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10 Best Things to Do in Istanbul, Turkey

Straddling Asia and Europe, torn apart by the Bosphorus Strait boundary, the city of Istanbul in Turkey is built on years of cultural heritage and religious history. With the city being where the two continents collide, Istanbul is a world of its own when it comes to its mesmerizing blend of Byzantine, Roman, and Ottoman empires’ traditions and culture; from its architecture to its religious landmarks and diverse historical sites, steeped in over 2500 years of history. 

Whether it’s the remnants of past civilizations that catch your eye or the imposing spiritual sights that dominate its scenic landscapes, Istanbul is a destination that everyone should visit at least once in their lifetimes. 

You can easily explore the stretches of this city in a week or even 5 days, and many even maximize their trip and explore some of the best things to do in Istanbul in 3 days. And when it comes to things to do and things to see in Istanbul, regardless of which length of time you choose, you’re always guaranteed that your trip will be saturated with impressive sights, and beautiful scenes, leaving you with a lasting impression of the city that you’re not likely to forget. 

We’ve narrowed down the 10 best things to do in Istanbul to help guide you in planning your trip and to factor in some of the most sought-after destinations in this famed Turkish gem.

Grand Bazaar at Istanbul Turkey
Blue Mosque Instanbul Turkey 780 e1674216957157

Bargain in the Grand Bazaar

As one of the oldest and largest covered marketplaces in the world, you’re guaranteed a journey of discovery into the fine treasures and hidden trinkets of Turkey at this Istanbul attraction.

The Grand Bazaar is one of the top places to visit in Istanbul, with over 4,000 shops and stalls tightly packed within the confines of its walls and set beneath its distinctive arched, painted roof. Everything from lights to handcrafted kitchenware, carpets, jewelry, and shoes can be found here. 

And when visiting Istanbul, you’ll come to realize how heavily engrained bargaining is in Turkish culture, in fact, it’s practically a custom, particularly in bazaars. This is exactly why you have to be prepared, if anything catches your eye whilst here, to showcase to the locals your best haggling skills. The Grand Bazaar’s doors are open from 8:30 am until 7 pm every day other than Sundays and is undoubtedly one of the best places in Istanbul to visit during your trip. 

Marvel at the Blue Mosque

One of the most imposing Istanbul sites that cannot be missed in the city’s landscape is the Blue Mosque, with its distinctive Ottoman-era architecture and towering minarets. 

The landmark, also known as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, is a fully-functioning religious site in the city, which gained its name from the striking blue tiles which adorn its walls. Whilst it attracts many locals through its doors, it equally has developed a reputation amongst tourists from around the world due to its grandeur and prominence in the city’s skyline. 

This is why the mosque is placed firmly towards the top of our list of things to do in Istanbul. Built on the spot where the Great Palace of Byzantine Emperors stood, the site’s historical and religious significance leaves much to be fascinated by during a visit to Istanbul.

Venture through the main hall and admire the inside of the central and semi-domes, alongside the many arches and pillars, all delicately painted in contrasting blue and red shades, creating an eruption of color.

Open from 9 am until around one hour before dusk every day (apart from during prayer times) the landmark is a must see in Istanbul.  

Visit Chora Church 

Much like many other Istanbul sites, the Chora Church was converted to a mosque during the Ottoman reign, with its original roots in the Greek Orthodox Church. Now, the site is a museum and has been since 1948, and is open to all those visiting Istanbul to discover beautiful Byzantine frescoes, mosaics, and intricate paintings, alongside breathtaking examples of Byzantine architecture. 

Whilst sightseeing in Istanbul, you can factor in a visit to Chora Church during its opening hours from 9 am until 7 pm every day of the week to discover one of the Istanbul attractions you need to see. 

Hagia Sophia domes and minarets in the old town of Istanbul Turkey
The Basilica Cistern Istanbul Turkey

Discover the Hagia Sophia

One of the most visited attractions whilst sightseeing in Istanbul, the Hagia Sophia is arguably Istanbul’s most famous landmark. Also known as the ‘Church of the Holy Wisdom’, it dates back to the 6th century CE and is a pristine example of Byzantine architecture. 

Its current symbolism arose from its history. Having been a Christian Church, a mosque, and a museum, before most recently becoming a mosque once more, it stands as an example of the religious change that the country has experienced over hundreds of years. 

Its interior paintings and mosaics are a beautiful example of early Christian artwork and its magnificent central dome is one of the pièce de résistances of the landmark. 

