50 Top-Rated Places for Sightseeing in Istanbul

The Top-Rated Places for Sightseeing in Istanbul: highlights, museums, palaces, attractions, insider tips and tours on the Bosphorus.

Istanbul, the city that never sleeps, visited by millions of visitors each year from all around the world, has many places for sightseeing to offer. 

We already gave you a glimpse of what is possible to do in Istanbul with the TOP 10 things to do in Istanbul. In this article, we want to offer you more possibilities for fun attractions in Istanbul. 


If you plan a long trip or are looking for offbeat attractions in Istanbul, find below a list of not less than the 50 top-rated places for sightseeing by visitors in Istanbul. First and foremost among read about the mythical Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace and the Grand Bazaar, and then, get inspired by even more things to do in Istanbul during your trip.


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Top 50 Things to do in Istanbul


1. Be mesmerized by the Mosaics inside Hagia Sophia

hagia sophia mosaics

Set on the Historical Peninsula, Hagia Sophia (the Holy Wisdom), is one of the most iconic and remarkable structures in Istanbul. Originally the most powerful church of early Christianity, over time it was transformed into an Ottoman mosque and a Turkish museum. Today, it is once again a mosque.

Commissioned by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I in late antiquity, Hagia Sophia is best known for its unique blend of architectural styles, reflecting the turbulent past of the building and the city. Considered one of the greatest architectural works in the world, it is most impressive for its 32-metre dome and the stunning interior with mosaics and marble slabs.

2. Follow the traces of Ottoman Sultans at Topkapi Palace

topkapi palace

During a stroll through the mighty Topkapi Palace, you will be treated to an exciting journey through the Ottoman period. Wander in the footsteps of the sultans and find out how the emperors lived and ruled here for 4 centuries. The administrative headquarter and first palace of the Ottoman rulers covers an area of 700,000 square meters, twice the size of the Vatican in Rome.

It is now a museum and houses impressive collections, including weapons and armor, Islamic sacred relics, and the Topkapi Treasury with the 86-carat Spoonmaker’s Diamond. Of particular interest to many visitors is the legendary Harem that tells fascinating stories of enchanting concubines, scheming wives and eunuchs.

  • You can find more details in our article about Topkapi Palace.
  • The best way to discover the hidden world of the historic palace complex and its fascinating stories is to take a tour with an official guide. Book now your Topkapi Palace & Harem Tour.

3. Bargain like a Local at Grand Bazaar

grand bazaar

Immerse yourself in the hustle and bustle of Istanbul's Grand Bazaar, one of the oldest and largest covered bazaars in the world. Covering an area of 45,000 square meters, there are more than 4,000 stores offering a variety of goods. You can find fabrics, souvenirs, oriental carpets, handicrafts, leather, jewelry and much more. If you stumble on anything you like, you should take the opportunity to practice haggling like a local right away.

Even if you aren’t a shopping enthusiast, strolling through the maze-like alleys and feeling the bustling atmosphere of the historic bazaar is quite a unique Istanbul experience. Being one of Istanbul's most famous tourist attractions, you should expect a large crowd, though. There are tours with a local guide, allowing you to experience the best the bazaar has to offer in an enjoyable way.

4. Marvel at the famous blue tiles inside the Blue Mosque

blue mosque interior

Across from Hagia Sophia stands the magnificent Sultan Ahmed Mosque, better known as Blue Mosque. It owes its nickname to the more than 20,000 blue Iznik tiles that adorn the majestic interior. The Blue Mosque, built in the 17th century during the reign of Ahmed I, is considered a masterpiece of Ottoman architecture.

As one of the largest and most magnificent mosques in Istanbul, it stands out for its excellent interplay of proportion, harmony and elegance. Another striking feature are the six minarets, which are said to be the result of a misunderstanding between Sultan Ahmed I and the master builder Mehmet Ağa.

5. Enter the hidden Underground World of Istanbul, Basilica Cistern

basilica cistern

One of Istanbul’s most spectacular structures is hidden beneath the streets of the city, Basilica Cistern. Built in the 6th century by Emperor Justinian, it served as a water reservoir for the Great Palace, a large Basilica that stood here in late antiquity. With an area of 9800 square meters, the Basilica Cistern is the largest among Istanbul's 60 underground cisterns.

Today, the structure impresses its visitors with a quite mystical scenery. More than 300 marble columns, bathed in an atmospheric light, support the construction. Look for the two ancient medusa heads dating back to Roman times that work as a base for two columns.

6. Smell the aromatic Scents of exotic Spices at the Spice Bazaar

spice bazaar

A walk through the Spice Bazaar is a journey amidst enchanting scents of fine spices. The Spice Bazaar, or Egyptian Bazaar as it is also known, is located behind the New Mosque in Eminönü Square. It was built in the mid-17th century under Sultan Mehmed III and was in fact once part of this mosque. In its heyday, the Spice Bazaar was the last stop for camel caravans traveling across the Silk Roads from China, India and Persia.

