Istanbul Travel Guide: 26 Top Things To Do (2024)

In this comprehensive guide, we tell you all about Istanbul, the only city spanning two continents that offers a vibrant mix of the old and new world full of exciting things to eat, see and do.
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Arijana & Matej
Arijana & Matej

Croatian-Slovenian full-time travel duo, photographers, bloggers and travel journalists for over 4 years. We write in-depth travel guides about destinations we have personally visited, providing practical travel tips and recommendations.

Street Food vendor on a busy square with Yeni Cami Mosque behind, Istanbul

About Istanbul

Istanbul, the unofficial capital of Turkey, is a city of two continents, a place like no other, full of history and culture that has been around for centuries.

From the bustling streets of the Grand Bazaar to the beautiful mosques and palaces, Istanbul is a place where you can experience both old-world charm and modern amenities.

The delicious food in Istanbul is also to be noticed – from tasty traditional Turkish dishes to international cuisines, there’s something for everyone!

Whether you’re looking for an exciting vacation or simply want to explore a unique city with rich history, Istanbul should be on your list!

We absolutely loved going around Istanbul and will keep returning for more of this charming city.

Galata Tower seen from the street, Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul Travel Tips

Before we jump into the top things to do in Istanbul, let’s cover the essentials and tips to help you have a more fun, enjoyable, and safer trip in this charming city.

Pay less for tickets

Going around

Stay connected

Instantly connect to the internet on your arrival to Turkey by buying an eSIM package in advance.

And if you need unlimited internet for more devices at once or for a group or family, it’s worth checking out the Istanbul Unlimited 4G Pocket Wifi.

Book trusted tours

Istanbul is straightforward to explore on your own.

On the other hand, if you want to maximize your experience and not bother with organizing things yourself, you can opt for one of the top-rated Istanbul tours on Viator or GetYourGuide.

Top things to do in Istanbul

Istanbul’s incredible history and position in the world give you plenty of things to do, from historical sites to see, culinary experiences to enjoy, and activities to do.

1. Visit the Hagia Sophia

One of the top things to do in Istanbul is to visit the iconic Hagia Sophia, a historical landmark located in the heart of Sultanahmet.

Hagia Sophia was initially built as a Greek Orthodox church in 537, but it was used as a mosque in the last centuries since Ottoman rule started in 1453.

Aerial view of Hagia Sophia at sunrise, Istanbul, Turkey
Hagia Sophia at sunrise.

Later, in 1935 Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey, turned Hagia Sophia into a museum before the government turned it back into a functioning mosque in 2020.

Inside of Hagia Sophia main hall, Istanbul, Turkey

Inside Hagia Sophia, you can still see some mosaics and Christian icons, even though it’s now a mosque, and some things were covered by big cloth/rugs and Arabic inscriptions.

Intricate design and details on walls and columns in Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

You can visit Hagia Sophia every day except during prayer hours. Although Hagia Sophia doesn’t close entirely like some other mosques during prayer, so you can still visit even though a part of the main hall will be inaccessible.

Check the prayer timings online before visiting Hagia Sophia so you don’t come right at the prayer time.

Please note that women must cover their hair, shoulders, and legs before entering Hagia Sophia. And there are headscarves and covering clothes available for rent at the entrance.

There is no ticket for Hagia Sophia as entry is free of charge, as for all mosques.

While we visited Hagia Sophia by ourselves, a great way to learn more about it is by joining a Hagia Sophia Guided Tour with a certified, knowledgeable guide.


And you can also visit Hagia Sophia as part of one of the daily tours like Best of Istanbul in 1 day, where you also see the Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace, among other attractions like Grand Bazaar.

Arijana Tkalcec inside Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

2. Visit the Blue Mosque

The Blue Mosque, or Sultan Ahmed Mosque of Istanbul, is one of Turkey’s most iconic and beautiful landmarks, just across the Sultanahmet park from Hagia Sophia.

Aerial view of Blue Mosque for sunrise, Istanbul, Turkey

The mosque is known as the Blue Mosque because of the interior walls, ceilings, and details dominated by blue-color Iznik tiles.

Blue Mosque’s official name is Sultan Ahmed Mosque because of the Ottoman Empire’s sultan Sultan Ahmed who decided to build it in 1609.

After extensive renovation since 2016, the Blue Mosque is still not entirely open to visitors, so some parts inside are inaccessible. Nonetheless, walking around the area of Sultanahmet park and the nearby Hagia Sophia, you will get a great glimpse of it.

3. Visit the Topkapi Palace

Topkapi Palace, a large museum in the heart of Istanbul’s Sultanahmet, is one of the best places to visit if you want to learn about the history, culture, and everything else about the Ottoman Empire.

Ceiling and wall details inside of the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul

The Topkapi Palace, for many centuries, served as an administrative center of the Ottoman Empire, and during its time, it was a royal residence that accommodated high-ranking officials.

In 1924, right after the end of the Ottoman Empire, the government turned the big Topkapi Palace complex into a museum.

Some of the things you can see in the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul are the harem, the treasury, numerous clothes, relics, weapons, and manuscripts.

