, we tried to experience it all and had a blast doing it.

        Best Things to do in Istanbul, Turkey

        Things to do in Istanbul
        Hagia Sofia thing to do in Istanbul
        inside the Hagia Sofia
        Things to do in Istanbul, the Hagia Sofia

        Hagia Sophia

        The Hagia Sophia is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Istanbul.  This incredible structure has been standing since the 6th century and is one of the most iconic monuments in the city.

        The beautiful mosque is a breathtaking example of Byzantine architecture, with its great dome and four minarets.  It was originally constructed as a Greek Orthodox church, but was later constructed to a mosque in the 15th century after an earthquake.  It then served as a museum and was later turned back into a mosque and has since become a symbol of the city’s diverse culture and history.

        The Hagia Sophia is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the interior is just as impressive as the exterior.  Inside the mosque, you can explore the grand dome, its four massive pillars, the spectacular mosaics and frescoes that cover the walls and ceilings.

        It costs 100 Turkish Lira to enter and you must have your head, shoulders and knees covered.  I carried a hijab around in my bag the entire time I traveled Turkey so I could put it on to enter mosques.  They also provide loaner body covers if you don’t have your own.

        Horses and Guards at Topkapi Palace in Istanbul

        Topkapi Palace

        Topkapi Palace is a grand and sprawling complex located in the heart of the city.  It was the official residence of the Ottoman Sultans for centuries and is now a popular thing to see in Istanbul.

        The palace is filled with stunningly ornate architecture, lush gardens and a plethora of artifacts from the Ottoman Empire.  Inside, visitors can explore the harem, the treasury and the many courtyards with their intricate designs.

        There was even a few soldiers on top of horses posing for photos when I was there.  For those wanting to learn more about the palace, there are guided tours and educational events available.

        It cost 200 TL per person to enter and they do not allow tripods or microphones.  They took mine and I retrieved it when we exited.  If I were you, I’d just hide them in your pack before you enter.

        Skip the Lines & Book a Tour →

        Gülhane Park

        Gülhane Park is one of the oldest and most beautiful public parks in Istanbul.  The park is located near the walls of the Topkapi Palace and is home to a variety of trees, shrubs and flowers.

        The popular park is a great place to relax after exploring the Topkapi Palace.  Inside Gülhane Park you can walk on the short trails, hang by the fountains and there’s even a playground if you are traveling Istanbul with kids.

        Turkish coffee pots
        the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul

        Grand Bazaar

        We can’t have a best things to do in Istanbul list without mentioning the Grand Bazaar.  This a bustling and vibrant market is home to over 4,000 shops.

        This ancient bazaar dates back to the 15th century and is one of the world’s largest and oldest covered markets.  Anything you could want, you can find here.  It is a maze of streets and alleyways filled with a variety of items such as carpets, leather goods, spices, jewelry, pottery and much more.

        Visitors to the Grand Bazaar can spend hours browsing the many wares and bargaining with the shopkeepers.  I saw many people rolling around suitcases to put their purchased items in.  This is a great place to find unique souvenirs and the perfect spot to take in the culture and energy of Istanbul.

        The Spice Bazaar
        Inside the Spice Market

        Spice Bazaar

        The Spice Bazaar is another one of Istanbuls most popular attractions.  This bustling hub is located in the Eminönü district on the water.  The Spice Bazaar is a colourful jumble of carpets, textiles, lamps, and jewellery, and offers a wide selection of herbs, spices, nuts, Turkish delights and other exotic ingredients.

        The bazaar has been around since the 17th and is filled with shops, stalls and merchants selling all types of spices from local Turkish varieties to exotic blends from around the world.  I swear, every type of spice you could want is here, from paprika and cumin to saffron and sumac.

        You can also purchase dried fruits, nuts, teas and all types of flavor of Turkish delights.  The Spice Bazaar is open from 9am to 7pm most days, expect public holidays and religious days it will be closed.

        Blue Mosque in Istanbul
        The Blue Mosque in Istanbul

        Blue Mosque

        The Blue Mosque is another one of the top attractions in Istanbul and a stunning example of Islamic architecture.  Built in the early 1600’s, it is also known as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque and is one of the most iconic sites in Istanbul.

        The mosque is renowned for its impressive blue tiles which adorn its interior walls.  The mosque is a masterpiece of Islamic art and architecture, featuring six minarets, a large central dome and intricate designs and decorations.

