Things to do in Istanbul

Things to do in  Istanbul

The bridge between continents

From the exceptional views at Galata Tower to underground mysteries at the Basilica Cistern, there is an endless list of things to do in Istanbul. Immerse yourself in more than two millennia of history in Sultanahmet Square, where you’ll find the majestic Hagia Sophia and iconic tiles at the Blue Mosque. Get a taste of Ottoman royal life at Topkapi Palace and Dolmahbace Palace. Discover living history and find the perfect souvenir at the Grand Bazaar. Food lovers can enjoy classic Turkish street food or take their culinary and cultural experience to the Bosphorus on a dinner cruise.

Top 15 attractions in Istanbul

Bosphorus

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The Bosphorus Strait defines Istanbul. It is the divide between Europe and Asia, and the main connection between the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara. Dotted with parks and elaborate Ottoman mansions, including Dolmabahce Palace, and spanned by three intercontinental bridges, the Bosphorus is the veritable heart of the city.More

Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Camii)

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Explore the grandeur of Ottoman architecture at the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Camii), located on Istanbul’s Old City peninsula. Opened in 1616 to rival the Byzantine-era Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya) across the way, the six minarets punctuating the Istanbul skyline and 20,000 blue Iznik tiles decorating its interior are designed to inspire awe.More

Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya)

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Built in 532 as the world’s largest place of worship, the Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya) shifts its identity with the times but never loses its grandeur. Converted from a church to a mosque during the Ottoman era and becoming a museum in 1935, the pink-hued Old City building is one of Istanbul’s don’t-miss attractions.More

Topkapi Palace (Topkapi Sarayi)

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Behold the imperial complex of Ottoman sultans at Topkapi Palace (Topkapi Sarayi), the royal residence in Istanbul throughout the first 400 years of the Ottoman Empire. The palace contains myriad buildings and courtyards, including a treasury, harems, an armory, imperial halls, and royal chambers—all with intricate Iznik tilework and opulent architecture.More

Hippodrome (Sultanahmet Meydani)

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Built in the third century, the Hippodrome was the home of now-named Istanbul’s sporting entertainment during the Byzantine era, with a wide track for chariot racing. Today, the route of the old track is covered by Sultanahmet Square (Sultanahmet Meydani), a wide open space in the center of the old city, punctuated by ancient obelisks.More

Dolmabahce Palace (Dolmabahce Sarayi)

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Built in an opulent European style, Dolmabahce Palace (Dolmabahce Sarayi) was the home of the Ottoman sultans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, before the fall of the empire. The giant crystal chandeliers, marble staircases, and lush carpets that adorn the interior reflect the shift toward Istanbul’s more European way of thinking.More

Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarayi)

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Beautiful yet eerie, Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarayi) isn’t your average underground well. Dating back to the Byzantine era, the huge cistern was built in the mid-500s on the former site of a basilica. More than 300 marble columns provide a grand, serene atmosphere to what was essentially subterranean water storage.More

Spice Bazaar (Misir Carsisi)

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Built in the 17th century, the covered Spice Bazaar is Istanbul’s fragrant hub for all things flavorful. Piles of pepper, saffron, teas, and dried apricots nestle alongside shops selling colorful Turkish delight, silk scarves, and glass mosaic lamps. Take time to chat with vendors, sip tea, and haggle for the perfect price.More

Galata Tower (Galata Kulesi)

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Rising high above its namesake neighborhood, Istanbul’s Galata Tower (Galata Kulesi) dates back to the Genoese presence in Constantinople in the 14th century. An elevator takes you up to a viewing platform located under the roof, which offers panoramic views of the Old City peninsula and Beyoglu neighborhood.More

Rahmi M. Koc Museum (Rahmi M. Koç Müzesi)

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Istanbul’s Rahmi M. Koç Museum is a fascinating stop for families, history buffs, and curious travelers. The museum is spread across two locations: a former anchor foundry called the Lengerhane Building and the 19th-century Hasköy Dockyard. Diving into topics relating to industry, communication, and transportation, the museum is the first of its kind in Turkey.More

Bosphorus Bridge (Bogazici Koprusu)

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The Bosphorus Bridge (Bogazici Koprusu) in Istanbul is one of three continent-spanning bridges over the Bosphorus Strait, connecting Europe and Asia. When it opened in 1973, the 5,118-foot (1,560-meter) bridge was the fourth-longest suspension bridge in the world. And though it has since slid down the rankings, it is still an impressive sight to behold.More

Sultanahmet District

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Home to some of Istanbul’s most recognizable attractions, the Sultanahmet District is an ideal place to explore the city’s complex history. With the rose-colored Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya) sitting across from the six minarets of the Blue Mosque and down the street from the energetic Grand Bazaar, this neighborhood packs in a wealth of culture.More