Topkapi Palace is one of the places where it’s worth getting a guide if you want to learn a bit more about its history and the meaning behind the many rooms and artifacts. One of the tours we can recommend is the Topkapi Palace & Harem Tour with Entry Ticket.

If you’re visiting Topkapi Palace by yourself, we recommend going very early in the day, right after opening, and checking out the Harem first and then the rest. That way, you’ll be able to be done before crowds arrive.

The Topkapi Palace in Istanbul is open every day between 9 am and 6 pm, except Tuesday.

The full ticket for Topkapi Palace costs 650 TL or 35 USD and includes the harem and Hagia Irene.

Please note that for the audio guide for the Harem at Topkapi Palace, you need to either leave a deposit of about 100 EUR/USD or your passport, ID, or driving license. And prepare to queue for some time out in the open to get the audio guide.

Beware that Topkapi Palace is quite extensive, so if you come just before closing time or even 1 or 2 hours before closing, they might not let you enter because you just wouldn’t have enough time to go through it.

We didn’t manage to visit Topkapi Palace, but from other people’s experiences, it’s worth visiting with a guide or at least getting the audio guide. Otherwise, it’s hard to understand the rich history of this place.

4. Stroll through Istiklal Street

One of the busiest and most famous streets in Istanbul is Istiklal Street, which stretches from Taksim square all the way down to Gallipdede music street, right next to the Galata Tower.

Istanbul’s Istiklal Street is so famous because it’s lined with international and local stores, restaurants, and street food, and it is also where the famous red tram of Istanbul operates.

Red tram passing crowded Istiklal Street, Istanbul

We loved that it was so easy to find delicious food along Istiklal Street, from the many restaurants to the street food snacks like fried corn, chestnuts (when in season), kumpir, Turkish ice cream, and more.

Turkish ice cream (dondurma) vendor, Istiklal Street, Istanbul

If you want to experience this part of Istanbul to the fullest in the shortest time, we highly recommend the tour Istanbul Modern City Walking: Taksim to Galata.

We walked the whole length of Istiklal Street many times towards the Galata Tower area when we stayed in our cozy studio at The Istanbuller.

5. Visit the Galata Tower

No visit to Istanbul is complete without taking a photo of the iconic Galata Tower.

Situated in the heart of the “modern” part of Istanbul, the beautiful Galata Tower is one of the top attractions.

Aerial view of Galata Tower at sunrise, Istanbul

The Galata Tower, or Galata Kulesi in Turkish, was built as a watchtower in 1348 during the existence of the Genoese colony in Istanbul.

The streets leading directly toward the Galata Tower are lined with cute cafes, restaurants, and shops inside European-style buildings.

Galata Tower seen from the street, Istanbul, Turkey

The opening hours of the Galata Tower in 2024 are every day between 8:30 am and 11 pm, and the entrance ticket is 175 Turkish Lira or about 10 USD.

Note: Prepare to queue up for your visit inside the tower, as it’s very popular.

From the observation deck inside the Galata Tower, you get a great panoramic 360-view of Istanbul.

Aerial view of Galata Tower at sunrise, Istanbul

You can even catch a glimpse of the Galata Tower from the Galata Bridge or the other side of the city, for example, the Suleymaniye Mosque.

Being one of the biggest icons of Istanbul, the Galata Tower is the central spot for many photoshoots, and everyone wants to find a great place to stay nearby with a view of it.

Our Istanbul visit coincided with Arijana’s brother Alen’s visit (@be_mesmerized), and he was staying at The Galataport Hotel with a fantastic view of the Galata Tower from the terrace.

Arijana Tkalcec from a hotel rooftop with view of Galata Tower, Istanbul
View of Galata Tower from The Galataport Hotel.

Arijana Tkalčec and Matej Špan on a hot air balloon flight in Cappadocia

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6. Visit the Galata Bridge

Just below Galata and the Galata Tower, you can find the Galata Bridge, which spans the Golden horn in Istanbul, connecting the old, traditional city to the modern part of Beyoğlu.

Galata Bridge with Bosphorus Cruise ships, Istanbul, Turkey

We loved the area around the Galata Bridge toward the sunset. There were lots of fishermen fishing off the side, boats passing by, simit being sold off of carts, with a warm atmosphere of locals and tourists ending their day together.

Fishermen, suleymaniye mosque and cruise boats at sunset, Galata Bridge, Istanbul

7. Visit the glamorous Dolmabahce Palace

Istanbul is full of palaces and especially along the shore of the Bosphorus strait, and one of the grandest ones is the Dolmabahce Palace, which served as the Ottoman Empire administrative center right after Topkapi Palace.

The Dolmabahce Palace was much more inspired by the modern European style than some other palaces.

Seagulls and Dolmabahce Palace from Bosphorus Cruise, Istanbul
Dolmabahce Palace seen from the Bosphorus Cruise.

In 1924 they transferred the ownership of the Dolmabahce Palace to the new Republic of Turkey, and the country’s founder Ataturk spent his last days there before his death in 1938.

The opening hours of the Dolmabahce Palace are every day from 9 am to 5 pm, except Mondays, when it’s closed.

The combo ticket to Dolmabahce Palace costs 500 Turkish Lira or 26 USD and includes the harem.

Note: At Dolmabahce Palace, you must also leave your passport/ID as a deposit for an audio guide, like at Topkapi Palace.

