Wondering about the best things to do in Istanbul during your next visit? If it’s your first time in this mesmerising city, you’re in for a journey full of surprises and, above all, contrasts. But beware! Istanbul, the jewel of Turkey, is vast and rich in history. If you don’t plan well, you might miss its most valuable treasures. We recommend at least 3 full days to explore the essentials and to truly appreciate the city. Here’s a comprehensive list of the best places to visit in Istanbul, and at the end of this post, we’ve included a video from our trip. Let’s get started!
In this article, you will find our must-visit list to help you organise your independent trip to Istanbul.
- Hagia Sophia, one of the best places of Istanbul
- Blue Mosque
- Topkapi Palace, visitable in Istanbul
- Basilica Cistern, places to see in Istanbul
- Hippodrome of Constantinople and Egyptian Obelisk
- Grand Bazaar, best places of Istanbul for shopping
- Spice Bazaar
- Rüstem Pasha Mosque
- New Mosque
- Galata Bridge, authentic places in Istanbul
- Galata Tower, sightseeing in Istanbul
- Karakoy sights
- Istiklal Street and Taksim Square
- Bosphorus tour in Istanbul
- Balat, top things to see in Istanbul
- Sehzade Mosque
- Suleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul
- Turkish Bath, things to do in Istanbul
- Dolmabahce Palace, sights in Istanbul
- Atatürk Bridge, nighttime activities in Istanbul
- Ortakoy district and mosque
- Kadikoy district, sights in Asian Istanbul
- Üsküdar and the Maiden’s Tower (Asia)
- Derviches Giróvagos: activities to do Istanbul
- Best restaurants in Istanbul and local food
- Map: places to visit in Istanbul
- Best area to stay in Istanbul
- Day trips from Istanbul
- Tips for travelling to Istanbul
- 5% DISCOUNT in your eSIM with unlimited data
- Video: Best Things to do in Istanbul in 3 days
25 Best Things to Do in Istanbul, Turkey
As we mentioned, travelling to Istanbul allows you to experience history, culture, and beauty. Though it would be ideal to have all the time in the world to explore it, we believe you should spare a few days to discover places to see near Istanbul, such as the destinations of Pamukkale and Cappadocia. For instance, our trip to Turkey was split into 4 nights in Istanbul and 2 in Cappadocia. If you want you can read our recommendations about the best things to do in Cappadocia too. On the other hand, before we delve into our Istanbul city attractions list, we’d like to inform you about some essentials when visiting the mosques:
- You must remove your shoes. Hence, wear footwear that’s easy to slip on and off, but don’t forget it should also be comfortable to roam the vast city, as Istanbul has numerous attractions.
- Wearing shorts above the knee is prohibited, and you can’t have your shoulders exposed either. This applies to both men and women.
- Women should cover their hair with a scarf. At every mosque we visited, scarves and/or robes were provided except at the Hagia Sophia where you had to purchase one.
- Another thing to know about Istanbul is that entrance is free to all of them.
Now, let’s start with the list of 25 top places to see in Istanbul. Depending on the number of days you have to tour the city, you might complete the entire list or not. To make it easier to plan your itinerary, we’ve categorised the tourist attractions by area/proximity. At the end, we’ll provide our Istanbul recommendations with tips and other important details to bear in mind.
1. Hagia Sophia or Santa Sofia, a must-see Istanbul attraction
We kick off our list with one of the must-see sites in Istanbul. This majestic structure has witnessed the city’s evolution since its construction in 537 AD. Originally an Orthodox cathedral, it later became a mosque, then a museum, and from 2020 it’s once again a mosque. Its awe-inspiring dome and golden mosaics are a testament to Byzantine art and architecture. Inside, we can observe some mosaics depicting human figures, although many have been concealed. Entrance to the mosque is free, and it’s the only mosque we visited where you have to purchase a scarf to cover your hair or a robe if you’re wearing shorts and tank tops.
