Are you wondering what to do in Istanbul? Well, get ready to be blown away by the epic 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 list I created after spending 1 month in this destination of things to do in Istanbul that will take you off the beaten path and into the heart of this incredible city.
Visit 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 all day! It offers a unique shopping experience with a wide variety of goods, from spices and textiles to jewelry and pottery. It’s also a great place to haggle and get a sense of the local culture.
Visit 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.
Explore the 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.
Visit the opulent Palace Dolmabahce:
You’ll be impressed by the grand palace’s grand halls, ornate decorations, and the beautiful views of the Bosphorus. Inside, you’ll find an impressive collection of art and furniture, including a Bohemian crystal chandelier, which is the largest in the world.
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 just casual photos.
Visit the Topkapi Palace:
The Topkapi Palace was the primary residence of the Ottoman sultans for almost 400 years. It offers a glimpse into the opulent lifestyle of the Ottoman rulers and is home to an impressive collection of artifacts, including the famous Topkapi Dagger.
Visit the Camlica Mosque (Çamlıca) :
Most travelers don’t make it there as it’s a little mission to get there. But if you have time I totally recommend making the effort as it’s one of the most spectacular mosques you’ll ever seen. This modern mosque is located on the highest hill in Istanbul, offering stunning panoramic views of the city.
Visit the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Camii):
The Blue Mosque is a stunning example of Ottoman architecture. It is famous for its blue Iznik tiles and six minarets (mosque “tower”).
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.
It’s an off-the-beaten-path neighborhood that provides a great contrast to the more touristy areas of Istanbul.
Visit the 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.
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.
Take a boat tour on the Bosphorus:
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.
Visit the Basilica Cistern:
The Basilica Cistern is an ancient underground water storage system from the Byzantine era. It’s a unique and atmospheric place to visit, with its eerie lighting, and the two Medusa heads embedded in the columns.
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 and tourists alike, and it will be 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. And 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.
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 on my purse so I could give them away to all the lovely creatures I encountered while exploring this 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!
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.
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Istanbul is a city that has something to offer for every traveler. From its rich history and culture, to its delicious food and vibrant nightlife, 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 atmosphere, 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. Happy travels!