Today, you'll find around 100 stores here, selling mainly exotic spices. But great souvenirs, oils and essences, dried fruits, nuts, teas and a variety of textiles are also on offer.

  • Read more history details in our article dedicated of the Spice Bazaar.
  • What about discovering Spice Market and Grand Bazaar with our guided walking tours? An adventurous trip to historical markets and rooftops with the best views in Istanbul.

7. Experience Istanbul from the Water during a relaxing Bosphorus Tour

bosphorus tour

No trip to Istanbul is complete without a Bosphorus Cruise! Embark on an epic and nostalgic journey on a boat cruise and discover the most magnificent landmarks, both in the Asian and the European side of Istanbul.

See imperial palaces, nostalgic wooden mansions, and many other fancy buildings leaning against lush groves all lined up in front of the deep blue Bosphorus.

There are many types of Bosphorus tours in Istanbul offered by different companies. We have compiled a comparative article with details about each Bosphorus cruise for you to make your choice according to your needs.

8. Be mesmerized by Süleymaniye Mosque

suleymaniye mosque

This UNESCO World Heritage Site stands on the third hill of the Old Town of Sultanahmet overlooking the Golden Horn. It was commissioned by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, who wanted to erect the most important monument to his 47-year rule of the Ottoman Empire.  Like many imperial mosques in the city, Süleymaniye was built as a complex with many buildings with a mosque in the center. The Suleymaniye Complex housed a library, an education institute, tombs, a hospital and a hospice for the poor.

Today, Suleymaniye is one of the most sumptuous imperial mosques not only in Istanbul, but in all of Turkey. It is especially impressive for its architecture and exceptional acoustics.


9. Admire the Splendor of Dolmabahce Palace

Dolmabahce,Palace,In,Istanbul,,Turkey.

Dolmabahce Palace stands majestically on the southern shore by the Bosphorus in Beşiktaş district. Covering an area of 45,000, it is the biggest palace in Turkey and also among the largest palaces in the world. There are a total of 44 rooms, 285 rooms, 6 hamams and 68 bathrooms reflecting the splendor of bygone times. The palace was built in1856 to replace Topkapi Palace as the new seat of government. 

The last 6 Ottoman sultans used it as a residence for varying lengths of time. Later, the palace served as a residence for Atatürk, the founder of the state. After Atatürk’s death, the Dolmabahçe Palace was renovated and converted into a museum. However, it is still used for official functions such as state visits.

10. Take in the View at the Top of Galata Tower

galata tower

One of the most iconic landmarks of Istanbul is the Galata Tower, a remnant of the Genoese colony in Istanbul. Restored many times, it has been used for various purposes.

The tower rises at the top of the Galata Walls, at the entrance of the Golden Horn. You can go to the top where you will be welcomed by a stunning 360-degree view of the rooftops of Istanbul. But even as you approach the iconic tower on the narrow streets, with brick road, small boutiques and cafés, you can feel the European atmosphere in this part of the city.

  • For more information, see our dedicated article about the Galata Tower.
  • We recommend you to book a guided walking tour to get to know the historical background of Galata Tower and the historical Pera neighborhood with a lot of hidden gems. Tours and tickets to the Galata Tower below, with a 5% discount!

11. Indulge in Turkish Kitchen

meze

Turkey has a very rich and diverse kitchen, known worldwide as one of the best cuisines. There is so much more to try than the famous kebabs and Turkish delicacies: from traditional soups, meze and Ottoman cuisine to the most delicious Turkish desserts and sweets. Savoring Turkish cuisine, you can spoil your palate with the unique blend of Central Asian, European and Middle Eastern influences.

Istanbul is the ideal place to explore Turkish kitchen. From street food to traditional specialties to fine dining restaurants overlooking the Bosphorus Strait, the city is the culinary center of Turkey, where all the local flavors of the country are represented. Therefore, on your trip to Istanbul, do not miss the opportunity to enjoy the distinctive flavors of Turkey!


12. Witness a transcendental Journey at a Whirling Dervish Show

Whirling Dervish Show in Istanbul

While in Istanbul, don't miss the chance to attend a Whirling Dervish Show. It is one of the most popular experiences in Turkey. The Whirling Dervish Ceremony, also known as Sema, is a transcendental performance that symbolizes the path to accessing God and has been declared an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.

The mesmerizing turns of the dervishes are typically accompanied by live music and Persian chants. The spiritual performance takes usually one hour. There are several options for Whirling Dervish Shows. We have put together a complete guide with everything you need to know about Whirling Dervishes and the shows available.

