Top 10 Things to Do & See in Istanbul, Turkey

Located within both the European and Asian Continents, Istanbul is a bustling metropolis unlike any other. The rich history, unique architecture and delicious food is a huge draw for visitors wanting a taste of Turkey. It is easy to spend a few days here exploring and soaking up all that the city has to offer!

DISCLAIMER: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means that if you use these links to purchase a product or service I will receive a small compensation at no additional cost to you. Everything I recommend are products or services that I personally use and have been essential for me as a travel blogger. 

LIKE THIS POST? SAVE TO READ LATER ↓

Continue reading to find out what the top 10 things to do in Istanbul are!

INCLUDED IN THIS BLOG POST:

  • The top things to do and see in Istanbul
  • The best places to eat in the city
  • The best time to visit
  • Where to stay
  • How to get around
  • Visas & arrival

The Top 10 Things to See in Istanbul


Most of the main sights that you’ll want to visit in Istanbul will be located on the European side. This makes if fairly easy to see many of Istanbul’s sights in a short amount of time!

1. Blue Mosque

Istanbul’s most iconic and recognizable landmark is the Blue Mosque or Sultan Ahmed Mosque. Easily located in the Sultanahmet District, the Blue Mosque is a must see for any traveler visiting the city. There is no entrance fee and they have coverings that you can borrow if you didn’t wear the appropriate attire.

The Blue Mosque is one of the top things to see in Istanbul!

The interior of the Blue Mosque is especially stunning. Take your time admiring the intricate details and blue colored tiles that give this Mosque its name.

The interior of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul showcases some of the best architectural designs and intricate details.

2. Hagia Sofia

Located directly across from the Blue Mosque is the famous Hagia Sofia. Now a museum, this UNESCO site is an important symbol in Istanbul. It started out as a church, then became a mosque and is now a museum. Inside, the details are stunning and very well preserved.

The Hagia Sofia is one of Istanbul's most popular landmarks and is now a museum.

Hagia Sofia is open daily from 9 AM to 7 PM in the summer and 9 AM to 5 PM in the winter. Entrance fee is 60 TL (11 USD) and you can pre-order your tickets online here.

The inside of the Hagia Sofia is well worth a visit to this museum in Istanbul!

3. Topkapi Palace

This large palace was originally used as a residence for the Ottoman Sultans and their families for almost 400 years. These days, the stunning palace is museum with views overlooking the Golden Horn. Visitors can visit both the palace and the neighboring Harem where the females resided.

Once a home to the Ottoman Sultans, the Topkapi Palace is now one of Istanbuls most popular museums.

The interior of the palace is stunning with bright blue, orange and red tiles creating intricate designs throughout! Within the museum you can visit the four large courtyards, a view over the river, the gardens and the harem.

The intricate details of the Topkapi Palace must be seen on a visit to Istanbul

Plan on spending a couple of hours here exploring the entire grounds. The cost to visit the Topkapi Palace is 60 TL  (11 USD) per person. There is an additional fee of 35 TL (6 USD) to visit the harem.

4. Galata Tower

One of Istanbul’s most distinguishable landmarks is the Galata Tower. The tower is located atop a hill  and surrounded by cute streets and charming cafes. This medieval stone tower is the tallest in Istanbul and provides gorgeous 360 degree views of the city!

The Galata Tower stands tall above the city of Istanbul. You can get amazing 360 degree views of the city from the top!

The tower costs 25 TL (4 USD) to enter and they open daily at 9 AM.

5. New Mosque

Although not new at all, it is in fact over 400 years old, this Mosque is another beautiful example of stunning architecture located over on the Asian side of Istanbul. The actual name of this mosque is Yeni Cam and you can tour the inside, with proper attire of course.

Visiting the new Mosque is one of the top things to do in Istanbul

6. Spice Market

Located right next to the New Mosque is Istanbul’s famous Spice Market. Originally name the Egyptian Bazaar, the aromatic scents from the market can be smelled throughout the entire courtyard. The Spice Market has been the center for trade in Istanbul for over 350 years and has a huge variety of spices, oils, dried fruits and more to purchase.