⏰ Hagia Sophia Opening Hours: From 9:00am to 11:00pm, except during prayers (5 times a day). You can check them out here, as they vary. The mosque closes on Friday afternoons, as it’s a holy day in Islam. Being one of the top attractions in Istanbul, it’s recommended to arrive early, with queues forming from around 9:30.
⭐ Visiting Hagia Sophia in Istanbul is a must. If you wish, you can book a guided tour, which we’d recommend if you’re keen on getting the full story.
2. The Blue Mosque, another must-visit spot in Istanbul
You’ll soon realise that one of the free things to do in Istanbul is to visit its mosques, and the Blue Mosque is undoubtedly one of the most iconic. With its six minarets and thousands of blue tiles adorning it, this place will transport you to another era. We were also struck by its over 200 stained glass windows, which sets it apart from the other mosques in Istanbul. At the time of its construction, it stirred controversy as it had the same number of minarets as Mecca. To appease the believers, a seventh minaret was added in Mecca.
It’s located next to Hagia Sophia and they are separated by the Sultanhamet park. The park’s name comes from Sultanahmet Camii, which means the name of this mosque in Turkish. If you want to know what to see in Istanbul in 1 day, make sure to note down these two essentials.
⏰ Blue Mosque Opening Times: from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm, except during prayers (5 times a day). This must visit place in Istanbul tends to attract crowds, so queues often form from early on.
⭐ If you’re planning to visit more mosques in the city, we recommend this tour of the main mosques of Istanbul.
3. Topkapi Palace, one of the best things to do in Istanbul, Turkey
The Topkapi Palace was the former residence of the Ottoman sultans. Today, it is one of the top things to do in Istanbul. Here, you can explore luxurious courtyards, discover various Islamic artefacts, view some of Prophet Muhammad’s relics, and gaze upon some of the world’s most valuable objects. From the gardens, you can gain a panoramic view of the Bosphorus, the river in Istanbul that bisects the city into its Asian and European sides, connecting the Sea of Marmara to the Black Sea. Check out more cool images of the palace in the video from our YouTube channel, which we share at the end!
⏰ Topkapi Palace Opening Hours: 9:00 am to 6:00 pm
💵 Approx. €12 per person, prices as of September 2023. You can purchase just the entrance to the palace and its gardens or add the option to visit the Harem. The ticket includes audio guides (smartphones), and there is often a queue to collect them, as they ask for an ID (a driving license will suffice).
⭐ You can buy your skip-the-line ticket to the Topkapi Palace here.
✔️ Gülhane Park and Archaeological Museum, what to see in Istanbul for 5 days or more
If you’re looking for things to see in Istanbul in five days or more, close to the Palace you can visit the Gülhane Park and the Istanbul Archaeological Museum, which boasts a vast collection of artefacts ranging from ancient times to the Ottoman Empire.
4. Basilica Cistern, places to visit in Istanbul, Turkey
This ancient underground cistern, built to supply water to the city, is one of the best places to go in Istanbul. It will leave you speechless. Its 336 columns, each 9 metres high, arranged in 12 rows, create a mystical and cool atmosphere. It’s perfect to escape the heat and is also one of the things to do in Istanbul when it rains. It is constructed from remnants of monuments, notable among which are the Medusa heads and the column engraved with teardrops, a hen’s eye, and slanting branches. This place is also known as the “sunken palace”, and it’s no wonder, given its awe-inspiring nature. Its illumination creates unique reflections on the water, as you can see below.
⏰ Opening Hours of Basilica Cistern or Yerebatan Sarnıcı (in Turkish): 9:00 to 22:00. The timing may vary, but you can always check on the official museum website.