        The Blue Mosque was under construction while we were in Istanbul October 2022.  This is a serene place of worship and a truly unique and awe-inspiring sight.

        Basilica Cistern

        The Basilica Cistern in Istanbul is an ancient engineering feat that continues to draw visitors from all around the world today.  Located beneath the streets of the city, this massive underground structure was constructed in the 6th century to provide water to the Byzantine palace.

        It is an impressive feat of engineering, measuring 140 meters long and 70 meters wide, with 336 columns supporting its roof.  The interior of the cistern is remarkable, with the columns, arches and low lighting creating a mysterious atmosphere.  This is a top thing to do in Istanbul for its grand scale and remarkable history.

        Try Balik Ekmek

        Try Balik Ekmek

        Balik ekmek (literally meaning “fish bread”) is one of the most beloved and iconic street foods in Istanbul.  It is usually sold from small boats floating in the Bosphorus or from kiosks along the shore.   We tried it on a back street near Eminönü.  It was exactly how it is described, more bread than fish.

        It consists of a freshly grilled fish, usually mackerel, inside a half-loaf of bread and a variety of sauces.  The most popular version includes pickled onions, lettuce, tomatoes and a generous helping of lemon juice.

        You can’t beat the price, this sandwich should cost around $2 USD.  If you are traveling Istanbul on a budget, then street food will be on the menu.

        Çiçek Pasajı

        Çiçek Pasajı or Flower Passage, is a landmark in Istanbul, that dates back to the 19th century.  This narrow, four-story building is located in the historical Beyoglu district and was built to provide a destination for the wealthy and elite to shop and relax.

        The passage has a rich history and is an important symbol of the city, as it represents the culture, history and lifestyle of Istanbul.  Today, it is filled with traditional shops, tea houses and cafes.

        Turkish Delights in Istanbul
        The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul

        Sample Turkish Delights

        Did you even visit Istanbul if you don’t sample some Turkish delights?  The city is filled with street vendors, cafes and sweet shops offering up delicious varieties of this beloved treat.  Every flavor imaginable can be found, from classic rose to exotic saffron and pistachio.

        When you visit the Spice Market, I’m sure you’ll be bombarded with shop owners trying to get you to visit their shop by offering Turkish delight samples.  Be sure to take your time, savor the flavors and bask in the sweet aroma of the pastries.  Istanbul’s Turkish delights are sure to ignite your taste buds and leave a lasting impression.

        Traditional Hamman or Turkish Bath

        If you are looking for an authentic experience in Istanbul, then partake in a traditional Turkish bath.  The baths, known as hamman in Turkish, have been used for centuries as a place to refresh and rejuvenate the body and soul.

        The Turkish bath experience begins with an invigorating scrub-down with warm water and soap.  Some would say the scrub is quite rough.  After being scrubbed clean, you will then enjoy a steam bath that relaxes your muscles and opens up your pores.

        After the steam bath, you will be treated to a massage of your choice.  The Turkish bath is one of the most unique things to do in Istanbul and should not be missed.

        Book a Turkish Bath →

        Bosphorus Dinner Cruise in Istanbul

        Bosphorus Dinner Cruise

        Taking a Bosphorus Dinner Cruise is one of the most popular things to do in Istanbul, and for good reason.  The cruise takes you along the iconic Bosphorus Strait giving you a beautiful view of the city from the water.  There’s nothing like a sunset on the water.

        The cruise will also include dinner as well as live entertainment.  You will have the opportunity to enjoy traditional music and belly dancing while sipping on some delicious local wine.

        Book a Dinner Cruise →

        Ride the Tunel

        The Tunel is the world’s second-oldest subway system and has been in operation since 1875.  This underground passageway is a unique feature of the city and offers a unique glimpse of Istanbul.

        The Tunel is the only underground railway system in Turkey and offers a convenient way to get around the city without the hassle of traffic and long lines.  Riding the Tunel is a great way to learn about the city as it passes through several districts, including the Old City and the Grand Bazaar.

        Topkapi Palace in Istanbul
        attractions in Istanbul

        Visit a Museum

        Istanbul is home to some of the world’s most incredible museums.  From ancient artifacts to modern art, the city offers a wide variety of cultural experiences for visitors.

        One of the most popular museums in the city is the Istanbul Archaeological Museum which is located near Topkapi Palace.  Another museum to visit in Istanbul is the Pera Museum which is dedicated to modern art and showcases the works of both Turkish and international artists including Monet, Manet, and Renoir.

