Turkey is a captivating country with a rich blend of history, culture, and natural beauty. While exploring the well-known attractions is a must, there are also some unusual and off-the-beaten-path experiences to be had. Here are some extraordinary things to do in Turkey:
Known as the bridge between Europe and Asia, Istanbul is a majestic combination of both ancient and modern life. These worlds collide with the rich history and vibrant, bustling streets, and the endless array of hidden gems waiting around every corner.
A buzzing metropolis with a population of 13 million people, get to know the city’s history through its architecture, mix of religions, and relics left behind from some of the world’s greatest empires.
A culinary adventure for the eyes, as well as the palette, enjoy Turkey’s delicate and bold flavors in its cuisine from some of the most modern and panoramic restaurants in the city to sweet Baklava and Turkish delight from some of the oldest, traditional candy shops.
Get ready to be wowed by the stunning views of ancient architecture and the glistening Bosphorus; take to the skies of Cappadocia; find a handful of one-of-a-kind souvenirs at the Grand Bazaar, take a day trip to the coveted Black Sea, and so much more. From boat tours to museums, peaceful parks, and busy local streets, you can always find exciting things to do in Istanbul.
An antique place of worship and a classic example of Byzantine architecture, the Hagia Sophia is an undisputed architectural masterpiece — and with its glittering mosaics of biblical scenes, this museum is hands-down one of the more iconic sites Istanbul has to offer.
Travel tip: If you’re interested in seeing as many museums as possible in this historic city, including the Hagia Sophia, consider purchasing an Istanbul Museum Pass. With reduced admission fees and shorter lines, these multi-day passes allow visitors to fully experience Turkish history and culture.
Appropriately named, the Blue Mosque, built in the 1600s, is an iconic tourist attraction. With intricate blue tiles surrounding the walls, this magnificent building has drawn millions of people from all over the world, year after year. Prior to visiting, be aware that this is still an active mosque and is closed to non-worshippers for half an hour during the 5 daily prayers.
Keep in mind: Free bags for shoes and head coverings are available at the entrance so visitors can remain respectful while visiting.
Once the main residences as well as the administrative headquarters to the powerful sultans of the Ottoman Empire, the Topkapi Palace is a top attraction in every Istanbul guidebook.
This huge, 15th-century palace is notable for both its awe-inspiring architecture and the collections of Ottoman treasures it holds. Take a few hours to explore the palace, harem, and courtyards to see how the most powerful lived!
The Basilica Cistern is an ancient underground chamber that provided a water filtration system for Istanbul early on in its development. Capable of holding 80,000 cubic meters of water and roughly the size of 2 football fields, this cistern is a unique historic site to see, that’s for sure.
For the most educational experience, take a tour to learn more about the history, especially regarding the iconic Medusa heads at the base of one of the 336 marble columns that provide support.
Despite Istanbul having a multitude of beautiful and historic mosques, this is one you don’t want to miss. With its open and airy interior, the Suleymaniye Mosque on the Third Hill is by far one of the grandest.
The elegant architecture not only houses a place of prayer, but was also built to hold a soup kitchen, seminary, hospital, inn, library, bazaar, tombs, and restaurants, and some of these are still in use today. While there’s no formal ticket price, donations are welcome to maintain this magnificent space.
Don’t be fooled by its diminutive size in comparison to the nearby Hagia Sophia; this is the Church of the Saints Sergius and Bacchus — one of Istanbul’s most important Byzantine monuments.
Constructed back in the year 536, it’s since been dubbed Little Hagia Sophia thanks to its architectural similarities to Istanbul’s more famous namesake. Fortunately for us, it doesn’t draw anywhere near as many tourists.
If you’re in Istanbul and not sure where to start your sightseeing, consider trying a boat tour. From the shimmering Bosphorus river, you can view majestic minarets, mosques, basilicas, and glamorous palaces. Be sure to keep a lookout for the iconic Bosphorus Bridge, the main connection between Europe and Asia.
With many options for boat tours, you’re sure to find something that fits your needs. From a nighttime cruise with dinner and a show to a luxury private yacht tour, a couple of hours on the water promises to be an excellent way to enjoy any warm afternoon.
