Top Things to Do in Istanbul, Turkey – Our Exclusive Guide

Updated On: June 26, 2022

Istanbul is one of those cities you fall in love with when you step off the plane. It offers more than only cultural and historical attractions, some of which can be visited multiple times. And each time you do, you will learn something new.

Istanbul has a unique spirit that draws visitors from all over the world to come and experience its magic and enjoy their lives. So, you might just have to hold your heart tight because we’re about to make your trip to Istanbul, unlike anything you’ve ever experienced before. This list contains places to visit and must-try items such as food, activities, and much more. There are many things to do in Istanbul that can quickly fill your days here.

The city of Istanbul
Istanbul Waterfront, Turkey

Visiting Istanbul before and don’t think it’s worth it to go back!

Okay, you’re welcome to read this guide as well. We will tell you what you should not do or avoid doing in Istanbul since some people have made mistakes that have ruined their holiday.

Happy reading!

Top Things to Do in Istanbul

1- Gems of Istanbul: Galata Tower

Location: Beyoglu
How to get there: 4 minutes walk from Şişhane tram station.
Price: Around USD 12

It’s one of the most beautiful places in Istanbul, dating back to the 14th century. Through your walk tour towards Galata Tower, you might just have even more things to try, from buying traditional Turkish costumes or some souvenirs or even snapping away the beautiful graffiti-decorated streets around. Your tour here is full of much fun.

Galata Tower
The Iconic structure of Istanbul, Galata Tower, Pexels
Why should you visit Galata Tower?

The tower served as a lighthouse, and through centuries Galata Tower has been affected by historical fluctuations and upgrade works. Even during the Ottoman empire, the prisons of war were kept here. Let’s say Galata Tower is one of the oldest observatory towers in the world. It’s hard not to notice that the place has an abundance of historical features.

But don’t get enough by just roaming around the tower. Climbing Galata Tower will give you a fantastic view of Old Istanbul.

Before climbing the tower, take a look at the exhibition and maps displayed on the first floor of the building.

Also, you can have a rest in the second layer and admire the 360-degree views from the terrace around Galata. So, if you want to have some of the best ideas of amazing Istanbul, you definitely have to come up here.

Otherwise, take advantage of the opportunity to walk through the picturesque streets and stop at excellent eateries with seats outdoors for a cup of coffee before continuing your journey.

Things to Do:
  • Keep an eye out for the most stunning views from all over the city.
  • Enjoy some interactive games that allow you to fly over Istanbul and discover all places that intrigue you the most to hit them up.
  • Explore some of the artifacts from different old civilizations displayed in the exhibition.
  • Go down to have a look into other small museums that exhibited some Othmani-era military artifacts.
  • Antiques, marble statues, and Turkish symbols are available in a one-of-a-kind souvenir shop. Don’t forget about it.

 

Things not to Do:
  • Heading to Galata Tower in peek time of summer or holiday vacations get too hard for you to explore the place extensively without congestions.
  • Some people remark that the admission fee is a little too high. If you have a large family, you may skip the entrance and instead explore the surrounding region. You can also purchase an Istanbul museum card. Visiting numerous sights with a single ticket is a fantastic idea.
  • Don’t forget to head for Galata Tower in the evening if your hotel is nearby. The place turns out to be a folklore festival to see the cultural side of Turkey.

 Pro Tip: Before visiting Galata Tower, you need to ask if it’s open or there are any restorations, and in this case, it would be close. And you could only stroll down the area.

2- Head for Istanbul’s Symbol: Hagia Sophia

Location: Ayasofya Square
How to get there: 8 minutes walk from Gülhane tram station.
Price: Access Free

You don’t want to miss Turkey’s most magnificent and spectacular tourist attractions if you visit Istanbul. You’ll note that everything here has been designed to demonstrate as an epic landmark throughout the years.

Hagia Sophia, Turkey
A tour in Istanbul, Hagia Sophia, Turkey, Pixabay
Why should you visit Hagia Sophia?

From the water fountain to the surrounding park and the impressive mosque, it’s without a doubt that Hagia Sophia is a must-see on any sightseeing trip. Even better, once the place has been converted to a mosque, it adds to be a free activity in Istanbul.

Ayasofya, also known as Hagia Sophia, is a place of worship in Istanbul that began as a church in 360 AD and has since undergone many structural renovations to become one of the most beautiful architectural worships in the city.

Hagia Sophia is no longer merely a mosque; it has grown into a gigantic complex that dominates the cityscape. However, it has a gorgeous design from the outside; you should not leave Istanbul without heading into Hagia Sophia as you will stand inside one of the wonders of the ancient world.

