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