Top Istanbul Activities - Things to Do & Must-See Sights

Ibrahim Uzun, Unsplash
November 28
Written by Aisha Chen

Discover the best things to do in Istanbul and make the most of your visit. We provide a complete guide with top places to visit, activities to do, and much more.

Welcome to the vibrantly eclectic city of Istanbul, where every corner turned leads you towards a fresh adventure. Bursting with character and historical intrigue, it embodies the perfect blend of East and West, ancient and modern.

From exquisite architecture to lip-smacking local cuisine, there are countless things to do and see in Istanbul. This city ignites a sense of wanderlust in all who visit, making it a truly captivating destination. Did you know Istanbul is the only city in the world split across two continents?

Prepare yourself for an unforgettable journey. Our Istanbul guide is designed to help you discover hidden gems as well as the city's most prominent sites. With our guidance, you'll learn exactly what to see in Istanbul and delve beneath the surface of this vibrant metropolis.

Whether you're a history buff or a lover of urban landscapes, Istanbul offers a treasure trove of stunning places to visit. So, pull out your maps, lace up your most comfortable walking shoes, and let's embark on an Istanbul journey of discovery.

1. Topkapi Palace

Historical Monuments and Architecture
a bunch of boats that are in the water
Topkapi Palace / Nima Aksoy, Unsplash

Topkapi Palace is an iconic symbol of Istanbul and one of the most popular tourist destinations in the city. Built in the 15th century, it was the residence of the Ottoman sultans for over 400 years. This impressive palace combines elements from different eras and architectural styles, making it a must-see for history and architecture lovers.

Topkapi Palace is located on a hill with panoramic views of the Sea of Marmara, the Golden Horn, and the city of Istanbul. Surrounded by imposing walls, the palace features luxurious gardens, tranquil courtyards, and a vast collection of historical artifacts.

At Topkapi Palace, you can explore its numerous rooms and exhibitions, including reception halls, the royal kitchens, treasury chambers, and weapons and armor displays. You can also enjoy stunning views from the palace's terraces and visit the Harem, where the sultan's concubines and wives lived.

2. Hagia Sophia

Historical Monuments and Architecture
a domed ceiling with many paintings
Hagia Sophia / Ricardo Gomez Angel, Unsplash

Hagia Sophia, originally built as a basilica in the 6th century, is one of the most iconic and significant landmarks in Istanbul. Its majestic domes, impressive mosaics, and rich history make it a must-visit tourist attraction in the city.

Things to do in Istanbul: Hagia Sophia is a unique blend of Byzantine and Ottoman architectural influences. It was converted into a mosque in the 15th century and later into a museum in 1935, making it a symbol of religious tolerance and a testament to Istanbul's rich history.

Discover its beauty: As you step inside Hagia Sophia, you'll be greeted by its grand domes and magnificent architecture. Admire the stunning mosaics adorning the walls and marvel at the blend of Christian and Islamic elements in its design. Don't forget to climb up to the upper floor for breathtaking panoramic views of Istanbul.

3. Grand Bazaar Istanbul

Food and Markets
a man is walking out of a store
Grand Bazaar Istanbul / Wei Pan, Unsplash

The Grand Bazaar Istanbul is a must-visit for shopping and culture enthusiasts in the city. With over 4,000 stores and a history dating back several centuries, this market is a tourist gem.

Located in the heart of the old town, the Grand Bazaar transports you to a world full of colors and aromas. Here you will find everything from carpets and jewelry to spices and ceramics, all typical products of Turkey.

Don't miss the opportunity to stroll through its narrow alleys and haggle with local merchants. The Grand Bazaar is a vibrant and lively place that will leave you fascinated with its authenticity and charm.

4. Bosphorus Boat Ride

Outdoor Activities and Sports$$$
photography of mosque buildings
Bosphorus Boat Ride / Maria Teneva, Unsplash

The Bosphorus Boat Ride is one of the most popular activities to do in Istanbul. This thrilling boat ride allows you to explore the Bosphorus Strait, which connects the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara, and enjoy panoramic views of the city.