The Dolmabahçe Palace is a top tour to schedule when visiting Istanbul — just be aware that it is required to plan a tour, as you can’t simply step inside and wander around without a specific ticket.
Built with the intention to rival luxury European palaces, this opulent building was used as an administrative headquarters during the Ottoman Empire; is lavishly decorated with gold, crystals, and handmade silk carpets; and is a regular people pleaser thanks to its conspicuous design!
Foodies, welcome to your Mecca! Get a truly local experience by eating authentic street food from multiple restaurants and cafes. Istanbul, due to its location, has heavy European and Asian influences, creating a unique atmosphere for both art and food.
With a walking tour, you’re able to visit places off the beaten path, many starting with a cup of invigorating Turkish coffee. Let your senses be delighted by the sights and smells as you wander through spice markets and find hidden gems along the way!
As one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, the Grand Bazaar is sure to fill all your shopping needs. With food, antiques, fabrics, carpets, and traditional Ottoman and Islamic arts, and everything else in between, you’ll no doubt be able to pick up something to remember your stay.
The Grand Bazaar covers over 60 streets and holds over 4,000 shops, so you may not be able to cover it in one day. Consider scheduling a walking tour to help navigate its vast offerings.
Boasting extraordinary pieces collected from different areas and time periods throughout the world, including rare 13th-century carpets not found anywhere else, any art or history buff will swoon at the collection of the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts! As one of the earliest surviving palace buildings, dating all the way back to the late 15th century, even the structure itself is a piece of art.
Hot tip: Make sure to check out the terrace that overlooks Sultanahmet Square to see the swarms of people below!
On a tiny islet off the Asian side of Istanbul, the Maiden’s Tower has had many uses, is rich in history and fascinating legends, and has become a world-famous iconic skyline landmark.
From a tax collection center to a defense tower, lighthouse, hospital, radio station, and now a tourist attraction, the history is long. If you visit, be sure to stop by the restaurant and museum on the ground floor for traditional Turkish food.
If you’ve ever been fascinated by the history of gladiators and chariot races, you’ve come to the right place: The Hippodrome was home to gladiator games, ceremonies, celebrations, and even… torture.
As a symbol of power, this grand arena is located near the Blue Mosque which makes it an easy stop on your way to check out other sites. With decorated monuments from all over the world, this is a piece of history that is truly unique.
See the city from above by touring the Galata Tower! At 63 meters tall and built in 1348, this medieval tower provides some of the most breathtaking views of the City of the World’s Desire.
After enjoying the panoramic vistas, tour the vibrant neighborhood of the Galata District and ride on one of the oldest subways in the world. As a cultural hub, this is a great place to check out some of the best restaurants, clubs, and bars in the area.
If you’re interested in seeing striking architecture and getting some light exercise, a Byzantine tour might just fit the bill perfectly.
Byzantine refers back to when Istanbul was Constantinople, which was the peak of Christian history in this area — with that in mind, many monasteries and churches were built during this time and bucketloads of that history remain intact to this day. So, why not grab some hearty lunch and learn about this time period from a knowledgeable guide?
The Golden Horn is the freshwater estuary that separates the old and new parts of the city. A major urban waterway built from an old trading harbor, this is the world’s largest natural harbor that separates the European shore in two.
The Golden Horn was named appropriately by the color of the water at sunset — the glimmering gold shores are perfect for a photo op on a romantic evening!
To escape the bustling city life, why not take an hour or two to check out Emirgan Park? If you’re looking for a leafy oasis to escape the city crowds, then get yourself over to Emirgan Park on the European coast of the Bosphorus.
With no shortage of easy walking trails and playgrounds for the kids, take a stroll and bring a picnic basket to relax on a sunny day. Can’t be bothered setting up a picnic? With three restaurants housed in mansions on the property, you can find authentic Turkish food easily nearby.
Bonus: If you happen to be visiting in April, you’re in luck! That’s when Emergan hosts the annual International Istanbul Tulip Festival.
If you’re in need of something fun for the whole family, youngsters and adults alike are bound to appreciate the Istanbul Aquarium.
