Having lived a substantial part of my life in Istanbul, here are my top 10 things to do in Istanbul. I chose these not because they are popular, but because I think they are worth seeing or experiencing. Keep on reading to discover some hidden gems in Istanbul, enjoy!
Istanbul at Night – Photo by Ela Kir ©
1. Start your day with a traditional Turkish breakfast
It's no argument, that breakfast sets the tone for the entire day. In Turkey, perhaps more than anywhere else, the first meal of the day easily turns into a banquet, with all kinds of dishes and regional influences going into the mix.
Tip: there are many cute seafront cafes in the Emirgan area which would be great for a Turkish breakfast!
Turkish Breakfast – Photo by TheGuideIstanbul ©
2. Explore Dolmabahçe Palace
This palace is a must for any visitor in Istanbul. Dolmabahce Palace is huge — 600 meters in length — containing no less than 285 rooms and 43 salons.
Don’t think that simply because “palace” is in its name, that it means the marvels will be limited as such. Although palaces are nothing short of a big deal of course, there’s so much here in store for all types of travellers. Wandering around the lush palace grounds and gardens (if you're into photography it's an amazing photo spot!) and touring the multiple museum facilities on site.
Dolmabahce Palace – Photos by Ela Kir ©
3. Take a day trip to the Princes' Islands
The Princes’ Islands are a cluster of nine islands southeast of Istanbul in the Sea of Marmara. Mainly car-free, the islands are known for their horse-drawn carriages (phaetons). At the highest point of Büyükada, the largest island, the 6th-century Hagia Yorgi Church has panoramic views.
Buyukada Phaetons – Photo by Move2Turkey ©
4. Visit the Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar
The colourful and chaotic Grand Bazaar is the heart of Istanbul's Old City and has been so for centuries. Among the world's oldest and largest covered markets, the Grand Bazaar (and right next to it: The Spice Bazaar) features thousands of shops spread across dozens of streets. With friendly shop owner's greeting you in every language and offering you samples and tea, be sure to bargain for the best prices!
Grand Bazaar Lamp Store – Photo by Ela Kir ©
5. Enjoy a 360 panoramic view of Istanbul from the Galata Tower
The Galata Tower is a medieval stone tower. Not only is it rich with history and beautiful; it also offers the best views of Istanbul. There is a lift that takes you to the top of the tower, with the cylindric shape of the tower you're able to see a 360 panoramic view of Istanbul from the top.
Aerial Evening Shot of Galata Tower – Photo by Ruslan Kalinsky ©
6. Visit the Basilica Cistern
The Basilica Cistern, is the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns that lie beneath Istanbul. It is definitely worth a visit, with dim lighting and classical music playing in the background it's like traveling back in time visiting an ancient underground space.
Basilica Cistern, Yerebatan Sarnici – Photo by Istanbul Clues ©
7. Take a ferry across the Bosphorus
Istanbul is known as the city that lays on two continents. It is the only city where you can cross continents within a couple of minutes with a ferry ride across the strait. Depending on the destination, the ferry ride takes around 15 minutes to 100 minutes. Not only will you get to enjoy watching the seagulls flying above the sunny sea, you can also buy Turkish coffee, tea, and a local pastry "Simit" while you enjoy the spectacular view. The ferry is considered a form of public transportation so it's a win-win situation in terms of budget too! The ride costs as little as 3-5 Turkish Lira! (Alternatively, if you'd like to spend a bit more, you could book your own private boat and have a tour). I recommend taking a ride during the day and also one at night to enjoy both the warm sunny view of Istanbul and also the lively lit night view.
View From Ferry While Passing the Bosphorus – Photo by Ela Kir ©
8. Visit the Topkapi Palace
Topkapi Palace is undoubtedly one of Istanbul’s top tourist attractions. There is something for everyone at Topkapi Palace, whether you are interested to learn about its rich history, beautiful courtyards, and stunning views. Over 700,000 square metres, the palace has four courtyards and several different buildings in its interior, including an armoury, kitchens, royal stables, treasury and much more. In the same area (inside the walls of the palace) you can find the Archeological Museum and several other buildings of interest.
Topkapi Palace – Photo by Ela Kir ©
9. explore Istiklal Caddesi and Taksim
Istanbul’s most famous street, Istiklal Caddesi, throbs day and night and offers a fantastic array of architectural sights, and shops. At the avenue’s northeastern end is expansive Taksim Square, thought by many to be the very heart of the city, with many restaurants and bars in close proximity, it's a place you can enjoy both day and night. (There is also a famous street near Istiklal Caddesi called Asmali Mescit to have a bunch of "shot bars", get many shots for a good price there while you're pregaming for a night out!)
Tip: Make sure you spot the iconic red trams of Istiklal Caddesi while you're there!
Istiklal Caddesi, Taksim – Photo by PeraPalace ©
10. the secret tip: have a drink at bebek
Bebek is a lovely modern market area in Istanbul, along the Bosphorus. Although it's not the most touristic spot it's the favourite of many locals, offering some amazing cafes, boutique shops, and trendy bars.
Bebek, Istanbul – Photo by Shutterstock ©
There are countless places to see in Istanbul and many experiences to have. I hope you enjoyed reading my top 10 travel tips for your trip to Istanbul, Turkey. You can always message me anytime on Instagram with any questions or comments @Ela_Kir.
Have an amazing week,