Along the tour, you'll be able to admire beautiful Ottoman palaces, ancient fortresses, and charming fishing villages. You'll also pass under the iconic bridges that span the Bosphorus, such as the Bosphorus Bridge and the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge.

Don't miss the opportunity to take stunning photos of Istanbul's coastline and famous landmarks, such as the Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace.

5. The Blue Mosque

Historical Monuments and Architecture
people walking in the park near a brown concrete building during the day
The Blue Mosque / Lewis J Goetz, Unsplash

The Blue Mosque is a wonder of Islamic art and one of Istanbul's most visited attractions. Known as the Blue Mosque because of its impressive collection of blue tiles inside, it is a sacred place for Muslims and an architectural gem that you mustn't miss.

In addition to its beauty, the Blue Mosque is also famous for its imposing size. The building features a main prayer hall that can accommodate over 10,000 people, as well as several domes and minarets that rise majestically above Istanbul's skyline.

Visiting the Blue Mosque is an unforgettable experience. Be amazed by its towering columns, its intricate woodwork, and its stunning interior decoration. Remember to dress appropriately, covering your shoulders and legs, and be respectful during your visit.

6. Turkish Street Food in Istanbul

Food and Markets$$$
food on plate
Turkish Street Food in Istanbul / Ozan Safak, Unsplash

Things to do in Istanbul: Turkish Street Food is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city. Visitors have the opportunity to enjoy a wide selection of traditional Turkish dishes while exploring the streets.

Experience authentic Turkish cuisine: The street food stalls offer an incredible variety of dishes, from kebabs and dürüm to baklava and Turkish ice cream. Each bite is a burst of flavors and aromas that will transport you to the culinary culture of Turkey.

A vibrant experience: Turkish Street Food is not only delicious, it is also a unique experience. Explore the markets and bazaars of Istanbul, admire the colors and smells, and taste typical dishes while interacting with vendors and locals.

7. Spice Bazaar

Food and Markets
assorted color powder on brown wooden shelf
Spice Bazaar / AXP Photography, Unsplash

Things to do in Istanbul: The Spice Bazaar, also known as the Egyptian Bazaar, is one of the most emblematic places in Istanbul and a must-visit for food and oriental culture lovers.

In its labyrinthine alleys, you can find a wide variety of spices, nuts, teas, and sweets, all displayed in colorful stalls that emanate exotic aromas.

In addition to the gastronomic offerings, the Spice Bazaar is a perfect place to buy souvenirs, such as ceramics, jewelry, and traditional textiles.

8. Basilica Cistern Istanbul

Historical Monuments and Architecture$$$
brown concrete posts during daytime
Basilica Cistern Istanbul / Raimond Klavins, Unsplash

The Basilica Cistern in Istanbul, also known as the Sunken Palace, is an incredible hidden treasure beneath the streets of Istanbul.

Built in the 6th century by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I, the cistern was used to store water for centuries. Today, it is one of the most visited places in the city and an architectural marvel that you cannot miss.

As you stroll through the columns, you can enjoy a magical experience and transport yourself to another time. Don't forget to admire the marble columns, some of which are engraved with details from the era, and the impressive atmosphere inside the cistern.

9. Chora Church

Historical Monuments and Architecture

Located just a few kilometers from downtown Istanbul, the magnificent Chora Church, also known as the Kariye Museum, stands as a testament to Byzantine art and architecture. Originally built in the 4th century, this Orthodox church became an important religious and artistic center in the Byzantine Empire.

The highlight of the Chora Church is its impressive mosaics, which adorn the walls and ceilings. These mosaics, dating back to the 14th century, depict biblical scenes and stories from the life of Jesus Christ. Each mosaic is a masterpiece of the time, showcasing the skill and craftsmanship of the era.

