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35 Things to Do in Istanbul

Updated: November 10, 2023

If you’re looking for something fun in Istanbul, this post will cover some of the best activities and attractions to visit throughout the city.

We’ll include a variety of family-friendly things to do, free locations to visit, and evening events.

1. Take an Istanbul Free Walking Tour

A free walking tour, or "pay what you wish" tour, is a city exploration service led by a guide, where participants decide the price they want to pay at the end based on their satisfaction with the tour.

The free walking tour of Istanbul is your gateway to discovering the city's rich past and artistic heritage.

With no entry fee, it gives you the freedom to explore Istanbul's heart at a leisurely pace.

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Walk through the cobblestone alleys and gaze at Byzantine-era architecture and vibrant Turkish life, imbibing the city's unique aura.

Places covered include the Hagia Sophia, Sultan Ahmed Mosque, and the bustling Spice Bazaar. 

An expert guide will accompany you, enriching your journey with exciting tales and stories about the city.

Remember, although the tour is free, tips of ₺250-₺400 for the guide are appreciated.

2. Enjoy a Bosphorus Dinner Cruise

Take a Bosphorus Dinner Cruise. Sail along the calm waters of the Bosphorus and get a unique perspective on Istanbul.

The Dinner Cruise's mesmerizing views of Istanbul's skyline, adorned with minarets and domes, will capture your attention. 

Bosphorus dinner cruise boats on the waters next to Istanbul at sunset. Image source: Pixabay user Bakhrom Tursunov.
Bosphorus dinner cruise boats on the waters next to Istanbul at sunset. Image source: Pixabay user Bakhrom Tursunov.

Indulge in a delightful Turkish feast while admiring milestones such as the majestic Dolmabahçe Palace and the iconic Bosphorus Bridge.

Lively performances of traditional Turkish music and dance further enrich the ambiance.

It’s a food tour where you can enjoy the dinner menu and unlimited soft drinks at your private table.

3. Experience a Whirling Dervishes Show

Witness the divine dance of the Whirling Dervishes, a beautiful spiritual experience you shouldn't miss.

Tickets include an hour-long show that takes you on a mesmerizing journey of Sufi music and the dervishes' transcendental dance. 

A whirling dervishes concert. Image source: Pixabay user Tuana Ajans.
A whirling dervishes concert. Image source: Pixabay user Tuana Ajans.

This age-old ritual is a meditation that seeks to abandon one’s earthly ties to reach the truth.

You will be spellbound by the grace and spirituality that emanates from this unique ceremony.

4. Visit Topkapi Palace

Discover the historic Topkapi Palace and take in all the fantastic architecture and culture while wandering around the area.

The imperial gate of Topkapi Palace with the mosque in the background. Image source: Pixabay user Günther Simmermacher.
The imperial gate of Topkapi Palace with the mosque in the background. Image source: Pixabay user Günther Simmermacher.

You might also want to consider a guided tour of this incredible landmark, including admission to the palace, free time to explore on your own, and a professional guide who will tell you all about the history of Topkapi Palace.

  • Duration: 75 minutes
  • Constant Availability
  • Time to Begin: 10:00 AM | 11:00 AM | 2:30 PM
  • $50.20/Adult | $25.10/Child | $0/Infant
  • Book Your Tour or Learn More

5. Discover the Dolmabahce Palace

Experience the splendor of the Dolmabahçe Palace, an architectural marvel symbolizing the empire's shift towards European-style modernization.

Tickets include fast-track entry and an audio guide. 

You can admire the palace's opulent rooms, lush gardens, and stunning Bosphorus views. The tour's highlight is the Ceremonial Hall, with its magnificent crystal chandelier. 

Dolmabahce Palace. Image source: Pixabay user Suat Alkan.
Dolmabahce Palace. Image source: Pixabay user Suat Alkan.

An audio guide will provide detailed historical insights as you navigate the palace.

  • Validity: 1 Day
  • Constant Availability
  • Time to Begin: 10:00 AM | 11:00 AM | 12:00 PM | 1:00 PM | 2:00 PM | 3:00 PM
  • $41/Adult | $0/Child
  • Book Your Tour or Learn More

6. See the Blue Mosque

Discover Istanbul's renowned Blue Mosque and its tranquility.

You can take a guided art and symbolism tour to learn more about the mosque's importance and grandeur.

Walking beneath the vast, ornately decorated domes, you'll marvel at thousands of blue Iznik tiles that give the mosque its name. 