As one of the most beautiful places in Istanbul, the Hagia Sophia is open from 9 am until 5 pm (with final admission at 4 pm) from the start of October to mid-April and from 9 am until 7 pm (with final admission at 6 pm) from mid-April to the 1st of October, and shouldn’t be missed off of your list. 

Explore Underground at the Basilica Cistern

One of the most interesting and fun things to do in Istanbul is to delve underground to observe one of the city’s most famous sights.

Little would anyone know that this impressive site lies beneath the main streets of the city, the Basilica Cistern is one of the most prominent pieces of evidence for Istanbul’s Byzantine Empire reign. 

Located in the old town, the site was built to act as the main water reserve in the city during the 6th century. Built much like a cathedral with its open rectangular plot, it also featured 336 towering columns in Corinthian and Ionian style. The site is open from 9 am until 7 pm daily for you to discover this hidden spectacle for yourself during your Istanbul visit.

Discover The Suleymaniye Mosque

Named after the longest reigning sultan of the Ottoman Empire, the Suleymaniye Mosque is located on top of one of Istanbul’s seven hills and offers exceptional views over the city. 

Its sheer size and grandeur are enough to leave all visitors mesmerized, with its pale blue domes and minaret with gold accents. 

The mosque is the lesser-visited of the two main mosques of the city, the second being the Blue Mosque, which means it’s the quieter, but equally historic, of these two places to visit in Istanbul. Hence why we deem it to be one of the best things to do in Istanbul for all visitors. 

The mosque is open to all tourists every day of the week from 6:45 am until 7:20 am and from 11 am until 7 pm. 

Istanbul Skyline 780 e1674217170566
Topkapi Palace Before Marmara Sea Istanbul Turkey

Cruise The Bosphorus 

Acting as the divide between the Asia and Europe continents, the natural Bosphorus strait is a waterway running through the city of Istanbul and separates Turkey by disconnecting two of its locations, Anatolia and Thrace. 

It gained itself a reputation given it features heavily in Istanbul’s transcontinental status, and it actually holds the status as the world’s narrowest strait that is still used for shipping.

For those looking for fun things to do in Istanbul, a tour along the Bosphorus Strait is a great way to observe the city from a new angle and explore this iconic waterway for yourselves. 

There are numerous tour operators offering cruises along the strait, and when the sun sets, you can savor views of the city whilst it’s illuminated, making it one of the best things to do in Istanbul at night. 

Admire Topkapi Palace

Now used to house the best of Istanbul’s Ottoman artifacts, Topkapi Palace Museum is housed in the Topkapi Palace where, in the Ottoman reign, around 30 Sultans ruled for roughly 4 centuries. 

The museum houses a collection of manuscripts, books, and imperial remains and is open to tourists visiting Istanbul. 

Its architecture and interiors are impressive in themselves also, with its structure stretching over a huge 7,535,000 square feet, with various white domes, and intricately detailed and opulent blue and orange walls. 

The palace is open every day from 9 am until 4:45 pm, except for Tuesdays, in winter (October 30th – April 15th), and from 9 am until 6 pm, except Tuesdays, from April 16th until October 29th.

Get Your Senses Tingling in the Spice Bazaar

As one of the biggest spice bazaars in the city, we couldn’t recommend this more as one of the top places to go in Istanbul. The Egyptian Bazaar, also known as the Spice Bazaar, is, as you may imagine, an eruption of color, aromas, and tastes that tantalize your senses and draw you in from every angle.

Located centrally in the Eminou Quarter of Istanbul, nearby the Galata Bridge, visitors come here to indulge in the culinary offerings that Turkey is so well known for. From the bold and bright colors of every spice and seasoning to the sweet aromas of famous Turkish treats, you’ll be taken on a culinary journey of discovery during your visit here without even leaving the confines of the market. 

Open from 8 am until 7 pm every day, for culinary lovers, this is one of the must see places in Istanbul.

See The Hippodrome

The Hippodrome of Constantinople dates back to the Roman era and has been a functioning part of Istanbul’s society for all major empires that have dominated the city. 

Originally used to house gladiatorial games as well as protests and celebrations, the area was a central part of Istanbul’s historic setting for thousands of years. 

Now, the Hippodrome is open for the public to roam and admire as they imagine the roaring crowds standing along its sidelines and the huge events that were once held by ancient the city’s ancient civilizations. 

The hippodrome is open 24 hours a day for those looking to visit one of the top sites in Istanbul at any time of day.

Ready to Start Planning?

Feel like you’d benefit from some expert assistance when planning your trip to Istanbul? Our experts here at Unforgettable Travel are on hand to give you the help you need in planning, and discussing, all of your Istanbul adventure needs.

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