As the world’s biggest thematic aquarium (!) with interactive exhibits around every turn and more animals from the rainforest to the Black Sea than you could possibly count, this is well worth nearly an entire day of exploring! Take a moment to check out the 5D films going on as well to immerse yourself in fog, wind, and waters of the world.
A wickedly popular tourist destination, the always-bustling Sultanahmet Square is home to many all-star attractions: the Hippodrome acts as the center point and the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, and Topkapi Palace are all within view.
With majestic views of the Bosphorus and plenty of restaurants, there is something for everyone in this small section of the city. If you’re looking to cover some extra ground, take a bike tour to make the most of your time!
To find the most popular things to do in Istanbul, start by taking a walk down Istiklal Street! As one of the busiest streets in the city and a center of arts and culture, you’ll have the chance to explore art galleries, do some shopping, grab a coffee or some lahmacun (Turkish-style pizza), and if you’re lucky, stumble across a street show. To truly uncover the hidden gems and learn along the way, consider a locally-led walking tour, many of which are free (just leave a tip).
From lively fish markets to Ottoman-era architecture, the Asian side of Istanbul isn’t a place you want to miss out on. Take a tour off the beaten track and discover some of the up-and-coming neighborhoods in the area like Kadıköy and Moda. Another cool part? You can ride a Marmaray train under the Bosphorus to get there!
Fancy burning a few calories on a luxurious and historic stroll? Then check out Bebek, a neighborhood in Istanbul located along the picturesque Bebe Bay.
With beautiful views from walking paths and lovely cafes dotted throughout the entire area, grab a Turkish coffee and enjoy a leisurely afternoon to explore away from crowds.
The Kariye Museum (also known as the Chora Church) contains some of the best surviving art in the world, providing the chance for curious visitors to see stunning mosaics and frescoes that date back to the 1300s.
Originally built as a Byzantine church and later converted to a mosque, this beautiful treasure was turned into a museum in 1945 and should sit high atop the bucket list.
As the site of the tomb of Abu Ayyub al-Ansari—friend of the Prophet Mohammed and therefore an active prayer site—the Eyüp Sultan Mosque is one of the holiest and most important mosques in all of Turkey.
Covered in tiles from many different time periods, this is another architectural masterpiece that draws worshippers and non-worshippers alike.
If you take a walking tour of Istanbul, many will lead you through various old churches and mosques. The Hagia Irene is often on the list, and for good reason. As the second-largest church in Istanbul, its rich history makes it stand out from the rest.
Hagia Irene is the oldest church of the Eastern Roman Empire and was built on the site of an old temple in 330! Used as a place to store loot and weapons until the 19th century, it also became the country’s first official museum.
For a romantic day trip outside Istanbul, consider a hot air balloon ride over Cappadocia. This region is home to ancient mountain valleys and cone-shaped rock formations, offering views that no other Istanbul tourist can see.
Apart from the balloon ride, explore Cappadocia via camel or horseback rides, rent a quad for some adrenaline, or visit local markets and traditional clothing shops for a taste of local charm.
The Ural Ataman Klasik Otomobil Museum, also known as the Classic Car Museum, boasts an excellent collection of nearly 50 famous and historic cars, some dating back to the early 1900s!
The exhibit features iconic vehicles such as the Ford Model T Touring Car (1926) and the James Bond-esque 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing, as well as old-school Harley Davidson motorcycles. After admiring the meticulously maintained vehicles, enjoy a meal at the 50s-style diner in the museum’s center!
The Museum of Innocence is a unique museum dedicated to Turkish Nobel laureate author Orhan Pamuk and is also a recreation of his book, 'The Museum of Innocence.'
It showcases items from the 1960s and 70s, including furniture, books, clothes, and household appliances, telling an intimate story about one man's life and his obsessive love with his young cousin, Füsun. The museum offers a glimpse into both the author's world and the characters he created.
Istanbul is a city that lives and breathes football, with three major football teams: Fenerbahçe SK, Beşiktaş JK, and Galatasaray SK. Each team has its own passionate fan base, and attending a football match in Istanbul is an electrifying experience.
