Turkey’s eclectic capital has much to offer to all kinds of travelers. So, why not ensure you see some of the best?
Istanbul can be an intimidating city to many tourists for various reasons. But don’t let it deter you – it’s fun to hit all the major attractions and off-beat sights that not everyone knows about.
Want to make the most out of your trip despite your limited time in the city? Discover some of the things you can do on your Istanbul vacation to create some beautiful memories.
- Explore the Basilica Cistern
Almost everyone walks over the ancient cavern without knowing what lies beneath. This makes descending into the Basilica Cistern one of the unique things to do in Istanbul.
The former water reservoir dates back to the 6th Century and its massive columns and statues with eerie lighting give the underground cistern an orange glow. It’s quite a spooky place where you can hear constant dripping echoing in the distance.
More importantly, tread carefully on the wooden planks while exploring the structure as it can get slippery.
2. Go to an Authentic Hammam
For first-time tourists, going to a Turkish bath is among the top things to do in Istanbul. But keep in mind that you don’t always get the real deal if you visit a hammam that’s affiliated with a hotel.
If you want to keep things authentic, you may want to opt for a rougher but very invigorating hammam in Old Town. There, you’ll transition through many rooms at different temperatures, socialize, and cleanse the way people in the area have been doing for thousands of years.
A fair warning though: a Turkish bath isn’t always a cushy experience.
3. Do Some Fishing
Istanbul’s Galata Bridge is the place to be if you want to do some fishing. In fact, it’s popular with tourists as well as local fishermen.
Granted, it’s probably not the best spot to catch something since there can be hundreds of folks looking to catch fresh seafood themselves. But if that’s your goal, you can always buy some from the more experienced fishermen.
So, if you want to socialize, try your luck at some fishing, or just see a fantastic view of the city, Galata Bridge is a top destination.
4. Check Out the Egyptian Obelisk
You probably wouldn’t expect to see something like this in Turkey.
The obelisk, which has its four sides depicting a victory over the Euphrates River by Tutmoses III, dates back to 1500 BCE. Despite its age, you’ll notice that the hieroglyphs have been well-preserved over the years.
It was carved near Luxor prior to it being pillaged by the Romans, moved to Alexandria, and then to Istanbul, which was known as Constantinople back then.
Relaxing in the park around this historical relic is also one of the most common things to do in Istanbul for both locals and tourists.
5. Visit the Hagia Sophia
By all accounts, this is the city’s most important religious and historical site. It’s also a true architectural marvel, containing over 30 million gold tiles on the inside.
And that’s not all.
The iconic flat dome is an impressive feat of engineering. Why? It’s because construction wrapped up in the 6th Century and the style used to build the dome was basically unheard of during that time.
It was initially an Orthodox Cathedral. But when the Ottoman Empire took Constantinople, the Hagia Sophia became a mosque. It also operated as a museum until midsummer of 2020.
Tours are available year-round and it can take up to two hours to explore the entire structure. Make sure to join one – seeing both elements of Islamic and Christian religions in one building makes the Hagia Sophia one of the unique Istanbul attractions.
6. Go Shopping in the Historical Grand Bazaar
Everyone does some shopping while on vacation. But there aren’t that many places in the world that offer similar experiences to that of Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar.
It’s one of the city’s most important historical sites and simply a joy to explore. The colorful lanterns, maze of hallways, and various goods can offer a different kind of retail therapy. Even kids will enjoy spending time in the Grand Bazaar and its lively atmosphere.
7. Tour the Mosque of Suleyman the Magnificent
It may not be the most recognizable mosque in the city. However, it has arguably the most beautiful interior.
Its sparkling décor is awe-inspiring and references the Golden Age of the Ottoman Empire. Note that it’s a popular tourist attraction, so you can expect to run into some crowds no matter which time of day you visit.
8. Hop On a Bosphorus Cruise
Those arriving in the city by ship can already experience cruising the ocean and inland water. But if you’re like most people and going to Istanbul by plane, don’t forget to add the Bosphorus Strait to your to-do list.
Check out the natural strait that partially separates Asia from Europe and divides Istanbul between the two continents.
Enjoying a Bosphorus cruise is simply one of the top things to do in Istanbul. It’s also worth noting that some food cruises combine culinary experiences from both continents.
9. Take a Mini Tour of the City
If you can’t stay for long in Istanbul, how can you see most of the city?
The Miniaturk miniature park offers an exciting alternative.
It’s one of the world’s largest miniature parks and was built to a 1/25 scale. This 15-acre park is where you can find over 100 models of iconic buildings, natural sites, and other core attractions scattered throughout Istanbul.
The park welcomes tourists with audio guides so you can learn more about everything you see. So, if you’re looking for things to do in Istanbul with kids, this is one of your best options.
10. Check Out the Country’s Largest Palace
Sitting on 11.1 acres, Dolmabahce Palace is a truly magnificent building. But what you’ll see is not the original palace – it went through a complete rebuild in the 19th Century as the previous structure was made of wood.
That fact will hardly matter when you enter the palace and explore its over 200 rooms, six hammams, and over 40 halls. Make sure to check out the stable and the mill and some of the finest gold and crystal interior decorations.
And if you’re an art buff, you’ll be pleased to know that you’ll find an impressive collection of oil paintings and other cultural artifacts here.
A Must-See Crowded Capital City
It’s no secret that many tourists flock to Istanbul every year. Naturally, its fascinating history, attractions, and unique sights get tons of attention.
If you don’t mind crowds and lots of stray cats, take your time to explore the city’s streets and wonderful hotspots.