Istanbul is a beautiful and very intriguing city located in Eastern Europe. The city straddles over two continents – one part in Europe, the other part in Asia, and is divided by the Bosphorus Strait.
The Old City reflects the influences of ancient empires and many historic sites can be discovered in the Sultanahmet district such as the Roman-era Hippodrome, Egyptian obelisks, and the iconic Hagia Sophia 6th-century dome.
There are countless things to do in Istanbul so I have narrowed it down to 10 absolute must-see locations and attractions to add to your Istanbul itinerary.
I visited Istanbul as part of the 9 Day Essential Turkey Tour with Travel Talk Tours.
WHERE IS ISTANBUL?
Istanbul is a major city in Turkey that is located in Southeastern Europe. The population of Istanbul is 15 million.
HOW TO GET HERE
There are many ways of reaching Istanbul, though the most common means is by plane or train.
Istanbul International Airport is very well connected with daily flights from inside Europe and also international arrivals from Asia and the Middle East. I always use Skyscanner to search and book all of my flights as they generally have the cheapest rates.
Click here to search all flights to Istanbul
Arriving in Istanbul by train is the next best option for reaching this beautiful city in Turkey. Daily trains operate in and out of Halkali Station, connecting Istanbul to other major cities in Eastern Europe such as Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary to name a few.
Traveling around Europe by train is one of the best ways to get around at an affordable cost. I highly recommend purchasing a Eurail Pass to make the most out of your Europe trip. There are many different passes available that give you access to the majority of trains, buses, and boats within 31 countries in Europe!
Click here to get your Eurail Pass today!
10 AWESOME THINGS TO DO IN ISTANBUL
Galata Tower is a standout landmark located in Galata Quarter and it is one of the best places to visit in Istanbul.
Galata Tower stands an impressive 9 stories tall and offers the best views of the city. This cylindrical tower with a pointed roof reminds me of Rapunzel’s castle out of the popular fairy tale story.
The top of Galata Tower plays home to a restaurant and nightclub with a 360-degree walk-around balcony.
As Galata Tower is one of the most popular Istanbul tourist places, you’ll want to get there early on in the day to avoid the crowds. Galata Tower is the busiest in the afternoon around sunset, so you can expect long queues to enter the tower at this time.
Galata Tower Entrance Fee: 25 Lira ($4.50)
Next up on this list of awesome things to do in Istanbul is the Hagia Sophia, a 6th-century dome that was built in 537 AD. Once a Greek Orthodox Cathedral, later an Ottoman Imperial Mosque, and now a popular museum in Istanbul that draws in visitors from around the globe.
On the inside of Hagia Sophia, you can expect to see impressive mosaics, ancient calligraphy, and Sultan’s lodge.
The Hagia Sophia Museum is open every day of the week from 9 am to 5 pm.
Hagia Sofia Entrance Fee: FREE
Hagia Sophia Istanbul
The Grand Bazaar is an absolute must on your list of what to do in Istanbul! Grand Bazaar is the largest covered marketplace in the world, with more than 60 streets and over 4,000 shops, you are guaranteed to walk away with a few trinkets and souvenirs!
Spend an hour or two getting lost in the labyrinth of alleyways and put your bartering skills to the test with store merchants to get the best bang for your buck.
The Grand Bazaar is open from Monday to Saturday, between the hours of 9 am and 7 pm.
BLUE MOSQUE ISTANBUL
The Blue Mosque, also known as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, is a historic landmark in the old town and it’s one of the best places to visit in Istanbul.
Many tourists frequent the Blue Mosque in Istanbul on a daily basis to marvel at its sheer beauty on the inside and out.
The Sultan Ahmed Mosque still functions to this day as men come to kneel inside the mosque at the time of prayer. Five times during the day, loud sounds of prayer echo through the air, bellowing from the speakers mounted on the tall minarets. When this happens, tourists and non-worshippers are asked to leave the mosque until the prayer is over.
You must dress appropriately to enter the Blue Mosque Istanbul. The required dress code is long pants, covered shoulders, headscarves for women and shoes must be removed.
Blue Mosque Istanbul Entrance Fee: FREE
Sultan Ahmed Mosque
Blue Mosque Istanbul
A Turkish bath, also known as a Hammam, is one of the weirdest but also one of the best things to do in Istanbul! A Hammam is a place of public bathing, so be prepared to be butt naked around others. You may or may not like it, but I assure you that it’s an experience you’ll never forget!
A visit to a Turkish bath will leave you feeling refreshed, relaxed, and cleaner than ever as you will have your body scrubbed and massaged by a man or woman, depending on your sex.
My recommendation is to find a reputable and good quality Hammam to ensure that you are treated with the best of service and the overall hygiene is up to scratch.
