14 Iconic Things to Do in Istanbul, Turkey

14 Iconic Things to Do in Istanbul Turkey

Traveling to Istanbul? Get ready to fall in love with Turkey’s largest city! Located at the intersection of Europe and Asia, Istanbul has so much to offer, from its rich history and stunning architecture to its vibrant culture and delicious cuisine. You won’t be disappointed!

Istanbul Bucketlist: What to Do and See in Istanbul

Visit Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia is not only a stunning architectural masterpiece but also a symbol of Istanbul’s rich history and cultural heritage. Its grand dome, intricate mosaics, and history as a church, museum, and now a mosque make it a must-visit attraction.

Note: I got to visit Hagia Sophia before it was closed off to the public, and I am not sure if the upper floor is worth visiting for the price. As of 2024, tourists are only allowed to visit the upper-floor galleries. The ground floor is now reserved for Turkish citizens and only for prayer.

Admission: $27

Explore the Blue Mosque

Located right next to Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque is also known as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque. It is renowned for its blue tiles, six minarets, and a beautiful courtyard. Its harmonious blend of Ottoman and Byzantine architectural elements makes it one of Istanbul’s most iconic landmarks.

Note: The Blue Mosque is closed during prayers.

Admission: Free

Shop the Grand Bazaar

With thousands of shops, the Grand Bazaar offers so many treasures to discover. Spend a few hours shopping for colorful ceramics, spices, jewelry, and more, to bring home as souvenirs.

Tip: Don’t be afraid to bargain and never look too interested when something catches your eye. I was a little uncomfortable at first, but almost nothing at the Grand Bazaar has prices on it, so consider bargaining a part of the cultural experience.

Admission: Free

Snack on Simit (Turkish sesame bread)

Try out Istanbul’s beloved snack, Simit, a traditional Turkish bread with sesame seeds. This iconic street food is crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. With its delightful texture and nutty, sesame flavor provides a satisfying crunch with every bite. Enjoyed by locals and visitors alike, Simit is the perfect on-the-go snack to savor while exploring Istanbul.

Price: Stop by a local bakery or get it from one of the street vendors for just a few Turkish lira.

Cruise the Bosphorus

A Bosphorus cruise is a fantastical experience that offers a unique view of Istanbul, with panoramic views of the city’s skyline, historic landmarks, and charming waterfront neighborhoods. Sunset cruises are particularly magical, as the city is bathed in golden light.

Tip: if you don’t have time for a cruise, you can take the Istanbul ferry between Eminönü and Kadıköy. It’s a short ride with gorgeous views.

Admission: Varies

Discover Topkapi Palace

Topkapi Palace served as the main residence and administrative headquarters of the Ottoman sultans for almost 4 centuries and gives visitors a fascinating look at their lives. As you walk through each court and the Harem, you can explore its ornate chambers, lush gardens, and impressive collections of artifacts, including priceless jewels and ceremonial objects. Make sure to plan a big part of the day for this visit as you can wander around the palace for hours.

Tip: Stop by the Holy Relics Chamber at the palace to see Abraham’s Pot, Joseph’s Turban, the Staff of Moses, and scrolls belonging to John the Baptist.

Admission to Topkapi Palace, Hagia Irene, and Harem: $48

Visit the Basilica Cistern

Descending into the Basilica Cistern, one of Constantinople’s most important and largest water resources, feels like stepping into another world. The atmosphere is so mysterious, the columns and the Medusa heads create a hauntingly beautiful underground experience that captivates visitors.

Note: Walk to the back of the cistern to find two columns held up by the famous Medusa heads.

Admission: $20

Related: Istanbul Travel Tips for First-Time Visitors

Try Turkish Breakfast

Turkish breakfast is known as “kahvaltı” – it’s a cherished ritual, bringing family and friends together in the morning. Turkish breakfast typically features an assortment of cheeses, olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, and fresh bread, along with spreads like honey, jam, and tahini. I highly recommend ordering Menemen (scrambled eggs with tomatoes and peppers) and Börek (flaky pastry filled with cheese or minced meat) and pairing your meal with a cup of Turkish tea.

Price: Varies

Experience the Spice Bazaar

The Spice Bazaar, also known as the Egyptian Bazaar, is a feast for the senses. The vibrant colors and delicious aromas of spices, teas, and sweets make it such a unique experience and a favorite destination for food lovers. Pro tip: it’s a great spot to grab some souvenirs!

Admission: Free

Enjoy the views of Istanbul from the Galata Tower

Climb to the top of Galata Tower, a Byzantine watchtower, to enjoy the views of Istanbul from the top. Perched on a hill in the Galata district, the tower is seen from all around the city as is around 63 meters high.

Tip: Visit right around sunset for the most magical views.

Admission: $20

Travel Packing List

To help you keep everything in order, I created this smart, editable, and printable Europe Packing List that is easy to use! Read on to find out all of the tips and tricks along the way!

Europe Packing List Printable

Stroll through Sultanahmet Square

Sultanahmet Square is known for being in the place of the Hippodrome of Constantinople. This was the heart of the city’s political and social life for almost 900 years and is still a place where many go on their first day in Istanbul. Here you will see the famous Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, but also make sure to see the Egyptian Obelisk, the Serpentine Column, the Colossus, and the German Fountain.

Admission: Free

Get tricked while getting ice cream

Prepare for a delightful surprise at a Turkish ice cream stall, where getting tricked is all part of the fun. Embrace the moment, join in the laughter, and savor every bite of this memorable culinary experience in Turkey.

Hop on a tram on the Istiklal Street

Experience the charm of Istiklal Street by hopping on a historic tram ride. You’ll be surrounded by lively shops, cafes, and street performers, soaking in the vibrant atmosphere of one of Istanbul’s most iconic streets. After, stop at the cafes that caught your eye and do some shopping.

Admission: Under $1

Explore the Istanbul Archaeology Museums

With its vast collection of artifacts spanning thousands of years of history at the Istanbul Archaeology Museum. From ancient Greek and Roman sculptures to intricate Byzantine artifacts, the museum’s exhibits provide insight into Istanbul’s rich cultural heritage.

Admission: $11

Save this list for your next trip to Istanbul!

Things to do in Istanbul
5/5 - (2 votes)
Hi, I'm Marina, passionate traveler and blogger, based in the United States and travelling the world. Thanks for following me on my life and travel adventures!

1 Comment

  1. Diomayra
    March 3, 2024

    Turkey is so beautiful with its rich culture and incredible architecture.

    Reply

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