Visiting the Chora Church is a unique experience. You can immerse yourself in the history and beauty of Byzantine art as you admire these magnificent works of art. Don't miss the opportunity to visit this incredible site during your trip to Istanbul.

10. Istiklal Avenue

Historical Monuments and Architecture
a red tram with a Christmas wreath in front
Istiklal Avenue / Collab Media, Unsplash

Istiklal Avenue is one of the main tourist attractions in Istanbul. Located in the heart of the city, it is a bustling center of cultural, commercial, and social activity. With its historic architecture and numerous shops, restaurants, and art galleries, it offers a wide variety of experiences for all types of visitors.

Istiklal Avenue has a rich history dating back to the 19th century. Formerly known as Grande Rue de Péra, it has witnessed important historical events and has been a symbol of the modernity and diversity of Istanbul.

Today, Istiklal Avenue continues to be a meeting place for the residents of Istanbul and visitors from around the world. Its pedestrian streets are filled with life, with street musicians, designer shops, charming cafés, and a wide range of cultural offerings. It is a perfect place to stroll, enjoy the lively atmosphere, and discover the hidden treasures of Istanbul.

11. Galata Tower

Historical Monuments and Architecture

The Galata Tower, located in the heart of Istanbul, is one of the city's most iconic landmarks and a must-visit for tourists. Standing at 67 meters tall, this medieval tower offers breathtaking panoramic views of Istanbul and the Bosphorus.

Built in the 14th century by the Genoese, the Galata Tower has witnessed numerous historical events over the years. From its top, you can admire the beauty of the city and marvel at its unique blend of culture, history, and architecture.

Climbing the Galata Tower is an experience you can't miss when visiting Istanbul. In addition to enjoying the stunning views, you can also explore its interior, where you'll find a museum that tells the story of the tower and its surroundings.

12. Dolmabahce Palace

Historical Monuments and Architecture

Experience the magnificence of Dolmabahce Palace, one of Istanbul's most iconic landmarks and a must-visit destination for every traveler. This palace, located on the shores of the Bosphorus, is an impressive example of 19th-century Ottoman and European architecture. Built to be the residence of Sultan Abdulmecid I, this majestic building is a treasure trove of history and opulence.

Dolmabahce Palace does not disappoint when it comes to grandeur. With its 285 rooms, 46 halls, and a blend of architectural styles ranging from Baroque to Rococo, this palace has an incomparable charm. Its impressive façade, with its characteristic central dome and profusion of ornamental details, is a true masterpiece.

A visit to Dolmabahce Palace will transport you to another era. Walking through its opulent halls, adorned with priceless furniture and artworks, is like taking a journey back in time. Don't miss the Throne Room, the Ceremony Hall, or the Crystal Hall, each more stunning than the last. You can also enjoy unparalleled views of the Bosphorus from the palace gardens.

13. Princes' Islands

Natural Spaces and Parks

The Princes' Islands are an archipelago consisting of nine small islands located in the Sea of Marmara, near Istanbul. Known for their natural beauty and authenticity, these islands offer a tranquil retreat away from the city's hustle and bustle.

The main attraction of the Princes' Islands is their picturesque and laid-back atmosphere. Here, you won't find any cars, as only horse-drawn carriages and bicycles are allowed. Take a leisurely stroll through its tree-lined streets and discover the impressive mansions of the former Ottoman aristocracy.

In addition to its historical charm, the Princes' Islands offer beautiful beaches where you can relax and enjoy the sun and sea. You can also take exciting bike rides around the island and explore its lush vegetation and stunning landscapes.

14. Istanbul Archaeology Museum

Museums and Art Galleries

The Istanbul Archaeology Museum is one of the most fascinating things to do in Istanbul. Located in the heart of the city, this museum houses an impressive collection of artifacts spanning thousands of years of history.