Here, you can find such tranquility doesn’t exist in any place you have ever visited. This peace flows from being Christianity meets Islam in one place, So you will find yourself glazing at Christian mosaics side by side with Islamic calligraphy.

There are plenty of kid-friendly artworks that make you think about all history that passed through this location.

Things to Do:
  • Get up close and personal with a fascinating dome and feel goosebumps.
  • Explore the area of Omphalion, a circle on the floor used to witness the coronations ceremonies of powerful monarchs who ruled Istanbul in the Eastern Roman Empire.
  • Discover other most beautiful art pieces like enormous marble jars dating back to the 3rd century BC, used on special occasions to spurt water.
  • Walking around this fantastic hub is such a wonderful experience that will enable you to appreciate Hagia Sophia’s full splendor.
  • Heading to the upper gallery, which has a gorgeous marble entryway, takes you in the whole panorama from a higher vantage point.

Things not to Do:

  • It is forbidden to enter Hagia Sophia wearing any form of footwear because it is a sacred site that has now become a mosque, as we indicated before.
  • There will be no shorts, short skirts, or even tops with no shoulders. Women should also wear a hair scarf, which can be found for free at the admission gate.
  • Avoid going there during prayer times. It is most likely closed when you arrive.

Pro Tip: This place is perfect for fun family days out in especially if you decide to hire guides to soak up some cultural and historical backgrounds of Hagia Sophia. To not exceed your trip budget, think about a tour package that includes the city’s popular sights.

3- Take the Perfect Picture with the Blue Mosque

Location: Sultanahmet Mah At Meydani
How to get there: 9 minutes walk from Çemberlitaş tram station.
Price: Access Free
One of the top free attractions list you can do in Istanbul, Turkey, is to visit the Blue Mosque, located right next to Hagia Sophia. It’s a timeless attraction that visitors here enjoy its religious vibe, but more than that, they are charmed by its unique structure.

Blue Mosque
Blue Mosque, Istanbul, Tukrey
Why should you visit the Blue Mosque?

Not only you who admires the calm ambiance in the place, but even the pigeons are flying around the neighborhood. Officially known as Sultan Ahmed Mosque, you will find the magnificence of this place immediately brought you to a whisper.

It’s brimming with history that you discover why the Blue Mosque is called the most iconic attraction of Istanbul.

The mosque is home to much intricate Islamic art that you feel you have landed on a page of history created by the most talented artisans ever.

The Blue Mosque has served as an active worship house for a long time so that you can find out a smart ventilation system, including a fascinating high window adorned with colorful stained glass.

Furthermore, you can see without any effort that the carpet pattern provides a guide for the prayers to stand appropriately aligned with each other.

At the end of your tour here, you can quickly notice that Sultan Ahmed mosque is an important bridge to understand different cultures, as it’s the place where different embrace nationalities with one faith.

Things to Do:
  • Discover the Blue Mosque’s charm, combined with breathtaking architecture, and immerse yourself in its beauty and spirit by walking around it.
  • Learn more about Islamic rites from local religious leaders who provide a free guided tour of the mosque.
  • Admire the fantastic interior, which features over 20,000 ceramic tails, hanging lights, and the most beautiful domes.
  • Enjoy the welcoming ambiance you will find in this peaceful corner of the mosque from everyone server here.
  • Wandering through the gardens that show the innovative design to keep all visitors entertained here.
Things not to Do:
  • Don’t forget that the city is conservative with a European taste, mainly it’s an Islamic spot that you have to cover your head as a woman. Tops with no shoulders are not permitted too.
  • For both genders, you have to wear something to cover your legs. 
  • Inside the mosque, photographs are permitted but not with flash, and please maintain a peaceful demeanor during your visit.

Pro Tip: The mosque might still be undergoing renovations during your visit to Turkey, and access to some areas is restricted. However, it is still a popular tourist destination in Turkey for taking photographs and walking around the mosque.

4- Take a History Lesson: the Topkapi Palace

Location: Cankurtaran Mahallesi Gulhane Park
How to get there: 10 minutes walk from Sultanahmet tram station.
Price: Around USD 17

One of the city’s most fruitful areas, revealing more about the Ottoman Empire, it’s the Topkapi Palace. This location will take you 400 years back in time, allowing you to uncover magnificent monuments from Turkey’s rich history.

Since a result, you’ll need to plan to see all of the fantastic items on offer, as your visit could last several hours. However, we can assist you in narrowing down your selections while also ensuring that you get the most out of your visit to Topkapi Palace.

Are you curious? Okay, let’s go smoothly.

The Topkapi Palace
Details of the buildings in the Topkapi Palace, Istanbul, Turkey, Pexhere
Why should you visit the Topkapi Palace?