13. Explore ancient Artifacts at the Archaeological Museum

istanbul archaeological museum

The Archaeological Museum close to Topkapi Palace is a must-see if you are interested in seeing historical artifacts from the Ottoman period. Founded in 1891, the Archaeological Museum is the largest and most important archaeological museum in Turkey. Its collections include some 15.000 archeological pieces of prehistoric, Mesopotamian, Assyrian, Sumerian, Akkadian, Babylonian, Egyptian, Greek, Roman and Byzantine periods as well as pre-Islamic and Islamic Arab culture.

The museum is divided into three sections: Archaeology, Ancient Orient, and Islamic Art (Çinili Köşk). In 1991, the Archaeological Museum was awarded the Museum Prize of the Council of Europe.

  • Read more details in our dedicated page about Istanbul Archeology Museum.
  • With the touristic cards of Istanbul Welcome Card you can save time and money at many museums and have a better experience with guided tours included. 

14. Take a Ferry to the Maiden’s Tower

maidens tower ferry

Maiden’s Tower, also called Leander’s Tower, sits on a small island off the Asian coast of Üsküdar. Over time, it has served as a lighthouse, a quarantine station, customs house, and as a retirement home for maritime officers. Today, it houses a restaurant that treats its guests to culinary delights and enchanting views of Istanbul.

Taking a ferry ride to see the landmark is one of the most romantic things to do in Istanbul, offering plenty of opportunities for the most beautiful photos. From the Asian coast, there are shuttle boats from Üsküdar-Salacak that leave for the island every 15 minutes. We recommend the 1-hour ferry ride to the Maiden's Tower, which leaves from the European coast of Istanbul and takes you very close to the historic tower.

15. Relax and rejuvenate at a traditional Turkish Bath

turkish bath

Experiencing an authentic Turkish bath is definitely one of the must-dos in Istanbul. The Ottoman version of a steam bath is more than a place for cleaning. For centuries, the Turkish hamam has been an indispensable element of Turkish culture, a place for rejuvenation and relaxation of the mind and muscles, and a place for socializing.

The typical hamam ritual includes washing, steaming the body, deep cleansing, scrubbing and massage. Choose a historic hamam for your Turkish bath experience that will give you a real sense of this time-held tradition through its atmosphere and architecture. There are many to choose from in Istanbul.

16. Stroll through Taksim

taksim istiklal

Taksim should be on the bucket list of every visitor to Istanbul. The heart of modern Istanbul, known as the shopping district of the city, boasts bars, restaurants, shops and hotels. It is also the site of demonstrations, meetings, concerts and ceremonies.

Stroll through the bustling streets of Taksim and experience the vibrant street life of Istanbul. Make your way to the pedestrian street Istiklal Caddesi, the city's most famous shopping street. Here you can go on a shopping spree, try some street food or admire the Art Nouveau architecture. The neighborhood is packed with history, which is why you can find many churches, synagogues and mosques steeped in history.


17. Marvel at the Interior of Hagia Tirada Church

hagia triada church

Close to Taksim Square stands the Hagia Triada, the Church of Holy Trinity. It is a Greek Orthodox Church that is used by the Greek community of Istanbul. Hagia Tirada Church (Aya Tirada in Turkish) is not only the largest Greek Orthodox Church in Istanbul but also one of the most beautiful churches in the city.

Built in 1880, the place of worship features a neo-Baroque style and elements typical for a basilica, with twin bell towers, a large dome and a Neo-Gothic façade. The Church complex also consists of a school, the Zapyon Rum Lisesi. Head inside the Hagia Tirada Church to marvel at the beautiful interior, with elaborate marble works by sculptor Alexandros Krikelis and impressive decorations and paintings by Sakellarios Megaklis.


18. Lace up your best walking shoes for a Walking Tour

Istanbul Top Spots Walking Tour

One of the best ways to discover Istanbul and its architectural gems is on foot! You can delve into the city’s history up close, wander through narrow streets to hidden places and sample delicious Turkish street food, while getting a feel of the city’s fabric. Since it can be quite overwhelming to plan a tour on your own, joining a walking tour with a professional guide is the ideal way to explore Istanbul.

There are a large number of walking tours in Istanbul that cover a variety of different topics and sites. First-time visitors may enjoy the Istanbul Top Spots Tour, a 6-hour tour that includes 3 different routes from Historical Peninsula to Grand Bazaar, Spice Bazaar and Galata neighborhood.


19. Cruise to the Princes’ Islands

princes island

This is one of the favorite things to do of the locals. When Istanbulites want to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, a day trip to the Prince's Islands is the preferred option. Büyükada, the largest of the 9 Princes' Islands, is the most popular one.

Following a scenic 75-minute ferry ride on the Sea of Marmara, you reach the quaint island. Discover Büyükada, its history and historic sites, such as the Greek Orthodox St. George Church, the ruin of Trotsky’s villa and the Ottoman-era mansions, while enjoying the wonderful sea views and the serenity of the island. One of the most popular things to do in Büyükada is going to the beautiful beaches or renting a bike.

