5 Best Things to Do in Istanbul
While it may not be the capital of Turkey, Istanbul is a hive of activity and culture, and bridges East and West through a clash of cultures within the city.
All this makes Istanbul a very interesting place to explore, and one you should add to your travel bucket list!
Rosie Wright recently went on a short weekend break to Istanbul and really loved exploring this ancient city. She discovered there are so many places to visit and things to do both in and around Istanbul for tourists.
In this article Rosie shares her top five essential things you need to add to your Istanbul travel itinerary and also some suggestions for free and fun places to check out if you have more time:
1. See the Hagia Sophia
A beautiful building with an incredibly interesting history, the Hagia Sophia was once a church that turned into a mosque which then became a museum in the 20th century. It represents Turkey’s religious past (and present), and inside shows a coming together of Islam and Christianity in a harmonious way. It serves as an example to the world that two religions can exist alongside each other, but aside from the symbolism it is just a gorgeous building that is well worth a visit!
2. Cruise on the Bosphorus
Starting in Istanbul and going along the Bosphorus, this cruise means you get to see more of the area and more of Turkey than just Istanbul. You can either take the half cruise which is just in the morning, or you can take the full day cruise which takes about 6 hours (from 10am until 4pm).
I took the full day cruise and we stopped at many little places along the way, before stopping somewhere called Anadolu Kavagi for lunch. Although the town was quite small (it would probably be better defined as a village), we found a restaurant where we could sit on the water front and eat, which meant we had amazing views and the food was even relatively cheap considering the location.
We also got an ice cream and wandered along the water’s edge, which was nice as it was a lot cooler than in the city and we were able to see the two different sides of Turkey, the European side and the Asian side, with the Bosphorus flowing in between.
On the way back we saw dolphins, which was definitely a highlight, and we arrived back to Istanbul well before night fall so there was still time to visit other places and it didn’t really take up the full day.
3. Barter at the Grand Bazaar
Although maybe a bit cliché and touristy, the Grand Bazaar is a huge shopping area and definitely worth a visit. It is certainly an experience and if you know what you want and stand firm, bartering with the locals can be successful. However, make sure you stay respectful and fair, otherwise you could annoy the vendors and put yourself in a difficult position.
Most vendors will barter with you and will lower their prices if you ask, however, so you should be okay. There are many different stalls selling lamps, slippers and other traditional, and even slightly stereotypical, items, as well as fake designer goods which vendors will try and sell at a premium price, so it is probably best to avoid those items.
4. Eat at the Feriye Palace
If you have some money left over and want to splash out for dinner, Feriye Palace is the perfect place to go. With the average meal costing £20-30, it can be quite expensive, but the view is beautiful and it is well worth splashing out if you have the money. I had the sea bass which was probably the best meal I’ve ever had, and the view over the Bosphorus and of the Bosphorus bridge was breath-taking. Make sure to get a seat right by the window so you can take full advantage of the view, and after dinner make your way out to the viewing area just outside to get the perfect photo.
5. Be Impressed at the Blue Mosque
A stunning building with a lot of history, the Blue Mosque, or the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, is certainly somewhere you should visit when in Istanbul. Make sure you check what time it opens on the day, as quite often it is closed for prayer.
If you are female, you should make sure you cover up when going in the mosque to remain respectful. Even if you can’t go in, it’s still a beautiful building to admire from outside and with its close proximity to the Hagia Sophia, it would make a perfect cultural stop on the way.
Other Things to Consider
Depending on how much time you have these are some other places and things you should try to do in Istanbul:
- Learn more about ancient history at the Archaeology Museum
- Be impressed at the Chora Church / Kariye Museum
- Connect with nature at Gülhane Park
- Explore the Topkapi Palace
- Ride on the Tünel, the second oldest underground train in the world
- Get a scrub down at a Hamam
- Go off the beaten track by exploring the spectacular Belgrad Forest
- Go up the Galata Tower
- Wander through the Çiçek Pasajı arcade
- Take a moment at St. Antoine Church
- Be stunned at the Basilica Cistern
- Venture to the lesser known Bebek and Ortaköy villages on the
- See the impressive Süleymaniye Mosque
- Get close to the Dolmabahçe Palace
- See contemporary art at Istanbul Museum of Contemporary Modern Art
- For something different check out the Museum of Innocence
- Shop for spices and souvenirs at the Spice Bazaar
- Try the local tasty street food
- Treat yourself to sweets and candy at Altan Şekerleme
- Enjoy the amazing nightlife with so many bars to choose from
Istanbul really is one of the best places to visit in Turkey and you really should plan a trip here to experience the culture, sights and food for yourself. Keep up to date with any and all information relevant to your travels by following the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Travel Aware social channels, @FCOTravel on Facebook and Twitter, @TravelAware on Instagram.