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The 35 best places to visit in Istanbul, Turkey

👩🏻‍⚕️ Let me remind you that it's very important to book good international insurance if you are going to a destination where you do not have medical coverage. We always use Heymondo travel insurance. You can get a 5% discount by booking it here.

If I had to describe Istanbul (Turkey) in just one word, I'd choose the word AWESOME. Still, it is difficult for me to talk about Istanbul, since a city as impressive as Istanbul is difficult to describe in words. You have to visit Istanbul. If you are reading this post looking for places to visit in Istanbul, you've come to the right place!

When I think of my trip to Istanbul, the first thing that comes to mind are the views. Looking at Istanbul from above and appreciating its skyline full of mosques, the Bosphorus River, the Golden Horn, the Galata Bridge, the seagulls flying, life passing by… It is pure magic. This happens at sunset, the mosques turn pink, making Istanbul look even more beautiful. Istanbul is much more than views and sunsets.

Fun fact for you, Istanbul is the only city in the world that is located on 2 continents. It is the bridge between East and West, something that you will be able to appreciate during your visit. Below, I'll list the best places to visit in Istanbul, where to stay in Istanbul and other recommendations. I hope you enjoy your trip to Turkey very much!

Table of contents

Things to do in Istanbul: 30 must-see places

Ready to discover the top 30 places to visit in Istanbul? Let’s begin!

1. Topkapi Palace, one of the best places to visit in Istanbul

things to do in Istanbul
Places to visit in Istanbul

Topkapi Palace was one of my favorite places I was able to visit in Istanbul. Construction began in 1459. From 1478 to 1853, it was the residence for the sultans of the ottoman empire, until sultan Abdulmecid decided to relocate to Dolmabahçe Palace, which is another must-see place in Istanbul.

Now a days, Topkapi Palace is a museum. It’s made up of several buildings that are connected by beautiful gardens and patios. The 4th patio was my personal favorite because it features beautiful doors, rooms, tiled walls, columns and incredible views.

Topkapi Palace has an entrance fee of 40TL ($2.50). This entrance does not include entrance to the harem. If you wish to visit the harem, you have to purchase an additional entrance that costs 25TL ($1.60) which you can purchase together with the general entrance ticket or inside the palace near the entrance to the harem. We did visit the harem and I highly recommend it.

I recommend visiting Topkapi Palace early in the morning. We visited the palace early in the morning and there were many people already. By the time we were done visiting, there was an endless queue to enter the palace.

There are cafes and restaurants inside the palace.

Hours of Operation:

Open from Wednesday to Monday.
From October 30 to April 15th: 9h – 16:45h
From April 16th to October 29th: 9h – 18:45h

You can book a guided 75-minute tour of Topkapi Palace using this link. It includes express entrance. If you want a more comprehensive visit, you can book a 3-hour tour of Topkapi Palace and harem using this link.

2. Free tour of Istanbul

istanbul itinerary
Istanbul, Turkey

One of the best ways to get into the history and culture of Turkey is to take a guided tour of the city. This way, accompanied by a guide, you can visit some of the most important places in the city.

Among the best guided tours, I recommend this free tour of Istanbul. It is a two and a half-hour visit to places such as Sultanahmet Square, the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, and the Basilica Cistern. Check out other free tours in Istanbul.

If you prefer, you can book this private tour of Istanbul. You will spend 8 hours with a guide while getting to know the best of the city and its culture.

3. A cruise on the Bosphorus, one of the best things to do in Istanbul

Bosphorus river
Bosphorus cruise

One of the most popular activities to do in Istanbul is to take a cruise on the Bosphorus. I recommend doing this tour at sunset, as the views of the city are much more beautiful thanks to the light that stains the buildings with color. It is a very interesting, beautiful, and romantic way to learn about the history of the city. Besides, who doesn’t like a boat ride?

To make sure you get a slot, I recommend booking your Bosphorus cruise here in advance. You can also choose a sunset cruise or this shorter Bosphorus and Golden Horn cruise.

4. Istanbul Archaeology Museum

Just before Topkapi Palace, next to Gülhane park, you’ll find the Istanbul Archaeology Museum. It was inaugurated in 1891 by painter Osman Hamdi. It became the first museum in Istanbul.

You can find several exhibition rooms inside the museum. Among them, you’ll find rooms about classic archeology, Anatolian history, ancient eastern history, Turkish tile and ceramics, etc.

