Top Tourist Attractions and Things to do in Istanbul (Turkey)
Istanbul, a city of high culture and glorious history. The capital city of a country where two continents, Asia and Europe, meet.
Is Istanbul worth visiting? Of course! It is a beautiful city filled with astonishing landmarks and meaningful tradition. You will find a lot of exciting things to do in Istanbul.
There are plenty attractive Istanbul points of interest, so going sightseeing in Istanbul is such a fulfilling experience that you will never forget.
Istanbul was first founded in 660 BC. It was named Byzantion at that time. In 330 AD, the city was rebuilt, and the name was changed into Constantinople.
Throughout the history, this city has served as the capital city of many imperials, from the Romans to the Ottoman. That is why you can feel powerful influences of both Islam and Christianity in Istanbul. Some of the most famous Istanbul tourist attractions are magnificent mosques and churches.
The summers in Istanbul are scorching, and the winters there can be snowy. Therefore, the best time to go to Istanbul is during the spring (April-May), during which the sky is clear, and the weather is beautiful.
The fall season will also give you the pleasant temperature, so another best time to visit Istanbul is from September to mid-November.
Many people come to Istanbul for their summer vacation. The weather during this season is quite lovely, though it can be warm sometimes.
And, during the summer, the city is packed with lots of tourists, so it will be more difficult to enjoy all those Istanbul tourist attractions. The rates of the hotels in Istanbul are also rocketing during the summer.
If you want to know more about the greatness of Istanbul, go on and read our thorough Istanbul travel guide article. Our what to see in Istanbul list will help you to set plan for your next trip to Istanbul.
Table of Contents
- 1 Experiences and top things to do in Istanbul
- 1.1 Witness The Greatness of The Past
- 1.2 Pretend to Be A Sultan
- 1.3 Let’s Go Under
- 1.4 Get to Know The Amazing Friendly Face of Islam
- 1.5 Admire Majestic Mosque
- 1.6 Take A Look At Amazing Artifacts
- 1.7 Hop from One Continent to Another
- 1.8 Feel The Local Rush
- 1.9 Relax Your Muscles
- 1.10 Treat Your Tastebuds
- 2 Top Landmarks and attractions in Istanbul
- 3 Practical information and Istanbul travel tips
- 4 Where to stay in Istanbul?
- 5 Short on time? Go sightseeing in Istanbul on a tour!
- 6 Did you like this post? We have more inspiring quotes!
- 7 Want to gear up for your upcoming travels? Here're our top gear reviews!
Experiences and top things to do in Istanbul
Witness The Greatness of The Past
The perfect place to witness the trace of emperors in Istanbul is Hagia Sophia. It was built in 537 AD, the impressive building first served as an Orthodox church, but after the Ottoman invasion, it was turned into a mosque in 1453.
In the 20th century, the government decided to secularize Hagia Sophia and declare this historic building as a museum. It was first opened on February 1, 1935.
The highlight of this Istanbul landmark is the massive dome. With 102 feet in diameter and 184 feet in height, the dome of Hagia Sophia is considered as the marvel of architecture in that timeline.
Not only the dome, the whole building has a lot of stunning and intricate elements, making Hagia Sophia considered as the best construction of Byzantine architecture. Until 1520, or the year of Seville Cathedral completion, Hagia Sophia used to be the largest cathedral in the whole world.
Pretend to Be A Sultan
For a closer look at the glory of Ottoman Empire, you should go to Topkapi Palace during your trip to Istanbul. Topkapi Palace was built in the 15th century. Mehmed the Conqueror ordered the construction of the palace in 1459.
At first, the palace was named Yeni Saray, or the New Palace. Before this palace, the Sultan used to live in the Old Palace in Beyazit Square. The name was changed to Topkapi Palace in the 19th century. Topkapi means canon gate.
After the fall of Ottoman Empire in 1923, Topkapi Palace was turned into a museum in 1924. The palace, occupying a vast area of around 592,600 to 700,000 m2, has hundreds of rooms and chambers, but not all of these rooms are accessible for tourists. Only some of the most important ones are open to the public.
Topkapi Palace displays beautiful Ottoman buildings, and inside those buildings, you can find an extensive collection of Ottoman artifacts, from letters, clothes, weapons, paintings, to jewelry.
One of the most astonishing collections in Topkapi Palace is the Spoonmaker’s Diamond. This 86-carat pear-shaped diamond is displayed in the third room of the Imperial Treasury housed in The Conqueror’s Pavilion.