Blue Mosque after dark. Image source: Pixabay user Walkerssk.
Blue Mosque after dark. Image source: Pixabay user Walkerssk.

Your guide will share insights about the intricate designs, from prayer niches to spectacular stained glass windows, revealing the mosque's profound spiritual and artistic essence.

7. Take the Kids to Vialand

Vialand Theme Park is the ideal location for a day of fun and adventure. It provides exciting rides, performances, and engaging games for people of all ages. 

There are countless entertainment options, ranging from the thrilling King Kong ride to the fascinating 4D cinema experience.

You can unwind after the excitement at one of the numerous restaurants dotted throughout the park.

  • Validity: 1 day
  • Constant Availability
  • Operating hours: 11:00 AM - 9:00 PM
  • $49.90/Adult | $49.90/Child | $0/Infant
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8. Experience a Turkish Bath

Experience Turkish culture by visiting Cemberlitas Hamami, one of Istanbul's oldest and most prominent hamam.

You can participate in a traditional Turkish bath ritual here, a tradition with ancient Roman origins.

A relaxing steam hammam and a thorough body scrub exfoliating your skin set the tone for your rejuvenation trip.

The next step is a soap massage, which will revitalize your body and your skin.

The ritual is more than just a bath; it is a purifying process that will wash your body, mind, and soul and renew you.

9. Visit the Hagia Sophia

Learn about the Hagia Sophia, a work of art in architecture that has served as a mosque, Chora Church, and Istanbul Archaeology Museum.

Skip-the-line tickets let you bypass the crowds and delve into its fascinating history. 

An expert guide will illuminate the building's impressive features, such as the vast dome, beautiful mosaics, and Islamic calligraphy.

The Hagia Sophia. Image source: Pixabay user Niek Verlaan.
The Hagia Sophia. Image source: Pixabay user Niek Verlaan.

Stand at the epicenter of centuries of history and marvel at the Hagia Sophia's resilience, reinvention, and enduring beauty.

10. Take the Family to an Aquarium

For a perfect blend of fun and learning for the entire family, consider visiting the Istanbul Aquarium, a top-tier tourist attraction.

With transport included, You will have the chance to explore one of the biggest themed aquariums in the entire world.

This marine wonderland houses many sea creatures from all corners of the world, offering a captivating look into the diverse underwater ecosystems.

You can learn plenty about the diverse aquatic habitats on our planet while delving into the complexities of marine life.

A standout feature is the magnificent 83-meter tunnel that offers a panoramic 270-degree view of the main tank.

11. See Landmarks From a Hop-on Hop-off Bus

Explore Istanbul at your own pace with a one-day hop-on hop-off bus tour.

A small price allows you to visit the landmarks that interest you the most.

The bus covers significant attractions across the city, from the exquisite Topkapi Palace to the bustling Taksim Square. 

You can get off at any stop to explore further or stay on board for the entire circuit.

An onboard commentary will provide fascinating insights into the city's history and culture.

12. Ride a Zipline Over Istanbul

Inject a dose of adventure into your Istanbul journey with an adrenaline-pumping zipline ride.

This thrilling activity allows you to glide high above the city, providing a breathtaking view of the Bosphorus. 

This high-flying adventure is an exceptional way to behold Istanbul's superb skyline from a novel vantage point.

The entrance ticket includes all the necessary safety equipment and a quick training session to ensure that your exciting flight across the sky is outstanding but also safe and secure.

13. Enjoy the View From Sapphire Observation Deck

Prepare yourself for the Sapphire Observation Deck's breathtaking 360-degree views of Istanbul.

You can ascend Istanbul's tallest building and take the cityscape from 236 meters high. 

As a bonus, the ticket includes a 4D Skyride experience that virtually flies you over the city's landmarks.

The observation deck also features a cafe where you can savor a cup of Turkish tea while enjoying the view.

14. Discover the Suleymaniye Mosque

Feel a sense of calm and awe as you enter the magnificent Suleymaniye Mosque.

On this guided tour, you'll explore this magnificent mosque from the Ottoman era, which was built by the renowned architect Sinan.

Only its tranquil courtyard and gardens can rival the luxury of its domes and minarets. 

Suleymaniye Mosque. Image source: Pixabay user falco.
Suleymaniye Mosque. Image source: Pixabay user falco.

A genuinely educational visit can be had by taking the tour, which provides insightful information about the mosque's architecture, history, and the Sultan who was given his name.

