Cherish Your Vaycay with 22 Best Things to Do in Istanbul

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things to do in Istanbul
Engin Yapici

Istanbul, straddling Europe and Asia, has long been coveted by empires. It is one of the world’s great metropolises as there are many things to do in Istanbul.

Founded around 1000 BC, the Byzantine colony grew into the significant capital of the Byzantine Empire, Constantinople. After the Ottoman conquest of the city, it retained its glorious place as the heart of its empire.

The city (officially renamed Istanbul after the establishment of the Turkish Republic) is strewn with glorious relics of its long and illustrious history. The tourist attraction here will awe even the most monument-weary visitor.

Allow time to explore the other sights in addition to the big four (the Hagia Sophia Mosque, Topkapi Palace, Blue Mosque, and Grand Bazaar). Although many of the most popular and best places to visit are in or near Sultanahmet’s old city district, there is a dazzling array of other things to do throughout the city.

Plan your trip with our list of Istanbul’s main attractions and things to do in Istanbul, turkey.

1. Hagia Sophia Mosque

According to legend, when Byzantine Emperor Justinian entered his completed church for the first time in CE 536, he cried out, “God bless you for judging me worthy of such a task. I have outdone you, Solomon!” The Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya in Turkish) was the emperor’s bold declaration of his empire’s wealth and technological prowess to the world.

things to do in Istanbul
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Tradition held that the area within the church surrounding the emperor’s throne was the official centre of the world. The Hagia Sophia has remained one of Istanbul’s most beloved landmarks, from its conversion to a mosque after the Ottoman armies conquered Constantinople to its further conversion into a museum in the twentieth century and its reconversion back into a working mosque in 2020.

2. Topkapi Palace

This magnificent palace beside the Bosphorus, built by Mehmet the Conqueror in the 15th century, was where the Ottoman sultans lived and ruled.

The vast complex is a dazzling display of Islamic art, with opulent courtyards lined with intricate hand-painted tilework connecting a labyrinth of sumptuously decorated rooms, all surrounded by battlemented walls and towers. Apart from this monumental history, this place offers a lot of things to do in Istanbul.

The Harem complex is the most popular attraction (where the sultan’s many concubines and children would spend their days). The Second Court, where you can walk through the vast palace kitchens and marvel at the dazzling interior of the Imperial Council Chamber and the Third Court, which housed the sultan’s private rooms.

The Third Court also houses the Imperial Treasury and an impressive collection of Prophet Muhammad relics in the Sacred Safekeeping Room.

3. Blue Mosque

This magnificent mosque, known today as the Blue Mosque, was Sultan Ahmet I’s grand architectural gift to his capital.

Blue Mosque, built between 1609 and 1616, caused a stir throughout the Muslim world when it was finished because it had six minarets (the same number as the Great Mosque of Mecca). To quell the dissent, Mecca was given a seventh minaret.

The Sultan Ahmed mosque got its name from its interior decoration, which included tens of thousands of Iznik tiles. The mosque’s overall spatial and colour effect makes it one of the finest examples of Ottoman architecture.

Wandering among the gardens between the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia to see their duelling domes in twin glory is a great sightseeing pleasure when you visit Istanbul. Come at dusk for the added atmosphere as the call to prayer echoes.

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The Arasta Bazaar is located directly behind the Blue Mosque and is a great place to go shopping because the handicraft shops here sell high-quality souvenirs. Even if you don’t want to shop, stop by the Great Palace Mosaic Museum, located between the Arasta Bazaar and the mosque.

This small museum displays a 250-square-meter mosaic pavement fragment discovered in the 1950s. The mosaic floor’s recovery and subsequent rescue are explained in detail by excellent information panels.

4. Basilica Cistern

One of Istanbul’s most unexpected tourist attractions and one of the best things to do in Istanbul is the Basilica Cistern. The imperial water supply for the Byzantine emperors was once stored in this massive, palace-like underground hall supported by 336 columns in 12 rows.

Constantine the Great started the construction of the basilica cistern, but Emperor Justinian finished it in the sixth century.

Many of the columns used in the construction of the basilica cistern were repurposed from earlier classical structures and had decorative carvings. The most famous are the Medusa stones, which are column bases with Medusa head carvings in the northwest corner.
The columns in the basilica cistern are beautifully lit, and there is a soft, steady trickle of water all around you, making this a very atmospheric place to visit.

5. Hippodrome

Septimius Severus started building the ancient Hippodrome in CE 203, and Constantine the Great finished it in CE 330. It was the epicentre of Byzantine public life, hosting magnificent games, chariot races, and factional conflicts.