Let’s Go Under
Lying under the city of Istanbul is the world’s most extensive ancient cistern system, named Basilica Cistern. The Basilica Cistern consists of hundreds of old cisterns built in the 6th century under the order from Emperor Justinian I, the Byzantine ruler at that time.
Basilica Cistern is located about 150 meters southwest of Hagia Sophia. The cistern is standing on an area of 9,800 square meters, and it was able to hold up water up to 80,000 cubic meters, enabling it to provide clean water to Great Palace of Constantinople and other buildings on the First Hill.
The Basilica Cistern was mistreated during the Ottoman Empire. In 1985, the Istanbul authority decided to clean the site and turned it into one of the most famous Istanbul tourist attractions. The impressive construction and the history of the building have attracted many tourists in Istanbul.[irp]
Get to Know The Amazing Friendly Face of Islam
In Fatih neighborhoods of Istanbul, in Sultanahmet Square to be exact, you can find The Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts. This museum is one of the best places to visit in Istanbul. Here, you can learn about the history of Islam.
The Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts occupies a building that once was used as the palace of Pargalı Ibrahim Pasha, Suleiman The Magnificent’s best friend since childhood. The mansion was built in 1524.
The collection of this marvelous museum comes from all over the Middle East, and the items dated from the 8th to the 19th century. You can see calligraphy artwork, prayer rugs, wooden, stone, and metal crafts, and many more.
The Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts opens from 9 AM to 4.30 PM every day, except on Mondays. On Mondays, the museum is closed for public.
Admire Majestic Mosque
Blue Mosque is another great spot for sightseeing in Istanbul. The official name of the mosque is Sultan Ahmed Mosque. It is famously known as the Blue Mosque because the ceiling of the mosque is lined with blue tiles. Another prominent feature of this mosque is the six minarets.
The Blue Mosque began to be built in 1609. The construction took seven years to finish. Sultan Ahmed I ordered the making of this mosque; Thus the mosque gained its official name.
This Istanbul tourism highlight is still an active mosque. People go to pray in the Blue Mosque. Visitors are allowed to enter the mosque every day from 9 AM to 6 PM except during prayer times. There are five prayer times every day, and each prayer time usually takes 30 minutes to conduct.
On summer evenings at 9 PM, you can enjoy a light show held outside the mosque. Watching this beautiful light show is one of the most exciting things to do in Istanbul.[irp]
Take A Look At Amazing Artifacts
In Eminönü neighborhood of Istanbul, near the Topkapi Palace, you can find the complex of The Istanbul Archaeology Museums, one of the most famous Istanbul points of interest.
The museum consists of three buildings, each of them houses different theme of collections. The first one is the Museum of the Ancient Orient. This part of the museum displays pre Islamic artifacts obtained during the expansion of the Ottoman Empire.
The second part of the museum is the Archaeology Museum. You can see traditional statues and sarcophagi in this part of the museum.
The last part of The Istanbul Archeology Museums is the Tiled Pavilion. Mehmet The Conqueror ordered the construction of this pavilion back in 1472.
The Istanbul Archaeology Museums opens every day from 9 AM to 7 PM.
Hop from One Continent to Another
Do you want to feel the sensation of crossing the border of one continent to another? Why don’t you join the Bosphorus Cruise? This cruise offers one of the most popular tours in Istanbul.
The cruise will take you to sail on the Bosphorus Strait, which is a narrow strait that borders Europe and Asia. It differs the European Turkey and the Asian Turkey.
There are some options of Bosphorus Cruise that you can take, providing you some great ways to go sightseeing in Istanbul. You can choose the short and the full circle tours, depending on the time you have.
There is also a night cruise available, during which you can see the beautifully lit city of Istanbul. If you wish to have something less crowded, you can take the private Bosphorus Cruise, but you need to make sure you choose a reputable operator, so you will not feel disappointed.[irp]
Feel The Local Rush
Grand Bazaar is famously known as one of the biggest and the oldest covered market in the world. The core of the market was constructed in the fifteenth century after the Ottoman conquered the Byzantine Empire.
Built over an area of 54,653 square meters, you will find so many unique and beautiful merchandise in the Grand Bazaar. You can shop in around 4,000 shops here, selling jewelry, furniture, carpets, clothes, and much other stuff.
Please keep in mind that Grand Bazaar does not operate on Sundays and bank holidays. The market opens from 9 AM to 7 PM.
