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ISTANBUL: BEST THINGS TO DO; THE ULTIMATE TRAVEL GUIDE

If you’re looking for the best things to do in Istanbul, Turkey, you’ve come to the right place! Get ready to be blown away by the exciting sights, sounds and vibes of the “City of Stories”!

Istanbul is one of the most vibrant cities in the world, with a rich history and culture that can be overwhelming for even the most seasoned traveler. But if you’re looking for a unique experience, Istanbul has plenty to offer. Here’s a detailed travel guide I curated after spending 1 month in this destination to take you off the beaten path and into the heart of this incredible city.
*The local currency is Turkish lira (TL) but I’ll share some prices in Euros for easier reference to my readers.

VENTURE TO the Grand Bazaar and Spice Market

Istanbul is home to some of the most colorful and chaotic street markets in the world. Instead of hitting up the usual tourist traps, head to the back streets to find these bustling gems.
The Grand Bazaar for example is one of the oldest and largest covered markets in the world. It really is HUGE so be ready to walk around all day! It offers a unique shopping experience with a wide variety of merchandise, from spices and textiles to jewelry and pottery. It’s also a great place to haggle and get a sense of the local culture.
~Free entry.

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grand-bazaar-instabul things to do

WANDER THROUGH Taksim Square and Istiklal Street

Taksim Square is the heart of Istanbul’s modern shopping and entertainment district, while Istiklal Street is a lively pedestrian street with a wide variety of shops, cafes, and restaurants.
In these areas, you’ll witness Turkish culture in a very authentic way as you observe locals going about their day, while literally millions of people traverse these streets every single day.

PAY A Visit TO Hagia Sophia

One of Istanbul’s most iconic landmarks, the Hagia Sophia is a must-see for any traveler. This building was originally a Christian church turned mosque, turned museum, then turned mosque again and it was built 1.485 years ago! Its impressive dome and intricate mosaics make it an architectural masterpiece.
~As of 2024 there is a €25 entry fee to Hagia Sophia.
~Modest attire required to enter the mosque.

PAY A Visit TO the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Camii)

The Blue Mosque is a stunning example of Ottoman architecture. Also known as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, this iconic landmark is renowned for its stunning design, breathtaking blue tiles, and towering minarets (mosque “tower”).
Stepping inside, you’ll be captivated by the aesthetically pleasing interior adorned with thousands of hand-painted tiles and vibrant stained glass windows. As one of Istanbul’s most significant historical and religious sites, the Blue Mosque should be at the top of your Istanbul itinerary.
~Free entry. Donations welcomed.
~Modest attire required to enter the mosque.

WANDER THROUGH the opulent Palace Dolmabahce

You’ll be impressed by the grand palace’s grand halls, ornate decorations, and the beautiful views of the Bosphorus strait.
Inside, you’ll find an impressive collection of art and furniture, including a Bohemian crystal chandelier, which is the largest in the world. This location is beautiful inside and out, the gardens are stunning as well and you can spot some animals roaming around.
Note: Pictures and videos inside the palace are forbidden. You can take pictures outside but not “professionally”. They don’t want anyone wearing anything “extra”, like heels, hats, so casual photos only.
~Tickets cost around €30.

DELVE INTO the STUNNING Topkapi Palace

The Topkapi Palace served as the primary residence of the Ottoman sultans for almost 400 years. It provides a glimpse into the opulent lifestyle of the Ottoman rulers and houses an impressive collection of artifacts, including the famous Topkapi Dagger.
This place is beautiful from every angle, making it definitely worth a visit.
~Tickets cost around €21.

VENTURE TO the Camlica Mosque (Çamlıca)

Many travelers miss out on visiting this breathtaking location as it’s a little bit of a mission to get there.
However, if you have the time, I totally recommend making the effort to experience it firsthand. The Çamlıca Mosque is truly spectacular – not only is it one of the largest mosques in the world, with a capacity of approximately 63,000 worshippers, but its architectural beauty is equally impressive inside and out. From the intricate tile work to the peaceful prayer halls, every detail captivates.
Çamlıca Mosque is located on the highest hill in Istanbul, offering wonderful panoramic views of the city, adding to its allure and making it a must-visit spot.
~Free entry.
~Modest attire required to enter the mosque.