15. Meet Celebrities at Madame Tussauds

Has the idea of mingling with the stars ever crossed your mind? Madame Tussauds in Istanbul brings your dreams to life.

With an affordable ticket of approximately $18, you can interact with the incredibly realistic wax replicas of renowned figures, ranging from Hollywood luminaries to eminent sports personalities.

Imagine capturing a perfect selfie with the dazzling Angelina Jolie or challenging the football legend Messi to a match.

The fun is simply endless. This isn't just another ferry stop in your day Istanbul itinerary but an exciting opportunity to bask in the glitz and fame of the star-studded world.

16. Taste Authentic Turkish Coffee

You can experience a flavorful tour of Istanbul's coffee culture with the Turkish Coffee Trail Half-Day Tour.

You can learn about Turkish coffee's long history and unique flavor on this tour. 

It takes you to some of the top coffee shops in the city, where you can learn about the standard brewing process and make your cup.

Turkish Coffee. Image source: Pixabay user svklimkin.
Turkish Coffee. Image source: Pixabay user svklimkin.

Delicious Turkish sweets and a professional coffee reading session round out the experience. This is more than just a cup of coffee; it's a cultural awakening.

17. Take a Day Trip to Troy

To indulge yourself in the world of ancient epics, take a full-day tour from Istanbul to Troy.

You can discover the city's historical foundations while on this journey, which was made famous by Homer's Iliad. 

Discover Troy's rebuilt walls, approach the replica of the infamous Trojan horse, and listen to your knowledgeable guide's tales of the fabled Trojan War.

The Trojan Horse in Troy. Image source: Pixabay user Hans Rohmann.
The Trojan Horse in Troy. Image source: Pixabay user Hans Rohmann.

This tour offers an opportunity to interact deeply personally with history.

18. Visit the Basilica Cistern

Reveal the mystery of Istanbul's underground wonder, the Basilica Cistern.

You can take a guided tour of this enormous ancient water storage, which once supplied water to the Great Palace of Constantinople.

Be in awe of the 336 nine-meter-tall marble columns that form a forest and the oddly positioned Medusa heads.

The Basilica Cistern in Istanbul. Image source: Pixabay user Claudia Beyli.
The Basilica Cistern in Istanbul. Image source: Pixabay user Claudia Beyli.

Your guide will enrich the tour with fascinating stories about the cistern's construction and history, transporting you back to Byzantine times.

19. Go on a Pub Crawl

A fun-filled Pub Crawl is a great way to experience Istanbul's thriving nightlife.

Visit some of the best bars and clubs in the city by participating in Big Night Out.

Enjoy a complimentary welcome drink and special discounts on additional purchases at each location. 

Along with the vibrant music and dance, you'll get to meet like-minded travelers worldwide.

Your guide will ensure a safe and memorable night out in Istanbul. To participate, you must be 18 years of age or older.

20. Take the Kids to LEGOLAND

Bring your children's creative dreams to life at LEGOLAND Discovery Center in Istanbul.

This indoor LEGO playground offers numerous interactive exhibits, rides, and building workshops. 

Kids can construct their skyscrapers in the Build and Test area or explore the magical Miniland, a miniaturized version of Istanbul built entirely of LEGO bricks.

The 4D cinema experience and the LEGO Factory Tour add to the fun. 

This colorful, hands-on environment will spark imagination and provide endless entertainment for your little ones.

21. Go on a Day Trip to Bursa

For a day, get away from Istanbul's bustle and discover Bursa's serene beauty.

The Grand Mosque, the bustling Silk Market, and a cable car ride up Mount Uludag are all included in this incredible day trip. 

While there, you can savor delectable regional fare like Iskender Kebab and take in the expansive, lush surroundings.

With its rich history and stunning scenery, ursa is a slice of Turkish delight.

22. Discover the Grand Bazaar

The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, one of the world's biggest and oldest covered markets, is open for guided tours.

This tour allows you to navigate the labyrinthine lanes of the bazaar without getting lost. 

You'll explore over 60 streets housing over 3000 shops selling everything from Turkish lamps to intricately woven carpets.

The Grand Bazaar after dark. Image source: Pixabay user Polat Dover.
The Grand Bazaar after dark. Image source: Pixabay user Polat Dover.

Your guide will offer tips on bargaining and help you unearth the best souvenirs. This vibrant shopping adventure is a feast for the senses.

23. Experience the Turkish & Islamic Art Museum

A fantastic resource for learning about Turkey's artistic heritage is the Turkish & Islamic Art Museum.

