Things to do in Istanbul, Turkey

Things to do in Istanbul

Istanbul is a city full of surprises, history, culture and beautiful sights. In my opinion, Istanbul is one of the most interesting cities in Turkey and also in the world – everybody should visit it at least once in his life! You will miss something if you don’t! Like in every big city, there are plenty of amazing things to do in Istanbul – with almost endless possibilities. Today, I want to show you some great things to do in Istanbul, together with some of my fellow bloggers.

You are looking for more beautiful places to visit in Turkey? You can find several Turkey travel guides on my blog!

Bosphorus Cruise

A cruise down the Bosphorus is absolutely essential if you’re going on holiday to Istanbul. If you’re looking for something simple that gets the job done I would recommend you buy your ticket with the company Sehir Hatlari which offers various options including a full cruise and a short cruise throughout the day. Both of these are an absolute bargain.

I did the short Bosphorous cruise which I was shocked to hand over only 2USD for. The ferry is extremely comfortable and the scenery was absolutely incredible all of the way allowing me to spot all of the major sites. I was very lucky to have taken the cruise when there weren’t too many tourists around but apparently in the peak seasons, it’s recommended that you arrive approximately 30 minutes early at the ticket office in order to have your choice of seat. National holidays are apparently the most crowded of all.

During my trip, the weather was also perfect and warm so standing outside on the deck was a real pleasure. Again, I kept on asking myself how something like this could cost so little thinking of boat trips in other countries that aren’t even as spectacular!

If you have more time and are interested in the longer cruise, it involves stopping for three hours at Andalou Kavagi where you are free to go off on your own. Here you can visit Yoros Castle which is a bit of an upward trek and visit a restaurant for a bite to eat.

Submission by Ann Marie, Eco Conscious Traveller

Bosphorus cruise in Istanbul

A cruise on the Bosphorus is a great way to see many of Istanbul’s sights

Basilica Cisterns

We spent about one week in Istanbul and managed to visit more places than we had originally planned. Out of all the incredible things to do in Istanbul, the Basilica Cistern was one of our favorites, maybe because it was the only rather cold place in the city, as we were in Istanbul in July.

The Basilica Cistern is the biggest cistern out of hundreds cisterns located around Istanbul. It was built in 6th century AD in the times when Istanbul, called Constantinople back then, was the capital of the Byzantine Empire. The Cistern was built under a public square, the First Hill of Constantinople. There was a public basilica at the square which explains the origin of the name “basilica cistern”. From the outside you can see only a small entrance building but once you’re inside and your eyes get used to the dark you find yourself in a huge hall with hundreds of columns. The size of the Cistern is truly impressive; its total area is 9800 square meters, it can hold 80 000 cubic meters of water and the ceiling is supported by 336 columns, each 9 meters high. Almost all the columns used for the construction are recycled columns that had been used before – it explains why they all  look different.

They were brought from all over the city. Most of them were parts of old temples and palaces. Besides the impressive numbers, the Basilica Cistern is an incredibly beautiful construction: A strange combination of a Roman temple and an underground reservoir, a forest of the marble columns in the huge dark and humid hall – something very different from other attractions in Istanbul. The central location of the Cistern makes it easy to combine it with visiting other major attractions of Istanbul like the Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque or the Grand Bazaar.

Submission by Campbell & Alya, Stingy Nomads

Things to do in Istanbul: Basilica Cistern

The Basilica Cistern is located nearby other main attractions such as Hagia Sophia or the Blue Mosque

Galata Tower

No visit to Istanbul can be considered complete without climbing the Galata Tower. Built on a hill in the Beyoglu district, narrow cobblestone streets filled with charming cafes wind their way to the ancient stone structure. Standing tall above the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus Strait, this nine-story medieval stone tower is perhaps the city’s most iconic landmark.

