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Things to do in Istanbul

Things to do in  Istanbul

Welcome to Istanbul

Once known as Constantinople and Byzantium, Istanbul's position on the Silk Road has made it an economical, historical and cultural center, serving as an imperial capital multiple times for the Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman empires. With both Asian and European sides to the city, there's a lot to explore. The old walled neighborhood of Sultanahmet is home to some of the most recognizable sights, such as the Hagia Sophia, with its dazzling mosaics and the enormous dome that has covered this space since the sixth century, when it was a Roman basilica. You'll also want to experience Topkapi Palace—containing lavish interiors and many Christian and Islamic relics—as well as the Blue Mosque and the giant underground Basilica Cistern. City views of the river suggest the next step: A Bosphorous cruise, navigating along the vast expanse of water that unites two continents, provides a wonderful way to see the banks of the Golden Horn. To delve into the local culture, as well as for help with haggling, visitors can take a private tour of the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar, containing some of the richest smells in the world. For longer visits, tours from Istanbul can take visitors far and wide to the remarkable rocky landscapes of Cappadocia, the ruins of the Greco-Roman city of Ephesus, and even to the WWI sites of the Gallipoli Peninsula.

Top 15 things to do in Istanbul

#1
Bosphorus

Bosphorus

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The Bosphorus Strait defines Istanbul. It is the divide between Europe and Asia, and the main connection between the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara. Dotted with parks and elaborate Ottoman mansions, including Dolmabahce Palace, and spanned by three intercontinental bridges, the Bosphorus is the veritable heart of the city.More
#2
Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii)

Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii)

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Explore the grandeur of Ottoman architecture at the Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii), located on Istanbul’s Old City peninsula. Opened in 1616 to rival the Byzantine-era Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya) across the way, the six minarets punctuating the Istanbul skyline and 20,000 blue Iznik tiles decorating its interior are designed to inspire awe.More
#3
Topkapi Palace (Topkapi Sarayi)

Topkapi Palace (Topkapi Sarayi)

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Behold the imperial complex of Ottoman sultans at Topkapi Palace (Topkapi Sarayi), the royal residence in Istanbul throughout the first 400 years of the Ottoman Empire. The palace contains myriad buildings and courtyards, including a treasury, harems, an armory, imperial halls, and royal chambers—all with intricate Iznik tilework and opulent architecture.More
#4
Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya)

Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya)

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Built in 532 as the world’s largest place of worship, the Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya) shifts its identity with the times but never loses its grandeur. Converted from a church to a mosque during the Ottoman era and becoming a museum in 1935, the pink-hued Old City building is one of Istanbul’s don’t-miss attractions.More
#5
Dolmabahce Palace (Dolmabahce Sarayi)

Dolmabahce Palace (Dolmabahce Sarayi)

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Built in an opulent European style, Dolmabahce Palace (Dolmabahce Sarayi) was the home of the Ottoman sultans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, before the fall of the empire. The giant crystal chandeliers, marble staircases, and lush carpets that adorn the interior reflect the shift toward Istanbul’s more European way of thinking.More
#6
Hippodrome (Sultanahmet Meydani)

Hippodrome (Sultanahmet Meydani)

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Built in the third century, the Hippodrome was the home of now-named Istanbul’s sporting entertainment during the Byzantine era, with a wide track for chariot racing. Today, the route of the old track is covered by Sultanahmet Square (Sultanahmet Meydani), a wide open space in the center of the old city, punctuated by ancient obelisks.More
#7
Bosphorus Bridge (Bogazici Koprusu)

Bosphorus Bridge (Bogazici Koprusu)

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The Bosphorus Bridge (Bogazici Koprusu) in Istanbul is one of three continent-spanning bridges over the Bosphorus Strait, connecting Europe and Asia. When it opened in 1973, the 5,118-foot (1,560-meter) bridge was the fourth-longest suspension bridge in the world. And though it has since slid down the rankings, it is still an impressive sight to behold.More
#8
Spice Bazaar (Misir Carsisi)

Spice Bazaar (Misir Carsisi)

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Built in the 17th century, the covered Spice Bazaar is Istanbul’s fragrant hub for all things flavorful. Piles of pepper, saffron, teas, and dried apricots nestle alongside shops selling colorful Turkish delight, silk scarves, and glass mosaic lamps. Take time to chat with vendors, sip tea, and haggle for the perfect price.More
#9
Galata Tower (Galata Kulesi)

Galata Tower (Galata Kulesi)

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Rising high above its namesake neighborhood, Istanbul’s Galata Tower (Galata Kulesi) dates back to the Genoese presence in Constantinople in the 14th century. An elevator takes you up to a viewing platform located under the roof, which offers panoramic views of the Old City peninsula and Beyoglu neighborhood.More
#10
Taksim Square (Taksim Meydani)