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Explore the authentic neighborhood Balat

Balat is a historic neighborhood in Istanbul known for its charming, narrow streets, “Insta-famous” colorful houses, and rich cultural heritage. Balat is a great place to experience the local culture and get a sense of the daily life of Istanbul’s locals, so it’s not just an “Insta-spot”.
It’s an off-the-beaten-path neighborhood that provides a great contrast to the more touristy areas of Istanbul. You can wander around and you’re guaranteed to come across restaurants that offer delicious food.

STOP BY Galata Tower

The Galata Tower is a medieval stone tower that offers panoramic views of the city from its observation deck. This is one of the many iconic landmarks of the city. You can take great photos with the tower in the background but it gets busy as businesses around start to open doors in the morning.
~Tickets to the observatory cost around €18

Explore Ortaköy

Ortaköy is a charming and busy neighborhood in Istanbul located along the Bosphorus strait. If you’re looking for vibrant nightlife, trendy restaurants and cafes, and beautiful views of the Bosphorus, this is the place for you. The Ortaköy Mosque is a must-see cultural attraction, and you can stroll along the promenade, take a boat tour and enjoy the local shopping, art galleries and traditional Turkish boutiques.
~Free entry.
~Modest attire required to enter the mosque.

DELVE INTO THE ASIAN SIDE OF ISTANBUL: KADIKOY

As you might know, Istanbul is part European and part Asian, so you want to make sure you experience both sides.
Located on the Asian side of the city, Kadıköy has a unique blend of old-world charm and modern flair. Wander through bustling streets lined with eclectic shops, colorful markets, and charming cafes.
Don’t miss the opportunity to try delicious street food and shop around at the lively Kadıköy Market. With its rich history, diverse culture, and lively atmosphere, you’ll experience a truly immersive and unforgettable journey.

PAY A VISIT TO THE Suleymaniye Mosque

Located atop one of Istanbul’s seven hills, this mosque commands breathtaking views of the city skyline. Built during the Ottoman Empire (1557 to be precise) the Süleymaniye Mosque reflects the beauty of Islamic architecture.
Step inside to admire the interior decorated with intricate tilework, stained glass windows, and ornate calligraphy.
Outside you can explore the calm courtyards and gardens surrounding the mosque, offering a serene escape from the bustling city below.
~Free entry.
~Modest attire required to enter the mosque.

Take a boat tour on the Bosphorus STRAIT

The Bosphorus is the strait that connects the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara, and it offers some of the most breathtaking views of Istanbul. Take a boat tour to see the city from a different perspective, and keep your eyes peeled for the iconic Ottoman palaces and mansions that line the shore.
~You don’t need to take a tourist boat, just hop on a local boat. The prices are very affordable at a couple of euros per person.

IMMERSE YOURSELF IN the Basilica Cistern

The Basilica Cistern is a hidden gem that lies beneath the bustling streets of Istanbul. It’s an ancient underground water storage system from the Byzantine era. It’s a very unique and atmospheric place to visit, with its eerie lighting, and the two Medusa heads embedded in the columns.
~Tickets cost around €17

Explore THE NEIGHBORHOOD Cihangir

This bohemian neighborhood is a bit off-the-beaten-path but worth the visit if you have the time. It’s known for its narrow, winding streets, colorful houses, and trendy restaurants and cafes. The area is popular among artists, writers, and intellectuals, and it’s a great spot to immerse yourself in the local atmosphere.

Admire sunset from Galata Bridge

The bridge offers a panoramic view of the city, including the Bosphorus and the historic district of Sultanahmet. It’s a popular spot for locals, many of them fishing and tourists alike, and it’s a great way to finish your day in Istanbul (for free!).