        Here are some other museums in Istanbul worth checking out:

        • Rahmi M. Koc Museum
        • Chora Museum
        • Ural Ataman Classic Car Museum
        • Sakip Sabanci Museum
        • Museum of Innocence

        💡 Travel Tip:  Skip the Lines with the Istanbul E-Pass.  Useful for Istanbul’s Top Attractions with the Istanbul Museum Pass.

        Exploring things to do in Istanbul
        Turkish women making pita

        Free Walking Tour

        There’s no better way to get to know a city than on a free walking tour.  Opting for a Free Walking Tour in Istanbul is a great way to get to know a city and your bearings.  It’s even better when you can do so with a local guide and a group of like-minded travellers.  Plus it’s free (+tip)!

        A walking tour is a great introduction to a new area and in my opinion one of the best things to do in Istanbul.  Tours usually last around 2 hours and a local guide will be able to answer any questions that you have.

        Book a Free Walking Tour →

        Galata Tower

        Galata Tower

        The Galata Tower is one of Istanbuls most iconic symbols.  The tower is one of the highest and oldest towers in the city, standing at approximately 50 meters.  The medieval stone tower was built in 1348 during the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Galata.

        Located right in the center of Istanbul’s Beyoglu district, it’s easily visible from across the city and is a popular Instagram shooting location.  The tower offers visitors breathtaking views of the skyline, the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus Strait.

        You can climb to the top, where the stunning views of the old city can be seen from a balcony.  The Galata tower gets very busy at sunset so it’s best to book tickets ahead of time if you plan on visiting during this time.

        Book a Ticket →

        two boys in Istanbul
        Nightlife in Istanbul

        Taksim Square

        Taksim Square is a place where history and modernity meet.  Taksim Square is located across the bridge and is full of restaurants, nightlife and shopping.

        The main square is marked by the Ataturk Monument which is the historic symbol of Turkish independence.  Vintage trams run along Istikal Caddesi street, which is a busy pedestrian filled with sweet shops, 19th century buildings, international shopping chains, movie theaters and cafes.

        The lively atmosphere of the area is undeniable and it’s easy to get lost in the hustle and bustle for hours.  At night, the streets light up and come alive with music, street vendors and friendly locals.  Don’t miss out on visiting Taksim Square when exploring Istanbul.

        Stroll along the former walls of Constantinople

        Built in 413, the former walls of Constantinople are a reminder of the city’s Roman past and they are one of the most impressive examples of historic architecture in the world.  Not only will this thing to do in Istanbul transport you back in time but you’ll be able to enjoy spectacular views of the city as they stretch along the Sea of Marmara and the Golden Horn.

        The walls are incredibly well-preserved, they have stood the test of time, and they are 3.5 kilometers in length.  This is a must do to be enthralled by a feeling of awe and nostalgia of ancient empires past.

        Ferry Ride in Istanbul

        Check out the Asian side of Istanbul

        Most visitors to Istanbul stay on the European side of the city as it’s closer to most of the best things to do in Istanbul.  Taking a day trip to the Asian side of Istanbul, is a great way to explore the city via water and on your feet.

        Much like the European side, the Asian side of Istanbul is filled with shopping, cafes and restaurants.  The best way to get here is on a ferry which will only cost a couple dollars.  Meander the streets, take in the Turkish culture and continent hop for an afternoon.

        💸 Budget Travel Tip:  Ride the ferry for $2 instead of a dinner cruise to experience Istanbul on the water.

        Visit the ‘Breaking Bad’ Cafe

        Calling all Breaking Bad fans 📣.  This themed cafe is a unique eatery that gives patrons an opportunity to experience the flavor and atmosphere of the hit TV show “Breaking Bad”

        Located in the historic and fashionable Beyoglu neighborhood, the cafe offers a modern take on traditional Turkish cuisine, as well as some of the favorite food of the show’s characters.  From Heisenburgers and blue-meth cookies to the notorious “los pollos hermanos” chicken wing plater, there is something on the menu to tantalize everyone’s taste buds.  The decor of the cafe also pays homage to the show and is a must visit when exploring this part of Istanbul.

        Street kebabs in istanbul
        Simit in front of the Hagia Sofia
        Istanbul Street Food

        Sample Traditional Turkish Foods on a Food Tour

        Bairiki Mosque

        One of my absolute favorite things to do when I come to a new city is to go on a Food Tour.  I mean, what better way to experience the city’s diverse and delicious cuisine.