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20. Soak in the historic Atmosphere at Rumeli Fortress

rumeli hisari fortress

The Ottoman fortress Rumeli Hisari on the European shore was built in 1452, making it the second oldest Ottoman fortress. Fatih Sultan Mehmet II ordered this monumental fortification to be built as part of his preparations for the siege of Constantinople. Following a comprehensive restoration in 1953 to mark the 500th anniversary of the conquest of Constantinople, the fortress has served as a museum.

You can see remnants of that time such as cannons, cannonballs and the famous chain used to block the Golden Horn. The atmosphere at the fortress is unreal, while the view is absolutely amazing. This visit will be a peaceful moment away from the bustling streets of Istanbul.


21. Experience the Nightlife in Istanbul

istanbul nightlife

As one of the most cosmopolitan cities, Istanbul’s nightlife is one of the most buzzing scenes in Europe. From affordable pubs to fancy nightclubs or rooftops overlooking the Bosphorus, Istanbul boosts different nightlife experiences.

Party all night in the city's hottest clubs like Sortie or 360 Istanbul, with exquisite ambiance and an incredible view of the Bosphorus. Those who like it more down-to-earth can have a fun night out in one of the trendy bars in the hipster neighborhood of Karaköy or in the Barlar Sokak in the Kadıköy district on the Asian side. Or enjoy refreshing cocktails and panoramic views of Istanbul's skyline at one of the city's rooftop bars. Read our recommendations in our Istanbul Nightlife Guide.

If you are looking for a truly unique nightlife experience in Istanbul, why not join a Bosphorus Dinner Cruise with Oriental Show?


22. Bosphorus Dinner Cruise & Show

Pereme Dinner Cruise in Istanbul

How about dining between two continents while enjoying traditional Turkish dance shows? The Boshorus dinner cruise, which appeals to both the eye and the stomach, makes it possible. Cruise along the glittering Bosphorus while you dine and feel the rhythm of the music. The feast starts with tasty appetizers in a wide selection, and is typically followed by a main course with 3 options. The grand finale will be mixed Turkish deserts and seasonal fruits. At the same time, a variety of live entertainment will entertain you, such as belly dancers, a Whirling Dervish Show, Turkish folk dance and a live DJ performance.

There are several types of Dinner Cruises in Istanbul offered by different companies. We've put together a comparative article of Bosphorus Dinner Cruises with helpful details about each Dinner cruise so you can pick the one that best suits your needs.

23. Get inspired by contemporary art at Istanbul Modern

istanbul modern (editoryal)

Istanbul Modern opened in 2004 as the first museum of modern and contemporary art in Turkey. Its aim is to unite Turkey's artistic creation and cultural identity with the international art world. For this reason, the museum collects, preserves, documents and exhibits works of modern and contemporary art and makes them accessible to the public.

Admire the contemporary artworks by local and international artists and take advantage of the wide range of cultural activities the museum offers in its permanent and temporary exhibition spaces. These include a photo gallery, a library and a cinema that regularly shows independent films.


24. Visit the summer residence of Ottoman rulers, Beylerbeyi Palace

beylerbeyi palace

If you're on the Asian side of Istanbul, be sure to pay a visit to Beylerbeyi Palace, one of the most important palaces of Istanbul. It offers a wonderful view of the Bosphorus and the Old City of Sultanahmet from the other side. You can marvel at the splendor of bygone times, learn even more about the former empire and take a peaceful walk through the beautiful garden.

Built during the reign of Sultan Abdülaziz between 1861 and 1865, Beylerbeyi served as the summer residence of the sultans and as a place to receive foreign heads of state. Among the most famous guests are Queen Eugenie, wife of Napoleon III, Queen Elizabeth, the King of Montenegro, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and the Russian Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolaevich Romanov.


25. Visit the first Church of Constantinople, Hagia Irene Museum

hagia irene museum

Located in Sultanahmet, on the grounds of Topkapı Palace, Hagia Irene is the first church ever built in the city. The 4th century church is also one of the few churches that weren’t converted into a mosque. Instead, the palace guard of the Janissaries used it as an arsenal and warehouse. Later it served as a Military Museum.

Today, the Hagia Irene is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a museum. If you are lucky enough to have a classical concert at the Hagia Irene Museum during your Istanbul trip, you should be sure to attend it. The acoustics are phenomenal and the atmosphere will surely impress you as well.


26. Join the City Tour by Boat & Bus

Istanbul Bus and Boat City Tour

What do you think about the possibility to explore the city without getting tired? This city tour makes it possible! It combines a bus tour along the major tourist attractions with a relaxing Bosphorus cruise. Ideal for first-time visitors and families with children!

