As a city that straddles the boundary between Europe and Asia, Istanbul is a one-of-a-kind mix of both continents’ cultures. Many of the best things to see and do in Istanbul take advantage of its location, captivating culture, and rich history, which is still being discovered to this day. From its nightlife to its outstanding cuisine, there is something for everyone!
The fourth-most populous city in the world, Istanbul began as the Greek colony Byzantium in 660 BCE. It later became Constantinople during the Ottoman Empire and then Istanbul in 1923. With so much history, this historical city is brimming with wonders to experience. These are the top 10 things to see and do in Istanbul, Turkey.
Arguably one of the most beautiful buildings in the world, the Hagia Sophia was built between 532 and 537. It is one of the finest examples of Byzantine architecture on the planet.
The building served as a Christian church for over 900 years before becoming a mosque in 1453. It’s now a museum that houses mosaics, tiles, the Sultan’s lodge, and more. This stunning former house of worship is easily one of the top things to see and do in Istanbul!
Istanbul Archaeological Museums
Lovers of ancient history should visit the Istanbul Archaeological Museums. This museum complex is comprised of the Archaeological Museum, the Ancient Orient Museum, and the Islamic Art Museum.
Inside, visitors will find over one million antiquities of Greek, Anatolian, Roman, and Byzantine origin, including coins, pottery, statues, and more. One of the best things to see and do in Istanbul is to visit the complex’s Alexander Sarcophagus!
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Explore the Bazaars
Travelers who what to have a unique, touristy experience should walk the Mısır Çarşısı, or Egyptian Spice Bazaar, to find a nice selection of spices, sweets, nuts, cheese, and souvenirs. There are lots of tasty treats to try!
Meanwhile, Istanbul’s legendary Grand Bazaar, is true sensory overload. This market boasts nearly 5,000 shops selling clothing, food, lamps, antiques, and more in over 37,000 square feet of space. The unparalleled shopping make it one of the top things to see and do in Istanbul!
A great place to visit to get a sense of Istanbul’s past is the Basilica Cistern, the city’s largest surviving Byzantine-era cistern. The cavernous underground reservoir dates back to 532 AD and supplied water to the Grand Palace of Constantinople and other important buildings.
The cistern is known for its 12 rows of 28 columns each. Two of the columns are supported by inverted Medusa head statues. While it’s one of the best things to see and do in Istanbul, visit with a tour group to avoid the long queues!
Enjoy Turkish Cuisine
One of the best things to see and do in Istanbul is to enjoy Turkish cuisine at Albura Kathisma. I highly recommend the terrace seating and the kebabs, especially the succulent Iskender kebabs!
Those who want to enjoy a view of the Bosphorus strait should make reservations at Hamdi. Their mouthwatering mixed platter, which consists of juicy lamb, veal, and pistachio kebabs, is utter perfection. Also try their baked pastry with cheese and syrup for dessert!
See the Whirling Dervishes at Galata Museum
Perhaps one of the most bewitching and mysterious aspects of Turkish culture is the Whirling Dervishes. This Sufi practice dates back over 800 years and involves members of the Mevlevi Order performing a spinning dance called the sema.
The spinning action is a form of meditation and worship and is one of the most beautiful things to see and do in Istanbul. Head over to the Galata Museum to catch a performance you will never forget!
If there’s one landmark that has come to symbolize Istanbul around the world, it’s the Blue Mosque. Its blend of Byzantine and Ottoman architecture, complete with multiple domes and minarets, easily make it one of the top 10 things to see and do in Istanbul.
This 17th-century mosque, built by Sultan Ahmed I, gets its name from the over 20,000 handmade blue Iznik tiles that decorate it. Note that mosque visitors must remove their shoes before entering and women must wear a headscarf.
Another of Istanbul’s architectural marvels is Topkapı Palace, which was built between 1460 and 1478. It served as the home and seat for the Ottoman sultans until 1850. Inside are gorgeous rooms such as the Imperial Meeting Hall, Royal Hammams, and Royal Library.
Arguably the palace’s biggest attraction are its museum exhibits, which display weaponry, porcelain, opulent jewelry, and more. The jewel-studded items alone make visiting Topkapı Palace one of the best things to see and do in Istanbul!
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I love to get a bird’s-eye view of the cities I visit, and the perfect place to do that in Istanbul is Galata Tower. This sentinel-like Genoese fortification was used as a lighthouse in the 6th century before it was rebuilt and modified until it took its current form in the 14th century.
Galata Tower’s unparalleled 360-degree views of the sprawling city below make it one of the best things to see and do in Istanbul. From the top, you can pick out some of the city’s most famous landmarks!
Enjoy a Turkish Bath at Cağaloğlu Hamamı
One of the top things to see and do in Istanbul is experience a Turkish bath. Known locally as “hammams,” Turkish baths are an excellent way to decompress. The best place to experience one is the historic Cağaloğlu Hamamı, which is over 300 years old.
The expertly trained spa staff provide steam baths, scourings, full-body massages, and more for men and women. Whether you wear a bathing suit or go nude, a hammam is an otherworldly experience that makes you feel revitalized afterward!
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This gorgeous, unique city at the crossroads between Europe and Asia is unlike any other city on Earth. Its markets, museums, attractions, and historical sites have an allure that’s bolstered by the kindness and charm of its people. Book a trip to Istanbul to experience it for yourself!
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Have you ever been to Istanbul? Is it on your bucket list? Tell us in the comments which sites around the city you’re most looking forward to visiting!