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Istanbul

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Welcome to Istanbul, the largest city in Turkey! This iconic city, formerly named Constantinople and Byzantium, lies on the Bosphorus, the strait that marks the border of Europe and Asia. Formerly the capital of the Ottoman Empire, Istanbul is home to several elaborate palaces and mosques which are sure to delight visitors. We’ve created this travel guide to help you discover the best things to do on your trip to Istanbul.
Anneliese O'MalleyBy Anneliese O'Malley

The 10 Best Things to Do in Istanbul

There’s a huge number of things to do in Istanbul, so you might be feeling a bit overwhelmed at the idea of planning your days. We’ve collected the top 10 things to do in Istanbul, and a combination of any of these activities and attractions are sure to result in a fun and varied itinerary.
Hagia Sophia
1

Admire the Hagia Sophia

The Hagia Sophia (or Aya Sofya) has been the main cathedral of the Greek Orthodox Church, an Ottoman mosque, and today it’s a secular museum. It’s also one of Istanbul’s most popular sites, so plan your visit carefully and consider booking tickets or a tour in advance for a smooth experience.
Get on a boat
2

Take a Cruise on the Bosphorus

Istanbul lies on the Sea of Marmara, with the Bosphorus Strait connecting the smaller body of water with the Black Sea. That makes it the ideal city to see from the water, with several providers offering cruises that will give you a fresh perspective. Look out for special tours at sunset or that include a traditional dinner.
Cruises & Water Tours
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Lanterns at a Bazaar
3

Haggle in the Grand Bazaar

The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul is one of the largest covered markets in the world, making it the perfect place to pick up unique souvenirs. It’s famous for market vendors who haggle, so practice before visiting or go with a guide who can help you get a bargain.
Grand Bazaar
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Shopping
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Dolmabahçe Palace
4

Visit a Royal Palace

Istanbul was the capital city of the Ottomans and their palaces can still be found around the city. One of the most popular is Topkapı Palace, which once housed the royal family and today displays a large collection of clothes, manuscripts, and art from the Ottoman Empire. The family later moved to Dolmabahçe Palace, which was also used by Ataturk until his death in 1938. Beylerbeyi Palace, the summer palace of the Ottomans, is also well worth a visit.
Istanbul Hop-On Hop-Off | Wiki: haitham alfalah CC BY 3.0
5

Use a Hop-On Hop-Off Bus to See the Sights

Hop-on hop-off buses are a great option for visitors who aren’t looking forward to figuring out Istanbul’s public transport system. With a couple of routes on offer, you can sail through the traffic in comfort with audio commentary in the language of your choice providing information about the attractions you pass.
Hop-On Hop-Off
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Blue Mosque
6

Take a Tour of a Major Mosque

Istanbul is home to nearly 3,000 active mosques, including several beautiful examples of Ottoman and Byzantine architecture which are open to visitors. One favorite with tourists is the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, better known as the Blue Mosque, while the Fatih and Eyüp Sultan mosques are also worth a visit for aficionados of Ottoman architecture. Remember that these are places of worship that might close for prayers at certain times throughout the day, and consider the dress codes when planning your trip.
Fatih Mosque
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Eyüp Sultan Mosque
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Hot Air Balloon over Cappadocia
7

Explore Turkey on a Day Trip

There’s far more to Turkey than just Istanbul and you can experience it on a day trip with an experienced tour provider. Some of the day trips even involve flying across the country to see iconic sites such as Gallipoli, the ancient city of Troy, or the impressive landscapes of Cappadocia.
Day Trips
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Cook like a local
8

Discover Turkish Food

Turkish cooking combines Middle Eastern, Central Asian, and Eastern European flavors and influences. Turkish breakfast is often a grand affair, with a range of cheeses and mezes served alongside simit bread and vegetables. Black tea is extremely popular, as is strong turkish coffee which is usually served alongside dessert or sweets such as lokum, known internationally as Turkish delight. Take a food tour or a cooking class to get an insight into this unique cuisine!
Food Experiences
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Climb the Galata Tower
9

Climb the Galata Tower

This medieval tower is 219 feet (66.9 m) tall and visitors can climb to the top for an excellent view of Istanbul and the Bosphorus Strait. There’s an elevator, so you don’t need to worry about climbing hundreds of stairs, and the upper floors also contain a restaurant and café where you can stop for refreshments.
Spa Water
10

Relax in a Turkish Bath

Turkish baths, also known as hammams, were extremely popular with the Ottomans and are still an incredible way to relax after a heavy day of sightseeing. These beautiful buildings offer you a range of hot and cold pools, saunas or steam rooms, and the chance to get a massage. You’ll leave feeling completely refreshed and ready for the next busy day.
Wellness
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Istanbul

See More Of Istanbul with a City Pass

If you already have a long list of attractions that you want to see on your trip to Istanbul, then you might be able to save money by buying a city pass.There are a few different options available from a range of providers. The Istanbul Welcome Card offers you a handful of rides on the public transport system and a cruise, plus entry to the Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace if you upgrade to the Premium card. The Istanbul Tourist Pass is slightly more expensive but includes access to over 35 attractions and tourist services, while the Istanbul Museum Pass gives you 5 days to access 10 different museums. Whatever your plans are, you’re sure to find an option that works for you.
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Anneliese O'Malley
Written byAnneliese O'MalleyAnneliese is a former Londoner, keen traveler, and total word nerd. As a Content Management Specialist she knows the TicketLens inventory inside out and curates, matches, and writes about the most interesting attractions worldwide.
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