Before you visit the Topkapi Palace, make sure you get prepared for exclusive access to the museum here, which hosts an extraordinary collection of jewelry, manuscripts, beautiful calligraphy art pieces, war costumes belonging to sultans of this time.

Once moving through the gate, you will be in the courtyard of the palace. On your right, you can find Hagia Irene, the oldest church of the Byzantine Empire. After passing all the greeny landscape here, the castle starts to show up, which was the principal residence of Ottoman Sultans over time.

Surrounded by a massive wall, the Topkapi Palace will give you an overview of Sultans used their supreme hub as a defensive bulwark against their adversaries.

Things to Do:
  • Explore Haram, one of the most beautiful sections of the palace (which costs you some extra expense, but in the end, it will be rewarding).
  • Discover the Imperial Council, which will provide you with answers to all of your questions regarding how emperors celebrated significant occasions such as marriages and other ceremonies to welcome ambassadors.
  • Increase your scale of knowledge and know more about the weapons used by the Ottoman army.
  • Enjoy discovering one of the world’s wealthiest and most valuable Islamic collections, including diamond and other golden pieces.
  • To get a feel for what it’s like to be in an empire palace, visit the palace kitchens stuffed with high-end utensils, porcelain kitchen collections, and other unique gifts.
Things not to Do:
  • Baby cars are not allowed in the exhibitions halls.
  • Don’t arrive at the Topkapi Palace late; the palace is enormous and exploring all of its hidden treasures will take several hours.
  • Laddies, be sure to bring a hair scarf with you if you want to look into some Islamic relics here.

Pro Tip: The restaurants in the last garden are not to be missed. They provide an intriguing selection of enticing Turkish cuisines.

5- Go Inside the Chora Church (Kariye Mosque)

Location: Kariye Mahallesi
How to get there: 10 minutes walk from Edirnekapi tram station.
Price: Around USD 8
(Important note: this fantastic attraction is now closed after the Turkish authorities ordered to convert it into a mosque so it can be without any tickets when it is available for a visit in the soon future. In any case, it’s an enviable place to visit.)

This 16th-century church, the Chora Church, provides its visitors with a unique spirit that can only be felt when you actually get inside the monastery.

Like many other churches in Turkey, the Ottoman rulers ruled to convert the church into a mosque; then, it became a public museum before being restored back into a mosque by the present administration.

Chora Church
Chora Church or Kariye Museum, Istanbul, Turkey, Unsplash
Why should you visit the Chora Church? 

The Chora Church is one of the original structures of East Roman Art with its architecture mosaics and frescoes. Needless to say, if you’re planning a trip to this charming city (be it business or pleasure), you must not miss having a look into the museum when it becomes available to visit.

Or for without it, you will surely go back home with a trunk full of regrets.

But we don’t want that, do we?

Strolling through the historic coordinates is like a fantasy, wildly when gazing at the high ceilings adorned with religious illustrations and iconographic paintings.

Things to Do:
  • Explore more about the history of this place by choosing to have an audio guide coming with an English narrative.
  • Walking around the museum provides you with a glimpse of this beautiful example of Byzantine.
  • Make sure that you visited the whole five buildings of the monastery as each one displays the historical, cultural, and architecturally flawless aspects of the Chora Church.
  • Pick your favorite coffee from a small Kishk outside the church or pay a vintage post to keep this amazing trip in your memory.
  • Get access to the nearby energetic neighborhood peppered with brightly colored houses that will leave you breathless.
Things not to Do:
  • As previously said, the Kariye Mosque, as it is currently known, is temporarily closed, so don’t go there until the situation has altered.
  • To go to the Kariye Mosque, don’t take a taxi. It’s pricey, yet the walking tour will be an excellent way to learn about the city.
  • When the museum turns into a mosque, it’s most likely that you should dress respectfully.

Pro Tip: In Istanbul, don’t say “No” to any offers of tea, and it’s awkward and impolite in their culture. Instead, put your teaspoon on the top of your glass, and it does mean no more tea for you.

6- Live Like a Royal: the Dolmabahce Palace

Location: Visnezade Mahallesi Dolmabahce Cd
How to get there: 10 minutes walk from Kabatas tram station.
Price: Around USD 14

Another gigantic and beautiful place of Othman sultans, the Dolmabahce Palace, is a world-class royal palace with a splendid design that directly overlooks the sea, making it like a recreational resort. It will undoubtedly add to the appeal of the city’s highlights. Most importantly, it’s one of the largest imperial palaces in Turkey.