One of the top things to do in Istanbul is visit the spice market.

7. Süleymaniye Mosque

Built in the 16th century, this Mosque is known in Istanbul as one of the grandest and most ornate. Located at the top of one of Istanbul’s seven hills and due to its size and location you can see it anywhere in Istanbul. The interior is just as grand as the exterior and is definitely worth a visit during your time in Istanbul.

A visit to the Süleymaniye Mosque is a must during a visit to Istanbul

8. Basilica Cistern

Hidden beneath the city streets is the mysterious and not-to-be-missed Basilica Cistern. Also known as the sunken palace, this is just one of the hundred that exist in Istanbul. These cisterns were used as a water filtration system providing water to the nearby buildings. This one in particular is the largest and houses the famous medusa head statues.

Inside the Basilica Cistern which is an underground museum in Istanbul

The Basilica Cistern is open daily from 9 AM to 6:30 PM and costs 20 TL (3.45 USD). Note: the Istanbul Museum Pass does not work here and they only accept cash.

9. Grand Bazaar

The hustle & bustle of the city filters into the Grand Bazaar, a large indoor market overflowing with locals and tourists alike. Get lost amongst the maze of stalls filled with brightly colored scarves, beautifully designed lamps and hand painted pottery.

Inside the Grand Bazaar is a feast for the eyes.The Grand Bazaar is a feast for the senses, but be prepared to haggle if you want to purchase anything. It is customary to play this little game of throwing numbers back and forth to each other before ultimately settling on a final price.

The Grand Bazaar has lots of beautiful items for sale including turkish lamps and rugs

Tip: Unless you are very serious about purchasing something I would advise that you act uninterested. If you show too much enthusiasm about an item the shopkeeper could be pretty persistent until you end up purchasing it.

The Grand Bazaar is open Monday-Saturday from9 AM to 8 PM.

10. Rüstem Pasha Mosque

This often overlooked Mosque is considered one of Istanbul’s hidden gems. Sometimes referred to as the little Blue Mosque, the Rüstem Pasha Camii has a stunning interior. It is usually uncrowded unlike due to the fact that it isn’t as easy to find as some of the others around Istanbul. You can find this Mosque in the Eminönü District and is well worth the visit.

The interior of the Rüstem Paşa Mosque in Istanbul is stunning!


The Best Places to Eat


I doubt you could go wrong with anywhere you choose to eat in Istanbul. However, these are my highly recommended restaurants to try when you are exploring the area. Of course, you should also try some of the delicious baked breads and roasted corn from many of the street carts around town.

The top things to do in Istanbul includes eating from the popular street carts

Siva Cafe & Restaurant

Located in the heart of the lively Sultanahmet District, Siva Cafe is the perfect place to enjoy a traditional Turkish meal. My favorite thing on the menu was the haydari, a yogurt sauce with mint, lemon and dill!

Green Corner Cafe

Also located in the Sultanahmet District, this healthy food cafe has many options for everyone. They even have Halal, vegan and vegetarian dishes. They also have the most delicious honey and walnut flatbread that I think I’ve ever tasted!

The food street vendors in Istanbul have some of the best food

Safir Teras

This restaurant is special because of the exceptional views of the Blue Mosque and Firuz Aga Mosque. The best thing to do is come here for a cup of turkish coffee or tea and admire the views!

The baklava in Istanbul is delicious and must be eaten during your visit.

Albura Kathisma Cafe & Restaurant

This might have been my favorite restaurant in Istanbul. Their outdoor seating is perfect for relaxing under the evening sky and their menu is delightful. Two dishes that you must try are the Balli Mahmudiye and the very popular dessert künefe. the Balli Mahmudiye is a slow cooked chicken in orzo, almond & apricot topped with a hazelnut, honey & cinnamon sauce.

One of the things to do in Istanbul is eat all the delicious food!The künefe is a soft baked shredded wheat with a soft cheese filled and topped with a thick syrup and pistachios! Yum!


The Best Time to Visit Istanbul


Spring (March to May) and Fall (September to November) are the best times to visit Istanbul. The weather is mild & comfortable and the city is less crowded with tourists. During the spring the tulips are in bloom and Istanbul hosts its International Tulip Festival. The whole city is decorated in color from these beautiful flowers which makes for some stunning photos of the Mosques.