Beylerbeyi Palace (Beylerbeyi Sarayi)

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Located in the shadow of Istanbul’s first bridge, Beylerbeyi Palace (Beylerbeyi Sarayi) was historically a summer residence for Ottoman sultans. The 24 rooms of the palace contain a mix of Ottoman and Western decoration, with 19th-century furniture from Europe and garden pavilions, and its ornate exterior is visible from the Bosphorus Strait.More

Rumeli Fortress (Rumeli Hisari)

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Built over just four months, the 15th-century Rumeli Fortress played a key role in the fall of Byzantine Constantinople. Together with the Anatolian Fortress (Anadolu Hisarı) on the Bosphorus, Rumeli Fortress was used by the Ottomans to cut off aid and supplies to Constantinople. Today, it serves as both an open-air theater and site of historical interest.More

Maiden’s Tower (Kiz Kulesi)

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Located on an islet in the Bosphorus Strait, just offshore from Istanbul’s Uskudar neighborhood, Maiden’s Tower (Kiz Kulesi) is a historical site that has inspired myths and legends. The Ottomans expanded and rebuilt the structure, and today it contains a restaurant and bar with views of the city.More

Trip ideas

Top activities in Istanbul

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All about Istanbul

When to visit

Istanbul is best enjoyed in the spring and fall (ideally May or September) when the weather is pleasant and there are fewer tourists. Travelers will enjoy mild temperatures for exploring the city’s iconic landmarks and charming neighborhoods. An abundance of annual festivals spanning a range of interests—including the Tulip Festival in April, the Jazz Festival in July, and the international Istanbul Biennial in the fall—ensure a range of affordable events to enjoy during your visit.

Getting around

Navigating Istanbul is relatively straightforward due to its extensive public transportation system. The Istanbulkart (Istanbul Card) is a reloadable transit card that allows you to travel on buses, trams, metro lines, and ferries. Private taxis and shared minibuses (called dolmuş) are also readily available. The city is notorious for its bad traffic, so trams and metro lines are the most efficient modes of ground transportation. Public ferries (vapur) offer an affordable and scenic way to explore the city and visit the nearby Princes’ Islands.

Traveler tips

To experience Istanbul like a local, take the ferry or Marmaray commuter rail to the Kadıköy district on the Asian side of the city. This laid-back locale is known for its fish market, trendy cafés, picturesque seafront, and lively nightlife. It’s also a great place to find fairly priced souvenirs, like Ottoman rugs, Turkish delight, and spices. Don’t miss trying balık ekmek, a classic fish sandwich, by the waterfront.

Local Currency
Turkish Lira (TRY)
Time Zone
TRT (UTC +2)
Country Code
+90
Language(s)
Turkish
Attractions
98
Tours
2,785
Reviews
63,421
EN
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People Also Ask

What is Istanbul famous for?

Known for centuries as Constantinople, Istanbul was capital of the Byzantine or Eastern Roman Empire, then later home to generations of sultans as center of the Ottoman Empire. Both civilizations left magnificent buildings and artworks, like the Hagia Sophia. Istanbul is also the only city in the world that straddles two continents.

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Can you do Istanbul in 3 days?

Yes, but only barely. Count on a full day for knockouts like the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia in Sultanahmet, and earmark half a day for Topkapi Palace. Factor in souvenir shopping in the Grand Bazaar and a photo stop at Galata Tower, and you’ll leave already planning your next Istanbul trip.

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What is the best part of Istanbul?

Nothing says “must-see” like the sights of Sultanahmet. But many travelers prefer quieter corners of the sprawling city, like the colorful, winding alleys in the old Greek and Jewish enclaves of Fener and Balat. You can also take a day trip out to the Princes’ Islands by public ferry.

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What is there to do in Istanbul?

If you’re itching for activities beyond the usual sightseeing circuit, consider a soak in a hammam (Turkish bathhouse); a ferry ride to either the Princes’ Islands or the hip, restaurant-filled neighborhood of Kadıköy on the Asian side of the city; or a Turkish delight and coffee shopping spree in the Spice Bazaar.

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Do they speak English in Istanbul?

Yes, you’ll find English being spoken among shopkeepers and restaurant staff in many tourist areas, including Sultanahmet. Young people also often learn English as a second or third language. But if you want to get off the tourist track, learning a few basic Turkish words and phrases is a must.

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What should I avoid in Istanbul?

Istanbul is massive and full of blockbuster sights. Avoid a “must-see-everything” approach and give yourself time to explore the city—it’s a wanderers’ paradise. Take advantage of the metro and public ferry. And while most locals in Istanbul are lovely, be watchful of potential scammers in tourist districts.

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