Except for a small section of the gallery walls on the southern side, there isn’t much left of the Hippodrome to see today, but it still counted among the best things to do in Istanbul. But the At Meydan, which now stands on the site, is home to several monuments. A fountain on the northwest side was presented to the Ottoman Sultan by German Emperor William II in 1898.

Then, heading southwest, are three ancient monuments: a 20-meter-high Egyptian obelisk (from Heliopolis). Constantine’s Serpent Column was brought here from Delphi, and a stone obelisk was initially clad in gold-covered bronze plating until soldiers of the Fourth Crusade stole it in 1204.

6. Istanbul Archaeology Museum

This vital museum complex, just a hop, skip, and jump away from Topkapi Palace, brings together an array of artefacts from Turkey and the Middle East, sweeping through the vast breadth of this region’s history.

The museum complex is divided into three sections, each of which is worth a visit. The Museum of the Ancient Orient houses a collection of pre-Islamic art and heritage from the Middle East.

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The main Archaeology Museum houses statuary and tombs, including the famous sarcophaguses discovered by Ottoman architect Osman Hamdi Bey in Sidon, Lebanon. The Istanbul Through the Ages exhibit room, which helps you visualize the city’s vast and epic history, is also located here and offers you to look at the best things to do in Istanbul.

The Tiled Pavilion, built by Mehmet the Conqueror, houses a diverse collection of ceramic art and is the museum’s third structure.

7. Grand Bazaar

For many visitors, enjoying fun things to do in Istanbul is about shopping as much as museums and historic sites, and the famous Grand Bazaar is where everyone goes.

Grand Bazaar is a massive covered market and is the world’s first shopping mall, occupying an entire city quarter and surrounded by thick walls between the Nuruosmanye and Beyazt Mosques. The Beyazt Mosque (built 1498-1505) occupies the site of Theodosius I’s Forum and is inspired by the Hagia Sophia’s architecture.

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Grand Bazaar is entered through one of 11 gates, from which a maze of vaulted-ceiling laneways lined with shops and stalls selling every Turkish souvenir and handicraft imaginable covers the area. The Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofia, and Topkapi Palace are all within walking distance of the Grand Bazaar, which is just a short walk down the street.

The various trades are separated into specific sections, making browsing easier. The Burned Column is located near the bazaar’s Divanyolu Caddesi entrance. Constantine the Great erected a porphyry column of a stump (still 40 meters high) in his forum. It housed a bronze statue of Constantine until 1105.

8. Suleyman Mosque

The Süleymaniye Mosque is one of Istanbul’s most well-known landmarks and is included in most things to do in Istanbul, perched high on a hill above the Sultanahmet district. This mosque gets the honour of a beautiful mosque.
It was built for Sultan Süleyman I (commonly known as Süleyman the Magnificent; reigned 1520-1566) by Sinan, the famed Ottoman architect responsible for many of Turkey’s celebrated Ottoman-era monuments, including the Selimiye Mosque in Edirne.

The interior of the Süleymaniye Mosque, dominated by its soaring 53-meter-high dome, is notable for its harmonious proportions and design unity.

Outside the peaceful garden area, there is an interesting Ottoman-era cemetery with the türbes (tombs) of Sultan Süleyman and his wife, Haseki Hürrem Sultan (often commonly known outside of Turkey as Roxelana). Visit süleymaniye mosque when you visit Istanbul, turkey.

9. Spice Bazaar

The Spice Bazaar is where you can get your lokum (Turkish delight), dried fruit, nuts, herbs, and, of course, spices fix. Much of the money used to build it came from taxes levied by the Ottoman government on Egyptian-made goods, which is why its name in Turkish (Msr arşs) means “Egyptian Market.”

The Spice Bazaar is one of Istanbul’s most popular top attractions and must-visit things to do in Istanbul, and it can get ridiculously crowded at certain times of day with large tour groups from docked cruise ships. It is one of the most popular spice markets in the world. You can enjoy a good walking tour here.

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The stately Yeni Cami (New Mosque), which was begun in 1615 and completed in 1663 – that’s “new” for Istanbul, is next door to the Spice market main entrance.

10. Dolmabahçe Palace

The sumptuous and ornate Dolmabahçe palace demonstrates the Ottoman Empire’s 19th-century influence on European decoration and architecture. Sultan Abdülmecid I built it in 1854 to replace Topkapi Palace as the sultans’ primary residence.