You can also see the outside of the Dolmabahce Palace from a Bosphorus cruise, as well as many other palaces.

8. Visit the Ortakoy Mosque

Ortakoy Mosque on the Bosphorus waterfront is one of Istanbul’s most beautiful mosques and the top photo spot in the city.

Ortakoy Mosque seen from Bosphorus Cruise, Istanbul
We took this photo from the Bosphorus cruise while passing the Ortakoy Mosque.

Most people visit Ortakoy Mosque for sunrise, as it looks incredible. So you’ll see plenty of photographers and photo shoots in the early morning.

It was a gloomy day when we visited for sunrise, so we couldn’t get those nice photos. But it still looked pretty cool.

Moody early morning at Ortakoy Mosque, Istanbul

And if you want to wake up with the view of Ortakoy Mosque, then book a stay at The Stay Bosphorus, which has an incredible, rare view of the mosque.

The Stay Bosphorus

Also, the area around the Ortakoy Mosque is quite beautiful, and right next to it, you can find the place with the most extensive amount of Kumpir stalls.

Kumpir stalls near Ortakoy Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey

You can pick up your portion of the giant Kumpir potato and enjoy it on the waterfront.

Arijana Tkalčec on Kekova boat tour in Turkey

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9. Go on a Bosphorus cruise

One of our favorite experiences, and the top thing to do in Istanbul, is a cruise on the Bosphorus.

Rumeli Fortress from Bosphorus Cruise, Istanbul
Rumeli Fortress seen from our Bosphorus Cruise.

You can see both the European and Asian sides of the city, and while enjoying the ride, you will be followed by hundreds of seagulls as you take in the mesmerizing views.

Seagulls following the Bosphorus Cruise, Istanbul, Turkey

While cruising the Bosphorus, you will see many palaces built right on the shoreline, as well as some important landmarks of Istanbul, like the Maiden’s Tower.

Beylerbeyi Palace seen from Bosphorus Cruise, Istanbul, Turkey

There are different cruises on the Bosphorus that you can choose from, like the join-in 90-minute cruise, the sunset dinner cruise, or the most expensive, the private yacht cruise.

Option 1: 90-minute Bosphorus and Golden Horn cruise

We opted for a join-in cruise on the Bosphorus, the cheapest way to experience it. You can board one of the bigger boats along the shore near Sultanahmet.

If you do like we did, you can book the ride on the spot at the Sirkeci Terminali or one of the Eminönü ferry terminals for about 75 Turkish Lira or about 4 USD for a 90-minute ride, but you can also book the cruise in advance online.

Option 2: Lunch cruise

Another excellent option for a cruise on the Bosphorus is the Istanbul Lunch Cruise, which lasts longer than the regular 90-minute cruise as it takes you almost to the Black Sea.

Option 3: Sunset dinner cruise

And the sunset or dinner Bosphorus cruises are the perfect way to end the day in Istanbul.

Option 4: Private yacht rental

And if you prefer a more comfortable and private experience, you can book a private yacht to cruise the Bosphorus.

10. Shop at the Grand Bazaar

Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar is the top place to visit for shopping for souvenirs, spices, herbs, teas, snacks, candy, jewelry, and lots more.

Aerial view of huge Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Turkey
Grand Bazaar’s immense size seen from the air.

The Grand Bazaar of Istanbul is the oldest covered market in the world, built in the 15th century, and its immense size can be overwhelming as you get to explore about 4000 stores in the 61 streets of this beast of a market.

The architecture of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul is truly breathtaking, and strolling through the busy maze-like market is quite an experience.

Busy street inside Grand Bazaar, Istanbul, Turkey

Note: Everything changes through time, and so does the Grand Bazaar, meaning that it’s clear that many of the stores are primarily geared towards tourism, so the prices are much higher than one would expect at a market. Nonetheless, it’s very much worth a visit, if nothing else, for the architecture and history!

You can also go shopping in Grand Bazaar with a local:
Istanbul Grand Bazaar Shopping Experience with a Local

Aerial view of the roofs at huge Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Turkey

11. Shop at the Spice Bazaar (Misir Carsisi)

Along the Grand Bazaar, the Egyptian Bazaar/Spice Bazaar of Istanbul is one of the most famous shopping spots, and even though it’s smaller, it still offers plenty of choices.

Various kinds of tea at Egyptian Spice Bazaar, Istanbul

We shopped for lokum (Turkish delight) at the Egyptian (Spice) Bazaar, and with a bit of haggling, you can get a good deal, especially if you take a bit more. 

Lokum, turkish delight at Egyptian Spice Bazaar, Istanbul

Haggling tip: Never agree to the price at face value at these markets, as you can negotiate the prices posted on the stalls, and discounts are always possible. But don’t go overboard! Be sensible and friendly, and you might get a nice deal. In the end, if you’re happy and the merchant is satisfied, it’s a success!

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12. Visit Suleymaniye Mosque

The Süleymaniye Mosque is an iconic Ottoman imperial mosque located on a hill, from where you can get a beautiful scenic view of Istanbul’s skyline and the Bosphorus Strait.