One of the many cats that call Istanbul home.


Where to Stay in Istanbul


For both of my visits to Istanbul I chose to stay in the same hotel, Historia Hotel. Located in a quiet and charming neighborhood it is within walking distance to the Blue Mosque. The hotel includes a delicious turkish breakfast with spacious, comfortable and clean rooms.

The Historia Hotel is centrally located in Istanbul's popular neighbor near the Blue Mosque

Using Airbnb in Istanbul is another affordable option. You can save 40 USD on your booking if you sign up with this link!


How to Get Around


Istanbul is an easy city to navigate since many of the sights you’ll want to see are located relatively close to each other. There are many options for local transportation, including the trolley, metro, buses and taxi.

Trams are a great way to travel around the city of IstanbulMost of the city is walkable but if you are planning on using the public transportation I would recommend purchasing the Istanbul Kart. It works for all public transit and can be purchased at the airport or main bus station.


Visas & Arrival


Istanbul is very easy to get to, with a large (and recently renovated) International airport. You will need to apply for and purchase an eVisa prior to your arrival for travel in Turkey. It’s super simple and costs about 20 USD per person for a tourist visa. You can apply for your Turkey visa here. This is the exact site that I used when applying for my eVisa. Be sure to always use a site that ends with .gov.

If you want to apply for your visa hassle free then you can use ivisa.com! There may be an additional fee but the sight is super user-friendly and easy to use! I used ivisa.com to obtain my India visa!

» Order your Turkey Visa here!

LIKE THIS POST? SAVE TO READ LATER ↓

The Ultimate Guide to the Top 10 Things to Do in Istanbul, Turkey

 

 

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • Istanbul is such a cool city to explore. I liked the Blue Mosque. Next time I hope I have enough time to go into the Haiga Sofia. I loved wandering the Grand Bazaar.

  • Hey, Marisa! Loved the layout of this post! It was super easy to read, and provided the perfect amount of info! How many days do you recommend in Istanbul? Do they take credit cards at most places, or is it better to keep a lot of cash on hand?

    • Hi Linnea! Thank you so much! I would definitely recommend at least 4/5 days to really give yourself enough time to see it all. It is always best to keep cash on hand (get from ATM) once you get to the airport but there are many restaurants and hotels that do take credit cards. Also, many of the bigger shops will take credit cards but I would have cash to pay for entrance fees to the sights just in case!

  • This is such a great guide for Istanbul! Love your photos. The mosques and palaces look so gorgeous and intricate. I especially love your photos of Topkapi Palace and all of the tiles there. The food in Istanbul looks so yummy, especially the baklava!

    • I feel the exact same way Katie!! Sounds like Istanbul is a favorite for a lot of people and for good reason! I would love to eat some food right now!

  • Istanbul is high up on my bucket list but I have to admit, I actually don’t know too much about the city. This post is such a great overview to help me orientated and plan the perfect trip!

    • Oh yes, definitely add Istanbul to the top of your list!! I’m so happy that this guide will be able to help you when you finally do get to go!

  • I was in Istanbul earlier this year, I loved all the things you mentioned in your post. Istanbul is a vibrant city with a great food and restaurant culture, I would go back in a flash! As always, I haven’t done quite enough shopping there

    • You are so right Delphine! The atmosphere in the city is also quite electric and I really loved it there! Maybe next time you go you can pack an extra suitcase so you can go shopping!!!

  • I just came back from Istanbul, totally loved the city!
    But it was sooo hot, about 38 degrees celcius, so we visited the grand basar but missed out on the spicemarket.
    What did you enjoy the most?

    • Hey Lina! It really is such an amazing placed definitely worth a visit if you can make it there one day!! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

  • I love Istanbul so much. I got to visit it a few years ago and reading this wonderful blogpost just brought back so many happy memories Marisa. Thank you for sharing lovely!

    • Aww, isn’t Istanbul so lovely!? I’m so glad this post was able to bring back those memories for you Charu! I would love to go back again one day and I’m sure you feel the same!