Taksim Square (Taksim Meydani)

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Taksim Square (Taksim Meydani), Istanbul’s main modern hub, is located at the end of the pedestrian thoroughfare Istiklal Avenue (Istiklal Caddesi). A popular meeting place, Taksim Square is anchored by the Monument of the Republic and buzzes with activity day and night. The area historically hosts public celebrations, parades, and demonstrations.More
#11
Rumeli Fortress (Rumeli Hisari)

Rumeli Fortress (Rumeli Hisari)

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Built over just four months, the 15th-century Rumeli Fortress played a key role in the fall of Byzantine Constantinople. Together with the Anatolian Fortress (Anadolu Hisarı) on the Bosphorus, Rumeli Fortress was used by the Ottomans to cut off aid and supplies to Constantinople. Today, it serves as both an open-air theater and site of historical interest.More
#12
Maiden’s Tower (Kiz Kulesi)

Maiden’s Tower (Kiz Kulesi)

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Located on an islet in the Bosphorus Strait, just offshore from Istanbul’s Uskudar neighborhood, Maiden’s Tower (Kiz Kulesi) is a historical site that has inspired myths and legends. The Ottomans expanded and rebuilt the structure, and today it contains a restaurant and bar with views of the city.More
#13
Beylerbeyi Palace (Beylerbeyi Sarayi)

Beylerbeyi Palace (Beylerbeyi Sarayi)

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Located in the shadow of Istanbul’s first bridge, Beylerbeyi Palace (Beylerbeyi Sarayi) was historically a summer residence for Ottoman sultans. The 24 rooms of the palace contain a mix of Ottoman and Western decoration, with 19th-century furniture from Europe and garden pavilions, and its ornate exterior is visible from the Bosphorus Strait.More
#14
Grand Bazaar (Kapali Çarsi)

Grand Bazaar (Kapali Çarsi)

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Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar (Kapali Çarsi) is the ultimate covered market. Its 5,000+ vendors hawk carpets, beaded bracelets, gold and silver jewelry, multicolored lanterns, leather goods, ceramics, belly-dancing outfits, and more. With goods available at all price points, you’re sure to find the perfect souvenir in the bazaar’s labyrinthine alleys.More
#15
Ortaköy

Ortaköy

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Istanbul’s bustling waterside neighborhood of Ortaköy buzzes with the energy of bars, restaurants, cafés, and nightclubs. The main sight here is the Ortaköy Mosque (Ortaköy Cami), a 19th-century structure featuring a blend of baroque and neoclassical influences. Behind it, the Bosphorus Bridge looms, connecting the old Istanbul with the new.More

Trip ideas

Top Markets in Istanbul

Top Markets in Istanbul

Top activities in Istanbul

Taste of Two Continents Food Tour
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Taste of Two Continents Food Tour

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From
$119.00
One Day Gallipoli Tour from Istanbul: Lunch Included
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Operators have paid Viator more to have their experiences featured here