During the founding years of the Turkish Republic, Dolmabahçe Palace was also used as an official residence, and Atatürk (the founder of modern Turkey) died in 1938.

Fountains, ornamental basins, and blooming flower beds dot the lush green gardens.
Inside, Rococo, Baroque, Neoclassical, and Ottoman empire was combined with massive crystal chandeliers, liberal use of gold, French-style furnishings, and frescoed ceilings to create a dazzling Turkish Renaissance style of sheer splendour and pomp in Dolmabahce Palace.

11. Chora Church

Chora means “country” in Greek, and this lovely Church (originally known as the Church of St. Saviour of Chora) was located just outside the city walls of old Constantinople. It is situated next to the old city walls and among the best museums and must things to do in Istanbul when you visit Istanbul turkey.

The first Chora Church was probably built here in the fifth century, but what you see now is the sixth reconstruction after it was destroyed in the ninth century and underwent several facelifts from the 11th to 14th centuries.

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Following the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople, the church was converted into a beautiful mosque before becoming a museum in 1945. It will reopen as a working mosque in 2020.

The monument is rightfully famous for its fabulously vibrant 14th-century mosaics, which have been preserved almost intact in the two narthexes and fragmentarily in the nave, as well as the frescoes along the walls and domes.

12. Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts

This museum, housed in the palace of Ibrahim Paşa, Grand Vizier to Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent, is a must-see for anyone interested in Ottoman and Islamic art.

The carpet collection on display here is extensive and is regarded as the best in the world by textile experts.

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It is an excellent place to come and take in the dazzling array of styles of Turkish carpets plus must-visit things to do in Istanbul. Over the centuries, before embarking on a shopping expedition to purchase your floor piece.

Exhibits of exquisite ceramics, calligraphy, and wood carving date from the 9th century CE to the 19th century.

13. Little Aya Sofya

Before Emperor Justinian built the Hagia Sofia (Aya Sofya), he needed to see if the structure would hold up, so he built this miniature version first.

The Church of Sergius and Bacchus was its original name, but the obvious architectural similarities with the Aya Sofya led to its long-held nickname becoming the building’s official title.

During the Ottoman era, the church was converted into a mosque, which is still in use today. Although its proportions aren’t as grandiose as those of other buildings in Istanbul, the structure has been beautifully restored and is well worth a visit.

The walking tour to narrow alleyways lined with tall Ottoman-era buildings – some lavishly restored, others creaking their way into dilapidation – is a peaceful respite from central Sultanahmet.

Take some time to relax with a glass of tea in the lush green gardens of Little Aya Sofya to recharge your batteries before continuing your sightseeing adventures.

14. Rustem Pasa Mosque

The Rüstem Paşa Mosque, possibly Istanbul’s most beautiful mosque, houses the city’s most stunningly preserved Iznik tile panels.

Sure, the Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Mosque) gets all the attention. Still, the best examples of these gorgeously intricate hand-painted tiles in blues, reds, and greens can be found here, covering both the exterior courtyard walls and the mosque interior.

Even better, because it’s less well-known, you’ll be able to admire them up close without having to fight crowds. Finding the picturesque mosques adds to the adventure because it’s hidden down a narrow lane lined with market stalls and always bustling with activity near the Spice Bazaar.

15. Yedikule Fortress

Although the suburban train ride to Yedikule (Castle of the Seven Towers) is a bit of a slog, this commanding fortress is well worth it.

The fortress, built in the 5th century by Emperor Theodosius II, formed the southern section of Constantinople’s defensive walls. The massive arch (blocked up in the late Byzantine period) was known as the Porta Aurea (Golden Gate), and its doors were gold-plated.

When the Ottomans conquered the city, they used the fortress as a defensive structure, prison, and execution site. Yedikule has recently been restored, and you can climb to the top of the battlements for spectacular views of the Marmara sea.

16. Galata Tower

One of Istanbul’s major attractions, the Galata Tower, is located across the Galata Bridge, which crosses the mouth of The Bay of Istanbul. The Genoese built this tower overlooking the Golden Horn in the 14th century. It is still one of Istanbul’s most recognizable landmarks today.

The Galata Tower provides the best panoramic views of the city and the Bosphorus and is an excellent vantage point from which to view Old Istanbul.

The Galata tower stood 52 meters tall for centuries and was Istanbul’s tallest building. Due to fire and storm damage, the tower has been restored several times over the years.
Take a walking tour of the Taksim square and Galata neighbourhoods, where you’ll learn about the Galata Tower, Tunnel Square (the world’s second-oldest metro), and the Dervish Lodge while strolling through its bustling markets and shops.