  • Istanbul Archaeological Museum opening hours: 9:00 a.m.–6:30 p.m. (winter) or 8:00 p.m. (summer).
  • Price for Istanbul Archaeological Museum: 200 TL.

5. Visit Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya), one of the best places to visit in Istanbul

Things to do in Istanbul

Hagia Sophia is one of the most beautiful places in Istanbul. The construction of Hagia Sophia took place between 532 and 537. From its construction until 1204, Hagia Sophia was an orthodox cathedral. In 1204, it became a Catholic cathedral, until 1261, when it became an Orthodox cathedral again.

In 1453, on the orders of Sultan Mehmed II, the temple became a mosque and then, in 1935, a museum. Since 2020, it has been a mosque again.

Book a guided tour of Hagia Sophia. Includes express entrance.

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6. Blue Mosque

Blue Mosque

The Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii) is one of the most important and impressive mosques in the whole city and, therefore, a must-see in Istanbul. Blue Mosque was built between 1609 and 1617, during the rule of Ahmed I, and is located directly opposite Hagia Sophia.

It is known as the Blue Mosque because of the blue tiles that adorn its interior. It is still an active mosque, so it is closed to tourists during prayer time. You can book a guided tour of the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, and Bosphorus in advance.

7. Take a break in Sultanahmet park

Sultanahmet Park is located between Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. Although it is usually crowded, it is a very pleasant square in which to stroll. It is colorful thanks to its flowers and gardens, and it has a fountain and several benches scattered around the square.

I highly recommend finding a spot on one of the benches and sitting for a while to enjoy life and the views of two of the most emblematic places in the city. At night, in the fountain, there is usually a small light show.

8. Basilica Cistern, one of the most unique places to visit in Istanbul

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Basilica Cistern

If you want to visit a unique place in Istanbul, I recommend visiting Basilica Cistern, located very close to the Sultanahmet Park. This underground water reservoir was built between 527 and 565 in order to have water reserves. It is located below what was once a basilica. Nothing else remains of her today.

Inside the basilica you will find 336 columns, 2 of them are based on Medusa’s head, a mythological being that turned anyone who looked at her into stone. It seemed like a very different and unique place to visit in Istanbul, thanks to its mystical atmosphere and the relaxation that the darkness and the sounds of the water provide. I highly recommend it!

If you would like to take a guided tour of this place, check out this tour of the Basilica Cistern.

  • Price of Basilica Cistern: 300 TL.
  • Basilica Cistern opening hours: from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m..

9. Go on a tour from Istanbul

From Istanbul, you can take day trips or visit other parts of the country. If you are looking for a day trip, I recommend visiting the Princes Islands. These islands are an oasis of tranquility outside the city. You can get from Istanbul by public ferry to four of the eight islands that make up the archipelago: Büyükada, Heybeliada, Burgazada, or Kinaliada. Büyükada is the largest of them all. Once you arrive, I recommend you rent a bike and get lost on the island.

If you want to visit other parts of Turkey and you have little time in the city or you are one of those who like to take everything organized, I recommend you go on one of these amazing trips:

10. Views from Hotel Seven Hills or Four Seasons Hotel

things to do in Istanbul
Istanbul at night

One of the things that I enjoyed the most during my stay in Istanbul, and the one that I assure you that you will enjoy the most as well, were the views. Really, you can visit any terrace, rooftop restaurant, a hotel or a cafeteria and be mesmerized by the views of the city. They are a real DREAM! In capital letters yes!

There are 2 places that I recommend if you feel like having dinner or a drink during sunset with views of Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, Four Seasons Hotel or the Seven Hills Hotel. We were having a drink on the hotel’s terrace and it was a luxurious experience.

11. Museum of Turkish and Islamic art

I’ll tell you a secret, I don’t like museums. Unless there’s something I’m really looking forward to seeing, you’ll rarely see me inside one. But since these are my tastes and not everyone’s, I wanted to recommend the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art. A total of 40,000 pieces are exhibited in the museum, from an immense collection of carpets to manuscripts, ceramic objects, stone, etc.

  • Opening hours: Turkish and Islamic Art Museum: from 9:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. (winter) or 7:30 p.m. (summer).
  • Price Turkish and Islamic Art Museum: 200 TL.

12. Views from Hotel Arcadia Blue

Let’s enjoy more incredible views! Another terrace that we visited during our stay in Istanbul was that of Arcadia Blue hotel. It is quite close to Sultanahmet Park. You’ll be able to enjoy an incredible view of Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque but from a different perspective. I highly recommend visiting this terrace or any hotel terrace mentioned before, Hotel Seven Hills or Four Seasons Hotel.