One that I can recommend is the Kilic Ali Pasa Hamami which is located in the Karakoy district, close to Galata Tower.
Turkish Bath Entrance Fee: 250 Lira ($44)
Turkish Bath – Istanbul what to do
BOAT CRUISE ON THE BOSPHORUS RIVER
A boat cruise on the Bosphorus River in Istanbul is a must-do activity for any visitor to the city. The Bosphorus is a strait that runs through the center of Istanbul and separates the European and Asian sides of the city.
A cruise down the Bosphorus offers stunning views of both sides of Istanbul and is a great way to see the city from a different perspective.
Most Bosphorus boat cruises depart from either the European or Asian side of Istanbul. The tour will take you down the strait and past some of Istanbul’s most famous landmarks, including the Dolmabahce Palace, the Ortakoy Mosque, and the Bosphorus Bridge.
There are many different options available, so you’ll want to do some research before booking a tour. There are half-day and full-day cruises available, as well as sunset and dinner tours.
Prices will vary depending on the length of the cruise and the type of boat but, as a general rule of thumb, the price is about 160 Lira, or around $10.
Bosphorus River Cruise
TOPKAPI PALACE MUSEUM
A visit to the Topkapi Palace Museum is one of the best things to do in Istanbul, Turkey. It’s visited by roughly 3 million people each year and is located in the Fatih municipality.
The palace was commissioned by Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror and completed in 1465 and served as the main residence and administrative headquarters of the Ottoman sultans for 400 years until it was abandoned in 1856.
It consists of four main courtyards and smaller buildings, and the museum contains collections of porcelain, weapons, armors, shields, Ottoman miniatures, and even Islamic calligraphy of the imperial family.
Topkapi Palace Museum is one of the greatest museums in Istanbul and the entrance fee is 200 Lira, or $13. It’s open from 9.00 am to 6.00 pm.
Topkapi Palace Museum
COLORFUL HOUSES IN BALAT
Balat is a historic neighborhood in Istanbul that’s known for its colorful houses. The homes on Kiremit Street are one of the most well-known sights in Istanbul and the colorful houses make an attractive street scene.
If you’re looking to take some great photos for your Instagram, Balat is definitely worth a visit! It’s also a good opportunity to get away from the bustling city center.
NOVA SANTIYE ROOFTOP TERRACE
Nova Santiye is a sleek and stylish cafe located in the heart of downtown Istanbul. The cafe has a modern and minimalist design and a rooftop terrace which is the perfect place to enjoy a cup of coffee or tea while taking in the stunning views of the city skyline.
The most special point of this cafe is the 360-degree view of the city which makes it one of the best places to take panoramic photos from a birds-eye perspective.
The drink menu features both traditional and unique specialty drinks, all made with high-quality ingredients. The cafe also has a small selection of pastries, snacks, and delicious food.
All in all, Nova Sentiye is the perfect place to get a quick caffeine fix or to see the sunset over the city.
Nova Santiye Cafe
The rooftop terrace
The Spice Bazaar is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Istanbul. Located in the Eminönü quarter district of Istanbul, it’s a covered market that sells a variety of spices, herbs, and sweets.
In addition to the food stalls, the Spice Bazaar also has a number of shops that sell Turkish coffee and tea.
Open daily from 8 am to 7 pm, it’s one place you can’t miss while in Istanbul.
WHERE TO STAY IN ISTANBUL
Istanbul has thousands of accommodation options to choose from, so I have narrowed it down to a few of my personal favorite places to stay in Istanbul to fit the needs of budget backpackers, luxury travelers, and everyone in between.
See the list of accommodations below that I personally recommend:
Luxury: Legacy Ottoman Hotel
Mid Range: The Galata Port Hotel
Budget: Suite Dreams Istanbul Hostel
FOR ALL OTHER HOTELS IN ISTANBUL, SEARCH ON AGODA OR SEARCH ON BOOKING.COM
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TRAVEL RESOURCES FOR YOUR NEXT TRIP
Whether you’re a seasoned traveler or it’s your first trip overseas, here are some useful travel resources to help you kick-start your next adventure!
- BOOKING.COM – search and book accommodation worldwide
- SKYSCANNER – compare and book cheap flights to anywhere
- VIATOR – find tickets, tours, and experiences around the world
- BOOKAWAY – book buses, trains, and transfers online in advance
- RENTAL CARS – search all rental cars in your next destination
- GROUP TRIPS – join one of my epic small group trips
- TRAVEL INSURANCE – purchase World Nomads travel insurance
- TRAVEL MONEY CARD – get a Wise card today for free
Looking for more? Check out my Travel Resources page for further help with your trip planning!
I hope you enjoyed reading this article and if you have any questions about Istanbul, please leave me a comment below this post and I will get back to you as soon as I can.
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THANKS FOR READING
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