When it was built in the 14th century, the Galata Tower was Istanbul’s tallest building. Over the years it has helped defend Istanbul from attacks, served as an astronomical observatory, and held Christian prisoners of war. There is a small fee to visit the Galata Tower, and visitors must climb about 15 steps after the elevator to complete their ascent. But going up the tower delivers some of the most phenomenal panoramic views of Istanbul. Not surprisingly, there are often long lines to visit the Galata Tower. Therefore, one of the best times to visit is first thing in the morning or toward the end of the day. Not only will this reduce the time you wait in line, but you’ll also have better dawn or dusk lighting for this Insta worthy destination in Istanbul.

Submission by Everyday Wanderer

Galata Tower

It is recommended that you visit the Galata Tower early or late to avoid long lines.

Grand Bazaar

Reminiscent of a massive, never-ending strip mall, the Istanbul Grand Bazaar is one of the oldest and largest covered markets in the world. From within, one might feel like a mouse in a labyrinth. With arched ceilings and long corridors, it is truly remarkable.

At the busiest times, this 31,000 square meter area holds nearly 4,000 shops with 25,000 staff and over half a million visitors in a single day. I could not believe the variety of unique and impressive items; my only disappointment is that I did not have deeper pockets!

It is a blast to go from shop to shop and see all the excitement. The constantly changing sights and smells are truly a treat for the senses. For more than 550 years, merchants and buyers have gathered to exchange anything from specialty coffee and hand-woven carpets to one-of-a-kind jewelry and enchanting spices.

The buzzing atmosphere, dazzling colors, and historical significance is sure to overwhelm a first-time visitor. I personally wish to have had more time to explore and would recommend planning for multiple days if you are a true shopping fanatic!

I believe that even someone who does not particularly care for shopping could have an enjoyable experience simply observing and taking in the atmosphere.

Submission by Kaily, Nylon Pink

Grand Bazaar, one of the best places in Istanbul

In the Grand Bazaar, you can find almost everything!

Eating a sandwich outside Grand Bazaar

One of our favorite things to do in Istanbul revolves around FOOD!!! Istanbul is a street foodie’s paradise and you can have a meal for a couple USD or less! Outside the Grand Bazaar near the tram station, there is a great little sandwich shop that makes panini-style sandwiches and serves drinks. I think we tried each thing on the menu, but for sure the overall favorite was the pepperoni and choose “baget.”

The meat was not your typical pepperoni but was flavourful and tasty! My son thought it tasted like pizza in a sandwich and I was happy to find something he would ask for again and again! At 6 TL that is around 1 USD or less than 1 Euro (Exchange rate from October 2018). A pop or a hot drink was just 2-3 TL and we walked away happy! When you can feed your family for 5 USD you can’t go wrong!

Right next to the sandwich shop you could also get roasted corn (another daily favorite of my kids) and roasted nuts.

Submission by Lindsay Nieminen, Carpe Diem Our Way

Things to do in Istanbul in Summer

A great place when you or your family are hungry!

Hagia Sophia

Visiting the famed Hagia Sophia is easily one of Istanbul’s best-known things to do – in fact, it’s one of the most famous (former) houses of worship in the world!
Originally built in 537 AD and located in the center of the historical Sultanahmet neighborhood of Istanbul, the Hagia Sophia first served as a church, then a mosque, and now a museum. In other words, the Hagia Sophia is a snapshot of Istanbul’s culture through the centuries, and stepping inside it is to marvel at a piece of living history.
The interior of the structure most resembles a mosque these days, but in certain areas, you can see where the plaster has been removed to reveal the ornate, golden Christian murals underneath.
While visiting the Hagia Sophia, be sure to look through the windows on the second floor–there’s a stunning view of the Blue Mosque in the distance on one side, and views of the Bosphorus Strait on another!
Though you can visit the Hagia Sophia independently, for a building with this much history, it makes sense to hire a guide if you can -the extra context is invaluable, and makes it easier to appreciate just how special this building is to our global heritage.