In its halls, you can find everything from statues and sculptures from ancient Greece and Rome, to jewelry and artwork from the Ottoman Empire. Each exhibition will immerse you in a different era, allowing you to discover the cultural treasures that have shaped the city throughout the centuries.

Don't miss the opportunity to explore this fascinating museum and delve into the history of Istanbul.

15. Topkapi Palace Harem

Historical Monuments and Architecture

Explore the Topkapi Palace Harem in Istanbul, an incredible tourist attraction that you definitely don't want to miss on your visit to the city. The Harem, which means 'sacred place' in Arabic, is an emblematic part of the palace and represents the power of the sultan. Its impressive architecture and fascinating history make it a unique place to explore.

The Topkapi Palace Harem is one of the top things to do in Istanbul. Here, you can discover the magnificent halls, gardens, and rooms that once housed the wives, concubines, and eunuchs of the Ottoman sultan. With a unique blend of architectural styles and beautiful decorations, the Harem is a living testament to life in the glorious Ottoman Empire.

If you're planning your visit to Istanbul, you can't miss the chance to explore the Topkapi Palace Harem. Immerse yourself in Turkish history and culture as you walk through the corridors and admire the beauty of this incredible place. Get ready to marvel at the grandeur of Istanbul's past!

16. Suleymaniye Mosque

Religion and Spirituality

The Suleymaniye Mosque: located in Istanbul, is one of the largest and oldest mosques in the city. Built in the 16th century, it is a magnificent example of Ottoman architecture and is known for its impressive dome and iconic minarets.

Things to do in Istanbul: If you are planning a visit to the city, the Suleymaniye Mosque is a must-see attraction. In addition to its architectural beauty, the interior of the mosque features stunning ceramic tile decorations and is surrounded by beautiful gardens.

A sacred experience: When visiting the Suleymaniye Mosque, you will have the opportunity to immerse yourself in the culture and spirituality of Turkey. Witness the daily prayers and enjoy the tranquility and beauty of this sacred place.

17. Miniaturk

Historical Monuments and Architecture

Miniaturk is a tourist attraction located in Istanbul that offers a journey through the main wonders of Turkey in miniature form. Here, you will find scale replicas of iconic landmarks such as the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, and the Bosphorus Bridge.

This visit gives you the opportunity to admire the architectural details of these monuments in a unique way. You can appreciate the beauty of the Blue Mosque, the historical richness of Topkapi Palace, and the majesty of the Bosphorus Bridge, all in one place.

Don't miss the chance to explore this miniature world and marvel at the precision of the replicas and the quality of the details. An essential experience for all history and architecture enthusiasts!

18. Istanbul Modern Art Museum

Museums and Art Galleries$$$

The Istanbul Modern Art Museum is a must-visit for art and culture lovers in the city. Located in the heart of Istanbul, this museum houses an impressive collection of works by contemporary artists from Turkey and abroad. With a focus on experimentation and avant-garde, the Modern Art Museum offers a unique experience for its visitors.

In addition to its permanent collection, the museum also organizes temporary exhibitions that explore different themes and artistic styles. This ensures that each visit is unique and exciting, as there is always something new to discover.

Don't miss the opportunity to visit the Istanbul Modern Art Museum and immerse yourself in a world of creativity and artistic expression in the heart of the city.

19. Rustem Pasha Mosque

Historical Monuments and Architecture

Rustem Pasha Mosque is one of the top things to do in Istanbul. This impressive mosque, built in the 16th century, is a historical landmark that showcases the essence of Ottoman art and architecture. Its elegant design and interior adorned with Iznik tiles make it an architectural gem.

Located in the Eminonu neighborhood, the mosque offers a panoramic view of the city and is an active religious site. Visitors can admire the harmonious combination of turquoise and gold tiles, and experience the tranquility and serenity that emanates from this sacred place.

As part of a tour of Istanbul, Rustem Pasha Mosque is a must-visit for those wishing to explore the city's rich history and culture. Its central location makes it easily accessible for both tourists and locals.