View of Istanbul and Galata Tower from Suleymaniye Mosque

It is one of the largest and most beautiful mosques in the world. And Süleymaniye Mosque was actually the biggest mosque in Istanbul until 2019, when Çamlıca Mosque, the now largest mosque in Turkey, was built on the Asian side.

You can enjoy the beautiful view from the side of the mosque and explore its beautiful inner courtyard.

Suleymaniye Mosque and minarets, Istanbul, Turkey

Unlike what others say, Süleymaniye Mosque is not a hidden gem, and is very much visited by tourists and can get quite crowded. And it’s understandable why, because it looks very cool.

13. Visit Balat, the mix of trendy and traditional

Balat neighborhood of Istanbul is where you can see the mix of trendy, modern, and traditional, as new hip cafes and restaurants pop up in a usually very traditional and conservative place.

Balat has a long history, and it’s one of the oldest districts of Istanbul.

You can visit Balat on the Fener and Balat Walking Tour (including a visit to Pierre Loti Hill and a boat ride on the Golden Horn).

Colorful houses of Balat, Istanbul

Some of the most recognizable and famous attractions in Balat are the colorful houses and the historic wooden homes on the steep hilly streets.

> Click here for the location of the colorful houses of Balat. <

Another popular spot in Balat is the entrance to İncir ağacı kahvesi Cafe, with colorful stairs that everyone visits for some lively photos. And it’s a somewhat cool spot to quickly see when you pass by on your walk up Balat’s streets.

Arijana Tkalcec and Matej Span on colorful stairs in Balat, Istanbul

The rich and diverse history of Balat makes it unique amongst the districts in Istanbul, as it was traditionally the home of many minorities, including Jews, Greeks, and Bulgarians.

Balat is the most hip and trendy place in Istanbul, and there are many cute cafes and restaurants all over now.

We went for a coffee at The Popstel Balat, which has an incredible view of Balat.

Arijana Tkalcec with a cup of coffee with the view of the Red School, Balat, Istanbul

And we got a great view of the hill with the Phanar Greek Orthodox College, the oldest surviving prestigious Greek Orthodox school, as well as the St. Mary of the Mongols, an Eastern Orthodox Church and one of the only remaining Byzantine churches.

Phanar Greek Orthodox College - Red School, Balat, Istanbul
The big building is the Phanar College, and on the right, the small red building is the St. Mary of the Mongols church.

Another cafe we visited was the Rota Balat Coffee, and there are so many other fabulous cafes all around Balat, with new ones popping up the whole time.

And we loved the food at the vegan restaurant Veganarsist. It was delicious!

14. Visit the Princes’ Islands

A perfect day trip from Istanbul is to the nearby Princes’ Islands, a group of 9 islands off the coast of Istanbul where princes and royalty were exiled in the Byzantine Empire.

In recent history, the Princes’ Islands became a popular resort destination for the wealthy of Istanbul. And many of the historical cottages, villas, and houses are still preserved today.

Fun fact: There are no motorized vehicles on the Princes’ Islands.

You can visit the islands on a Princes’ Islands Day Tour from Istanbul or by booking ferry tickets and then staying the day or overnight at one of the hotels.

While we recommend booking your ferry tickets in advance (if you don’t go on a tour), you can also buy your ferry tickets on the spot at the Kabataş pier.

Note: If you visit on a Sunday, or even Saturday, it will be very busy as Istanbul’s residents head out to the islands. So keep that in mind.

We didn’t visit the Princes’ Islands on our last visit to Istanbul, but if we were to visit, we would probably stay a night or two to enjoy it a bit more.

Best places to stay on Büyükada (the big island)

15. Watch a Whirling Dervishes show

The most famous and fascinating show to attend in Istanbul is the Whirling Dervishes Show at HodjaPasha Culture Center.

Whirling Dervishes, Istanbul, Turkey
Thanks for the photo 📸 Alen @be_mesmerized

The whirling dervishes performance is a captivating ancient form of spiritual dance part of Sufism, a mystical form of Islam, and it’s performed by the Mevlevi order, which originates in Turkey’s Konya.

16. Visit the Basilica Cistern

The Basilica Cistern, or Yerebatan Sarnıcı, built in the 6th century in the heart of Istanbul’s Sultanahmet, is the largest underground cistern among the hundreds found in the city.

The architectural design, with its 336 columns and vast size, makes the Basilica Cistern unique. And according to measurements, it can hold around 80000 cubic meters of water (that’s a lot!).

Basilica Cistern, Istanbul, Turkey
Thanks for the photo 📸 Alen @be_mesmerized

The ticket for the Basilica Cistern costs 300 Turkish Lira, or about 16 USD.

The Basilica Cistern in Istanbul is open every day from 9 am to 7 pm.

You can visit the Basilica Cistern by yourself, but we highly recommend booking a skip-the-line guided tour as you will avoid the long queue and get a helpful guide inside.

17. Visit a Hammam for a traditional Turkish bath

Turkey is famous for their spas, and one of the best things to do in Istanbul is a traditional Turkish bath in a Hammam.

Hammams date back to the Ottoman Empire, and many of the historic hammams built in the 15th century are still operational to this day.

One of the oldest and most famous is the almost 600-year-old Aga Hamami near Taksim Square and Istiklal Street.