Whether you're at Vodafone Park, Ülker Stadium, or Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium, you'll be immersed in the vibrant atmosphere of Turkish football.
Escape the hustle and bustle of Istanbul with a visit to the Ormanya Wildlife Park, located about an hour and a half east of the city. This park is home to over 75 species of animals and offers a bird-watching area, botanical pathway, Children's Zoo, and nearly 100 camping sites. It's a perfect day trip to reconnect with nature.
For adrenaline junkies and families alike, VIALAND is a theme park located about 20 minutes south of Istanbul's city center. The park offers a wide range of rides and attractions, from bumper cars to thrilling roller coasters.
Don't miss the chance to ride the Nefeskese, the fourth-largest roller coaster in the world. The park also features themed restaurants and live entertainment.
Experience the futuristic fun of riding a Segway while exploring Istanbul's iconic landmarks. Guided Segway tours offer a unique way to see the city's highlights, including the Hagia Sophia, Galata Tower, and Grand Bazaar. Whether during the day or at night, these tours provide a memorable and informative experience.
Gulhane Park offers a serene escape in the heart of Istanbul. With its lush green lawns, fountains, and picturesque bridges, it's an ideal place for picnics, jogging, or simply enjoying a peaceful stroll. Located near Topkapi Palace, it's a great spot to visit before or after exploring the palace.
The Beylerbeyi Palace, situated on the Asian shore of the Bosphorus, is a stunning former Ottoman summer palace.
Built in the mid-19th century for Sultan Abdülaziz, it boasts opulent interior decorations, including marble floors, crystal chandeliers, and exquisite furnishings from Europe. The palace offers a glimpse into the lavish lifestyle of the Ottoman elite.
Yıldız Park, nestled on the shores of the Bosphorus river, is Istanbul's largest park. It provides a tranquil oasis with beautiful green lawns, blooming Judas trees, and refreshing clean air. The park is a favorite among joggers and offers a peaceful retreat from the city's hustle and bustle.
Experience the rich history of Ephesus, an ancient site in central Turkey that reflects the fusion of Greek and Roman influences.
Dating back to the 10th century, Ephesus features well-preserved ruins, including squares, houses, streets, and the impressive Temple of Hadrian. Some tours may also include a visit to the Virgin Mary House.
Miniaturk is a delightful attraction that features detailed replicas of Istanbul's landmarks. From the Bosphorus Strait to minarets and more, this miniature city captures the essence of the city's architectural marvels. It's a fun and educational experience for visitors of all ages.
The Ortaköy Mosque, with its elegant domes, minarets, chandeliers, and majestic entrance, is a stunning example of late Ottoman period architecture. It sits on the Ortakoy pier square and offers a picturesque backdrop for photography. Keep in mind the mosque's visiting hours, as it may close during prayer times.
Gallipoli, one of the most significant WWI sites in Europe, offers a powerful historical experience. Explore the Anzac Battlefields to learn about this pivotal moment in history. Additionally, the historic city of Troy, located around 440 km from Istanbul, provides insights into the legendary Trojan War.
The Rahmi M. Koç Museum, located near the Haliç Bridge, celebrates the achievements of Turkey's prominent industrialist, Rahmi M. Koç.
The museum features classic cars and explores the history of local and international transportation, machinery, and communication innovations. Visitors can enjoy hands-on exhibits, making it an engaging experience for all.
The Naval Museum in Istanbul offers a fascinating journey through the history and significance of sea travel.
Explore exhibits showcasing Ottoman-era trading vessels, ancient seafaring techniques, and more. The museum features interactive displays and informative panels for an engaging visit.
Camlica Hill on the Asian side of Istanbul offers breathtaking panoramic views of the city and the Bosphorus.
A leisurely stroll up the hill rewards you with stunning vistas from its summit, where you'll also find a beautiful mosque. Guided tours of Uskudar can provide a comprehensive exploration of the area.
Located in Istanbul's historic Beyoğlu district, the Pera Museum houses one of Europe's largest collections of Orientalist paintings from the 19th century.
It also features Turkish art, including works by renowned local painter Osman Hamdi Bey. The museum's lush grounds and serene gardens add to the charm of the visit.