You will have the pleasure of seeing Istanbul's most iconic monuments from both land and water. After enjoying a bus ride with a professional guide explaining the historical and cultural highlights of the city, you will embark on an enjoyable cruise along the legendary Bosphorus strait. The combo ticket is valid for 2 days, allowing you to decide whether you want to do both tours in one day or on different days.

27. Go on a Shopping Spree in a Mall

Kanyon Shopping Mall in Istanbul

Istanbul is a thriving commercial centre and a true shopper’s paradise! The city is home to more than 200 shopping malls, and new ones seem to rise every month. During your stay in Istanbul, be sure to take advantage of this fact. Here you can find everything from famous world brands to local stores, allowing you to satisfy all your shopping urges.

Going to the mall is also one of the fun things to do in Istanbul with kids, as most malls feature entertainment facilities. You can easily combine your shopping trip with a visit to Sea Life, Legoland, KidZania, or Moipark, depending on which mall you go to. Arkmerkez, Isfanbul, Cevahir and Istinye Park are some of our favorites.


28. Spend a day exploring the charming Balat Neighborhood

balat

Balat, situated on the southern coast of the Golden Horn, is the former Jewish quarter of Istanbul and holds a rich cultural heritage. Nowadays, it is famous for its colorful buildings. Spending a day in Balat will give you a feel for authentic Istanbul and plenty of photo opportunities....

Start your day in Balat with a delicious Turkish breakfast, for example at Forno, with a delicious breakfast buffet. Afterwards, lose yourself in the narrow, cobblestone streets and get a sense of the real Istanbul off the beaten track. Stroll through the vintage and antique shops in the center of Balat, and stop for a Turkish coffee at one of the colorful cafés, such as the cozy and cat-friendly Café Naftalin. Then follow the traces of Jewish and Byzantine heritage and discover beautiful churches and synagogues, such as the Bulgarian St. Stephen Church, the Church of Saint Mary of the Mongols or the Yanbol Synagogue.


29. Have a big Turkish Breakfast

turkish breakfast

Get your day started the Turkish way and have a big Turkish breakfast! For the locals, kahvaltı (breakfast) is the most important meal of the day, which is why it is quite decadent. A typical Turkish breakfast includes Turkish tea (no coffee), bread, cheese, olives, fresh tomatoes, cucumber, butter, jam and honey. Eggs are also part of every kahvaltı, from boiled eggs and omelettes to sucuklu yumurta (eggs with Turkish sausage) and menemen (scrambled eggs with tomatoes, onion and bell peppers). The star of every breakfast is Simit, the Turkish sesame ring. Baked goods like poğaça, börek, pişi and gözleme are also breakfast favorites.

Most of the cafés offer Turkish Breakfast Plates, called kahvaltı tabağı and serpme kahvalti, or open buffet options. For your Turkish breakfast experience, we suggest Van Kahvaltı Evı near Galataport, the rustic Cuma café in Çukurcuma neighborhood and Namli Gurme close to Galata Bridge.


30. Go on an exciting Day Trip

cappadocia

Go for an adventure outside of Istanbul and discover other breathtaking places in Turkey. There are a lot of options for daytrips from Istanbul. For example, you can discover the ancient Greek mythology of Troy and visit the battlefields of the First World War in Gallipoli. Explore the UNESCO-Heritage Site Ephesus with well-preserved ruins that still reveal the original splendor of the ancient Greco-Roman city, or visit Bursa, the first capital of the Ottoman Empire.

An excursion to the natural wonder Pamukkale with snow-white travertine terraces and remains of the ancient city of Hierapolis should definitely not be missed when in Turkey. In the archaeological site, Göbeklitepe in southeastern Anatolia, on the other hand, history buffs can travel back in time to around 10,000 BC. Or, take a balloon ride over Cappadocia’s fairy chimneys and marvel at fascinating rock formations, underground cities and beautiful valleys.

  • Book your Istanbul to Cappadocia tour including flight & hotel here.

31. Explore Ortaköy Mosque and its Surroundings

ortakoy mosque

The Ottoman Baroque-style Ortaköy Mosque is one of the city’s most beautiful photo motifs and worth a visit for that reason alone. With its location right on the shore of the Bosphorus, in front of the Bosphorus Bridge, Ortaköy Mosque offers the ideal backdrop for jaw-dropping photos.

After visiting the mosque, stroll through the beautiful surrounding and treat yourself to a Turkish tea in the famous Ortaköy Square. From here, you can enjoy the magic of the city. This is also the best place to try one of Istanbul's most delicious street food, Kumpir, the Turkish baked potato. Choose the toppings according to your taste and indulge in the mouth-watering treat and the breathtaking seaside views.


32. Have a Picnic in a Park

yildiz park

When the weather is nice and warm, it's the perfect time for a picnic in one of Istanbul's beautiful parks. Spread out a blanket, relax and enjoy snacks at a picturesque location, away from the hustle and bustle of the city. This is a particular great thing to do in Istanbul for families or couples.