💵 Approx €15 per person, prices as of September 2023
5. Hippodrome of Constantinople and the Egyptian Obelisk
Just a short walk from the Basilica Cistern, you can take the opportunity to visit the remains of the ancient Hippodrome of Constantinople (built in 200 AD), a historically rich location where chariot races took place in days of old. Even though much of its original structure has vanished, you can still admire parts of it. Within the same area, you’ll discover more Istanbul things to see, such as the Egyptian Obelisk, the Serpent Column, the Column of Constantine, and the German fountain.
A short stroll away, you can also reach the Arasta Bazaar, in case you fancy getting a feel for prices of things to buy in Istanbul. If you’re wondering what to see in Istanbul in one day and want to visit the previously mentioned tourist spots in Istanbul (Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia Basilica, Sultanahmet Square, Topkapi Palace, and Basilica Cistern), we recommend one of the best free walking tour in Istanbul. with a professional guide and very well rated from other travellers. As you can see, this activity is highly rated by other travellers and is the best way to make the most of your holiday in Istanbul.
6. Grand Bazaar, fun things to do in Istanbul, Turkey
One of the fun places to go in Istanbul the Grand Bazaar, where you can enjoy to haggle. Over 500 years old (built in 1455), it’s one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world. And, as we see it, among the most beautiful we’ve ever visited. Across its 3,600 stalls and 64 streets, you’ll find a variety of souvenirs, spices, Turkish sweets, jewellery, carpets, Arabic lamps, hookahs, clothing, and accessories. One of the Grand Bazaar’s main attractions is the number of counterfeits you can buy (for those who are into it), from luxury brand bags and footwear to replicas of the most expensive watches. We’ve read it’s more expensive to shop here than at other stores; however, we shopped at a lovely craft shop and didn’t find it too costly.
⏰ Grand Bazaar Opening Hours: Monday to Saturday from 8:30 am to 7:00 pm, closed on Sundays. It has up to 22 different entrances, and you need to pass through a security check at the entrances.
⭐ Be aware that outside of opening hours, if you want to traverse any of its doors to go elsewhere, Google maps might confuse you by suggesting routes that pass through here, but the passageways will be shut.
🍽️ Nusr-Et Steakhouse Sandal Bedesteni: Close to one of the Grand Bazaar entrances is one of the must visit restaurants in Istanbul. It’s one of the grills owned by Turkish chef Nusret Gökçe, popularly known as Salt Bae. The dining experience is an absolute spectacle, and it’s worth paying the €60 per person. We recommend the beef carpaccio, the Nusr-Et special (buttered tenderloin) with fried onion and roasted potato (order separately) and for dessert, baklava with ice cream. You can book online, but be careful, the default location may be one of his Beverly Hills restaurants, and he also has more locations in Istanbul. Check it out in the video at the end!
7. Spice Bazaar, Istanbul attractions
This is less overwhelming than the Grand Bazaar, but equally one of the best tourist places in Istanbul. The Spice Bazaar, or Misir Çarsisi in Turkish, is the ideal place to wander amongst the aromas and flavours of Turkey. Here you can purchase a wide variety of spices, baklavas, teas, nuts, olives, cheeses, and traditional sweets. At many stalls, they let you sample their Turkish delights, so take the opportunity to taste a few. It’s also known as the Egyptian Bazaar and is located in the Eminönü district, very close to the Grand Bazaar.
⏰ Spice Bazaar Opening Hours: 8:00 am -7:00 pm, Saturdays until 7:30 pm, and Sundays from 9:30 to 7:00 pm. Keep in mind that it’s closed on Islamic holidays and on the 29th of October (Republic Day).
8. Rüstem Pasha Mosque, Istanbul Turkey attractions
Located in the heart of Eminönü and very close to the Spice Bazaar, you can visit the Rüstem Pasha Mosque, a genuine treasure of Ottoman architecture. It’s particularly renowned for its magnificent Iznik tile mosaics. Being so close to the bazaar, you can include this mosque as a stop in your Istanbul visit. Although mosques may seem similar from the outside, once inside, you realise that each has its own charm. As entry is free to all of them, we believe it’s worth taking a look if you’re in the vicinity.