Explore the city’s nightlife

Istanbul is known for its vibrant nightlife, and there’s no shortage of bars, clubs, and rooftop lounges to keep you entertained. Whether you’re looking to party all night or simply enjoy a drink, Istanbul has something for everyone.

Getting around Istanbul

Getting around Istanbul as a tourist can seem a bit overwhelming at first, but don’t worry, it’s actually pretty easy once you get the hang of it. The city has an extensive public transportation system that includes buses, metro, trams, and ferries.
The metro is the quickest and most efficient way to get around. You can purchase a metro card at the vending machines located at the metro stations if you’re staying for several days. Buses and trams are also a great option, but they can get pretty crowded during rush hour.
If you’re looking for a more scenic way to get around, the ferry is definitely worth checking out. It will give you a chance to take in the views of the Bosphorus and the city’s landmarks.
Taxis are also available and relatively cheap, but you should ALWAYS make sure to use a reputable company and agree on the fare before you start the trip, otherwise they will try to scam you, they get aggressive and it’s just an unpleasant situation so it’s best to avoid it.

STRAY Dogs and Cats of Istanbul

Istanbul is known for its large population of stray cats and dogs. You will see them all around the city, even inside shops, metro stations and restaurants. The locals have a deep-seated affection for stray animals, so they’re well looked after.
As someone who adores cats and dogs, I bought treats (both for cats and dogs) and kept them in my purse so I could give them away to all the lovely creatures I encountered while exploring this lively destination. In my opinion if you’re an animal lover, Istanbul is worth a visit solemnly because of this phenomenon!

Avoid Scams in Istanbul

If you’re heading to Istanbul, keep an eye out for scams like fake tour guides, overpriced goods (even at the Gran Bazaar), and the infamous “dropped” shoe shine brushes. To avoid this, be aware of your surroundings and don’t pick up anything that someone drops in front of you. Always agree on a price beforehand, be cautious of unsolicited offers, and stick to reputable businesses. Don’t let these scams ruin your trip, just stay alert and enjoy the city!

Even me, a very seasoned traveler fell for one scam in Instabul… We booked a taxi to pick us up at the end of our trip and take us to the airport. Paid for it in advance (don’t do that!!!🤦🏽‍♀️) as it was required. It looked very legitimate, website and all but they never showed up and stopped responding to us via WhatsApp.
We were left in a very stressful situation because it was very hard to find transport to the airpot at the very last minute. Fortunately we made it to our flight but lost around €70.

What to wear in Istanbul


If you’re wondering what to pack for your trip to Istanbul as a woman, don’t stress too much! The city is pretty liberal when it comes to fashion, so you can pretty much wear whatever you feel comfortable in. However, keep in mind that the city is quite hot during the summer, so lightweight, breathable clothing is a good idea.
Also, since Istanbul is a predominantly Muslim city, it’s respectful to dress modestly when visiting religious sites, such as mosques. This means covering your shoulders and knees (you’ll have to take your shoes off to go in so be ready for that as well).
So, pack a lightweight scarf or shawl to cover up if needed. Other than that, feel free to mix and match and have fun with your outfits!
By the way you should check my Instagram for outfit inspiration while traveling to destinations all around the world.

@caroseditorial


Istanbul is a city that has something to offer for every traveler. From its rich history and culture, to its delicious food and vibrant atmosphere, Istanbul truly has it all.
The city’s mix of European and Asian influences makes it a unique destination that is sure to leave a lasting impression. Whether you’re interested in visiting historic landmarks, shopping for souvenirs, or just soaking up the local vibe, Istanbul is a destination that should not be missed. So pack your bags and book your flight to Istanbul, you won’t regret it. And if you’re looking for more travel inspiration and tips, be sure to check out my other travel guides for more travel inspiration.

Oh, and if you want to explore more of Turkey, Cappadocia is the most idyllic destination! Read my post about What to do in Cappadocia.

photoshoot of girl horse back riding in cappadocia with hot air ballons

Happy travels!

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