Istanbul, that bridge between the East and the West, remains one of the most interesting places you’ll ever visit. It’s packed with historical buildings that showcase Byzantine and Ottoman architecture but is a hotspot for evening entertainment with rock and jazz regaling party lovers.
Just as easily as you can find centuries-old hammans, you’ll find swanky malls displaying the latest in fashion. This beautiful blend of differences means that there are plenty of things to do in Istanbul to engage in no matter what your preference is.
10 things to do in Istanbul
Be it architecture, art, culture, food, or people, checkout these top ten things to do in Istanbul that will take you through the rich heritage of the Russian gems.
1. Visit the Hagia Sophia
The splendid Hagia Sophia is a must-see when in Istanbul. The church turned mosque turned museum is almost 15 centuries old and as you climb up to the gallery, you’ll be greeted with incredible Byzantine mosaics. Look up at the ceiling to see the great dome that seems to hover under the reflection of light.
Timings: Open seven days a week from 9am onwards
Entry Fees: 40 TL. Free for children below 12 years.
Location: Sultan Ahmet Mahallesi, Ayasofya Meydanı, 34122 Istanbul
2. Head to Topkapi Palace
Along with Hagia Sophia, visiting Topkapi Palace is one of the top 10 things to do in Istanbul. It’s located right near Hagia Sophia so you can visit them both in a couple of hours. The palace was once the residence of the Ottoman sultans and today houses a museum. The collection includes weapons used by the Ottomans, Chinese and Japanese porcelains and copper kitchenware among others.
Timings: Open every day except on Tuesdays. Winter Season: October 30th-April 15th (9am to 4.45pm). Summer Season: April 15th-October 30th (9am to 6.45pm)
Entry fees: 40 TL.
Location: Cankurtaran Mh., 34122 Istanbul
3. Relax at a hammam
One of the fun things to do in Istanbul is to unwind at a hammam. The famous Turkish bath houses were a popular fixture during Ottoman rule and continue to be widely visited by locals and tourists. You can go for the works including a scrub and a soap massage after which you can make use of the sauna and the pool, or opt only for a scrub and a massage.
Best hammams in Istanbul: Mihrimah Sultan Hamamı, Ağa Hamamı, Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı, Cemberlitas Hamami and Ayasofya Hürrem Sultan Hamamı
4. Attend a whirling dervish show
What better place is there to watch dervishes whirl than in Turkey? It’s one of the top things to do in Istanbul whether it’s your first time here or your 10th! Head to the Galata Mevlevi Museum to see this devotional act performed.
Timings: Every Sunday at 5pm in summer and every other week in winter
Entry fees: 70 TL.
Location: Şahkulu Mh., Galip Dede Cd. No:15, 34420 Beyoğlu/Istanbul
5. Explore the Basilica Cistern
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Our list of things to do in Istanbul Turkey continues with an exploration of the ancient Basilica Cistern. Built during the Byzantine period, the subterranean chamber is located close to the Hagia Sophia and features large marble columns that hold up the ceiling. Carvings of Medusa’s head are even used as column bases.
Timings: 9am to 5.30pm
Entry fees: 20 TL.
Location: Alemdar Mahallesi, Yerebatan Caddesi, No: 1/3, Istanbul 34410
6. Shop at the Grand Bazaar
Old, large and packed with things that would tempt even a non-shopper, the Grand Bazaar is a colorful market featuring more than 3,000 shops. Haggling for bargains in this massive 15th century market is one of the best activities in Istanbul Turkey. You can find spices, fabric, antiques and home décor items to take back home.
Best places to shop in Grand Bazaar: Yazzma, Eski Fine Arts and Antiques, Abdulla, Özlem Tuna and more.
7. Enjoy the nightlife!
Turkey’s capital is a happening city with a vibrant nightlife that you absolutely can’t miss. Bars, jazz clubs and nightclubs stay open till the wee hours and one of the best things to do in Istanbul is to explore them. If you crave a local flavor, you can head to venues that host bands playing Turkish-style rock or the more traditional fasil. Aside from chilled vibes and great music, you can expect to gorge on delicious Turkish and international cuisines.
Best nightlife spots in Istanbul: Tarihi Cumhuriyet Meyhanesi, Nardis Jazz Club, Balkon Restaurant & Bar, 360 Istanbul and Leb-i Derya
8. Cruise on the Bosporus
Bosporus is an important strait in Turkey and one of the narrowest in the world. Cruising down the waterway is a heady experience as you get to see much of Istanbul. In fact, it’s among the top activities to do in Istanbul. What’s even better is that you don’t necessarily need to splurge; you can take a public ferry and enjoy watching the city’s sights. If you do want to pamper yourself a bit, there are private tours that can be booked.
Best Bosphorus cruise tours: Şehir Hatları and Zoe Yacht
9. Visit Miniatürk
Ninth on our list of what to do in Istanbul turkey is to visit Miniatürk. It’s the best way to see Istanbul in near entirety. The miniature park is spread across 60,000 square meters and features over 100 models in 1/25th scale with nearly 50 of them representing popular landmarks of the city. It also has models of historic structures from different parts of Turkey and a few from other countries such as the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus.
The park has other attractions as well including a gift shop – perfect for picking up souvenirs – and a labyrinth. There’s also a playground for children.
Timings: 9am to 6pm
Entry fees: 15 TL.
Location: Imrahor Caddesi | Sutluce, Istanbul 34445
10. Take a walk through Istiklal Avenue
Rounding up our Istanbul what to do list is Istiklal Avenue, the city’s most famous avenue that sees around three million people passing through each day. The bustle can be overwhelming at times but it’s an unforgettable experience for those who love the energy of a city. Old mixes with new so that fast food joints jostle for space with old establishments. The avenue has numerous attractions and exploring them is one of the best things to do in Istanbul in April as the weather begins to warm but isn’t hot.
Best attractions in Istiklal Avenue: Saray Muhallebicisi, Galata Mevlevihanesi, heritage trams, SALT Beyoğlu, Flower Passage and Hazzo Pulo Pasaji among others.
Truly, Istanbul is one of the best cities in the world to experience a fine blend of culture, modernity, and history. So what do you think about this trending tourist attraction? Do let us know in the comments section below.
Frequently Asked Questions About Istanbul
Q: What is the best time to visit Istanbul?
A: The best time to visit Istanbul is from the months of March to May and September to November.
Q: What are the best things to do in Istanbul with kids?
A: Visit best places like Miniaturk, Legoland, Rahmi M Koç Museum, and more, and spend quality time with your kids at the Princes’ Islands, Galata Tower, and more in Istanbul.
Q: How many days are enough to explore Istanbul at its best?
A: A minimum of 3 to 4 days is enough to explore the best of Istanbul with your friends and family.