Istanbul is a city with a rich history steeped in culture and religion that has plenty to provide to the interested traveler. From historical landmarks, to religious sites and spectacular views, it is no surprise that it has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Below please find the top 10 best things to do in Istanbul. Enjoy.
Take a Topkapi Palace and Hagia Sophia Tour (above image)
We highly recommend to visit Hagia Sophia, originally a Christian cathedral that was turned into a mosque and is now one of the most famous museums in Turkey. The museum is a dynamic mixture of Christianity and Islam, with art, mosaics and even some Viking graffiti. When visiting Hagia Sophia you might as well visit the nearby Topkapi Palace as well, a place of grandeur that once held enormous significance to the Ottoman Empire. The views from the palace are spectacular and the perfect place to get some fantastic photographs. You can finish your day off shopping at the famous Grand Bazaar with over 4000 stores.
Tip: If you have any mobility issues, keep an eye out for the free golf cart shuttle that will take you up the cobbled hill to the palace.
Istanbul Modern Museum
When you visit the Istanbul Modern Museum, you will be treated to a chronological display of Turkish art as well as a large collection of international artists. The photography exhibit on the ground floor is always a crowd pleaser. The waterside restaurant provides gourmet food and stunning views and is not to be missed.
Tip: Ring ahead to the restaurant to book a table on the terrace.
Location: Meclis-i Mebusan Caddesi | Liman Isletmeleri Sahasi Antrepo No: 4, Istanbul 34433
Big Bus Istanbul Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour
Istanbul offers a Hop-On Hop-Off bus tour which will bring you to more than 15 different stops, so you can explore the sights in Istanbul. You will see the famous Byzantine and Ottoman architecture, smell the wonderful aromas at the Spice Bar, cross the Bosphorus Bridge into Asia and much more. The price is reasonable and your ticket includes audio-guides and headphones.
Tip: The tour buses are equipped with WiFi so you can upload your pictures as you take them.
This captivating performance has enchanted thousands of people for over 800 years. The semi-religious ceremony is accompanied by live Turkish classical music and you can enjoy a meal and a hookah while you watch the performers whirl and twirl in this mesmerising 90 minute show.
Tip: This performance is religious in nature and while one or two discreet photographs are allowed, you are encouraged to fully immerse yourself in the show without taking pictures.
Location: Hocapaşa Culture Centre, Ankara Caddesi, Hocapaşa Hamam Sok No: 3.B
Gulhane Park is a green oasis of calm amongst the busy city life of Istanbul. The perfect location to take some time out and relax after taking visiting the many interesting places and landmarks in Istanbul. Take a walk around the winding paths and visit the various statues and ponds. If you are lucky enough to visit the park in April, you will be treated to the hundreds of tulips that adorn the park until about May 1st.
Tip: Keep an eye out for the parrots that inhabit the park.
Location: Alemdar Mah. Alemdar Cad. Eminonu/Cagaloglu, Fatih, Istanbul 34122
The Suleymaniye Mosque is one of the biggest and most accessible mosques in Istanbul. The epitome of grandeur, the high ceilings and tiled mosaics are mesmerising. Women must cover their heads in the mosque and in the gardens, so make sure your bring your head scarf.
Tip: It is easier to find the mosque heading from the Grand Bazaar side than if you navigate the alleyways coming from the Golden Horn side.
Location: Sinan Aga Mah. Zeyrek Cad. No:4 | Zeyrek, Fatih, Istanbul
Golden Horn and Miniaturk Park Tour
Take a tour to the Golden Horn, where you will visit the holiest site in Istanbul, the Eyüp Sultan Mosque. It is considered the third holiest location in Islam as it is said to be built on the resting place of the Prophet Mohammed’s companion, Eyüp El-Ensari. Next you can take a ride by cable car to the Pierre Loti Café, the perfect spot to relax and take some photographs. The final part of your this small tour is to visit Miniatürk, a miniature replica of hundreds of Turkey’s most famous buildings.
Tip: Walk up the hill at the back of the mosque and go through the cemetery to take in the spectacular views.
Location: Hotel pick-up or meet in the city centre.
The Istanbul Aquarium is a treat for both adults and children. The geographical layout covers the Black Sea, the Bosphorus, the Marmara and the Mediterranean, showcasing many species of fish and sharks. The final exhibit is a Tropical Rainforest Experience, that will make you feel as if you are really there. The aquarium is a great place for some light-hearted fun after taking in the more serious historical and religious sites.
Tip: You can pick up discount cards for the aquarium at the various kiosks in the Istanbul Forum mall.
Location: Senlikkoy Mahallesi, Yesilkoy Halkali Cad. No:93, Florya
When in Istanbul you simply have to take out the time for a small cruise in the Bosphorus. Nothing more beautiful than seeing the sun set slowly over Istanbul while you sip your favourite drink and enjoy a good evening out.
Tip: Don’t miss out on such boat cruise. It’s a great experience.
The following two cruises are recommended:
The Basilica Cistern is the largest of it’s kind in Istanbul, providing an underground water filtration system for nearby buildings. The structure itself is magnificent, with the ceiling being held up by 336 marble columns. The lights and water in this underground area create a magical and tranquil atmosphere that makes the Basilica Cistern a hidden treasure among tourist sites. You can take an audio tour and learn about the 800 year old history of the water system, and marvel at the huge marble pillars.
Tip: Opt for a guided tour if you would like to skip the queues.
Location: Imran Oktem Cad. No:4 D:5 Sultanahmet, Fatih | Near St. Sophia
Istanbul is a true melting pot of different cultures and religions, with breathtaking cathedrals, mosques and museums. Although it’s history stretches back over 2500 years, many of it’s historical landmarks remain intact, bringing history alive for visitors every year.