Dolmabahce Palace
Main Gate of Dolmabahce Palace, Istanbul, Turkey, Pixabay
Why should you visit the Dolmabahce Palace? 

There is no wonder that the Dolmabahce Palace hit the number one spot of the most-visited place on TripAdvisor. Here you will find yourself overwhelmed with so much to see and do, as the tour could talk more than 2 hours inside the palace and you will enjoy it a lot.

The palace was another emperor’s dwelling where they lived, and it was created with European style in mind.

The palace’s architecture is gorgeous; to your left, you will see the main imperial gate through which the Sultan came into and went out of the castle.

The interior of the Dolmabahce Palace will astound you with its exquisite craftsmanship, decorations, and precise details that reveal more about these people’s lives. It’s no surprise because in Turkish, “dolma” means “stuffed” or “filled with something else.”

Also, the palace is home to a collection of magnificent paintings displayed in the museum, which compiled some of the gifts and other precious emperors’ belongings.

Things to Do:
  • Walking through the palace’s courtyard and watching the beautiful fountain in the front of the first gate.
  • Strolling through the gardens that encircled the palace, taking photos with your companions.
  • Step out in front of the Bosphorus and take in the breathtaking views and refreshing breeze. Don’t forget to capture beautiful shots.
  • Have a tour inside the palace to explore the imperial extravagance using gold in every nook, even in the ceiling.
  • After a long walk around the palace, have a cup of coffee in the Harem section.
Things not to Do:
  • To avoid long lines, go there with a pre-purchased internet ticket.
  • Photographs are not permitted within the palace.
  • Mondays are not the best days to visit the Dolmabahce Palace because it is closed.

Pro Tip: The museum card (Müze Kart) does not work here. Therefore, you’ll have to pay roughly USD 23 to tour all sixteen structures of the palace, and it is worth your money and time.

7- Let’s Have a Break… Let’s Visit Sultanahmet District

Location: Sultanahmet
How to get there: 5 minutes walk from Kabatas tram station.
Price: Free access

If you have seen enough of Istanbul attractions, which I doubt will ever happen, you can head to one of the popular districts to discover the culture, go shopping, and try to roam around the old part of Istanbul.

Sultanahmet District
Walk around Sultanahmet District, Istanbul, Turkey, Pexhere

Why should you visit the Sultanahmet District? 

Most of all, it’s time to enjoy one of the amplest kitchens in the world, Turkish food. So, don’t fret if you don’t stand a chance to try this out. A nice variety of popular cozy eateries and cafes can be found here.

Besides being a historical site, you will discover many activities here that will leave you relaxed and amazed. Every time visitors come to Turkey, they head for the Sultanahmet District, again and again, because of its lively and vibrant vibes you can not find anywhere else.

From the first time you reach Sultanahmet District, the Egyptian Obelisk of Theodosius will show up here; you can settle for seconds to take a photo as you don’t come across an obelisk every day.

Then, wander the whole square, which is clean and neat and so safe to go there any time of the day. Plus, you can bring ice cream and have a seat on one of the benches to view picturesque see sights.

Things to Do:
  • Explore this historical and enjoyable area of unique originated culture.
  • Have a seat at one of the lavish restaurants to treat yourself to a delicious meal, like Mini Ravioli or Turk’s Meatballs. (For me, one of the most important reasons to love coming here to Istanbul is its food. Don’t miss out on this opportunity)
  • Head to blazers here to buy souvenirs or something for you. It is an absolute delight.
  • Visit the hidden gems for a well-rounded experience, like narrow alleyways where you can locate precious gifts to buy for an affordable price.
  • Don’t miss trying Turkish shawarma while taking a stroll through the parks; there is also a fantastic idea.
Things not to Do:
  • Try to avoid visiting the Sultanahmet District on weekends. It comes to be congested with visitors.
  • If there is no pricing on the menu, don’t go to a posh restaurant or shady places. It will cost you more than you expected.
  • Don’t be very captivated by everything you see in bazaars and shopping stores, especially tourist attractions. Many items here are overpriced.

Pro Tip: Don’t book a hotel or hostel in Sultanahmet or other nearby streets. However, the city is known for being somewhat less expensive than other European cities, and the hot tourist distinctions will cost you a fortune.

8- Here We Go Again… Rahmi M. Koc Museum

Location: Beyoglu
How to get there: The best option is to take a 15-minute taxi ride from Sultanahmet square.
Price: Around USD 3
You absolutely must include this incredible Istanbul attraction on your bucket list. It’s a beautiful spot where you can have a great time in Turkey’s bustling capital city.

The museum features an extensive collection of models, trains, automobiles, and planes.