An impressive collection of artifacts from the 7th century can be seen here. 

Admire intricate ceramics, ornate carpets, and beautifully illuminated Qurans while learning about their historical context from a knowledgeable guide.

This museum profoundly reveals the rich artistic tradition of Turkey and the Islamic world.

24. Take a Day Trip to Ephesus

Stepping into Ephesus is like taking a journey back to ancient Greece. You can take a day trip to Ephesus from Istanbul, including flights and lunch.

A wealth of historical artifacts can be found at this UNESCO World Heritage Site, once a thriving Greek city. 

You will find yourself in awe of the monumental Library of Celsus, the vast Great Theatre, and the remnants of the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. 

Guided by an expert, you will gain profound insights into the grandeur of this ancient civilization.

25. Explore the Museum of Illusions

Prepare yourself for an immersive adventure at the Museum of Illusions, an enchanting destination that guarantees an extraordinary experience for people of all ages.

Enter a world where perceptions of reality are distorted, and nothing is as it seems.

Be amazed by captivating exhibits like the Vortex Tunnel and the Infinity Room, designed to challenge your senses and perception playfully.

Enter a realm of illusions that invites you to embrace the wonder and excitement it holds.

  • Validity: 1 hour
  • Constant Availability
  • Time to Begin: 11:00 AM - 08:00 PM
  • $13/Adult | $10/Youth | $10/Student | $0/Infant
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26. Try the Best Food in Istanbul

Savor the flavors of Istanbul with a guided food tour.

You can choose from two options and take culinary time at the city's markets and food stands. Sample classics like 'simit,' 'lokum' (Turkish delight), 'doner,' and much more. 

Turkish Delight (Lokum) is just one treat you can expect to find in Istanbul. Image source: Pixabay user Engin Akyurt.
Turkish Delight (Lokum) is just one treat you can expect to find in Istanbul. Image source: Pixabay user Engin Akyurt.

The tours introduce you to Turkish cuisine and share stories about the city's culinary culture. Be prepared for a delicious exploration of Istanbul's vibrant food scene.

27. Escape Frankenstein’s House of Horror

The Frankenstein Horror House Escape Room Game provides a spine-chilling experience for those who love thrills.

In this game, you'll find yourself trapped in Dr. Frankenstein's house and have 45 minutes to solve riddles and puzzles to escape. 

Working with your team under the suspense of ticking time will pump your adrenaline.

Every clue you unravel brings you one step closer to escaping the clutches of this haunting house.

Dare to test your nerve and enter this chilling escape room experience, where fear and excitement intertwine.

28. Discover the Istanbul Archaeological Museum

Unearth the history of Istanbul and beyond at the Archaeological Museum. This guided tour will lead you through thousands of years of history. 

From the stunning Alexander Sarcophagus to the Treaty of Kadesh, the oldest peace treaty in the world, you'll explore artifacts from various civilizations. 

The knowledgeable guide will share interesting anecdotes and insights, making history come alive before your eyes. Venture on this tour for a fascinating walk through time.

29. Visit Eyup Sultan Mosque

Find solace and spiritual tranquility at the revered Eyup Sultan Mosque, a destination of immense significance within Istanbul's Islamic heritage.

This sacred mosque is open to all visitors free of charge. It holds a special place of reverence and becomes a vibrant activity center during the holy month of Ramadan.

You can admire its beautiful interior, pay respects to the tomb of Eyup Sultan, and feel the peaceful ambiance that pervades this sacred space.

Nestled amidst a cemetery on a hill, the mosque also offers stunning views of the Golden Horn.

30. Climb up the Galata Tower

Get an unparalleled view of Istanbul by climbing the Galata Tower. This historic stone tower can be mounted, providing breathtaking 360-degree city views. 

Reaching the top, a breathtaking 360-degree Istanbul vista unfolds before you.

Admire the magnificent architecture of well-known sites like the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the Galata Bridge, and the sparkling Bosphorus Strait. 

Galata Tower amidst the streets of Istanbul. Image source: Pixabay user Şinasi Müldür.
Galata Tower amidst the streets of Istanbul. Image source: Pixabay user Şinasi Müldür.

The view from the Galata Tower allows you to truly appreciate the city's unique blend of history, culture, and natural beauty.

31. Explore Sultanahmet Square and the Hippodrome

Immerse yourself in Istanbul's rich history at Sultanahmet Square and the Hippodrome.