Submission by Kate, Our Escape Clause

Best things to do in Istanbul: Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia, seen from inside

Kedi Park

Turks famously love their cats. Where other cultures and religions associate cats with the devil, they are highly regarded in Muslim culture. A well-known story demonstrates Prophet Muhammad’s affinity for cats. When his cat Muezza was asleep on his arm during the call to prayer, rather than disturb his cat, he simply cut off the sleeve of his robe. He then stroked his cat three times, granting him seven lives and the ability to always land on his feet.

Throughout Turkey, parks and historical sites serve as a home to up to dozens of cats, collectively cared for by the community. Filmmakers even made a sweet documentary about the cats of Istanbul called, Kedi. The most famous cat park in Turkey is perhaps Nişantaşı Sanat Parkı near Taksim Square, colloquially known as Kedi Park.

Home to hundreds of cats, it’s a wonderful way to spend an hour for those travelers missing their feline friends back home. Most of the cats are friendly and accustomed to human interaction. They’ll willingly come up to you and beg for love, or even hop in your lap!

Dedicated individuals visit daily to ensure the cats have food and water. Some have constructed kitty condos to offer a quiet space to nap or to shelter the cats from wet weather. Even the city is on board and has installed a food dispenser that releases kibble when someone recycles a plastic water bottle. The city and local shelter are working on spay and neuter, as indicated by a small piece of the cats’ ears snipped off. There’s a cafe in the park where you can sip on your tea while enjoying the company of a kitty, or two…or more.

Submission by Long Haul Trekkers

Views from Camlica Hill

Istanbul has a lot of places that offer beautiful views over the city, yet, there is one place in Istanbul that I love the most for that. The Camlica Hill is located on the Asian side of Istanbul and offers some of the most incredible views over the city – especially during sunset or night time. For me, this place should be on every things to do in Istanbul list!

You can get to the Camlica Hill by car – if you don’t have one you could take a taxi from the Asian side. The place can be quite crowded for sunset, yet, it’s just worth it. And how cool is it to see two continents from one location? Pretty much in my opinion! Camlica Hill is certainly one of the best viewing points I’ve ever been to.

Best viewing point in Istanbul

Night views from Camlica Hill

Miniaturk

If you are looking for a pleasant and educational experience at the same time, then you must visit Miniaturk Park in Istanbul. Here, you have the opportunity to see, at the scale of 1:25, 134 models representing the most important buildings, monuments, and attractions in Turkey, some of them over 3000 years old. Basically, the motto that guides the park is “A small model for a great country” which is a very true statement.

The visit to Miniaturk Park should take about 2 to 3 hours in which you will enjoy some beautiful, well-designed and durable models, regardless of the season. So, you can come here both in the warm and cold season. The entrance price is 15 TL, and you can either come here by car or by bus

Besides the most important miniaturized mosques, mini boats, a mini train, mini Cappadocia, mini Pamukkale, fortresses and churches, the most appealing attractions seemed to me the mini stadium and the Miniaturk airport with his miniature airplanes. Each attraction has an audio guide, available in various international languages. Therefore, while you admire the models, you can also listen to some essential data about each one. Miniaturk seems to me the ideal opportunity to see Turkey on a smaller scale in just a few hours while walking on the alleys of the park and is a cool thing to do in Istanbul.

Submission by Bella, Whisper Wanderlust

Things to do in Istanbul: Miniaturk Park

Miniaturk Park

Prince Islands

Many tourists that come to Istanbul spend their time in the city itself forgetting that there is a stunning place just an hour away on a ferry: the Prince Islands in the Sea of Marmara. It is a chain of nine islands, and tourists and locals choose the Big Island or Buyukada.

What makes this place special is the fact that local aristocrats and ruling family members were exiled there. I guess they did not suffer much considering how beautiful the mansions on the island and the nature surrounding them are. And nature there is stunning! The forests cover almost entire island and give shade in sweltering days. Every mansion has a little garden with flowers and lush greenery.