An aerial view of Istanbul
Peaceful city of Istanbul, Tukey, Unsplash
Why should you visit the Rahmi M. Koc Museum? 

The Rahmi M. Koc Museum gives you an insight into many different transportation means from the Ottoman era.

The museum contains two buildings officially used to be a sizeable historical house of unique pieces belonging to the emperors. In 1991, the place turned into a museum, becoming one of the major tourist destinations in Istanbul.

Here, you can find models of the most iconic buildings and palaces, along with some famous and unique cars’ editions on display, such as a white vehicle that functioned on land and in the water.

Also, you find some beautiful traditional outfits dating back to Ottoman times and other valuable gifts handed to the Sultans in special ceremonies. The museum will give you special access to explore a replica of an oil factory in order to learn how it operated in the past.

The Rahmi M. Koc Museum is a fantastic example of how the industrial world has changed over time.

Things to Do:
  • Walking around the museum and seeing all of the beautiful automobiles, planes, and bicycles, as well as taking photos wherever you want.
  • Get up close with a variety of sultan-owned artifacts as well as other significant Othman army military equipment.
  • Learn more about how machines were operated when you visit the “How Does It Work” section inside the Rahmi M. Koc Museum.
  • Inside, look at the vehicles and take some excellent shots. There is a helpful English guide with a plethora of information about most of the items on show.
  • Eat or drink at one of the museum restaurants which overlooks the Golden Horn (the sunset view from here is splendid.)
Things not to Do:
  • Do not visit the museum without first checking the official website for the most up-to-date information on opening hours and other measures.
  • Don’t take the tram to the museum; you’ll have to take another mode of transportation, which seems like a waste of time.
  • Don’t pass up the chance to explore Fener and Balat districts. It’s an enthralling option to discover lovely colorful buildings.

Pro tip: It’s advisable to get an Istanbul Museum Pass, which will give you a 20% discount on several attractions, including this museum. Also, be prepared to pay a one-dollar admittance fee if you want to enter the submarine.

9- A Compelling Trip Awaiting You: Suleymaniye Mosque

Location: Prof. Sıddık Sami Onar
How to get there: 5 minutes walk from Beyazit-Grand Bazaar tram station
Price: Free access
One way to know whether you have visited all hot tourist spots in Istanbul or not is to finish your vacation from here. The Suleymaniye Mosque should be the last thing you see in Istanbul, Turkey, just as the Galata Tower was a great place to start.

Suleymaniye Mosque
Islamic attractions in Istanbul, Suleymaniye Mosque, Pexels
Why should you visit the Suleymaniye Mosque? 

If you think you’ve seen enough mosques in this city, guess again. The Suleymaniye Mosque is a masterpiece that nothing was mistakenly selected here.

Built on several hills of Istanbul, the mosque will give you a magnificent view of the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus. To be honest, it’s impossible not to be astonished by this lovely sight. 

It has been nearly 400 years since renowned architect Mimar Sinan built this epic edifice. The mosque was a whole community including a hospital, library, madrasah, hospice for the poor, recreational baths, and market.

It’s the best example of the ottoman perspective architecture in the Middle East generally, and Turkey especially. The complex reflects a beautiful blind between Islamic and Byzantine art elements, and you can see tall minarets alongside half domes inspired by the Byzantine churches. 

“Wow,” it will be your first reaction when entering the mosque glazing at the most spectacular dom of the mosques here.

Things to Do:
  • Exploring the mosque’s distinctive structure while wandering around the courtyard.
  • Taking photos of the beautiful interior with your friends.
  • After an extended tour of Istanbul, indulge your inner serenity or simply meditate indoors and enjoy a peaceful atmosphere.
  • Take a walking tour of the mosque and relax in the parks for a few moments.
  • Take in the breathtaking panorama of the Bosphorus.
Things not to Do:
  • Photos inside the mosque are allowed but don’t capture shots that are too close to prayers, making them feel uncomfortable.
  • Like other mosques in Turkey, women are not permitted to enter the mosque unless they cover their hair.
  • For security purposes, you could be asked to take off hats before entering the mosque. 

Pro tip: The Suleymaniye Mosque is open to visitors till 6:00 p.m. every day. It is, however, closed during prayer hours (5 times a day). It’s also a good idea to put your phone on silent mode because it’s a worship place.

 

A ship sails Strait of Istanbul
A cruise trip in the Strait of Istanbul, Turkey, Pixabay

We hope that your vacation to Istanbul becomes quite easy, and now you can set up your plan.

Share with us in the comments if you have been to Istanbul before. If there are any places, you visited don’t mention them in this list. And of course, don’t forget to check out our latest post about Reasons Why Your Next Trip Should Be to Istanbul.