⏰ Rüstem Pasha Opening Hours: 10:00 am to 6:00 pm, although some sources suggest from 9:00 am.
9. The New Mosque or Yeni Camii, Istanbul tourist attractions
Before crossing the Galata Bridge, on the horizon of Eminönü and next to the Golden Horn, you can also approach the New Mosque. With its twin domes and sharp minarets, Yeni Camii (its name in Turkish), is a 17th-century architectural gem. Although its name means “New Mosque”, its history and tradition have made it one of the most emblematic religious sites to see in Istanbul. Both inside and out, its blue mosaics will captivate you.
⏰ New Mosque Opening Times: 9:00 am to 6:30 pm
10. Galata Bridge, tourist spots in Istanbul
The Galata Bridge is not just a passageway between Eminönü and Karaköy; it’s an emblem of the city and therefore, one of the best places in Istanbul. Beneath its structure, you’ll find restaurants with panoramic views of the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn. Noteworthy on this bridge is the line of fishermen (including children) who come here daily to earn their living. Regarding the restaurants, it’s very typical to enjoy a classic fish sandwich or indulge in a shisha or hookah.
And that concludes our list of top 10 things to do in Istanbul. Depending on your pace, you could squeeze all of these into one day, especially depending on the time you spend at the Topkapi Palace.
11. Galata Tower, one of the best places to visit in Istanbul, Turkey
This medieval tower is one of the oldest in the world and is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As such, it is one of the iconic sights to see in Istanbul. Once you reach the top, you’ll be treated to a 360-degree view of the city, the Golden Horn, and the Bosphorus. Furthermore, the Galata district, where the tower stands, is perfect for a stroll and to enjoy its bohemian ambiance. As we mentioned in the video (at the end of the article), there tends to be a long queue to get to its viewing platform. Opening times are shared below.
⏰ Galata Tower Opening Times: 8:30 am to 10:00 pm, making it one of the Istanbul night attractions. As you can see from our photo, we visited during the day and loved it.
💵 Approx. €22 per person, prices as of September 2023
⭐ You can book a guided tour of the Galata neighbourhood which includes a trip to the top of the tower.
12. Karaköy, famous sites in Istanbul
Karaköy is one of the places to go in Istanbul for sure. We recomend you to wander around and enjoy a drink in this neighbourhood. With its bohemian and artistic atmosphere, this area is the epicentre of nightlife, boasting a range of bars and terraces overlooking the Bosphorus. The views from Karaköy towards the former Constantinople, with the Golden Horn in between, will captivate you. From here, you can also see the Suleiman Mosque and Rustem Pasha Mosque, which at night looks straight out of a fairy tale. Many blogs recommend trying a fish sandwich in Istanbul, and you can do this in Karaköy too. We didn’t dare to try it, though!
You can also walk the promenade that leads from Karaköy to the Atatürk Bridge, which we will mention further on.
13. Istiklal Caddesi Street and Taksim, Things to See and Do in Istanbul
Another must-visit in Istanbul is Istiklal Avenue, with its historic tram and a plethora of shops leading up to the iconic Taksim Square. This is the city’s modern artery, perfect for those looking for a blend of the old and contemporary. We found it intriguing to see kids hopping onto the moving Istanbul tram along this pedestrian street. We suppose they were “dodging the fare” (not paying). Here, you’ll find some mainstream fashion outlets like Zara, Mango, and H&M. On every corner, you’ll also encounter franchises of the baklava and coffee house, Hafiz Mustafa 1864.
Also note the Flower Passage (Çiçek Pasajı) built in 1876, undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places in Istanbul (Turkey).