        Explore different neighborhoods and immerse yourself in the culture and cuisine along the way.  From spiced kebabs to cheese-filled pastries to baklava, you’re sure to make some delicious memories.

        Here are some top rated food tours in Istanbul to check out:

        Exploring things to do in Istanbul
        Imjesstraveling in Istanbul

        Ride a Cable Car

        If you are looking for a unique way to explore Istanbul, ride a cable car.  Not only is it an “adventure” to run and catch the cable car but its a pretty wild ride, rolling by tons of people through the busy Taksim district.

        Turkish Ice Cream

        I’m sure you’ve seen videos of the infamous Turkish ice cream men that like to play games with you when you order the ice cream.  They have a long pole with a loop on the end that holds the ice cream cone and when they hold it out to you for you to grab it, they suddenly pull it back from you.  You have to do this activity in Istanbul or at least somewhere in Türkiye while you are here.

        Sunset on the Bosphorus Bridge

        Sunset on the Bosphorus Bridge

        There’s nothing quite like watching the sunset on the Bosphorus Bridge as it dips behind a mosque filled skyline next to local fishermen casting their lines into the Bosphorus river.  The beauty of the moment should be savored with a delicious Turkish tea in hand.

        Wander Balat

        The Balat neighborhood in Istanbul is a hidden gem and a top thing to do in Istanbul if you are searching for those instagram worthy shots.  The historic district is filled with pastel-colored residences, beautiful-carved stone structures and glittering waterscape from the Golden Horn and the nearby bridges.

        In addition to its rich history, the Balat district is filled with cafes, bakeries and tea shops offering some of the most unique street foods in Istanbul.  If you are visiting the city for more than a few days, make sure you add the Balat district to your itinerary.

        Mevlevi Sema Ceremony

        If you are looking for a thing to do in Istanbul that is a 800 year old tradition, then attend a Melvevi Sema Ceremony.  The ceremony is a Sufi ritual of whirling, which is believed to channel the love and passion of Rumi, a famous poet and Sufi saint.

        The whirling dervishes are dressed in white and is a beautiful sight as they perform their unique spiritual ceremony.  Each spin indicates a turn in prayer and a cycle renewal, allowing the caretaker of the soul to connect to the divine.  The ceremony lasts an hour and is a great way to immerse yourself into the Turkish culture.

        Book a Ceremony →

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          Sahaflar Carsisi

          Another Istanbul attraction located close to the spice bazaar and grand bazaar is Sahaflar Carsisi.  This renowned book market is one of the oldest in the world and has been around since the Byzantine times.

          Sahaflar certainly has a distinct atmosphere and the narrow streets are lined with old bookshops, forming an exotic labyrinth.  As Shahaflar is a market for second-hand books, prices are bargain-friendly and you’ll find incredible selections of old books and manuscripts from around the world.

          Drinking Turkish tea in Istanbul

          Drink Tea at Corlulu Ali Pasa Medresesi

          Corlulu Ali Pasa Medresesi is an old madrasah turned into a coffee shop and is located in the historic Faith district of Istanbul.   Built in 1660, it was originally intended as a school of Islamic teaching before used as a Hamam bath a century later.

          If you enjoy smoking hookah, this is the most authentic place to smoke nargile in Istanbul.  Not only is this an important monument of Islamic architecture but its a great place for locals and tourists to take a “breather” from the hustle and bustle of the chaotic Grand Bazaar.

          Enjoy a Turkish Coffee

          Of course you can’t visit Istanbul without drinking Turkish coffee am I right?  The coffee itself is intense and flavorful and is usually served in small cups with a layer of froth on the top.

          Turkish coffee is usually comes with traditional Turkish sweets and can be enjoyed in many of the city’s cafes and restaurants.  For the best experience, seek out a traditional Turkish-style cafe to enjoy your pick me up.

          Day Trips from Istanbul

          Day Trips from Istanbul

          Along with the best things to do in Istanbul, I wanted to include some of the best day trips from Istanbul if you plan on visiting this electrifying city for more than a few days.

          Prince’s Islands

          Prince’s Islands is a group of nine enchanting islands located in the Sea of Marmara, just a short boat ride away from Istanbul.  The islands, are a favorite summer getaway from the busy city.