Some of the best spots to have a picnic are Emirgan Park, situated at the Bosphorus and famous for its tulips, and Macka Park, a popular park near Dolmabahce PalaceYildiz Park, the former hunting ground of the sultans, also offers a wonderful backdrop for a picnic in Istanbul, with its lakes, Ottoman mansions and Bosphorus views. For your outdoor feast, you can also head to the Asian side of Istanbul, to Fenerbahce Park in Kadıköy or Nakkaştepe Garden, a new park in Üsküdar.


33. Dig for hidden Treasures at Çukurcuma

cukurcuma

The small Çukurcuma neighborhood is best known for its countless antique stores that line up the streets. They are packed with treasures waiting to be rediscovered, from antique maps, oil paintings, carpets and other collectibles, to Ottoman-era knick knacks, vintage clothes and accessories.

If you like antiques, then visiting Çukurcuma for antique shopping is a must do. Just wander through the charming streets that are cluttered with vintage wooden furniture and soak up the nostalgic flair. Walk into the stores that strike your attention and hunt for treasures. A Çukurcuma classic is the four-storey antique shop A La Turca.

Tip: While in Çukurcuma, you can visit the Museum of Innocence or some of the numerous galleries and cafes.


34. Attend an Event

tulip festival

Istanbul offers events and festivals for all ages throughout the year. By attending one, you can experience Istanbul beyond the classic tourist attractions and get a feel for the city. One of the most popular events is the Istanbul Tulip Festival in spring, when Istanbul's landscape turns into a sea of flowers. Film buffs will appreciate the Istanbul International Film Festival and the Akbank Short Film Festival, both of which take place every spring and feature film screenings, workshops and activities.

Music lovers, on the other hand, should check out the 3-week International Music Festival, the 2-day Chill-Out Festival featuring pop, dance and electronic music, or the International Jazz Festival, all held every summer.  There is also the famous Istanbul International Biennial, which hosts contemporary art exhibitions for 2 months every 2 years, and many other events.


35. See the colorful Houses of Kuzguncuk

kuzguncuk

Kuzguncuk is a charming seaside neighborhood in Üsküdar district on the Asian side of Istanbul. The soul of the traditional neighborhood embraces you as soon as you step in. Kuzguncuk is most famous for its historical wooden houses. Wandering along the colorful houses and through the picturesque streets will transport you back in time to the days when the neighborhood was inhabited by Jews, Armenians and Greeks.

Especially beautiful is İcadiye Street, which has well preserved its original structure and is lined with numerous beautiful buildings. See mosques, churches and synagogues that have peacefully coexisted for centuries, and discover chocolatiers, bookstores, and boutique cafes. The peaceful neighborhood is also a good place to have a delicious meal.


36. Getaway for Nature

sapanca lake

If you're looking to escape the concrete jungle and be one with nature, look no further. We have 3 great options for you:

1. Belgrad forest north of Istanbul is the closest getaway and the ideal place to take a breather from the city. The forest with an area of more than 5000 hectares is often referred as the lungs of Istanbul. Stroll in the woods, ride a bike or have a picnic with your loved ones.

2. Another popular weekend destination is Polonezköy, nestled in the middle of a lovely nature park. Take a walk among the trees and plants, and get revitalized by the fresh air. This option is also a great place for a Turkish breakfast.

3. If you have a car, we recommend a getaway to Sapanca or Bolu Gölü. Both destinations have lush green space full of pure nature and picturesque lakes.


37. Watch the Sunset at Pierre Loti Hill

pierre loti

One of the most romantic things to do in Istanbul is watching the sunset over the beautiful skyline of Istanbul. Pierre Loti Hill is certainly the best spot to watch the last sunrays touching Istanbul’s rooftops.

Getting to the top of the viewpoint is an experience in itself, especially for children. The cable car ride takes you directly to the top of the hill, which awaits you with a café and the most beautiful panoramic views of Istanbul and the Golden Horn. With this prime location on the top of Pierre Loti Hill, all you need is a cup of Turkish tea, maybe even a simit, and you are ready to soak up the magical view of the sunset over Istanbul.


38. Experience a Turkish Rakı-Balık night

raki balik

The Turkish Rakı-Balık night is an important part of Turkish culture. Rakı, the anise-flavored drink, is the national drink of the Turks, and preferably drunk next to balık (fish) and lots of meze. Meze are Turkish appetizers similar to Tapas but with typical Turkish ingredients. They are served cold or hot, and an essential component of every Rakı sofrası (Rakı table). Typically, white cheese, melon and other seasonal fruits are also enjoyed. The meal is accompanied by Turkish folk music and endless hours of conversation, and usually lasts until late at night.