20. Ortakoy Mosque

Historical Monuments and Architecture

Ortakoy Mosque is one of the most iconic landmarks in Istanbul. Located along the shores of the Bosphorus, this neobaroque-style mosque with neoclassical influences is an architectural masterpiece.

Known for its breathtaking sea views and elegant structure, Ortakoy Mosque is a popular destination for tourists visiting Istanbul. Its unique blend of architectural styles makes it a truly special place.

If you're looking for things to do in Istanbul, you can't miss Ortakoy Mosque. Discover the history and beauty of this unique tourist attraction while enjoying panoramic views of the Bosphorus.

21. Galata Bridge

Historical Monuments and Architecture

The Galata Bridge is an icon of Istanbul. Built in 1845, this pedestrian and vehicular bridge is one of the main connections between the old and modern parts of the city. It not only serves a practical purpose but is also a tourist destination in itself, with panoramic views of the Golden Horn and a lively atmosphere.

A visit to the Galata Bridge is a must for those who want to explore the authentic Istanbul. Cross the bridge on foot and enjoy the beautiful views of the city, observe the local fishermen spending their day on the bridge, and immerse yourself in the bustling energy emanating from the restaurants, shops, and cafes along the bridge.

Don't miss the opportunity to taste local flavors as you walk along the Galata Bridge. Here you will find a wide variety of restaurants and food stalls offering delicious Turkish dishes, such as kebabs, baklavas, and traditional teas. It's the perfect place to enjoy an authentic Turkish culinary experience while marveling at the stunning views of Istanbul.

22. Pierre Loti Hill

Natural Spaces and Parks

Discover Pierre Loti Hill in Istanbul, one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city. This hill offers stunning panoramic views of Istanbul and the Golden Horn. It's the perfect place to relax and enjoy the beauty of the city.

On Pierre Loti Hill, you'll find numerous cafes and restaurants where you can enjoy delicious food while taking in the views. Don't miss the opportunity to try traditional Turkish tea at one of the famous hilltop cafes.

In addition to the wonderful views, you'll also find a cable car that will take you up to the hill. This exciting experience will allow you to enjoy a scenic ride as you ascend to the top of the hill.

23. Yildiz Park

Natural Spaces and Parks$$$

Yildiz Park is one of the most beautiful parks in Istanbul, a true green oasis in the midst of the city. With its privileged location and stunning views, it is the perfect place to escape the urban hustle and enjoy nature.

In Yildiz Park, you will find spacious green areas, lush forests, ponds, and well-maintained gardens. Stroll along its winding paths and discover picturesque corners that will transport you to a world of peace and tranquility.

Don't miss the opportunity to visit this charming park during your stay in Istanbul. With its relaxing atmosphere and panoramic views, Yildiz Park will surprise you and allow you to disconnect from the hustle and bustle of the city while enjoying an incredible vista.

24. Pera Museum

Museums and Art Galleries

Pera Museum is located in the central Pera district in Istanbul, Turkey. As one of the city's top tourist attractions, this museum houses an impressive collection of modern and contemporary Turkish art.

Housed in a historical building, Pera Museum is a perfect fusion of history and culture. In addition to its valuable permanent collection, the museum also organizes temporary exhibitions featuring both national and international artists.

With its fascinating architecture and diverse cultural programming, Pera Museum is a must-visit for art and culture enthusiasts visiting Istanbul. Don't miss out on this cultural gem!

25. Istanbul Maritime Museum

Museums and Art Galleries

Things to do in Istanbul: The Istanbul Maritime Museum is a must-visit for history enthusiasts. Located in the heart of the city, this museum houses an impressive collection of traditional vessels, historical artifacts, and interactive exhibits that will immerse you in the fascinating world of seafaring.