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Today, the observation deck and restaurant on the top story are among the things to do in Istanbul to take in the iconic skyline views of the central old Istanbul city. However, be aware that it is a prevalent sight, so arrive early or prepare to queue.

17. Bosphorus Strait

Many visitors’ trip to Istanbul isn’t complete unless they board a Bosphorus cruise, the city’s famed waterway, which connects the Black Sea to the Marmara sea.

The best views in Istanbul are from the water, and the Bosphorus excursion ferries are all about sitting back, relaxing, and taking in the scenery. The Long Bosphorus Tour departs daily from Eminönü ferry dock and travels up the strait to the village and fortress of Anadolu Kava, near the strait’s northern mouth into the Black Sea.

The cruise tours include views of defensive fortresses, Ottoman-era palaces and mansions, and the Bosphorus bridges. The Long Bosphorus Tour takes two hours one-way, stops in Anadolu Kavağı for three hours, and returns, so you need to set aside a full day of your itinerary if you want to do it.

From spring to fall, Short Bosphorus Tour offers daily afternoon sailings on the Bosphorus. This return ferry cruise heads up the Bosphorus as far as Rumeli fortress before turning around.

18. Turkish Delights

At the base of the Galata Tower, there’s an excellent square where you can enjoy Turkish Delight and special Turkish tea and Turkish coffee while people-watching on the terrace. However, Turkish Delight can be purchased anywhere in Istanbul.

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Because Istanbul is famous for its delicious Turkish food and sweets, you can have more things to do in Istanbul.

19. Whirling Dervish

The Galata Tower is 9 stories tall and features a restaurant, café, and nightclub where you can watch a Turkish show with belly dancing and whirling dervishes. Nothing is more exciting than watching talented Belly Dancers and Whirling Dervish perform in Istanbul.

The 1001 Turkish Nights Performance will pick you up from your hotel and drive you along the Bosphorus to your dinner and performance. There will be music, a Fasil orchestra, and belly dancing. It came with a glass of wine, gin, vodka, Raki, or beer of your choice and counted among the best things to do in Istanbul.
The Istanbul City Pass allows you to visit 30 different attractions, including a whirling dervish show in Hodjapasha Hamam.

20. Istanbul Modern

This thoroughly modern art gallery holds an extensive collection of Turkish contemporary art with an ever-changing calendar of exhibitions. It hosts local and international artists annually, proving that Istanbul isn’t just about historical sightseeing.

This is the best place in town to keep an eye on Turkey’s contemporary art scene.
In addition to the galleries, Istanbul Modern has a cinema with a film viewing program and a library.
The galleries are temporarily housed in a historic Beyoglu building while the new permanent home for this art museum in Karaköy is being built.

21. Istiklal Street

Istiklal Street, which is visited by nearly 3 million people every day, is the beating heart of Istanbul. This 1.4-kilometre-long pedestrian walkway is home to everything from cinemas to nightclubs, boutiques to cafés. If you’re looking for places to visit for a vibrant nightlife and must things to do in Istanbul, this is a great place to start.

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We also tried our first Turkish Delight treats and purchased some much-needed medication from pharmacies on Istiklal Street. If you don’t want to walk, you can take the historic tram to Taksim Square to see the republic monument.

22. Fatih Mosque

This significant mosque is located in the Fatih district, on the hilltop site of the first historic mosque built in the city by Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror, who finally broke through Constantinople’s walls, bringing the Byzantine era to an end.

The original 15th-century mosque was severely damaged by an earthquake and was replaced in the 18th century with this grand and imposing structure, complete with multiple domes and minarets. Don’t you think it is a must-visit historical thing to do in Istanbul?

It is an important historical building and a popular pilgrimage site because it was the site of the first of Istanbul’s grand imperial mosques to be built and Sultan Mehmet’s tomb.

Conclusion

Istanbul is best known for being the cultural capital of various monotheistic religious communities, each with its fantastic signature of architecture and domes throughout the city. In Istanbul, numerous famous buildings display a plethora of legends lived by its great ancient rulers. Istanbul has a multicultural texture and a lively atmosphere that combines the past and the future into a single pot, providing a sense of universal history at every step.

This one-of-a-kind city, admired for its charming nature and appealing atmosphere, symbolizes a dynamic and modern city life and offers many things to do in Istanbul. . You can also stay in the cultural and modern accommodations without creating holes in your pocket.

I hope this article will help you enjoy some best things to do in Istanbul, Turkey!

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