If you are ever invited by a Turkish friend to a Rakı-Balık night, you should definitely take the chance. But you can experience a great Rakı-Balık night just as well by visiting an authentic meyhane in Istanbul. Read more details in the next item of our list...


39. Enjoy Live Music in Istanbul

nevizade street

There is nothing like the energy and atmosphere of live music! Istanbul hosts great concerts and live performances throughout the year. For a great concert, check out the iconic music venue Babylon in the hip Bomontiada entertainment complex that hosts live gigs of various musical genres many nights of the week.

If you are looking for an authentic and intimate experience, visit a meyhane, a Turkish tavern, and listen to Turkish Fasıl music with darbuka (drums), clarinet and violin, while experiencing a Rakı-Balık night. For the most authentic cultural experience, head to a meyhane on Nevizade Street, a side street of Istiklal Avenue. Of course, there are also many bars and clubs in Istanbul to enjoy a night of live music and dance.


40. Sunbathe on the Beach

kilyos beach

For a day at the beach, there aren't too many options in Istanbul. As a general tip, we recommend that you do not go to a public beach (halk plaji), as there is usually not a comfortable atmosphere there. We have 3 great suggestions for a beach visit:

1. Kilyos Beach is the most popular beach around Istanbul. The sandy bay on the Black Sea coast is located 41 km north of Istanbul’s center. As mentioned before, choose a beach club with a daily fee, which are clean and feature on-site bars, sometimes even DJ performances.

2. The Black Sea coastal villages Şile & Ağva are also great and popular destinations for a day at the beach. Şile is usually more crowded than Ağva, which impresses with a dramatic coastal scenery.

3. The Princes Islands are ideal if you are looking for a relaxing day trip to the beach. Hop on a ferry and head to Büyükada, Heybeliada or Burgazada, with gorgeous beaches surrounded by forests.


41. Uncover hidden Street Art in Kadiköy

kadikoy

Spend your day spotting some of the most fascinating street art in Istanbul's hippest neighborhood, Kadıköy. Kadıköy on the Asian side of Istanbul is a great place to go street art hunting, as the city's alternative scene is particularly thriving here. An important reason for this is the "Mural Istanbul" street art festival, which has been held annually in Kadıköy since 2012.

Go in search of the iconic motifs you've seen on Instagram, from huge murals covering entire walls to more hidden pieces. As you wander through the neighborhood finding street art gems, you will also discover quite a few great boutiques, cafes and restaurants. It will be worth it...


42. Enjoy Turkish Coffee at Üsküdar

üsküdar turkish coffee

One of the must-visit districts on the Asian side of Istanbul is Üsküdar. The historic and conservative seaside district lets you see a completely different side of the city. You can easily reach it by a short ferry ride across the Bosphorus from Eminönü pier, or take the Marmaray from Sirkeci.

Walking along the beautiful shoreline around the center, you'll come across historic mosques, most notably the Mihrimah Sultan Mosque, and Ottoman-era structures like the Fountain of Sultan Ahmet III. Stop for a Turkish coffee at a café nearby the sea and take in the Bosphorus view. A great place to rest and take a peaceful walk in nature is Çamlica Hill or Fethi Paşa Grove. Both offer magnificent panoramic views of the city. For sunset, take a ferry to Maiden’s Tower on a small island 200 meters off the coast of Üsküdar.


43. Take care of your Beauty

lip filler

During your sightseeing trip in Istanbul, why not take a short break and take care of yourself? In Istanbul there are numerous beauty salons that offer all kinds of beauty treatments in the safest environment and with qualified experts.

Since Turkey is among the top 5 countries where most cosmetic procedures are performed, you can find here, especially in Istanbul, a high density of highly experienced specialist in the field of beauty salon treatments. That’s why more and more visitors from all over the world combine their Istanbul vacation with a cosmetic treatment, such as Microblading, Nose or Lip filler, Hair Extensions or Muscle Relaxant.


44. Go Canoeing!

canoeing

For those interested in an outdoor adventure, Istanbul offers exhilarating canoeing experiences. The glittering Bosphorus is a beautiful place to explore the water and provides great canoeing opportunities. Canoeing is available on the Asian coast and is offered throughout the year, for both beginners and experienced paddlers.

The easiest way is to join a group tour or to go canoeing with a private expert. Before heading out onto the water, your expert guide will give you a quick training with safety instructions. After that, you'll be ready to go for the one-hour journey on the legendary strait. Paddle along the Asian coastline and enjoy beautiful views of the historic waterfronts of both continents. On some tours, you can even paddle under the mighty Bosphorus Bridge.


45. Pay a Visit to St. Antoine Church

st. antoine church

In the midst of Istanbul’s vibrant shopping street Istiklal Avenue stands the beautiful St. Antoine Church or Saint Antoine de Padoue. Visiting the red-brick church in Neo-Gothic style can be a nice opportunity to find a moment of silence while strolling through the lively shopping street. Inside, you can see elaborate works of art, like mosaics and a gilded wooden statue of St. Anthony.

