Istanbul Bucket List: 15 Best Things to do in Istanbul, Turkey

Hagia Sophia Museum - Best Things to do in Istanbul photo Blaque X via Unsplash
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Top Tourist Spots and Best Things to do in Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul, the capital city of Turkey is among the top 10 list of most visited cities in the world, with annual visitors of 10.7 million. This is not surprising, Istanbul has a lot of astounding places. The city spans two continents- Europe and Asia. That is insane, and it is for this reason that Istanbul brims with juxtapositions. While the city radiates diverse modernity, the country’s deep-rooted culture, tradition, and history still remain indisputably prevalent.

Hagia Sophia Museum - Best Things to do in Istanbul photo Blaque X via Unsplash
Hagia Sophia Museum – Best Things to do in Istanbul photo Blaque X via Unsplash

This can be seen in the city’s many cultural facets, for example, Istanbul is largely a Muslim city and it is abundant with attractive mosques, with calls to prayer dominating the air at every corner of the street. Yet, the city still remains the home to Hagia Sophia, one of the largest cathedrals in the world. This contrasting culture is just one of the many reasons that make Istanbul such a mesmerizing place to see.

With plenty of things to see and do in this vibrant city, below are top 15 places to see and go to in Istanbul.

15 best things to do in Istanbul

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Visit the Blue Mosque

The Blue Mosque Istanbul by Fatih Yurur via Unsplash
The Blue Mosque Istanbul by Fatih Yurur via Unsplash

The Blue Mosque is also sometimes called the Sultan Ahmed. This incredible religious building is a sight to behold. First, it is made up of 5 major domes and 6 small turrets, then the interior is decorated with more than 20,000 handmade color blue tiles. When visiting the mosque, it is recommended to dress modestly, but still, you will be offered scarves to cover your head with.

Visit Hagia Sophia 

Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia is a true manifestation of Istanbul’s religious history. The building used to be an Orthodox Cathedral between 532 and 1453 after which it was converted into a mosque. It was then secularized in 1931 and was made a museum. Despite being an exhibition hall, Hagia Sophia is still regarded as the world’s second largest cathedral. The giant domes, as well as intricate mosaics, are quite scenic. You will have to book in advance a guided tour to skip the waiting line.

Marvel in Topkapi Palace

Inside Topkapi Palace
Inside Topkapi Palace

Topkapi Palace has been home for Sultans and their wives for many generations, and a visit here you will get to learn a bit about the fascinating history of Turkey’s royal history. You can explore a lot on these sites. There are several options in regard to tour operations, but it is probably a good idea to book a guided tour of the premises.

Take a Ferry Ride

Istanbul River Cruise
Istanbul River Cruise

You will best appreciate this bustling city from the river. If you were dazzled taking in the city from the streets, try viewing it from the river. It is quite awe-inspiring! Since you are planning for a ferry ride, may we recommend doing it at sunset- it is breathtaking. You can take it a notch higher and book a 3-course dinner cruise, this is the ultimate fascination, which includes a variety of entertainment such as fork dancing as well as traditional dancing.

Ride around in Tram

Istanbul Tram
Istanbul Tram

To have the full experience of Istanbul modernity, head over to Taksim Square. This is one of Istanbul’s top tourist spots, and you will find a lot of restaurants and cafes, high-end shops and hotels. Here you can catch a tram from Taksim all the down to Istiklal. You can also get off the tram and just wander the busy street of Istiklal in the evening.

More room for entertainment? Get an Istanbul Tourist Pass

If you are having the time of your life in Istanbul, and want to have more, consider pre-purchasing a week Istanbul Tourist Pass. It will prove to be good value for your money too. The tourist pass includes entrance to the city’s major attractions, Dinner Cruise, Turkish Bath Experience, Bosphorus, a public transport card, and Hop-on Hop-off Bus Tour.

Lost in Grand Bazaar

Grand Bazaar Istanbul by Ridwan Meah via Unsplash
Grand Bazaar Istanbul by Ridwan Meah via Unsplash

A visit to Grand Bazaar should be among your Istanbul itinerary. This is the most visited spot in the entire city. This is a must experience. The perpetual hive of activity in this marketplace is just amazing. Locals will be selling everything ranging from gorgeous handmade rugs to complex jewelry and stunning lanterns that exudes all the colors in the rainbow.

Spice up your stay at Spice Market

Istanbul Spice Market
Istanbul Spice Market

Come to Spice Market to experience the true taste of Turkey. The market offers about all the spice in the world, alongside dried fruits, nuts, candy, delicious teas, and Turkish Delight.

Eat seafood under Galata Bridge

Seafood in Turkey
Seafood in Turkey

Seafood under Galata Bridge is an unbeatable experience. You will find slightly overpriced restaurants that will persistently try to get you to enter their door. Don’t give in. Just head straight and you will find a local vendor, ask for a fish sandwich and enjoy the sublime view under Bosphorus River.

Chat with shop owner over a Turkish Apple Tea

Turkish Apple Tea by Isriya Paireepairit via Flickr CC
Turkish Apple Tea by Isriya Paireepairit via Flickr CC

Tea is a huge symbol of hospitality in Turkey and you once touch down in Istanbul, you will find it in every restaurant, café, and even houses you go. Here, shopkeepers offer tea to customers as a symbol of friendship and hospitality.  Don’t be those people who refuse things from strangers. Grab the cup of Turkish Apple Tea and get to learn one of the country’s strongest traditions.

Have a family dinner with local

This will blow your mind. Did you know you can actually book to have a home-cooked feast with a local family in Turkey? Head over to Sultanahmet and you will get deeper knowledge into the real Turkish culture.

Try corn on the cob

corn on the cob in Istanbul
corn on the cob in Istanbul

The wafting smoke and aroma of freshly cooked corn are common in the streets of Istanbul. The vendors have truly mastered the art of grilling corn on the cob. Have corn this on-the-go but don’t forget to ask for a toothpick – unless you are from Kenya, in which case you are good to go.

Try Turkish Ice-cream

Turkish Ice Cream Maker
Turkish Ice Cream Maker

This looks more like normal ice-cream, it actually tastes the same. The difference is the texture. The melt-resistant ingredient used to make it unique.

Taste the Gozleme

Gozleme
Gozleme

The most common food in Istanbul. It is quite similar to a crepe, the Turkish people love Gozleme a lot and it is their favorite. Just have a bite and you will know why it is revered in Turkish so much.

Try the Simit

Simit Bread
Simit Bread

Another local’s favorite food, Simit is like a mash-up of pretzel and bagel. It is the cheapest snack in the streets of Istanbul. You can eat it plain or with preserves such as cream cheese or jam.

Istanbul Tour Packages

Istanbul Travel and Tour Packages

Istanbul Classics Tour

Istanbul Tour Packages photo via KLOOK
Istanbul Tour Packages photo via KLOOK

Immerse yourself in Istanbul’s wonderful history and lively culture with this one day tour that takes you to some of the old city’s most popular and iconic landmarks.

Istanbul Classics TourBOOK THIS TOUR

Check out our complete list of recommended Hotels in Istanbul, Turkey via Agoda or you may also see available Airbnb properties in the city.

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