18. Indulge in a delicious traditional Turkish breakfast

While in Istanbul, you must schedule a delightful Turkish breakfast for one of your mornings.

Turkish breakfast combines sweet and salty dishes with lots of spreads like hummus, jam, and plenty of Turkish tea or Sahlep.

Full table at a Turkish Breakfast in Istanbul, Turkey

We enjoyed two decadent Turkish breakfasts at the very famous Van Kahvalti Evi, not far from Taksim Square and Istiklal Street.

Make sure to order a lot of bread, jams (try the fig jam!), menemen, Gözleme, and delicious Turkish tea or Sahlep.

Hummus at Turkish Breakfast, Istanbul

While Van Kahvalti Evi is the most famous restaurant for a traditional Turkish breakfast in Istanbul, there’s also Doğacıyız Gourmet, Yiğit Sofram Gözleme ve Kahvaltı, and Cafe Privato, which are all equally impressive and are all located near Taksim, Istiklal, and Galata.

Many more great Istanbul restaurants offer a traditional breakfast, but some of the outstanding ones (not mentioned above) are a bit far from the main tourist area. So we’ll explore those on our next visit!

Arijana Tkalčec on Kekova boat tour in Turkey

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19. Try Istanbul’s iconic dishes

Istanbul, with its rich history and position in the world, is a melting pot of cuisines of the neighboring countries as well as its fascinating traditional cuisine full of unique flavors.

There are plenty of iconic Istanbul dishes you should try, including the famous Simit, Kumpir, Baklava, and Lokum (Turkish delight).

1. Lokum

Turkish delight – lokum is a delicious candy based on gel, starch, sugar, chopped fruits, and nuts, and sometimes it’s even wrapped in edible rose petals.

Lokum, turkish delight at Egyptian Spice Bazaar, Istanbul

2. Simit

The famous “Turkish bagel,” called simit, is one of the foods you can find all around Istanbul, and it’s a very affordable and delicious snack you can get for a few Turkish Liras or about 0.2 USD.

And you can get the Simit plain, with a cheese spread, or if you feel like splurging, with Nutella.

3. Kumpir

One of the dishes that surprised us the most on our visit to Istanbul was the giant stuffed baked potato, fully loaded with cheese, various veggies, olives, and sauces called Kumpir.

Kumpir, loaded baked potato, Istanbul, Turkey

4. Baklava

No visit to Istanbul and Turkey is complete without enjoying some delicious freshly made baklava from one of the countless baklava stores.

Baklava is a unique Turkish dessert made from layered dough filled with different crushed nuts and soaked and covered in plenty of sugary syrup.

The best baklava in Istanbul is found at the famous Karaköy Güllüoğlu dessert shop, and you can even get it delivered to your country.

5. Pomegranate juice

Turkey is one of the native lands of the pomegranate fruit, which results in plenty of pomegranate juice stalls spread around the country and Istanbul.

Matej Span with fresh pomegranate juice, Istanbul, Turkey

6. Lentil soup

The humble lentil soup found in Turkey and Istanbul is one of the dishes we loved the most and were looking forward to whenever we went for a Turkish lunch.

Turkey’s lentil soup is a comfort food and a dish you shouldn’t miss on your visit!

Traditional Lentil Soup in Istanbul, Turkey

20. Taste Istanbul’s delights on a food tour

The perfect way to explore Istanbul’s cuisine more in-depth is by joining a food tour that takes you around the different spots in the city, trying various delicious traditional dishes, snacks, and desserts.

We highly recommend the Istanbul Taste of Two Continents Food Tour, as they also take you to the Asian side of Istanbul to try some different foods while giving valuable information on the history and culture of the places you pass by and visit.

> Click here to find the best food tours in Istanbul <

21. Learn about Turkish and Ottoman cuisine on a cooking class

And if you want an even more in-depth knowledge about the Turkish and Ottoman cuisine then you can join a cooking class or workshop while in Istanbul.

Check out these recommended classes on Cookly:

And there’s even an excellent Turkish Coffee Making Workshop we found where you learn how to make it yourself and learn about the history, tradition, and culture behind it.

22. Eat, drink, and enjoy the view of Hagia Sophia and Bosphorus from a rooftop

At the famous Seven Hills Restaurant in Istanbul, you can enjoy a delicious meal, drink some Turkish tea or coffee and enjoy the view of the Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, and the Bosphorus from their famous rooftop.

Istanbul is known as the city of seven hills, and once you step foot in the city, you will realize why.

And there’s absolutely going to be a hill or two for you to conquer.

Let that be the one from the Galata Bridge to the Galata Bridge, the hills around Sultanahmet, or the hills leading towards Taksim and Istiklal street.

Rooftop view of Bosphorus from Seven Hills Restaurant, Istanbul

The Seven Hills restaurant is just a few minutes from Hagia Sophia, so it’s easily reachable, and you can also stay at the Seven Hills Hotel.

Though the Seven Hills restaurant is the most famous one, there are quite a few others we can recommend, like Old House Restaurant Terrace, Ararat Terrace Restaurant & Rooftop, and Queb Lounge.

23. Snap photos at the hip photo spots of Istanbul

Istanbul has exciting street art, graffiti, colorful stairs, and hanging umbrellas that are great photo spots across Balat, Karaköy, Galata, and Eminönü.

