Top 10 Things to Do in Istanbul

Of all the cities in all the world, few have as much culture as Istanbul. It's a wonderfully unique city built on the boarder of Europe and Asia with thousands of years of history and some of the best food in the world! Here is my top 10 list of things to do in Istanbul.

Grand Bazaar

Grand bazaar by frank kovalchek

Photo by Frank Kovalchek

No trip to Istanbul is complete without visiting the Grand Bazaar. And grand it definitely is. One of (if not) the largest covered markets in the world it has 60 streets, 4000 shops and receives up to 400,000 visitors PER DAY. Obviously no matter how huge it is with this number of visitors it does get extremely crowded, so if you are not a fan of crowds I recommend you visit early in the morning.

And don't just explore the inside, the area around the Bazaar is also full of random small shops which you can buy all sorts of souvenirs and weird items, often much cheaper than inside the bazaar. One great example was the packet of 100 fake moustaches I found which led to an awesome moustache themed party a few weeks later 🙂

Walk Down Istiklal Street

The most famous street in Istanbul, Istiklal runs through the centre of Taksim and all the way down to the Galata Tower (about 20 minutes walk). It's the number one place for shopping during the day, and at night becomes packed with party goers and street musicians which make it a great place to walk and hangout.

Party in Taksim

Joker bar nuri alco

Taksim is considered the modern centre of Istanbul and without a doubt the best place to find cheap bars and clubs. While there is not much in the way of night life in Turkey or even Istanbul, you can definitely have a lot of fun in Taksim! My absolute favourite bar in Taksim is Joker Bar (not to be mistaken with "Jolly Joker"), where you can drink their green cocktail named after a Turkish movie character famous for drug raping girls! Music is as good, drinks are cheap and atmosphere is amazing. 

Go to Asia by Ferry

Ferry on bosphorus crossing to kadikoy

Another reason Istanbul is a wonderfully unique city is that it is actually situated in two continents! The western part of the city is in Europe, but cross the Bosphorus by ferry (costs less than €1) and you are now in Asia! The Asian side is much more quiet and peaceful which can be very welcome in a city of 14 million people! My favourite place there is Kadikoy, a chill out town full of students, cafes, bars and shops. They also have an incredibly cheap market area where you can buy non touristic items.


Gala Kokorec in besiktas istanbul

Oh my god, every single time I visit Istanbul I swear I gain a kilo! This city really does have the most amazing food in Turkey! Kebabs, kokorec, soups, seafood pretty much any food from all over Turkey can be found in Istanbul. My personal favourite food of Turkey is Kokorec, and the best place in the whole of the known universe to eat it is a tiny shop in Besiktas (near Taksim) called Gala Kokorec. Make sure you tell them not to add spice if you don't like spicy though!

Join a Protest

Protest in Besiktas Istanbul

As I'm sure you have heard on the news, since the summer of 2013 Turkey people have been taking to the streets in anger about their current corrupt and immoral government. So why not grab a gas mask and join their protests for democracy? 😉 Ok just kidding, don't put yourself in danger but many of the demonstrations are non-violent and quite fascinating to see!

Smoke Nargile (Shisha) in Tophane

Smoking Nargile shisha in topane istanbul

Turkey is one of the most famous countries to smoke flavoured tobacco through a large water pipe which they call nargile, and Tophane is the most famous place in Turkey to do it, which makes it one of the best places to smoke in the world! Don't forget to also drink some Turkish coffee and play tavla (Backgammon).

Eat a Turkish Breakfast

Turkish breakfast in Besiktas Istanbul

You can eat a Turkish breakfast almost anywhere in Turkey but Istanbul is one of the best places to do it. Eggs, several kinds of cheese, several kinds of olive, several kinds of jam, several kinds of pretty much everything 🙂 If a Turkish breakfast doesn't have at least 8 different types of food it doesn't count! The most famous place in Istanbul to try this is Besiktas, if anyone knows any specific place to eat please leave it in the comments for others and also me to go and check it out 😉

Explore Sultanahmet

Sultanahmet is the "old city" of Istanbul, and is actually considered to be as much as 8000 years old! There are several historical sites within this area of the historical peninsular. Some may be expensive to enter but if you are on a budget they can still be enjoyed from the outside.

  • Basilica Cistern

Basilica Cistern sultanahmet istanbul

The Basilica Cistern is around 1800 years old and is one of the largest cisterns in the world! Unfortunately there isn't much to see from the outside and it costs 10tl to enter but it's a very uniquely beautiful place and definitely worth a visit.

  • Blue mosque

Blue mosque istanbul

The Blue Mosque is the one place in Sultanahmet area that you can enter for free as it is still an active mosque. It's a very impressive building and a great chance to see a part of Turkish culture. Women must cover their hair, knees and elbows to enter.

  • Ayasofya (Hagia Sophia)

hagia sophia aka ayasofya istanbul

The Ayasofya was actually built in 537AD as an orthodox church, then converted into a Catholic cathedral in 1204 by the Romans, then a mosque in 1453 and now finally remains as a museum since 1935. The entrance fee is 25tl, but if you are interested in history it might be worth a visit.

  • Topkapi Palace

This was the home to many Ottoman sultans and is considered one of the most beautiful palaces in Turkey, unfortunately the entry fee is quite ridiculous. 25tl just to enter the Palace, then an extra 15tl for the sultans harem, and another 20tl for the palace museum, adding up to a total 60tl to see the entire palace.

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Posted in Amazing Places, Tips & Advice, Turkey
8 comments on “Top 10 Things to Do in Istanbul
  1. Good list, but I would also recommend visiting other mosques in quiet areas. It was one of the best moments of my Istanbul trip.

  2. I would also recommend to speak to the guy in the religious centre in the Blue Mosque – he explains much about islam in general, is very nice and I found the conversation really educative actually.

  3. Turgay Bayindir says:

    There is a “köşk” inside Yıldız Park in Beşiktaş where you can have very nice Turkish breakfast on weekends (not very cheap though).

    For those who are staying longer than a couple of days in Istanbul I would also recommend taking the ferry to the Prince’s Islands, especially on a sunny day (doesn’t have to be hot). I would recommend avoiding Sundays when most Turkish picnickers go there.

    • Dan Norris says:

      Thanks Turgay, yeah I definitely should have mentioned the princess islands! Maybe I’ll write another list later with 20 things to do in Istanbul, or maybe even 30, there is just so much to do in this city!

  4. Shivangi says:

    Join a proest ?! hahahahaaa….good one!

    This is the first time i’m hearing of a lavish Turkish breakfast…sounds like a must try !

    • Dan Norris says:

      Yup, I’ve joined quite a few of the non violent protests in Turkey. Even got the chance to smell a bit of tear gas once or twice, how is that for taking part in local activities? 🙂

  5. Rebecca says:

    I have got to agree with food and more food in this part of the world! Turkey is amazing for food and flavors… the breakfast and coffee is at the top of my list

  6. Anne Betts says:

    I’d also suggest getting an Istanbulkart and using it to explore the city. It’s a great deal and covers so many modes of transportation:

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  1. […] my answer is… hell yes! Well, ok in terms of tourism Izmir doesn't really compare to places like Istanbul or Cappadocia, but there is still a lot to see and do. On top of this the people in Izmir are some […]

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