14. Bosphorus Cruise, Istanbul activities to do
If you’re in Istanbul for at least three days, like we were, a boat tour on the Bosphorus is a must for your itinerary. As you may know, this strait separates Europe from Asia and is one of the city’s primary waterways. We got a bit sidetracked and couldn’t find available slots for a Bosphorus and Golden Horn Cruise. This is an affordable and less exhausting way to see the city from a unique perspective. What we did manage was to catch a public transport boat to Ortaköy, passing by various tourist sites in Istanbul, such as palaces (like Dolmabahce), fortresses, and beautiful waterfront mansions. This option isn’t guided and doesn’t include the Golden Horn.
15. Balat Neighbourhood, Istanbul stuff to do
With its colourful houses and cobbled streets, Balat is one of the Istanbul places to visit and also among the most photogenic. It’s an ideal place to get lost, discover art galleries, bohemian cafes, and feel the city’s most authentic vibe. In our view, it isn’t one of the must-see places in Istanbul, hence we’d recommend it only for itineraries lasting at least three days in the city. Note down the places to see in Balat if you’re planning a visit: Kiremit Caddesi (the street you can see in the following photo), its main street (Vodina Caddesi), the Antik Café (where we had a fabulous Turkish breakfast), and right next to this, you have the famous colourful stairs of Istanbul. This last spot is where many just stop by to snap an Instagram picture.
🍽️ Antik Balat Café: one of the best things to do in Istanbul is to enjoy an authentic Turkish breakfast, which is more of a brunch actually. Bear in mind that the waiter implored us to pay in cash; we’re just giving you a heads-up. Don’t order anything other than the breakfast, as the rest of the dishes seemed a bit too touristy. In terms of quantity, we overdid it, and you’ll end up feeling absolutely satiated.
16. Sehzade Mosque, Istanbul places to see
Another mosque that’s a Istanbul must see is the Sehzade Mosque, also known as the Prince’s Mosque. It’s a masterful example of Ottoman Renaissance architecture. Its serene atmosphere and sophisticated architecture make it a must-visit if you aim to explore all the mosques in Istanbul. We skipped this one, as there truly are so many to see.
✈️💡 Just a quick note to remind you that if you don’t have travel insurance for visiting Turkey, we have a 5% discount on all IATI policies. This ensures that flight delays, damage or loss of luggage, accidents, and illnesses are all covered. We travelled with the IATI Backpacker insurance, as we later flew in a balloon in Cappadocia and this policy covered us for any accidents related to this activity. You can view all the prices with the 5% discount on the link provided.
17. Suleymaniye Mosque, Istanbul top attractions
The Suleymaniye Mosque, also known as Suleymaniye Camii, stands as one of the most awe-inspiring and regal in the city. In fact, it was Istanbul’s largest mosque until 2019. Originating from the 16th century, Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent commissioned its construction. Perched atop a hill, from here you’ll witness unparalleled panoramic views of the Bosphorus and Istanbul. As you can see, there are countless significant tourist places in Istanbul to explore and you may have to save some for your next trip. It’s a mere half-hour walk from the previous mosque.
The best panorama of the Suleymaniye Mosque can be viewed from the other side of the city. It’s also breath-taking when viewed from the Galata Tower.
18. Turkish Bath, best activities in Istanbul
One of the tourist activities in Istanbul you must do is to relax and relish the experience of a Turkish bath in its traditional hammams. If you’re lucky enough to decide on what to see in Istanbul over 4 days or more, we’d recommend basking in its steam and immersing yourself in a tradition that has endured for centuries. You can pre-book your experience here. This option is conveniently located near the old town, in the Fatih district.
19. Dolmabahçe Palace, best things to do in Istanbul along the Bosphorus
The Dolmabahçe Palace is a grand fusion of European and Ottoman architectural styles, spanning an impressive 15,000 square metres. Only being in Istanbul for a three-day visit, we couldn’t explore its interior, but we did walk past the clock tower in its gardens. Nearby, you can explore the Beşiktaş neighbourhood. We were quite taken with its bustling atmosphere brimming with shops and restaurants, so we paused here to savour an exceptional Turkish breakfast. We delve deeper into Turkish cuisine further below. For a panoramic view of the palace (the city’s largest building), we recommend a boat tour along the Bosphorus, just as we did and discussed earlier. You can see the route we took in the video, at the end of this post.