We stumbled upon a few of these street art spots, so here’s a list of them if you want to check them out!

Note: Depending on the upkeep, some of these stairs might have much less color left. But we did find a few more spots while walking from the area of Dolmabahce towards Galata, crossing the hilly streets (no idea how to find them, though). So new spots might pop up as well.

Woman depicted on colorful stairs, Istanbul, Turkey

24. Go clubbing

Although Turkey’s main religion and culture are Islam, it’s a secular country, so the party scene in Istanbul is very much alive.

You can experience the vibrant nightlife of Istanbul with people from all corners of the world and hit the various clubs of Istanbul in the heart of partying near Taksim on an Istanbul Pub Crawl.

25. Find a book at the Second Hand Book Bazaar

Of the many bazaars (markets), Sahaflar Çarşısı, the second-hand book market is the most specific one, as its primary purpose is supplying the city’s demand for good quality second-hand books.

And because this is Turkey, there were plenty of cute cats around the market.

26. Run the Istanbul Marathon

Last but not least, running the Istanbul Marathon is the most unique thing you can do in Istanbul, as it’s the only marathon in the world that spans two continents, beginning in Asia and finishing in Europe.

We were lucky to be in Istanbul at the time of the Istanbul Marathon in November 2021, and it’s been on our list of things we want to do ever since.

Men finishing Istanbul Marathon, Turkey

It was such a great vibe, as everyone was cheering each other on.

And we loved seeing the diversity of the participants, from men to women, from young, to old, as well as disabled and from all kinds of aspects of life and nationalities.

Arijana Tkalčec and Matej Špan on a hot air balloon flight in Cappadocia

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For digital nomads or full-time travelers, we recommend SafetyWing, which includes brief visits to your home country every 3 months abroad.

Trips from Istanbul

Istanbul is the perfect starting point for a day trip to Troy, Gallipoli, and Bursa and doing a road trip down south to the Turquoise coast of Turkey or flying out to destinations like Ephesus, Pamukkale, and Cappadocia.

We rented a car in Istanbul and covered Bursa, Izmir, Fethiye, Oludeniz, Kas, and Antalya, and then headed up to Konya and Ankara before returning to Istanbul.

> Click here to find the best car rental deals in Istanbul <

1. Go on a day trip to ancient Troy and Gallipoli

You can go on a day trip to Troy or Gallipoli, or combine it on an overnight, 2 days 1 night Gallipoli and Troy Tour.

2. Go on a day trip to Bursa

Bursa is also a great place to visit from Istanbul, even though it’s about a 3 hours ride away. And one of the places near Bursa worth seeing is the 700-year-old ottoman village.

We visited Bursa with a car on our way south towards Izmir.

Cumalikizik in Bursa, Turkey

Note: If you want to visit Bursa on an organized trip from Istanbul, beware of the scam tours found online. Most group tours we saw are purely focused on stopping at souvenir/clothes shops and very little on making it an enjoyable experience.

We researched extensively and combed through the high-rated tours and found mostly fake reviews.

So the best option is choosing the Private Bursa City Day Trip by Adore Tour that caters to your wishes specifically.

3. Fly out to Ephesus and Pamukkale

Domestic flights from Istanbul to Izmir are frequent and affordable, so it also makes sense if you want to do a trip to Ephesus (near Izmir) and Pamukkale.

There are also tours that offer 1, 2, or 3-day packages.

4. Fly out to Cappadocia

The flight from Istanbul to Cappadocia (Kayseri or Nevsehir airport) is fast, and you can easily fly into Cappadocia in the afternoon or evening and then do a hot air balloon flight the next morning.

Hot air balloons take off from Goreme, Cappadocia
Magical morning in Cappadocia.

5. Multi-day Turkey trip from Istanbul

It’s also very convenient to go on multi-day Turkey trips that start from Istanbul, covering the main attractions and destinations of the country.

Best time to visit Istanbul

Istanbul is a year-round destination, but the best time to visit is in the spring and autumn when the weather is nice, and it’s not too hot, from mid-March to June and between September and November.

Summer in Istanbul is hot, and the temperature is between 30 and 35 degrees Celsius, but it’s mostly the humidity you will feel the most. So we highly recommend starting your days as early as possible.

We visited Istanbul in September, October, and November, and although November is already going towards winter, it was still a pleasurable time.

Winters in Istanbul can even bring snow in December, January, and February, and that’s when Istanbul looks even more fascinating. Although the snow doesn’t really stick around for too long, a few days tops.

Due to Istanbul’s location between several different climate zones and having the Mediterranean on the south and the Black Sea on the north, its weather is often unpredictable.

Suleymaniye Mosque at sunset, Istanbul, Turkey

How to get to Istanbul

Istanbul is a major tourist destination and travel hub between Europe and Asia due to its strategic location and the massive airport serving numerous airlines and routes.

Flying into the Istanbul Airport (IST) or the other major airport Sabiha Gokcen is easy from any European and many Asian locations.

> Click here to check flight deals from Europe <

> Click here to check flight deals from the United States <

> Click here to check flight deals from Asia <

There are fixed-rate taxis and transfers available at Istanbul’s new airport, but you can also book your airport transfer online in advance (from and to the airport).