13. Grand Bazaar, one of the most traditional places to visit in Istanbul

places to visit in Istanbul
Grand Bazaar, Istanbul

The Grand Bazaar is a must-visit place in Istanbul. It is the largest indoor market in the world. In it you can find a wide variety of objects, from counterfeits from famous brands to beautiful shops selling traditional lamps. It is the best place in the city to go shopping and take home a good amount of souvenirs (if they fit in your suitcase). Don’t forget to bargain. If you do not intend to buy anything, as was my case, I also recommend visiting the Grand Bazaar.

Hours of Operation:

From Monday to Saturday 9:00 a.m to 7:00 p.m.

14. Spice Bazaar

Spice Bazaar
Spice Bazaar

Another place that I highly recommend visiting in Istanbul is the Spice Bazaar. The mixture of colors, textures and smells is something worth appreciating. It is a small market compared to the Grand Bazaar. It consists of wide and long corridor full of spice shops on both sides. You will also find some sweets and nuts. If you love to cook, surely you will not leave the market empty handed.

15. New Mosque

Near the Spice Bazaar and the Galata Bridge, you find the New Mosque, one of the most beautiful mosques in Istanbul. Despite its name, it was built from 1597 to 1663. There was quite a bit of controversy surrounding its construction, as it was built in a Jewish community. This, added to other financial and political problems, lengthened the construction time considerably.

16. Rüstem Paşa Mosque

The Rüstem Paşa Mosque is less known and visited than other mosques mentioned in this post; however, I think it is worth a visit. Some describe it as a mini Blue Mosque, thanks to its blue tiles, but with far fewer people. It was built by architect Mimar Sinan, who died in 1561, before the mosque was completed in 1563.

17. Suleiman Mosque

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Suleiman Mosque

The Suleiman Mosque is one of my favorite mosques in Istanbul. We decided to visit the mosque very early in the morning, so we could enjoy it with hardly any people. It is one of the most outstanding mosques in the city, since it is located on a hill. It is also the largest and has a beautiful interior. In addition, from the mosque you can enjoy very nice views of the city. Like the Rüstem Paşa Mosque, it was designed by Mimar Sinan. Its construction lasted 8 years, from 1550 to 1558.

18. Sehzade Mosque

istanbul itinerary
Istanbul itinerary

The Sehzade Mosque, better known as the Prince’s Mosque, is was also designed by architect Mimar Sinan. This mosque was built by Süleyman I in honor of his son, who died at the young age of 21. It is located in the Fatih district and was completed in 1548.

19. The Aqueduct of Valens

It is very likely that during your visit to Istanbul, you will see from afar or pass under the Valens Aqueduct. This large aqueduct was built in the year 368, during the reign of the Byzantine emperor Valens. It was the main source of water in all of Constantinople for a time. But with the arrival of the Ottoman Empire, the aqueduct lost importance.

20. Fatih Mosque

Construction on Faith Mosque began in 1463, 10 years after Constantinople was conquered by the ottomans. It was completed in 1470. In 1766, an earthquake destroyed the mosque and had to be rebuilt. Now a days, all that remains from the original construction is the main door, some parts of the garden and the remains of Mehmet II and his wife.

21. Discover Balat, one of the best places to visit in Istanbul

Balat, Istanbul

The Balat neighborhood is one of the most fashionable areas of Istanbul. Its streets with colorful buildings, modern cafes, and art galleries have made this neighborhood gain a lot of popularity in recent years.

Now it has become a great must-see in Istanbul. My advice is to let yourself get lost in its streets. You will not cease to be amazed to discover places with lots of charm.

22. Eyüp Mosque

Eyüp Mosque is one of the most important mosques in Turkey because it is located over the tomb of Abu Ayyub al-Ansari, a close friend of Muhammad. It can go up to the mosque by taking a cable car located near the Golden Horn. Despite its historical importance, it is not one of the most visited mosques in Istanbul.

23. Hav something to drink at Cafe Pierre Loti

Pierre Loti is one of the most famous cafes in Istanbul because it offers beautiful views of the Golden Horn. It is very close to the Eyüp Mosque, so I recommend going after visiting the mosque. The best time to go for a Turkish coffee or tea is at sunset, as the light makes the landscape even more beautiful.

From the mosque, you can go to the cafe by getting on a cable car or by walking. If you walk you will pass by a very nice cemetery that is worth visiting.