⏰ Dolmabahçe Palace Opening Hours: from 9 am to 4 pm
⭐ This is one of the Istanbul places to go if you like to visit palaces.
💵 Approximately €12 per person.
20. Atatürk Bridge, best places to see in Istanbul at night
The Atatürk Bridge, with its twinkling lights, is one of the Istanbul things to do at night. It provides a panoramic view of the illuminated city, reflecting the magic of the Bosphorus in the dark. It’s as if you’re witnessing a scene from the Aladdin film, but live. You can include it in your list of places to see in Istanbul if you’re heading to Karakoy.
21. Ortaköy Neighbourhood and Mosque, sights to see in Istanbul by boat
This picturesque neighbourhood by the Bosphorus is famed for its neo-baroque mosque and views of the Bosphorus Bridge. It’s a perfect spot for a leisurely stroll and to try Turkish food like the renowned “kumpir” (stuffed baked potato) and capture iconic city photographs. Undoubtedly, the highlight of our holiday in Istanbul was its cuisine. Hence, we’ll soon publish an article solely about where to eat in Istanbul and its traditional dishes.
22. Kadikoy, Istanbul best things to do in the Asian side
One of the nice places to visit in Istanbul is the Kadıköy neighbourhood in the Asian side. Here you’ll find a more laid-back and local atmosphere. Though we’d only suggest it if your trip to Istanbul spans 5 days or more, its fish market also offers local items like Turkish pizza, olives, mussels, etc. There’s an array of restaurants, little shops, cafes, and bustling streets. In essence, wandering around Kadiköy is one of the activities to do in Istanbul if you wish to explore a residential district on the Asian side. However, you’ll need several days to traverse the city, as you can see, there’s plenty to do.
23. Üsküdar and the Maiden’s Tower, best things to see in Istanbul (Asian part)
This is one of Istanbul’s oldest districts where you can discover traces of Ottoman history. It’s located on the Asian side, and you can get there by ferry from Eminönü. One of the must-see spots in Üsküdar is the iconic Maiden’s Tower (Kız Kulesi). This tower, standing solitary amidst the Bosphorus, is surrounded by numerous legends and romantic tales. To appreciate and savour a beautiful sunset in Istanbul, we recommend the Carpet Café. It’s a must on your places to visit in Istanbul in a week list.
Having reached this far, you can roam around the neighbourhood to appreciate Ottoman-style buildings and the Yeni Valide mosque, among others. Similarly, nearby there are even more things to do in Istanbul on the Asian side, such as visiting the Beylerbeyi Palace. There’s a tour that takes you around Istanbul’s Asian side, which includes a visit to the Beylerbeyi Palace, the Basilica Cistern and an afternoon trip to Eyup, known as Istanbul’s Mecca (both in the European side). By the way, if you head to Eyup, there’s a café renowned for its views over the Golden Horn. Remember its name: Pierre Loti.
24. Whirling Dervishes, best things to do in Istanbul & Turkey
Another of the best things to visit in Istanbul is a performance by the Whirling Dervishes or Mevlevi. These monks of the Sufi order perform a mystical dance known as Sema, where they spin in a meditative trance seeking a connection with the divine. The Sufi dance, originating from Konya, is a true way to understand another facet of Turkish culture. Although there are ceremonies every day, it is recommended to book in advance as they are very popular among both locals and visitors. You can book the show and read all the reviews from other travellers on this page.