A vast collection of ships: The museum showcases a wide variety of ships, from ancient fishing vessels to large merchant vessels. You can explore detailed replicas of historic ships and learn about the different naval construction techniques used throughout the centuries.

Interactive exhibits: In addition to ships, the museum offers a range of interactive exhibits that allow you to experience life at sea. You can learn how to navigate using ancient navigation instruments, discover the history of piracy, and learn about the adventures of the most famous maritime explorers.

26. Cihangir Neighborhood

Historical Monuments and Architecture

Cihangir Neighborhood, located in the heart of Istanbul, is known for its bohemian and multicultural atmosphere. Surrounded by old buildings and cobblestone streets, it is a place that breathes history and art.

In addition to its unique architecture, Cihangir offers a wide variety of restaurants, cafes, and bars. Here you can enjoy delicious Turkish food, try the traditional apple tea, or relax with a shisha on a terrace with panoramic views of the city.

For art lovers, Cihangir houses numerous art galleries and cultural spaces. From contemporary exhibitions to traditional Turkish art displays, there is always something interesting to see.

27. Camlica Hill

Natural Spaces and Parks

Camlica Hill, also known as Çamlıca Hill, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Istanbul. Located on the Asian side of the city, it offers stunning views of Istanbul's urban landscapes and the Bosphorus. It's a perfect place for a peaceful stroll and relaxation in the midst of nature.

From the top of the hill, you can witness the perfect blend of the city's modernity and the beauty of its traditions. You'll see Istanbul's famous skyline, with its iconic minarets and domes, and enjoy breathtaking sunsets that will leave you speechless.

In addition to the stunning views, Camlica Hill features beautiful gardens and picnic areas, where you can enjoy an outdoor picnic and spend a relaxing day with your loved ones. It also has various cafes and restaurants where you can taste traditional Turkish dishes and enjoy an authentic culinary experience.

28. Michelangelo Hotel Rooftop Bar

Entertainment and Pop Culture$$$

Michelangelo Hotel Rooftop Bar is a must-visit place in Istanbul. Located in a privileged location, it offers spectacular views of the city. It is the perfect place to relax and enjoy a cocktail while contemplating the Istanbul skyline.

This rooftop bar offers a unique and exclusive experience. Its sophisticated and elegant ambiance makes it the ideal spot to enjoy special moments and make new friends. Enjoy live music, a laid-back atmosphere, and panoramic views of Istanbul.

Don't miss the opportunity to visit the Michelangelo Hotel Rooftop Bar during your visit to Istanbul. This magical place will conquer you with its incredible views and relaxed atmosphere. Undoubtedly, one of the best tourist attractions in the city.

29. Taksim Square

Historical Monuments and Architecture

Taksim Square: considered one of the most iconic places in Istanbul, Taksim Square is a landmark of historical and cultural importance. Located in the heart of the city, this square is surrounded by historic buildings, luxury hotels, and is full of life throughout the day and night.

Points of Interest: Taksim Square is famous for the Republic Monument, an iconic statue commemorating the foundation of the Republic of Turkey. You will also find the Taksim Clock Tower, a symbol of the city's modernity and progress.

Activities and Nightlife: Taksim Square is the starting point for exploring Istanbul's vibrant nightlife. Here, you will find a variety of bars, restaurants, nightclubs, and shops to enjoy and explore.

30. Istanbul City Walls

Historical Monuments and Architecture

The Istanbul City Walls are an architectural marvel that surrounds the city's old town. Built over a thousand years ago, these walls are a testimony to Istanbul's rich history and offer a fascinating experience for history lovers.

Walking along the intact sections of the walls is like traveling back in time. You can stroll through the same corridors as ancient soldiers and enjoy panoramic views of the skyline. From the top of the walls, you can gaze at the beauty of the city and understand its strategic importance.

The Istanbul City Walls are a true historical treasure and a must-visit for anyone in the city. Explore its impressive fortifications and immerse yourself in Istanbul's past.