Istanbul and an incredible city, and these are the Top Things to See and Do in Istanbul, Turkey. Istanbul is historically rich, has some of the most famous markets in the world, many many stunning mosques, and the food scene is insane. Istanbul is not the capital city of Turkey. Ankara is, though many people confuse the dynamism of Istanbul as being the capital, much the same as people think Sydney is the capital city of Australia, when in fact it is Canberra.
- 0.1 How to get to Istanbul, Turkey
- 0.2 Getting around in Istanbul
- 0.3 Do you need a visa to enter Turkey?
- 1 Top Things to See and Do in Istanbul
- 1.1 Wonder at Hagia Sophia
- 1.2 Explore the Sultanahmet Mosque or Blue Mosque
- 1.3 Go underground at the Basilica Cistern
- 1.4 Stir your senses at The Grand Bazaar
- 1.5 Marvel at Topkapi Palace
- 1.6 Climb Galata Tower
- 1.7 Food and Drink in Istanbul
- 1.8 Where to stay in Istanbul
How to get to Istanbul, Turkey
Istanbul has two airports – Ataturk on the European side and Sabiha Gokcen Airport in Kurtkoy on the Asian side. Ataturk Airport has the larger airline carriers, while Sabiha Gokcen Airport caters more to the smaller budget airlines.
Getting around in Istanbul
Istanbul has an extensive public transport system, with trams, ferries and the odd funiculars, as well as a metro line Get an Istanbulkart, an Istanbul Card which is an all-round public transportation boarding pass. to travel around the city.
Do you need a visa to enter Turkey?
Most people will need a visa to enter Turkey Check your country requirements.
Top Things to See and Do in Istanbul
Wonder at Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia was built by the Roman Emperor Justinian around AD 700. Initially, it was a Christian church and for many years was the largest freestanding building in the world. in the 1300s Constantinople, the former name of Istanbul, was captured by Muslims and turned into a mosque. This was when the world famous minarets were added.
Hagia Sophia has intense and stunning mosaics, archways and architecture that has placed this mosque as one of the most beautiful in the world. There are huge murals of the Virgin Mary and then Arabic scripts praising Allah. This dichotomy works.
After the Turkish Republic which commenced after WW2, Mustafa Ataturk turned Hagia Sophia into a museum, wjhci is open to the public.
Explore the Sultanahmet Mosque or Blue Mosque
The Sultanahmet Mosque or Blue Mosque is one of the most important mosques in the Muslim world. While the mosque in Mecca is the epitome of Islamic faith, the Blue Mosque, with its six minarets, the towers surrounding the mosque, is right up there. The mosque is known as the Blue Mosque because of blue tiles surrounding the walls of interior design.
The mosque has very strict opening hours because it is a working mosque with prayers times that need to be observed. It is closed to nonworshippers for a half hour or so during the five daily prayers. The mosque closes for 90 minutes at each pray time.Avoid visiting a mosque at pray time (Especially Midday praying on Friday) or within a half hour after the ezan is chanted from the Mosque minarets.
Make sure to dress very respectfully, covering your legs, arms, and shoulders. Women must cover their heads. Don’t cover your face; the covering is meant to hide your hair only.
Go underground at the Basilica Cistern
The Basilica Cistern was constructed under the reign of Sultanahmet during Roman times, It was designed to keep emergency water underground for the city.
Stir your senses at The Grand Bazaar
Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar is like a mini city, with spices wafting through the air. The atmosphere alone makes it one of the best things to do, on your visit to Istanbul. Here is the place to haggle over a Turkish carpet, a lantern, spices and more.
Marvel at Topkapi Palace
Topkapi Palace is fascinating. From drunken rulers to madmen and everything in between the palace is just stunning. Here you can find our about the madmen and their notorious harems as well as admire the architectural genius and the stunning gardens. Topkapi Palace is situated on the hill in Sultanahmet and shows just how powerful the Ottomans were.
Some of the must-see areas of Topkapi Palace are the Imperial Rooms. The Chamber of Sacred Relics where you can see the Prophet Muhammad clothes, swords, and hair from his beard. It also contains items from the sacred Kaaba in Mecca and Moses’ staff.
Climb Galata Tower
From Galata Tower, you can see the Bosporus on one side and the Golden Horn on the other as well as the old city with the Topkapı Palace in front of you. It is highly informative of the history and development of Istanbul, the capital that belongs to both Asia and Europe.
Food and Drink in Istanbul
Turkish food is good, and yes you will find kebab shops everywhere., in fact, you will find a lot of food in Istanbul, and that is a really good thing. Eat the food with the local brew Efes. A novel thing to eat is a Balik Ekmek or fish sandwich. These are fresh off the boat and generally sold by the fishermen. You don’t get much fresher than that, and it is a good vantage point to watch what happens on the bustling Bosphorus. Vine leaves are a must try. There are many seasonal fruits like oranges and pomegranates. Visit Beyoglu to go to some amazing bars. Nevizade Street is where you will find many, and they are fun.
Where to stay in Istanbul
We like the Sultanahmet or Beyoglu areas to stay in Istanbul as they are easy to explore on foot, very central, and then you just need to catch the tram to other areas.
Where to stay in Sultanahmet area of Istanbul
Oba Hotel – friendly little hotel in a superb location just 10 minutes walk from the Blue Mosque, and close to the Sultanahmet tram station. Check photos and reviews on TripAdvisor AND Check Prices
Azade Hotel – located right in the heart of Sultanahmet, just a few steps from the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. It’s very close to the tram stop as well. Check photos and reviews on TripAdvisor AND Check Prices
Grand Hyatt Istanbul – Perfect location with lavish amenities as one would expect of a Grand Hyatt Hotel. Close to Taksim Square, Besiktas Boulevard, Nisantasi, the main shopping street. Also well respected for the food. Check photos and reviews on TripAdvisor AND Check Prices
Where to stay in Beyoglu area of Istanbul.
The Marmara Pera Hotel – the hotel is in a very good location with views from the upper rooms of the Golden Horn or Bosphorus. Sultanahmet is an easy walk in particular if you take the tram back up the steep hill to the hotel. Istikial Street and its many shops are within a 100m. Check photos and reviews on TripAdvisor AND Check Prices
Balance Hotel Taksim – Clean and spacious hotel in the heart of Taksim area, near many trendy restaurants and shopping and nightclubs and bars. the rooms are large and spacious. Check photos and reviews on TripAdvisor AND Check Prices
InterContinental Istanbul – another classic hotel. The InterContinental is located in Taksim and no more than 200 meters from the access to the subway station of the same name. It is a classy hotel, renowned for its service. Check photos and reviews on TripAdvisor AND Check Prices
These Top Things to See and Do in Istanbul are just a sample, as Istanbul will keep you very very busy.