Top 13 things to do in Istanbul | Complete Guide


Straddling two continents, the city of Istanbul embraces its mixture of European and Asian culture. This city has a very fascinating history and is filled with many historical sites. Additionally, this city is a shopping paradise, nightlife hub, offers delicious food and is home to beautiful neighborhoods.  Overall this city is a must on your itinerary. Following is our picks of the top things to do in Istanbul.


1. Visit the iconic Hagia Sophia

  • Remember seeing this beautiful mosque with huge domes in pictures on Instagram? This is the one.
  • Once the largest church in the world, it then became a mosque in 1453, and now a museum. This splendid monument is among the world’s greatest architectural achievements and naturally one of the most visited landmark of Istanbul.
  • Since it is one of Istanbul’s most visited attractions, there is almost always a big queue at the ticket counter (especially in high season). To avoid that, we recommend that you buy your ticket in advance from Tukish Government website (Cost: 100 Turkish Lira). But since this monument has a great history connected to it, we would recommended taking a guided tour (booking link given below).

2. Visit the beautiful Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque)

  • The Blue Mosque is right opposite the Hagia Sophia. It is the largest and the most beautiful (in my opinion) mosque in Istanbul.
  • Even if you are of a different faith/religion, you will be allowed to enter the mosque for free. However, you will have to keep a few things in mind:
    • Visitors are not allowed during the prayer time so, plan accordingly.
    • Women are required to cover their head and avoid body hugging clothes completely.

3. Visit the largest cistern in Istanbul: Basilica Cistern

  • This is a huge cistern located in the historic center of Istanbul.  This cistern was constructed in the 6th century and was used to store and supply water to the Great Palace of Constantinople as well as other buildings on the First Hill.
  • It can hold up to 17.5 million gallons of water, that’s massive!. You can visit the cistern and see the endless(total 336) columns with dim lighting which gives a slightly spooky feel. If you are into history, we recommend taking a guided tour (link given below).
  • Opens daily from 9am to 7pm. The tickets cost around 20 turkish Lira.


4. Visit the grand Topkapi Palace

  • Located north of Hagia Sophia, this palace was once the residence and governing chair of the Sultans. Today this beautiful palace serves as a museum exhibiting all the details of the historic rule of the Ottoman Empire.
  • The palace has numerous buildings and a gigantic garden.
  • You need to pay a separate entrance fee to enter the Harem area (the separate part of a Muslim household reserved for wives, concubines, and female servants) of the palace. Needless to mention, if you are into history, you will definitely find the extra 35 Lira worth.
  • Entrance fees: 60 Turkish Lira for the main palace(+ 35 Turkish Lira for the Harem)

5. Visit the fascinating Grand Bazaar

  • This is a 500 years old market in Istanbul located right in the historic city center.
  • This market contains approximately 5000 shops, 60 streets and multiple restaurants, just imagine how gigantic it is. It also contains 12 mosques and even a school.
  • Everything is available here ranging from from leather and textile goods to jewelry, souvenirs and sweets.
  • It reportedly attracts up to half a million people every day. Being so big and crowded, it’s hard not to get lost. Just remember where you entered before you start wandering around.

6. Walk the famous Galata Bridge

  • This bridge stretches across the Golden Horn. It connects the historic city center (Sultanahmet area) with modern Istanbul (Beyoglu area). This bridge is two-floors high: the upper section is where traffic flows, while the bottom section is home to numerous restaurants.
  • This bridge is almost always packed with people. You can come here for a drink at sunset and soak in the vibe of the place with boats passing by and the beautiful view of the Sultanahmet.

7. Enjoy the spectacular views of Istanbul from Galata Tower

  • The small viewing platform on the Galata Tower provided one of the best panoramic views of Istanbul.
  • Since the tower is very popular, you can expect to wait up to minimum 30 minutes. But once you reach the top you will forget the wait!
  • The 360 ​​degree view is simply spectacular and the viewing terrace is fairly easy to reach. There is a lift that takes you almost to the top, and you have to walk the last two floors.
  • The circular viewing platform is very narrow, so it can be a bit pack and crowded up there. The rush is usually the worst just before sunset as that is best time, the view simple makes all the effort worth!
  • Entry fees is 35 Turkish Lira

8. Watch the sunset while sipping your drink at 360 Istanbul

  • 360 Istanbul is a restaurant, club and bar. As the name suggests, from the terrace of this bar you can experience a spectacular view over the city.
  • Being one of the best sunset bars with a view in the city, the prices are quite high obviously! Thus to avoid a hole in your pocket, we would recommend coming here just for a cocktail or two!
  • This place is very famous and almost always crowded with tourists and even the locals. So we recommend you to book your table in advance from 360 Istanbul website for the perfect time slot.

9. Visit the shopping street of Istiklal Caddesi and lively Taksim Square

  • Beyoglu is one of the most famous and touristy area of Istanbul.  This is home to the city’s most famous shopping street: Istiklal Caddesi. This street stretches from Galata Tower all the way to the famous Taksim Square.
  • Here you can spot the red historic tram make its way through the crowds. This area is almost always filled with tourists and is buzzing all day and all evening long. In the night, the crowd shifts into the nearby bars and restaurants.

10. Soak in breathtaking views of Golden Horn from Pierre Loti Hill

  • The top of Pierre Loti Hill offers breathtaking views of the Golden Horn. You can reach here by taking a 10 minute cable car ride from Eyüp.
  • The viewpoint has a chic cafe where you can enjoy the views while sipping a drink.
  • This hill is one of Istanbul’s oldest and biggest burial ground. If you stroll on the cemetery paths, you can find the names of recognized politicians, writers etc. buried in this famous location.

11. Cruise between two continents

  • The Bosphorus strait splits Istanbul into two continents, Asia and Europe. So taking a boat trip across the strait is highly recommended, as you will be cruising between two continents.
  • Why we recommend this cruise is because you can see a striking difference between the Europe side and Asia side of Istanbul in terms of architecture, vibe, etc. and what better way to experience this than cruising around!
  • There are numerous providers offering trips from 1 hour to 7-8 hours long. However, i would personally recommend going for the 1 hour sunset cruise. Sunset time provides the best views of both continents.

12. Relax at the Turkish hamam

  • After all that walking, exploring and sightseeing, a real Turkish bath experience is the best way to unwind in the city.
  • I would recommend Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamam (this is the one i went to but there are a lot of options) and let yourself be washed and massaged in a cloud of soap bubbles, after which you’ll want nothing but to take a nap in your hotel room.
  • It’s more of an experience and cannot be described in words. We strongly suggest that you go for a private hamam as opposed to a public hamam.

13. Asian side of Istanbul

  • The Asian side of Istanbul is beautiful and contrasting to the European side. It is very close to the city center,  20 minutes by ferry to be exact.
  • Kadiköy is good starting point to start exploring the Asian side.  You will be surprised to discover a completely different atmosphere as opposed to the European side even being in the same city.
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