25. Turkish Cuisine, top things to do in Istanbul & Turkey
What we have enjoyed the most about travelling to Istanbul and Turkey has been its cuisine, so make a note of the typical dishes of Turkey and, for us, the best must visit restaurants in Istanbul.
|Typical Turkish Food and Drink
|Turkish breakfast with Börek (phyllo dough with Turkish cheese), Turkish bread and Menemen (scrambled eggs). You’ll also sample various types of olives, cheeses and local honeys.
|Any in the Beşiktaş neighbourhood (we went to Bi Kahvalti) and also Antik Balat Café.
|Şehzade Cağ Kebap
|Kumpir (stuffed baked potatoes)
|Street stalls in the Ortaköy neighbourhood.
|Baklava (phyllo dough with pistachio or walnut paste), Lökum (Turkish delights) and Künefe
|Markets and shops of Hafız Mustafa 1864
|Dolma (vine leaves stuffed with rice and meat and seasoned with lemon)
|We had it at Hanzade Terrace restaurant.
|Street stalls on the Galata Bridge and Karaköy neighbourhood
|Köfte (beef or lamb meatballs)
|You can find it in almost any typical restaurant.
|Gözleme (grilled Turkish bread filled)
|The spinach with feta cheese is very tasty. You can try it at Antik Balat Café and many street stalls.
|Ayran (salty yoghurt)
|It’s offered onboard Turkish airlines as a drink, but you can buy it in any supermarket.
|Turkish ice cream or Dondurma
|This is a tourist show you’ll see at every corner. Turkish ice creams have a base of goat’s milk and salep (flour with orchid roots).
|It’s served in almost every place in Turkey.
So, these are some of the best restaurants to visit in Istanbul and Turkish dishes that we believe you should consider for your next stay in Istanbul. Here’s a little photo of us enjoying the award-winning kebab at Sehzade Cag Kebap, where you can also try the lentil soup and baklava for dessert. Their menu is just a few items, and we love that. There’s nothing better than specialisation.
We hope our tourist guide to Istanbul has given you an idea of all the things you can see and do on your next trip to this magical metropolis. As you might have noticed, the city of Istanbul blends tradition and modernity. We found it to be full of contrasts, and you’ll surely experience some cultural shocks. Soon, we’ll share more articles, such as tips for travelling to Istanbul and Turkey in general.
Map with the places to visit in Istanbul
Below you will find a map with the locations of all the places to see in Istanbul mentioned in this article.
Where to stay in Istanbul
Having travelled to the city in 2023, we believe it’s ideal to stay close to the Istanbul top tourist attractions, be it in the neighbourhoods of Sultanahmet, Fatih, or Eminönü (in or very close to the old town) and Karakoy or Galata. This way, you’ll save time on commuting. We stayed at the Miro Mansion hotel, near Hagia Sophia. The value for money was excellent as we paid less than £100/night. There are also Spanish hotel chains like the Barceló Istanbul, in case you want something familiar. If you’re looking for luxury, know that Istanbul has several Four Seasons hotels, like the one by the Bosphorus. If none of these appeal to you, we invite you to check out the offers below.
Day trips from Istanbul
If you’re keen on exploring more of Turkey, here are some sites to see in and around Istanbul. The following tours around Turkey from Istanbul can all be done from the city, for instance, travelling from Istanbul to Cappadocia. For more details on each, simply click on the respective link.
- Express trip to Cappadocia from Istanbul
- Excursion to the Princes Islands (return trip)
- 7-day circuit from Istanbul (Ankara, Cappadocia, Troy, Pamukkale, Ephesus…)
- 6-day tour to Cappadocia, Pamukkale and Ephesus
Istanbul Tourism: Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some tips for your trip to Istanbul that we wish we’d known beforehand.
How many days to see Istanbul?
Based on our experience, you’d need at least 3 days to discover the best spots in Istanbul. However, if you have 4 or 5 days, we’re certain you can cover this list with the 25 best things to do in Istanbul we recommend.