Sultanahmet Square is home to iconic landmarks such as the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia, and the Basilica Cistern, inviting you to explore their awe-inspiring architecture and intriguing stories. 

Adjacent to the square, the ancient Hippodrome offers a glimpse into Byzantine social life through its fascinating monuments.

Wander freely through these historical sites, free of charge, and let the echoes of the past transport you to Istanbul's captivating past.

32. See the Golden Horn at Sunset

Experience one of Istanbul's most breathtaking and picturesque moments by witnessing a mesmerizing sunset over the Golden Horn.

This natural harbor, which divides the old and new parts of the city, offers the perfect setting for a memorable evening. 

A view of the Golden Horn at sunset. Image source: Pixabay user Adri Marie.
A view of the Golden Horn at sunset. Image source: Pixabay user Adri Marie.

Stroll along the shores, find a cozy spot on a bench, or unwind at a waterfront café, all while enchanted by the sun's descent, transforming the sky into a canvas of vibrant orange and pink hues. 

This enchanting and romantic experience is free, allowing you to create lasting memories during your Istanbul adventure.

33. Shop for Spices at the Egyptian Bazaar

Bring the aromatic allure of the Egyptian Bazaar, also known as the Spice Bazaar, to life for your senses.

Entry to this vibrant marketplace is free, opening up a world of aromatic enchantment for gourmets and food enthusiasts. 

Spices at the Egyptian Bazaar in Istanbul. Image source: Pixabay user Claudia Beyli.
Spices at the Egyptian Bazaar in Istanbul. Image source: Pixabay user Claudia Beyli.

The bazaar is a vibrant spectacle, with stalls full of a diverse range of spices, various dehydrated fruits, an array of nuts, and the quintessential Turkish delight. 

Remember, bargaining is part of the shopping experience here, so put your negotiation skills to work for the most competitive prices!

34. Visit the Beylerbeyi Palace

Experience the luxury of the Ottoman Empire era at Beylerbeyi Palace.

For a modest entry fee, you will have the opportunity to admire the extravagant interiors of this historic palace. 

From its stunning reception hall to Sultan's private chambers, every step within this historical palace is a testament to the elegance and sophistication of an era long past.

As a bonus, the palace's strategic location offers visitors a stunning panorama of the Bosphorus Strait.

35. Take a Walk Through Emirgan Park

Relax in the green oasis of Emirgan Park, one of the largest public parks in Istanbul.

Access to this green haven is free of charge, offering you a refreshing retreat from the bustling city.

Especially during the Tulip Festival in April, the park transforms into a colorful canvas with blooms in every conceivable hue. 

This is the perfect place to spend a leisurely day picnicking, jogging along the scenic trails, or simply unwinding by the serene Bosphorus vistas, providing an idyllic escape from the city's energetic pulse.

How many days is ideal for Istanbul?

Spending around 4 to 5 days in Istanbul would allow visitors to explore the city's major attractions, immerse themselves in its rich history, and savor its rich cultural experiences.

What should tourists see and do in Istanbul?

Tourists in Istanbul should not miss iconic landmarks such as the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, and Topkapi Palace.

Exploring the Grand Bazaar, taking a relaxing Bosphorus cruise, and indulging in the local cuisine are also highly recommended.

What are 3 things Turkey is famous for?

Turkey is famous for its rich history, stunning landscapes, and delicious cuisine.

It is renowned for its ancient ruins like Ephesus, the natural wonders of Cappadocia, and its world-class Turkish carpets.

What is unique about Istanbul, Turkey?

Istanbul holds a unique blend of East and West, with its strategic location bridging Europe and Asia.

It boasts a diverse cultural heritage, stunning architectural marvels, and a vibrant atmosphere that seamlessly merges tradition with modernity.

Is Istanbul cheap or expensive?

Istanbul can be considered moderately expensive. Extra cost depends on the chosen accommodations, dining preferences, and activities.

While budget-friendly options are available, certain attractions and upscale experiences may have higher price tags.

What attracts tourists to Turkey?

Turkey attracts tourists with its rich history, including ancient ruins, fascinating archaeological sites, and well-preserved historical landmarks.

Its stunning natural landscapes, such as Pamukkale and the Fairy Chimneys of Cappadocia.

What not to do in Istanbul, Turkey?

When visiting Istanbul, paying attention to proper etiquette and cultural sensitivities is advisable.

Avoid discussing sensitive political topics, dressing inappropriately when visiting religious sites, and haggling aggressively in shops, as it can be considered disrespectful.

And much, much more

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