Looking for the most amazing things to do in Istanbul? I’ve got you covered! One of the cities that most captured my heart and interest to return time again and again, is Istanbul.
This populous city is packed with ancient landmarks, distinctive cuisine and vibrant nightlife. Whether you plan on staying for a short layover or a weeklong getaway – Istanbul is a fantastic choice.
A Brief Overview of Istanbul
Istanbul, formerly Constantinople is the capital of Turkey and its largest city. Istanbul is the only transcontinental city in the world. It lies to one part in Europe and to one part in Asia, separated by the 31km long Bosphorus strait.
All people with a European passport or European identity card can visit Turkey visa-free. If you don’t have a European passport you would need to apply for an e-visa or visa on arrival.
Best Time To Visit Istanbul
The best time to visit this exciting city is between March to May and between September to November. That way you will escape the summer heat and crowds and can count on more affordable room rates.
Recommended Time to Visit Istanbul:
It’s totally possible to see the main sights of Istanbul in about 3-5 days.
The 9 Most Amazing Things To Do in Istanbul
Considering the grand size of Istanbul it’s a good idea to divide your sightseeing days into districts.
During my first visit I was slightly overwhelmed by all the things one can do in the city. In this post I share with you the X things to do, places that you can’t miss when in Istanbul, the best places to eat and where to stay.
1. Visit Suleymaniye Mosque
The Suleymaniye Mosque towers over one of Istanbul’s seven hills and dominates the Golden Horn. It’s one of the city’s most striking landmarks and one of the places that aren’t overrun by tourists. Its four minarets represent the four sultans who took the throne after the conquest of Constantinople.
The garden of the mosque is open at all times, which makes it a perfect thing to do early in the day to catch the sunrise.
To be able to visit the mosque inside, you need to cover your head as well as shoulders and knees as a woman. It’s totally worth it and is a place I came back to twice during my visits to Istanbul.
Opening times: 9 am to 6 pm
Entry: Free to visit
2. Stroll over The Grand Bazaar
The Grand Bazaar of Istanbul is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world. Opening way back in 1431, it is one of the top things to do when in town. Located in the Eminönü quarter of the Fatih district, the Grand Bazaar covers 61 streets and over 4000 stalls.
This is literally a place you can spend hours in, wandering through shops selling Turkish delight, leatherware, Turkish copper or ceramics.
My tip: find a cute cafe and watch the market life go by with a nice Turkish tea.
Opening times: 10 am to 6 pm
Entry: Free to visit
3. Go Shopping at The Egyptian Bazaar
The stunning Egyptian Bazaar is another one of Istanbul’s gems that you have to visit. Also situated in the Eminönü quarter of the Fatih district, and right by the ferry terminals, it’s hard to miss.
The Egyptian Bazaar has a beautiful ceiling and is a paradise for photographers. This is the best place to stock up on Turkish delight, exotic spices and all kinds of dried fruits or chocolate-covered nuts. You can’t go wrong with a present from this place!
Don’t forget to stop by Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi to grab a pack of roasted coffee beans. The famous shop is supplying beans for about 100 years!
Opening times: 8 am to 7 pm
Entry: Free to Visit
4. Explore the Hagia Sofia
Probably the most visited place in Istanbul, the Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque is a mosque and a major cultural site in Istanbul. The 1,500 years old mosque has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985 and counts as one of the city’s top things to do.
The Hagia Sophia poses as a grand important monument both for the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. If you haven’t already been convinced by its exterior, the interior surely will! The interior of the mosque is a magnificent place, featuring Byzantine elements of massive marble pillars, a grand dome and beautiful religious mosaics.
You will also encounter Islamic elements like low-hanging chandeliers and massive round placards showing the names of Allah and Muhammad in Arabic.
Tip: Make sure to get to the Hagia Sophia as early as 8.30 am to avoid standing in the (very long) queue to enter.
Opening Times: 9 am
Entry: The mosque is free to visit.
5. Climb the Galata Tower
Undoubtedly one of Istanbul’s most iconic sights, the Galata Tower is one of the best things you can visit. Whether you climb to the top or admire the tower from below, it’s worth it!
The tower was probably built around 527 AD during the Byzantine area. It played a big part of the defence wall surrounding the district.
You can visit the tower by climbing the 142 steps or taking the elevator to the top. As the queue can get super long, be there early!
Tip: Sit down in one of the cafes and indulge in one of their San Sebastian cheesecakes covered in chocolate. You’re welcome!
Opening Times: 8.30 am to 10 pm
Entry: 14 Euro with skip-the-line ticket
6. Indulge in a Typical Turkish Breakfast
An Istanbul must-do thing is having a typical Turkish breakfast. For me this is one of the most delicious breakfast cuisines. At its best its featuring multiple small dishes including olives, fresh cheese, halloumi and egg & tomato shakshuka.
One of the things I was looking forward to most during my stay at Stayso The House Hotel was their delicious breakfast – totally recommend it!
7. Take a Ferry Ride on the Bosphorus
One of the coolest things to do in Istanbul certainly is a ride on one of the ferries. With the city being divided into to European and the Asian side, there is no shortage of water taxis. You can go on one of the tourist boats covering various destinations or you just hop on a public ferry.
My favourite ride was during sunset from Eminönü near the Egyptian Spice Market towards Beşıktaş Iskelesi for Dolmabahçe Palace. This way you can see the European side with the Galata Tower and the Asian side.
Cost: starting from 1.5 Lira or 0.10 ct for public ferry
8. Marvel at the Grand Mecidiye Mosque (Ortaköy Mosque)
The Ortaköy Mosque must be the mosque in the most picturesque setting in Istanbul. Situated just before the Bosphorus Bridge, it shows the juxtaposition of the city’s modern and traditional sides.
Built in the 18th century, the mosque was designed by the Armenian architect Garabet Balyan who also designed the nearby Dolmabahce Palace. With a beautiful ceiling in a dome shape, decorated with pink mosaic, it’s definitely a highlight to visit.
Just outside of the mosque you can find many restaurants, souvenir shops and places to go out. Stay after sunset to also admire the bridge in its various colours.
Opening times: 9 am to 6 pm
Entry: Free to visit
9. Wander through Balat District
Probably the most colourful area of Istanbul, Balat’s neighbourhood is a gem and a top thing to do. In more than one area of the district, you can find the most colourful houses on its cobblestone slopes. These historic wooden homes are between 50 to 200 years old and make some fantastic photo spots.
The easiest way to reach to area is by ferry to the station of Ferner. From there, its a leisurely walk through the area.
Balat used to be home to the minorities of the city, such as Jewish and Greek Orthodox families. Till today you can find many churches and a synagogue here. It really has a special feeling, very distinctive from the rest of the city.
Make sure to relax in one of the cosy coffee shops.
One of the best things you can do is to just wander around, soak in all the Oriental and European vibes and see where you end up!
Where To Stay in Istanbul
With an exceptional view of the Golden Horn, The Stayso House Hotel is a fantastic place to base yourself. A mix of modern and minimalist interiors, it features a co-working area, gym and an outstanding patisserie. Their pistachio truffles are out of this world!
(Sponsored PR stay)
Where to Eat in Istanbul
Nova Santiye Cafe: for a terrace rooftop with view of Istanbul
Viyana Kahvesi Galata: for their amazing cheesecakes
Old Java Coffee Roasters Galata: for amazing coffee!
Galata Kitchen: because they have the best vegetarian buffet
Helvacı Ali Galata: you just need to try their desserts
I hope this post inspires you to visit this fantastic city and gives you a starting point to explore Turkey. Let me know if you have any additional spots in mind to check off next time!
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