Likewise, you can book your Sabiha Gokcen Airport Transfer in advance online.

Istanbul is also reachable by bus from other Turkish cities and neighboring countries Greece, Bulgaria, and even from other Balkan countries.

> Find bus and train tickets to Istanbul on Omio <

> Find bus and train tickets to Istanbul on 12Go <

Book your bus:

How to get around Istanbul

The best way to get around Istanbul is by walking between most of the attractions in each district and then using the metro, tram, bus, and ferry to get between them.

Istanbul is notorious for its traffic jams, especially around the busy hours in the morning, between 7 am and 10 am, and in the afternoon, between 5 pm and 7 pm.

We were unfortunate on a few occasions when we were stuck in a traffic jam in a taxi when we were moving between Sultanahmet and Taksim, and it cost us a lot of money.

So we highly recommend using public transport in Istanbul, as it’s very effective and affordable.

Yellow taxi under a big Turkish flag, Istanbul

Istanbul Transport Card

You can book an Istanbul Transport Card online that gives you a set amount of rides, 5, 10, or 20, that you can use for the metro, tram, bus, and ferry. And you can pick it up at the airport or one of the city offices, or even at your hotel.

Istanbulkart

You can also buy the official Istanbulkart at the airport, metro stations, and tram stations from one of the automated yellow/blue machines for about 60 Turkish Lira and then top it up with how much you think you will spend. We suggest topping up about 100 TL, which will get you about ten rides.

And you can, of course, buy one-time tickets at the machines at the public transport stations, but they cost more, and it’s a bigger hassle.

Tram Station ticket sales point, Istanbul, Turkey

And you can also go around the city with the Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus Tour and the Eurasia Bike & Boat Half-Day Tour.

And if you have your own itinerary in mind and want to explore the city at your own pace, you can hire a private car with a driver.

Where to stay in Istanbul

The best place to stay in Istanbul for tourists and short-term visitors is the areas of Sultanahmet, Sirkeci, and Beyoğlu (Galata, Istiklal, Taksim).

Staying in one of these places will allow you to explore Istanbul easily on foot and, when needed, hop aboard public transport.

We stayed in an apartment near Taksim square and a hotel in Sultanahmet so that we could explore both parts of Istanbul on foot.

Galata Tower and Suleymaniye Mosque seen at night, Istanbul, Turkey
View from our terrace at night (zoom lens on camera).

Taksim is better for apartments and bigger rooms, while Sultanahmet’s old city part is primarily full of hotels with smaller rooms, except for the more expensive and bigger hotels.

No matter where you stay in Istanbul, make sure it’s close to one of the public transport lines, either the bus or the tram, as it’s going to make exploring Istanbul a breeze.

Top-rated hotels in Istanbul’s Sultanahmet

> Click here to find all the top-rated hotels in Sultanahmet <

Top-rated hotels near Taksim Square and Istiklal

> Click here to find the best hotel deals near Istiklal Street and Taksim Square <

Top-rated hotels near Galata Tower

> Click here to find the best hotel deals near Galata Tower <

Where to eat in Istanbul

Finding a great place to eat in Istanbul is easy as there are countless great restaurants in all the districts, with all kinds of food, from local Turkish to Greek, Italian, and Indian to whichever other international cuisine you can think of.

> Check out the top-rated Istanbul restaurants on TripAdvisor <

And here are some of the places we’d like to highlight.

Turkish breakfast spots

Vegan/vegetarian restaurants

How many days in Istanbul is enough?

Istanbul is a big city with lots to do and to properly explore and experience it, we recommend at least three full days plus an extra day or two for trips outside of Istanbul.

Arijana Tkalcec in old town of Istanbul

Is Istanbul expensive?

Being the unofficial capital, Istanbul is, of course, the most expensive city in Turkey, but it’s still very much affordable for most tourists, as it caters to all kinds of budgets.

Along the fancy restaurants and luxurious hotels, there are plenty of budget accommodations and more affordable places to eat, like the local “Lokantasi” buffet-style restaurants with delicious home-cooked meals.

Tickets for visiting Istanbul’s attractions tend to cost a bit of money, especially if you plan to visit all or most of them, but you can at least get them a bit cheaper with the tourist pass or welcome card.

Aerial view of Galata Tower and Karakoy boat port seen, Istanbul, Turkey

The transport in Istanbul is quite affordable, with one ride on the metro or tram costing around half a euro/dollar if you get the Istanbulkart.

All in all, Istanbul offers a lot for budget travelers and likewise for travelers with a bigger spending budget.

What to pack?

While Turkey is a Muslim and more conservative country, you’re more or less free to dress as you usually would. They’re not as strict.

However, please be respectful when visiting religious sites, as you need to dress respectfully. Especially women, who need to cover their heads, shoulders, and knees. 

Taking a long dress, skirt, or pants for women visiting Istanbul is recommended. Arijana also always takes a sarong with her to cover her head or shoulders when needed. While many religious sites provide cover for free or for a small fee, we like to be prepared.