Explore Istanbul's rich cultural diversity by taking a Jewish Heritage tour. Discover the historic Jewish areas of the city, including historic synagogues like Neve Shalom and Ari Ashkenazi, the Camondo Buildings, and the colorful houses and cafes in Balat. Gain insights into the history and culture of Istanbul's Jewish community.
Escape the city's hustle and bustle with a day trip to the Black Sea Coast. Enjoy the lush forested hills, relax on sandy beaches, swim, or dive in the crystal-clear waters.
Explore charming fishing towns like Sile or Agva for a peaceful coastal experience.
Navigating Istanbul's vast expanse is made easier with the Hop-On-Hop-Off bus. This convenient and affordable option allows you to explore both the European and Asian sides of the city with unlimited access over multiple days.
Start your journey at Sultanahmet Square and discover historic Beyoğlu or the Asian side of Istanbul.
Experience the fun of meeting lifelike wax figures of famous celebrities at Madame Tussauds Istanbul. The interactive wax figure museum features replicas of global and local icons, offering a unique photo opportunity with A-listers, historical figures, and cultural icons.
Indulge your sweet tooth at Altan Şekerleme, a beloved Turkish candy store that has delighted generations. Explore the vibrant array of traditional Turkish candies, including rose-flavored treats, Akide Şekeri(rock candy), and Lokum (Turkish delight). Choose your favorites and enjoy them beautifully packaged.
SEA LIFE Istanbul, one of Europe's largest aquariums, offers an immersive experience with over 15,000 marine creatures. Explore themed zones, touch tanks, and witness live feeding shows. Don't miss the 83-meter-long underwater Ocean Tunnel, where you can walk beneath sharks and other fascinating sea life.
For snow enthusiasts, Bursa's Uludag Mountain, just a few hours from Istanbul, offers sensational ski slopes. Whether you're into skiing or snowboarding, this destination provides an ideal one or two-day trip during the winter season. You can also explore the charming town of Bursa at the mountain's foothills.
St. Antoine Church is the largest Catholic Church in Turkey and holds historical significance. Explore the church's Italian Neo-Gothic architecture and learn about its role in serving the Italian community in Istanbul. Consider booking a guided tour to gain deeper insights into the church's history.
Families will delight in the Legoland Discovery Center, a unique attraction featuring LEGO cityscapes, mini models of famous landmarks, and a sprawling LEGO store.
It's a fantastic experience for children and parents alike. Combo tickets that include access to SEA LIFE or Madame Tussauds are available for added value.
Experience the romantic charm of Istanbul on a dinner cruise along the Bosporus. Enjoy a three-course dinner with live music and mesmerizing belly dancing performances.
Dinner cruises offer a unique perspective of the city's illuminated skyline reflecting on the water. Private boat tours with customized routes and catering options are also available.
Explore the vibrant Mısır Çarşısı, also known as the Spice Bazaar, where you'll encounter a sensory feast of fresh spices, nuts, dried fruits, Turkish delight, and more.
This bustling market showcases the diversity of Turkish produce and goods. It's a paradise for foodies and a cultural experience in its own right.
Indulge in centuries-old tradition and relaxation by visiting a Turkish bath, or hamam. Çemberlitaş Hamam, Cagaloglu Hamam, and Aga Hamami are notable options. Experience authentic hamam rituals, steam rooms, and massages while immersing yourself in Istanbul's rich culture.
Uskudar, one of Istanbul's oldest districts, is a treasure trove of history and architecture. Explore its 16th-century Ottoman mosques and landmarks, including the Maiden's Tower and Fethi Pasha Grove.
Discover charming cafes, restaurants, and shops while immersing yourself in the district's bustling atmosphere. Guided tours with hotel pickup and dropoff options are available for convenience.
Balat, known for its deep Jewish heritage, also boasts vibrant houses painted in various colors, reminiscent of Cinque Terre in Italy.
Explore the Rezan Has Museum's collection of rare Urartian artifacts and visit the Ferruh Kethuda Mosque, a masterpiece by renowned architect Mimar Sinan. Balat offers a blend of history, art, and culture waiting to be discovered.