Locals go there mainly for beaches, which are not free, by the way. I would advise going there to see its magnificent mansions and incredible views from the top of the hill.

Many mansions are wooden, and each one of them is different and beautiful in its own way. Just stroll along the streets on your way to the foot of the hill and see it for yourself.

But even with beautiful houses, the main pilgrimage place on Buyukada is St George Monastery on the top of the hill. The views from there are incredible! Just imagine seeing from above blue sea with islands and ships scattered here and there. The journey to the top of the hill takes some effort as it is a steep way up with no shade, but the views are so much worth it! And while you are on top, tie a band to a tree branch and make a wish: it is believed that it will come true. And to make sure that it will definitely come true, write it on a piece of paper as well and throw it in the wish box inside the church.

On a hot day go to a beach. Again, they are not free, but for 30-40 Turkish liras, you can enjoy some tan and bath time on Nakibey or Yorukali beaches.

To get to the island you will have to take a ferry, they usually depart from Eminonu and Kabatas piers. Make sure to check the departure timetable back to Istanbul: if you miss the ferry, you are left on the island 🙂 As Buyukada is an ecologically clean island, only bikes and horse carriages are allowed. And you can explore the island on foot, of course, and this is the way I recommend.

Submission by Marianna Dimova, Irma Naan World

Prince Islands Istanbul

Things to do in Istanbul: Visit the Prince Islands

See the Whirling Dervishes

Istanbul is a magical, mystical city, it’s a superb place to see different life through a different lens.  You’ll probably visit a variety of mosques and churches here, but you should also take the time to explore the Islamic sect of Sufism that you’ll find here.  The Whirling Dervishes and their SEMA is a truly unique religious experience and Istanbul is a great place to learn more and see it in action.

The Whirling Dervishes are not a religious order as such, but a set of beliefs and philosophies that following adhere to.  They focus on love, peace, and acceptance.  The ceremony, or SEMA, takes place to music that is mesmerizing both for the dervish and the watcher.  The dance of almost continuous movement is a traditional form of Sufi worship.  Twirling with one hand to the heavens, reaching for divinity and the other to the ground is part of their meditative practices.  They aim to reach perfection and imitate the planets in the solar system revolving around the sun while dancing.

Everything about the ceremony represents something key – for instance, their wide white skirt is a death shroud, their felt hat a tombstone.

While this is a religious ceremony, you can see the Whirling Dervishes at several locations around Istanbul.  The easiest is the Whirling Dervish café in Sultanahmet square, where the price of a coffee in the evening will let you watch a show there.  You can also take photographs here.   There is also a ceremony that it’s possible to watch in Galata, but this is a formal ceremony. The most popular place to see the Whirling Dervishes in Istanbul is at the Hodjapasha tekke in Istanbul. Buy tickets either online through the website or via your hotel.

Submission by Sarah, ASocialNomad

Whirling Dervishes in Istanbul

The Whirling Dervishes

Ortaköy at night

Many people don’t know that Istanbul has a vibrant nightlife – and also cool areas to hang out at night. One of them is Ortaköy, located nearby one of the beautiful bridges that connect Europe with Asia. The area is full of bars, restaurants, cafes and places to eat the famous Turkish streetfood “kumpir” (which is a baked potato with several fillings).

Ortaköy is an amazing place to spend some time – no matter if it’s during the day or at night, however, the views at night are just outstanding, which is the reason that I recommend going there at night!

You should visit Ortaköy during your stay in Istanbul

Ortaköy at night, simply beautiful


You are visiting Istanbul and look for some travel inspiration by fellow travelers? Then you will find exactly that on my blog, go and check it out to fullfill your wanderlust!

More to read

Spread the love
About the Author

Michael Gerber

Facebook Twitter

Hello guys! I am Michael, a freelance photographer and travel blogger from Switzerland. My goal is to inspire travelers all around the globe with my posts and images.