Recent reviews from experiences in Istanbul

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Amazing Experience
Shazia_A, Aug 2022
Istanbul Bosphorus Cruise, Free Refreshment and Audio Guide App
Very nice to see such an exceptional beautiful city of Istanbul on the cruise.
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Good View
Abass_I, Aug 2022
Istanbul Bosphorus Cruise, Free Refreshment and Audio Guide App
You get to see many of the landmarks of Istanbul
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Would do it again
Osvaldo_G, Aug 2022
Private Layover Tour from Istanbul Airports & Hotels
Main attractions, local neighborhoods and great history.
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An amazing way to explore the city
Sheila_S, Jul 2022
Bosphorus Sunset Cruise on Luxury Yacht
Definitely recommend this tour to see the city.
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A rich tour for a history rich city
Mia_H, Jul 2022
Small Group Tour: Essential Istanbul
Well paced and a great way to check off the main attractions in a day.
star-4
Nice excursion
Tina_S, Jul 2022
Istanbul Private Bosphorus Yacht Cruise Tour
Lovely cruise, warm weather and nice breeze a great way to see both sides of Istanbul.
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Perfect two days experiencing a new city
Uriel_H, Jul 2022
Best of Istanbul: 1, 2 or 3-Day Private Guided Istanbul Tour
Next time we want to see even more of the city.
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Do this!
Rachel_S, Jul 2022
Bosphorus Strait and Black Sea Day Cruise from Istanbul
This is a great tour and a great way to see Istanbul!
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A must in Istanbul. Such...
Jasmine_S, Jul 2022
Bosphorus Sunset Cruise on Luxury Yacht
They take such good care of you and it’s the best way to see the city
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Nice walkthrough of the...
Jeremy_W, Jul 2022
Small Group Tour: Essential Istanbul
If short on time, it is a good choice to see the highlights
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All in one day
Detelina_S, Jul 2022
All in One Day Istanbul - Historical Tour of Istanbul with Bosphorus Cruise
The best way to see Istanbul in one day.
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Great visit to Istanbul
William_K, Jul 2022
Best of Istanbul: 1, 2 or 3-Day Private Guided Istanbul Tour
Having the van was the way to go to see more of the city.
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Food lovers paradise.
Steven_S, Jun 2022
Taste of Two Continents Food Tour
This is a great way to see things you may otherwise miss.
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Great atmosphere, good food and perfect entertainment.
Anonymous, Jun 2022
All Inclusive Bosphorus Dinner Cruise with Turkish Night Show from Istanbul
Recommend to all tourists who want to see istanbul at night
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Captain Furkan is the best!
Abigail_B, May 2022
Private Car Hire with Driver in Istanbul (Half Day & Full Day Options)
He went above and beyond to give us an amazing experience in the city we had waited almost 12 years to visit.
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Istanbul trip
Oluwatomi_R, May 2022
Bosphorus Yacht Cruise with Stopover on the Asian Side - (Morning or Afternoon)
I would recommend this site for any tourist that visits or want to visit Istanbul
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Great food tour
KenGarrett, May 2022
The 10 Tastings of Istanbul With Locals: Kadikoy Private Food Tour
Lots of suggestions for sights to see and places to visit in Istanbul.
star-4
Better instructions...
Phillip_A, May 2022
Cappadocia Magic : 1 Night 2 Days Cappadocia Tour Including Hot Air Balloon Tour
Once we finally met the driver he didn’t speak English and could not understand we needed the heat in the shuttle turned off.
star-5
Istanbul highlights
Ziad_A, May 2022
1-Day Best of Istanbul Private Tour with the Best Local Guides
She made sure that we visit all the top attractions in Istanbul and also added a few personal recommendations which helped us find the best shopping and dining experiences.
star-4
Worth the time.
Dick_S, Apr 2022
Istanbul Lunch Cruise: Long Circle Bosphorus Cruise up to Black Sea
We got to see where East meets West.
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All about Istanbul

When to visit

Spring is a beautiful time to explore Istanbul, when dolphin sightings are possible along the Bosphorus and the International Tulip Festival casts a wave of color through the city’s parks. To avoid the crowds, visit in fall when the cruise ships have left and the humidity drops—travelers on a budget will appreciate the post-summer drop in prices, too.

Currency
Turkish Lira (TRY)
Time Zone
TRT (UTC +2)
Country Code
+90
Language(s)
Turkish

People Also Ask

What is Istanbul famous for?

Known for centuries as Constantinople, Istanbul was capital of the Byzantine or Eastern Roman Empire, then later home to generations of sultans as center of the Ottoman Empire. Both civilizations left magnificent buildings and artworks, like the Hagia Sophia. Istanbul is also the only city in the world that straddles two continents.

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Can you do Istanbul in 3 days?

Yes, but only barely. Count on a full day for knockouts like the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia in Sultanahmet, and earmark half a day for Topkapi Palace. Factor in souvenir shopping in the Grand Bazaar and a photo stop at Galata Tower, and you’ll leave already planning your next Istanbul trip.

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What is the best part of Istanbul?

Nothing says “must-see” like the sights of Sultanahmet. But many travelers prefer quieter corners of the sprawling city, like the colorful, winding alleys in the old Greek and Jewish enclaves of Fener and Balat. You can also take a day trip out to the Princes’ Islands by public ferry.

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What is there to do in Istanbul?

If you’re itching for activities beyond the usual sightseeing circuit, consider a soak in a hammam (Turkish bathhouse); a ferry ride to either the Princes’ Islands or the hip, restaurant-filled neighborhood of Kadıköy on the Asian side of the city; or a Turkish delight and coffee shopping spree in the Spice Bazaar.

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Do they speak English in Istanbul?

Yes, you’ll find English being spoken among shopkeepers and restaurant staff in many tourist areas, including Sultanahmet. Young people also often learn English as a second or third language. But if you want to get off the tourist track, learning a few basic Turkish words and phrases is a must.

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What should I avoid in Istanbul?

Istanbul is massive and full of blockbuster sights. Avoid a “must-see-everything” approach and give yourself time to explore the city—it’s a wanderers’ paradise. Take advantage of the metro and public ferry. And while most locals in Istanbul are lovely, be watchful of potential scammers in tourist districts.

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Frequently Asked Questions
The answers provided below are based on answers previously given by the tour provider to customers’ questions.
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