24. Visit Galata Tower

Galata Tower
Galata Tower

Galata Tower is one of the most emblematic places t visit in Istanbul. It is located in the Galata neighborhood. The tower was built in 1348 by the Genoese during their expansion through Constantinople. Measuring 67 meters high, Galata Tower offers one of the best views of Istanbul.

Warning, there is always a long line to go to the observatory. If you want to avoid queuing, I recommend going first thing in the morning. Although the best time to go up is at sunset, since the views is a bit better.

  • Opening hours: Galata Tower: from 8:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m..
  • Price of Galata Tower: 350 TL.

25. Have a snack or drink at Galata Konak Cafe & Restaurant

best view in Istanbul
View from Konak Cafe

I have to admit that I did not go up to Galata Tower because when I went there was a long queue and I was a bit lazy. However, on 2 occasions I went to Galata Konak Cafe & Restaurant, a restaurant located on a terrace near Galata Tower that also has impressive views. I highly recommend going if you want to enjoy a good sunset while you have a drink.

26. Stroll through Istiklal avenue

istanbul, turkey
Istiklal avenue

Istiklal Avenue is one of the best places to visit in Istanbul. It is the most important shopping street in Istanbul. You will find many shops, restaurants, cafes, etc. In addition, the famous red tram passes through this street. I liked it a lot because it’s a very lively street and very different to other areas in the city.

27. Visit Dolmabahçe Palace

Things to do in Istanbul
Things to do in Istanbul

Dolmabahçe Palace was once the residence of the last sultans of the Ottoman Empire. Construction cost 5 million Ottoman gold pounds. I will only tell you that 14 tons of gold were used to decorate the ceilings. In addition, it has 285 rooms, 44 halls, 68 toilets and 6 Turkish baths.

I thought it was beautiful both inside and out and I think it is well worth a visit. By the way, don’t miss the gates that lead to the Bosphorus River.

28. Ortaköy Mosque, a must-see place in Istanbul

places to visit in istanbul
Ortaköy Mosque

Although the mosque is small in size compared to others in the city, it’s proximity to the Bosphorus river and bridge make Ortaköy mosque, one of the most beautiful mosques in Istanbul. We didn’t get to opportunity to enter the mosque but it was very beautiful from the outside.

29. Watch the sunset from Üsküdar

After visiting the Ortaköy Mosque, I recommend you take the public ferry to go to Üsküdar, the Asian part of the city, and walk to the Carpet Café, located almost in front of the Maiden Tower.

It is a very well-known place because from here you can enjoy one of the best sunsets to see in Istanbul while having a drink sitting on a carpet on the floor. We went there one of the days, and I liked it very much. To get back to the center, you can take another public ferry.

30. Maiden’s Tower, one of the most beautiful places in Istanbul

places to visit in istanbul
Maiden’s Tower

If you visit the Carpet Café, you will see Maiden’s Tower, also known as Leandro’s Tower, very closely since it is located on a small islet 200 meters from the coast of Üsküdar. It is one of the oldest buildings in all of Istanbul and has had various uses throughout history. It is open to tourists and also has a cafeteria and restaurant. I encourage you to go and discover the history of this tower.

31. Çamlica Mosque, the largest mosque in Turkey.

Çamlica Mosque

The Çamlica Mosque, located in Istanbul, is the largest mosque in Turkey. With its six minarets and elegant dome, it rises majestically on Amlica Hill, offering panoramic views of the city. Its interior is equally astounding. It can accommodate thousands of worshippers in its large prayer hall. It is located somewhat away from the center, but because of its majesty, it is worth a visit.

32. Going to see a whirling dervishes show

things to do in Istanbul
Whirling dervishes show

Istanbul is a city that offers a wealth of tourist attractions, but seeing a whirling dervish show is certainly one of the best things to do. These men perform a dance in which they spin around themselves as a form of meditation and spiritual connection. Seeing it firsthand is a unique experience.

If you are in Istanbul, don’t miss the opportunity to see this incredible demonstration of spirituality and culture. You can book the Whirling Dervish show here in advance.

33. Smoke shisha in Anadolu Hookah

places to visit in istanbul
Anadolu Nargile

One of the moments I enjoyed the most on my trip was going to smoke shisha at Anadolu Nargile, located in the historical center of Istanbul. It is a very local place, so you will see many groups of friends gathered to chat quietly while smoking shisha and drinking tea. Don’t miss it!