Here is a general packing list for Istanbul:

Packing regular T-shirts while visiting Istanbul is also a must. We love our Unbound Merino T-shirts as they’re lightweight and breathable, plus they don’t get stinky that fast. And that means we can reuse them more than regular T-Shirts.

They also have hoodies, great long sleeves, and even a dress for women, which we love!

We have a discount for our readers if you want to try merino clothing.

Use code SHIPPEDAWAY to get a 10% discount at Unbound Merino.

Is Istanbul a safe destination?

While Istanbul has had a few devastating events in the last two decades, it’s still a very much safe destination, and the Turkish people are warm and welcoming.

And a fact that further confirms that Istanbul is safe is that it’s steadily on the list of the world’s most visited destinations.

Arijana Tkalčec and Matej Špan on a hot air balloon flight in Cappadocia

Need reliable Travel Insurance for Turkey?

With 24/7 worldwide assistance, Heymondo insurance includes comprehensive coverage for medical expenses, trip cancellations, and baggage loss or delay.

For digital nomads or full-time travelers, we recommend SafetyWing, which includes brief visits to your home country every 3 months abroad.

How to spot and avoid scams in Istanbul?

As with any other bigger city in the world, in Europe, Asia, Africa, or South America, you need to be mindful of the common tourist scams that take place here.

NOTE: These are not just Istanbul-specific scams but are more or less global.

Taxi scam

Taxi scams are common in any big city, and Istanbul is also notorious for its taxi mafia, which doesn’t want to use the meter for your ride or takes a super long route to get as much money from you as possible.

What to do: Only use metered taxis and follow the route on your phone (Google Maps), so if the taxi is spinning around in circles and taking weird detours, you know to stop him and exit.

Money switch scam

When you hand over money while paying for a service or product, be aware of how much money you give, as sometimes they might want to try to make it seem like you gave too little money.

How it’s done is that if they notice you’re not following what they’re doing, they might exchange a bigger denomination note, like a 50 note for 5, and then show you that you gave too little money while they pocket the actual money you gave.

What to do: Just be mindful of how much money you paid and watch the cashier/salesman until the transaction is done and you either get your change or a bill.

Prices charged in euros or dollars and not in Turkish Lira scam

While shopping in Istanbul, you may encounter a situation where if you pay by card, they might charge you the amount in a currency like US dollars or Euros instead of the actual price in Turkish Lira.

So, for example, the price of a carpet is 500 Turkish Lira, but they would put the price on the card machine as 500 USD.

What to do: Before paying with a card, ensure the price is exactly as advertised and in Turkish Lira. Or just end up paying in cash if you feel that the seller is sketchy.

Pickpocketing

As with any major city and tourist destination, pickpocketing is possible, especially if you’re unaware of your surroundings and belongings.

We’ve seen many videos of how easy it is for skilled pickpockets to steal something from you, and it’s ridiculous how good they are.

What to do: While walking in crowded places, put your bag in front of you, and don’t have anything in your back pockets.

Shoe polishing scam

While walking around Istanbul, a shoe shiner will “drop” his brush down on the ground in front of you, so you pick it up, and then he tries to persuade you to clean your footwear, but if you do accept, it’s going to be an astronomical price.

What to do: If you need your shoes polished/shined/cleaned, approach a legitimate shoe shiner along the streets and negotiate the price beforehand.

Overfriendly strangers promoting their bar scam

Don’t fall into the scam where a random stranger approaches you on the street and addresses you as his/her “friend” and tries to get you into a restaurant/bar in an overly friendly way.

The place you’ll end up in is where you will be served overpriced drinks, often ones you didn’t even ask for, and you will end up paying incredibly high prices.

What to do: Don’t go anywhere with a stranger that randomly popped up in front of you on the street.

Thinking something is free of charge scam

When you’re going for a meal in a restaurant or drinks in a bar, always ask if the appetizers or provided “complimentary” nuts/candy are free or not. Although in many restaurants, you do genuinely get free appetizers, it won’t always be the case.

What to do: Simply ask when you receive what looks like complimentary appetizers in a restaurant if it’s free, and the same for free nuts/candy in a bar.

Carpet shop scam

As with the scam involving strangers approaching you to bring you to their restaurants or bars to overcharge you, it’s very common to get invited into a carpet shop, where again, they will charge astronomical prices.

How it’s usually done is that they try to find a clever way to get you to their shop; for example, if you’re asking for directions, the person might take a detour to one of the shops.

What to do: Ideally, try not to get lost, but if you do and the person you asked for directions is taking you somewhere that looks like a setup, leave.

Is Istanbul worth visiting?

In conclusion, Istanbul’s popularity is there for a reason, and we can confirm that Istanbul is definitely worth visiting for its fascinating history, delicious food, and lots of things to do.


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Arijana & Matej
Arijana & Matej

Full-time travelers, photographers, bloggers and travel journalists.

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We're Arijana and Matej, a couple and travel blogging duo from Croatia and Slovenia who thrive while slow-traveling. And we have been doing it for over 4 years.

During and after our travels, we love publishing in-depth, researched and above-all, useful travel guides, full of personal first-hand information on the places we personally visited.

Our mission with this blog is to help future travelers have an even better vacation or adventure in the spots we write about.
> You can read more about our mission and how we go about writing these guides in our Writing Ethics page.

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