Escape the city's hustle and bustle by visiting Sapanca Lake, located just 90 minutes away from Istanbul. This picturesque freshwater lake is a popular destination for locals and visitors alike. Enjoy boat rides on its serene blue waters, or go kayaking amid the lush surroundings during the summer months.
Çiya: This restaurant offers a fusion of flavors, showcasing Balkan dishes with Asian influences. From kebabs to soups, Çiya's menu reflects the rich culinary history of Istanbul.
360 Istanbul: Experience modern Turkish cuisine with international influences at 360 Istanbul. This restaurant boasts panoramic views of the city and transforms into 360club on weekends.
Mikla: Discover the "New Anatolian Cuisine" at Mikla, where traditional Anatolian dishes are infused with Scandinavian influences. Indulge in a rich 3-course meal or savor a honey and cheese platter.
Ulus 29: Make a reservation at Ulus 29 to enjoy Mediterranean cuisine, classic European dishes, and a selection of vegan options. This upscale restaurant offers stunning views of the Bosphorus.
Rumeli Fortress, built by Mehmed the Conqueror in 1452, stands as one of Istanbul's most historically significant sites. It was constructed to protect the city of Constantinople from potential invasions.
Located on the European side of Istanbul, the fortress now serves as a major tourist attraction, offering excellent views of both Asia and Europe.
The Küçüksu Pavilion, built in the 1860s, is a marvel of Ottoman architecture. It is a splendid place to spend an afternoon, combining opulence with breathtaking views of the river. The mansion's lush gardens and fountains add to its charm.
Istinye Park is one of Istanbul's largest shopping malls, boasting nearly 300 stores. Whether you're looking for luxury boutiques like Rolex, Fendi, and Chanel or international sports brands like Adidas and Nike, Istinye Park has something for every shopper. Don't forget to check out the food court, which includes a Shake Shack.
For panoramic views of Istanbul, visit Pierre Loti Tepesi. This small hill offers stunning vistas of the modern cityscape and is accessible by a cable car ride. It's a great spot for taking in the city's beauty, and you might even encounter friendly cats in the area.
Witness the mystical practice of Sufi whirling performed by the Whirling Dervishes. This spiritual journey involves music and motion and dates back over 700 years.
The Galata Mevlevi Museum is a well-known venue for experiencing this unique ritual. Additionally, the Hodjapasha theater offers performances of traditional whirling dervishes, Oriental dances, and Ottoman Palace dances.
Experience true luxury by staying in a palace hotel along the Bosphorus. Choose from options like the Shangri-La Bosphorus Istanbul, Ciragan Palace Kempinski, or the Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul At The Bosphorus. These hotels offer opulent accommodations and breathtaking views, making your stay a royal experience.
Join a pub crawl in Istanbul for a night of fun and socializing. Guided by a local, you'll visit popular pubs and bars, play drinking games, and enjoy VIP entrances to some of the best nightlife spots in the city. Pub crawls are available for both women-only and mixed-gender groups.
Istanbul comes alive at night, offering a vibrant and diverse nightlife scene. Whether you prefer rooftop bars with city views, intimate settings in Ottoman-era mansions, or traditional Turkish taverns known as Meyhanes, Istanbul's nightlife has something for everyone. Enjoy the city's energy and entertainment after dark.
When traveling to Istanbul, you'll most likely arrive at Istanbul Airport (IST), located on the European side of the city. Istanbul Airport is the main international gateway to Istanbul and Turkey. If you're arriving late at night, very early in the morning, or with children and a lot of luggage, it's advisable to consider pre-booking an airport transfer service. This way, you'll have a ride waiting for you at arrivals, making your arrival smoother and more convenient.
Istanbul offers a wide range of accommodations to suit various preferences and budgets. Here are a few recommendations:
Exploring Istanbul on a budget is possible with some money-saving tips:
After your Istanbul adventure, there are several exciting destinations to explore:
Istanbul's rich history and diverse influences make it a captivating destination for travelers. Whether you're rediscovering its wonders or exploring them for the first time, Istanbul offers a wealth of experiences, from its historic sites to its vibrant culture and cuisine. Enjoy your journey through this magnificent city!
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