Saint Antoine is the largest and most renowned church in Istanbul. The Roman Catholic Church offers daily masses in various languages, such as English, Italian, Turkish and Polish. An interesting fact is that Pope John XXIII preached at St. Antoine for several years before his election as pope.


46. Go to a Football Match

stadium

Another great way to get to know the local culture is to attend a football match. Turks love football and are very passionate about the team they support. Witnessing the lively atmosphere that Turkish fans generate is an experience not to be missed, especially if you are a football fan. Get swept up in the energy and join in the collective chants of the enthusiastic crowd. You can even bring your kids to the game, but in this case you should avoid going to a derby as fans can get rowdy.

Istanbul is home to Turkey’s three biggest clubs: Beşiktaş, Galatasaray and Fenerbahce. Beşiktaş's Vodafone Stadium near Dolmabahce Palace is situated right on the waterfront and offers fantastic views. Galatasaray’s stadium is located in Sarıyer district, and Fenerbahce's stadium (Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium) is located in the Kadiköy district on the Asian side of Istanbul.


47. Cycling on the Promenade

cycling istanbul

When the weather is nice, rent a bike and go for a enjoyable ride along Istanbul’s beautiful seaside promenade. Since Istanbul hasn’t has many cycling routes like other European cities, the promenade is one of the safest place to go biking. As a bonus, you can take in the great sea views.

Some of the best places to go cycling include the coastline of Bebek neighborhood and the route between Kadıköy and Maltepe districts. You can also cycle along the Golden Horn, where historic buildings like the Byzantine walls or the Bulgarian Iron Church are located. It is best to rent a public bicycle from Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality’s bike-rental service, called ISBIKE. They are available at the bike rental stations throughout the city. You can either directly rent them from kiosks in parks or by using the ISBIKE app.


48. Strike a Pose at Madame Tussauds Istanbul

Madame Tussauds Wax Museum in Istanbul

The bustling Istiklal Street is home to the Istanbul branch of Madame Tussauds. The famous wax museum features more than 60 lifelike figures of international and local celebrities.

Strike a pose with world famous musicians like Rihanna, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Lady Gaga and Bob Marley. Meet important historical figures like Atatürk, Albert Einstein and Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror. Then take a selfie with icons like Muhammad Ali, Usain Bolt, Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, Brad Pitt, and many more. Lots of funny photo opportunities are guaranteed. This is a fun attraction that you can visit together with your children.


49. Go for Souvenir Shopping

souvenir shopping istanbul

Souvenir Shopping is an essential part of the travel experience and a great way to cherish memories of your trip. Whether for yourself or your loved ones, nazar boncuk (evil eye protector), leather goods, oriental lamps, copperware, ceramic plates and Tavla (Turkish backgammon board) make great souvenirs of your Istanbul vacation.

Some of the best places to buy souvenirs are the Galip Dede Street, the Sultanahmet area and the Grand Bazaar, all of which offer you original and great souvenirs and a cultural experience at the same time. Just stroll through the shops and pick out the souvenirs of your choice.


50. Buy some Turkish Delight

turkish delight

Speaking of souvenirs, Turkish delight is another great idea to bring home from your trip to Istanbul. Before leaving, be sure to buy some of this famous treat to share it with your family and friends. Lokum, as they are called in Turkish, come in many flavors, like rose flavor, pistachio marshmallow and even chocolate. Just pick the one that appeals to you the most. Don’t be afraid to ask if you can sample them first. Many vendors will let you taste them.

You can find shops selling Turkish delight almost everywhere in Istanbul, but there are especially many around Sultanahmet and Taksim. Some of the most famous lokum shops in Istanbul are Ali Muhiddin Hacı Bekir, Hafız Mustafa and Şekerci Cafer Erol.

Sightseeing Tips

sightseeing istanbul

The most famous sights of Istanbul are in Sultanahmet, the district with the Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque and Topkapı Palace, Eminönü with the Galata Bridge and the boat docks for the Bosphorus cruises.

The center of Istanbul from the point of view of travelers is therefore the area around Sultanahmet. Also, the Galata Tower in the Beyoğlu district and for travelers looking for variety, Kadıköy on the Asian side of the Bosphorus is appealing.

The districts are accessible to each other by Istanbul's public transportation.

Discount Cards

  • IstanbulkartRechargeable card for public transport, which pays off for almost all travelers.
  • Istanbul Welcome Card: Skip The Line tickets with guided tour, Bosphorus tour and Istanbulkart as a combo.
  • Istanbul Museum PassCollective ticket for admission to major museums in Istanbul.

Admission for children: Admission to most sights in Istanbul is free for children up to the age of 5.

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