34. Stroll through the Kadiköy neighborhood, on the Asian side

On my last visit to Istanbul, I decided to get to know some areas of the Asian part more in depth. If you also have enough days in the city, I recommend you do the same. Exactly. My advice is to go to the Kadiköy neighborhood. There you will find many little streets with stores, restaurants, and shops. One of my favorite plans was to walk through Moda Park. There was a very cool atmosphere.

35. Enjoy a Turkish bath

Surely, after visiting all these places, what you need most is a little rest. And what better way to relax in Turkey than with a Turkish bath? The hamman (Turkish bath) is a steam bath to cleanse the body and relax. I am sure you will feel new! I recommend the Aga Hamami Turkish bath.

Where to stay in Istanbul

places to visit in Istanbul
Things to do in Istanbul

Something that takes quite some time, apart from organizing the different visits, is deciding where to stay in Istanbul. Not only do you have to choose a hotel but also an area, as Istanbul is huge. I advise you to stay in the European part, as this is where the main attractions of the city are.

We stayed at the Istanbul Golden City Hotel, in the Galata neighborhood. The room was a bit small, but everything was very clean and had everything you needed. The best thing about the hotel is the rooftop restaurant, where breakfast is served. There are beautiful views of Sultanahmet, and the food was very good. I recommend it!

The best areas to base yourself are Sultanahmet, Galata, or Karakoy. The Galata and Karakoy neighborhoods are on the other side of the Golden Horn, but walking will get you to the center in no time across the Galata Bridge. In addition, the hotels in this area are more affordable.

Tips to visit Istanbul

Here are some tips before planning a trip to Istanbul, Turkey

Plan your trip to Turkey

If you are interested in knowing more useful information about Turkey, I recommend reading my posts about how to plan your trip to Turkey.

Are you visiting Cappadocia? If so, check out my articles on the best things to do in Cappadocia and where to stay in Cappadocia.

If you are taking a 7-day trip to Turkey, I recommend spending at least 3 full days in Istanbul.

Appropriate clothing for a trip to turkey:

Remember to wear appropriate clothing to enter the mosques. Men must wear covered shoulders and long pants. Women must be covered, arms preferably covered up to the elbows and hair covered.

I recommend taking a large scarf to cover your head. If you do not have, in the mosques you can borrow scarves and long skirts. I had to use both because I didn’t have a scarf and had distressed jeans as well.

Safety in istanbul:

Turkey is a safe country and this is how I felt in Istanbul: safe. I spent a couple of days alone in the city before my boyfriend arrived and had no issues. Still, I always say that you have to be careful in every country in the world, so take basic precautions and you’ll be fine. I highly recommended purchasing travel insurance in case you run into medical issues.

Airport to Istanbul:

Two airports service the city of Istanbul: Istanbul Airport (IST) and Sabiha Gökçen (SAW). Flights to Sabiha Gökçen (SAW) are usually more affordable but the airport is further away. From SAW you can get to the center by taxi. I shared it with 2 other people and it cost me $10.

From Istanbul Airport (IST), you can take a taxi or a direct bus that takes you to the center. In both cases I recommend taking the taxi right there but if you prefer to booked a transfer from home, you can do it here.

Local food

If you visit Turkey, you have to try the local Turkish food: döner kebap, lahmacun, kebap, balık ekmek (fish sandwich), pide (bread filled with different ingredients), red lentil soup, köfte (typical meatballs), etc. I didn’t try many of the dishes because I don’t eat meat but I did eat vegetarian versions of some of them and they were very tasty. I recommend the vegetarian restaurant Cafe Naftalin (Balat).

Map of things to do in Istanbul

In the following map, I have marked all the places to visit in the Turkish city mentioned in this article, apart from the hotel where I stayed, with their respective links to Booking.

Check out my Turkey travel guide to further plan your trip.

I hope that this post about what the best places to visit in Istanbul has been very useful to you in planning your trip to this beautiful city in Turkey. If you have more questions, feel free to leave a comment or email me. Until next time, traveler!

↠ Book free tours and guided visits on Civitatis or GetYourGuide. I always use these platforms to check what organized activities there are at my destination.

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↠ If you still need to buy flights for your trip, there is no better search engine than Skyscanner (although I always recommend booking the flight on the company’s website).

One Response

  1. Md. Shahadat Hossain Khan says:

    Hello ! Sofia
    Love from Dhaka-Bangladesh. I have read 20 things about you. Oh my God ! It is really a pretty good story and amazing. I think and believe it you could be a good writer. Thanks for sharing your Istanbul travel and experiences. Your photos are beautiful. Welcome to Dhaka-Bangladesh and take care !

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