          They offer a unique environment of tranquility and natal beauty, with breathtaking scenery, peaceful parks, sand beaches, cobbled streets and charming neighborhoods.  Boats, horse carriages and bicycles are the primary modes of transportation and the lack of motorized vehicles makes it an ideal destination to relax and enjoy a peaceful time.

          Book a Tour →

          Istanbul Turkey

          Kilyos (Kumköy)

          Kilyos also referred to as Kumköy is a beach resort located in the Black Sea region of Turkiye.  This day trip from Istanbul is a great spot for swimming, sun bathing and enjoying fresh seafood.

          Termal

          Termal is a town in Turkey located about a 2 hour drive from Istanbul.  It is renowned for its hot springs and a great place to unwind and decompress. 

          Thrace Vineyard Route

          If you watch any of my YouTube videos or are a frequent reader of my blog, you would know that I love a glass of local red wine.  The Thrace Vineyard Route is the oldest wine route in Türkiye.

          Home to some of the best wines in the world, the Thrace Vineyard Route spans the European side of the country and takes you through tranquil rolling hills, fragrant blooms and scattered villages.  Enjoy local gastronomic delights as you pass through picturesque towns and listen to the local folklore that comes alive through colorful stories of the winemakers of Turkiye.

          Bursa

          The last day trip from Istanbul to make the list is Bursa.  Bursa is a city rich in culture and history.  From the Grand Mosque to the famous Ulu Camii, there are many places to explore in this city.  The old city’s cobblestoned streets and the surrounding nature parks make Bursa an attractive destination for people who want to escape Istanbul for a day.

          Book a Tour →

          Where to Stay in Istanbul

          Where to stay in Istanbul

          There are tons of places to stay in Istanbul from swanky hotels to backpacker hostels.  These are the best places to stay in Istanbul for every budget.

          🛖 Read Next:  Where to Stay in Istanbul

          Public Tram in Istanbul
          Crowds in Itsanbul

          How to Get Around Istanbul

          Getting around Istanbul is quite easy as there are a variety of transportation options available.  Personally, when Joe and I were here, we walked everywhere as that’s how you get to know a city and find hidden gems.

          The most popular form of transportation is the metro.  The metro consists of three lines – M1 which runs from the north tot he south, M2 which runs from east to west and the M3.  The metro is inexpensive and makes it easy for tourists and locals to get around.

          There is also a well connected bus system.  In addition, you can take a ferry which is also inexpensive and it makes for a scenic ride.  Cabs are plentiful but with traffic its usually better to hoof it or take the metro.

          How to Get To Istanbul

          Turkey is a large country with a comprehensive bus system so getting to Istanbul via bus is easy.  There’s many international buses that run from Belgrade, Sofia and Athens just to name a few.

          International trains are also frequent into Istanbul.  Flights from all over Europe fly into Istanbul.  Istanbul will be the jumping off point of anywhere you want to travel in Turkey.

          Exploring Istanbul
          Turkish People getting married

          What to Pack for Istanbul

          Istanbul Turkey
          Steps in Istanbul

          Istanbul Travel Tips

          1. Credit Cards are widely accepted
          2. Pack a Universal Adapter
          3. Public transportation around Istanbul is cheap and efficient.
          4. Döner shops are inexpensive and tasty!
          5. You will probably need a Visa before you can enter the country.
          6. Women must wear hijab’s on their heads when entering mosques.
          7. Budget – it’s extremely reasonable and cheap to travel Turkey but a bit more expensive in Istanbul.
          8. Purchase Travel insurance before you go
          9. Professional taxis always have meters running in the rear view mirror.

          Turkey Travel Tips

          📍Plan your Trip

          🗺 How long to travel Turkey?  2 Weeks to hit the highlights, 4 Weeks to really immerce yourself.

          🛂 Visas: Get your E-Visa

          ☔️ Best Time to Visit:  April, May, September and October are the best months to travel Turkey.

          💰 Average Daily Budget: Expect to pay 30-50 USD’s a day for basic accommodations, sit down meals at a cafe and entrance fees.

          ⛺️ Turkey accommodation Guides

          🪂 Highlights

          🧳 What to Pack: What to Pack for Türkiye

          🎥 Watch our Turkey Series on YouTube

          📧 Get on my Email list to see what I’m up to and all the best travel content!

          Do you have any favorite things to do in Istanbul?  Let other travelers know in the comments below ↓

           More Turkey Travel Guides ↓

          Check out these guides for more tips & inspiration about off-the-beaten path destinations in Turkey.

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