Best Time to Travel to Istanbul
We chose to visit Istanbul in September 2023. The weather was pleasant, neither cold nor hot. If you’re looking to escape the heat, September is undoubtedly the best month to go to Istanbul. In July and August, temperatures can soar to around 40 degrees, and hotel prices increase. Similarly, if you want to travel before summer, the best month to visit Istanbul is in June, as the heat hasn’t kicked in and schools are still in session. If you’re looking for better prices but don’t want to freeze or swelter, consider checking travel prices for Istanbul in October or May. Finally, travelling to Istanbul in December and other winter months is much colder, but just as beautiful and less crowded. Plus, you’ll likely find better travel deals to Istanbul during the colder months.
How to Get Around Istanbul?
The best option is public transport; it’s very affordable and efficient. We recommend getting the Istanbulkart as soon as you arrive at the airport, which can be used for buses, trams, the underground and ferries. One thing not to do in Istanbul is to rely on taxis. If possible, avoid them or settle on a written price with your hotel or taxi driver before starting your journey. Otherwise, they might come up with reasons to charge you more (it happened to us when travelling from central Istanbul to the airport). The city’s traffic can be quite chaotic, so the underground and the ferry are always the quickest options.
How Many Airports are there in Istanbul?
You can reach Istanbul via two airports: the main Istanbul or Istanbul airport, which is about an hour’s drive from the centre, and Sabiha Gökçen, which is around 1 and a half hours away. Which airport does Turkish Airlines use in Istanbul? Istanbul’s main airport. Our journey from Barcelona to Istanbul was with Pegasus airline, which lands at Sabiha. We then returned from the main airport, as there are flights from both airports between Barcelona and Istanbul. There are also direct flights from Madrid to Istanbul, which might be a better connection if you’re coming from Latin America.
How to get to the centre of Istanbul from the airport?
As mentioned, both airports are quite a distance from Istanbul’s historic centre. If you don’t fancy wandering around on your arrival day (as happened to us) or haggling with taxi drivers (which we also experienced), we suggest booking a transfer from the Istanbul airport. You can reserve this service online. It’s a good idea to book your transfer well in advance, especially if you expect heavy traffic. Alternatively, you can make use of the Istanbulkart and the metro, though the best choice depends on your hotel’s location in Istanbul.
Is Istanbul affordable?
Istanbul can be quite pricey, especially in certain touristy areas and restaurants with views. Some prices might even be comparable to major European cities like Paris. Nevertheless, certain items remain relatively cheap, such as street food, public transport, and taxis (provided you’re good at haggling). From our experience, there’s a trend in Turkey to overcharge tourists — sometimes for as simple a pleasure as taking a photo at a viewpoint or watching the iconic ice-cream vendor’s performance. Thus, it’s not just about haggling over purchases but also staying vigilant at all times. Finally, if you want to save money and you are planing to visit several Istanbul museums, we recommend to buy the Museum Pass.
UNLIMITED data in Turkey with Holafly’s eSIM
If you wish to know which are the best tourist places in Istanbul and also want access to Google Maps, find nearby restaurants, and check the operating hours of the Istanbul attraction places, we’d recommend getting an eSIM. Exploring Istanbul on your own becomes simpler with Holafly, which offers unlimited data in Turkey. With this virtual SIM, you can retain your WhatsApp number and card on your phone, and activation is as easy as scanning a QR code. It’s very straightforward. We offer a 5% discount to all our readers, and you can view the daily plans here. The discount will be applied at the checkout.
Video with the best things to do in Istanbul in 3 days
Below, we present a video of the places to visit in Istanbul in three days. We’ve included restaurants, typical Turkish dishes to try, and essential tips to avoid scams. You can subscribe to our YouTube channel here to stay updated when we release subsequent videos about our trip to Turkey, Gran Canaria, and other places around the world. Please consider that the video is in Spanish.
We are Ruth & Jorge, Gran Canarians with a travelling soul. Experts in tourism and digital marketing. We share the most authentic side of Gran Canaria (where we live) and… our adventures around the world!