Relax Your Muscles
After a long day exploring Istanbul, the best way to relax your muscles is by having a Turkish bath. The Turkish bath is a variation of the Romans bath or sauna. There are some best places to visit in Istanbul for a tremendous Turkish bath experience.
One of the best hammams in Istanbul is Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamam. It was initially built in the 16th century, but it was recently renovated into a luxurious bath.
If you go here, please watch for the time. The hammam is for women only from 8 AM to 4 PM. The men are allowed to use the bath from 4 PM to 11.30 PM.
Another famous Turkish bath in Istanbul is Ayasofya Hürrem Sultan Hamamı. Built in the 16th century by Sinan The Architect, just like Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamam, the hammam provides two separate areas for men and women.
Several hotels in Istanbul also provides Turkish bath facility, such as Four Seasons Hotel and Edition Hotel.[irp]
Treat Your Tastebuds
Now that you have treated your sore muscles, it will be the best time to treat your tastebuds some Turkish delicacies. Try some kebab; sliced roasted meat usually served in flatbread.
One of the best places to have a kebab in Istanbul is Buhara Kebab House. You can also head to Yeni Lokanta to experience the traditional Turkish food. Wash all the food down with a cup of Turkish apple tea.
Are you craving for something sweet for the desserts? Hit the street, and try to find a dondurma vendor. Dondurma is Turkish ice cream that looks like regular ice cream, but the ingredients make the ice cream not melt as quickly as regular ice cream.
It also has a slightly chewy texture in it. Usually, dondurma sellers will put on quite an exciting performance as they serve their customers.
Last but not least, one of the best things to do in Istanbul is buying yourself some Turkish Delights. Lokum, as the local call it, is a mixture of chopped dates, pistachio, nuts, and hazelnuts. All of these are combined with a mix of starch and sugar.
They come in pretty colors. You can buy some for you to snack on or to carry back home and give them to your family and friends. They will love the treats.
One of the most famous Istanbul tourist attractions that sell Turkish Delights is Hafiz Mustafa, located in the Fatih neighborhood of Istanbul.
Top Landmarks and attractions in Istanbul
Practical information and Istanbul travel tips
Why should you visit Istanbul?
Istanbul is the capital of Turkey and one of the popular tourist destinations worldwide. The rich culture and glorious history attracts many to visit this one of the largest cities in Europe. Beautiful city Istanbul is a complete historic city where the main attractions are many years old mosques and churches. Some topmost must-see landmarks are Sultan Ahmed Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Topkapı Palace, and Ortaköy Mosque. The traditional Grand Bazaar became an iconic must-visit popular market for tourists in Istanbul. And this market is also one of the largest and oldest markets in the world. Another popular and historical activity in Istanbul is Turkish Baths. There are many hamams or Turkish bathhouses you might like to try for the first time during your trip.
When is the best time to visit Istanbul?
- Summer (May to August)
- Summer is the highest season and you can expect big tourist crowds around this time of the year
- May to June is the good time to visit
- The weather is too hot in July and August
- The average temperature is 27°C
- You can witness Istanbul Music Festival in June
- Autumn (September to November)
- September to mid-November is the best time to visit
- The weather is warm but pleasant
- Expect fewer crowds
- Winter (December to February)
- The weather is too cold and wet
- You can expect snowfall
- The average temperature is 2°C to 7°C
- There are lesser crowds as this is the low season for this city
- Spring (March to April)
- Expect fewer crowds and another best time to visit Istanbul
- Trees are starting to bloom
- The weather is sunny but very beautiful and pleasant
- You can witness International Istanbul Film Festival in April
Do you need a visa for Istanbul?
Turkey is not part of the Schengen area. Schengen area member states, the citizens of USA, UK, Ireland may get a single entry visa and stay for one month. No visa required for the citizens of Pakistan and can stay for 90 days. You can check our complete guide on how to get a Schengen visa and as well to see if you’re eligible to enter the country with just your passports or if you’ll need to apply for a visa prior entry.
Where to book your flights to Istanbul?
Check our handy-dandy guide on how to find the cheapest flights around the world – read it here.
Do you need an insurance?
Remember this: anything can happen! Read our take on why you need a travel insurance and how it can save you money when things go unplanned – read it here.
Where to stay in Istanbul?
Short on time? Go sightseeing in Istanbul on a tour!
Did you like this post? We have more inspiring quotes!
Want to gear up for your upcoming travels? Here're our top gear reviews!
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