Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii)

  • Info: Known as the ‘Blue Mosque’ because of the distinctive blue tiles covering the interior, this beautiful mosque was built between 1609-1616 and is one of the most popular tours attractions in Istanbul. Although currently under construction it is still worth meandering through to check out this beautiful place of worship. You are also welcome to just come in, sit and relax as long as you are quiet and respectful.
  • Note: As this is a place of worship it is important to abide by the general rules and proper etiquette as a non-muslim visitor, including removing shoes before entering the mosque, and dressing conservatively with no shoulders showing or clothing above the knee. Also, no tight pants (leggings or skinny jeans) are permitted so either dress in loose clothing or expect to be asked to put on one of their complementary long elastic band yellow cotton skirts. Women also are expected to wear a head scarf inside the mosque so if you don’t have one (I just used my scarff and wrapped it around my head/hair) you can borrow one that they provide (same place you get the awesome skirts from). Also important to note is that you should avoid people soliciting in front of the Mosque and offering to let you enter without going through the que as this is a scam. It is recommended that you just get in line with all the other tourists on the guest entrance side (the West side) as the line typically moves quickly (we only spent about 15 minutes in line even though it looked pretty long).
  • Address: Sultan Ahmet Mahallesi, Atmeydani Caddesi No: 7, 34122 Fatih/Istanbul, Turkey
  • Price: Free
  • Open: 24 hours a day but closes 6 times a day for prayer. Exact prayer times are dependant on the position of the sun so check schedule on Namaz Vakti website.
  • Website: Blue Mosque

 

Grand Bazaar (Kapaliçarsi)

  • Info: As one of the oldest and largest covered markets in the world this is a must see (even if you don’t intend on buying anything). It covers over 60 streets with over 5,000 vendors (which can be a little intimidating as their sales tactics can be a bit overzealous in their attempts to get your business) with a wide range of products and even includes two Turkish Baths! Also important to note that vendors are notorious for quoting Westerners at higher rates for their goods so be prepared to bargain. Most vendors can be talked down in their prices if you are willing to haggle and many take credit cards but not all so it is good to also bring some cash. Be prepared for vendors to holler at you as with many vendors in Istanbul, they tend to be on the pushy and intrusive side with their selling tactics which can be a bit overwhelming to newcomers.
  • Address: Beyazit Mahallesi, 34126 Fatih/Istanbul, Turkey
  • Price: Free (unless you decide to purchase items at the bizaar)
  • Open: Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. – 7 p.m
  • Website: for online shopping from vendors at the Grand Bazaar

 

 

Hagia Sophia Museum (Ayasofya Müzesi)

  • Info: Built between 532-537 the Hagia Sophia was once the largest cathedral in the world and has been called one of the 8 Wonders of the World. After approximately 1,000 years as a cathedral, it became a mosque from 1453-1935 before becoming the impressive museum it is today. As it stands today, the Hagia Sofia displays an eclectic combination of Christian and Islamic mosaics and calligraphy, gorgeous architecture, as well as a vast collection of art collection.
  • Note: The outer exterior of the museum is currently under construction which may impact your selfie taking and be prepared to wait in line for a while to get in as this is one of the top most visited locations in Turkey.
  • Address: Sultan Ahmet Mahallesi, Ayasofya Meydani, 34122 Fatih/Istanbul, Turkey
  • Price: 40 Turkish lira (or $11)
  • Open: open daily from 9 a.m.- 5 p.m., with extended hours between late October and mid-April
  • Website: Hagia Sophia Museum

 

 

Topkapi Palace Museum (Topkapi Sarayi Müzesi)

  • Info: From 1478-1856 the Palace housed various Ottoman Sultans until becoming a museum in 1924. The stunning architecture and details are eye candy that can keep you busy for hours. Some favorite areas in the palace are the kitchens, the gardens, and the Harem area. Give yourself several hours to take the sights in as there is a lot to see.
  • Note: baby strollers are not allowed inside the palace so plan accordingly and there is a ‘dress code’ if you plan to visit the Sacred Relics display (no shorts, skirts above the knee, shirts without sleeves (tank tops or tube tops), and photos are not allowed to be taken inside where the exhibits are.
  • Address: Cankurtaran Mahallesi, 34122 Fatih/Istanbul, Turkey
  • Price: 40 Turkish lira ($11) for each person older than 12 and includes access to restrooms, cafes, restaurants, bookstores and all parts of the building except the Harem section – the former living space for the sultan and his family,servants, concubines and eunuchs. The Harem area can be toured for an extra 25 Turkish lira ($7) per person. If you have a Museum Pass Istanbul card, your entrance fee and the Harem tour are covered.
  • Open: Wednesday through Monday from 9 a.m.- 4:45 p.m.; visiting hours are extended during the summer months.
  • Website: Topkapi Palace Museum

 

Istanbul Archaeological Museums (Istanbul Arkeoloji Müzeleri)

  • Info: Opened in the late 1800’s, the museum houses over one million antiquities, artifacts and items of historical significance in three separate buildings- the Archaeological Museum, the Ancient Orient Museum and the Tiled Kiosk Museum.
  • Address: Cankurtaran Mahallesi, 34122 Fatih/Istanbul, Turkey
  • Price: 20 Turkish lira (approximately $5.50) unless you have a Museum Pass Istanbul card. (Children 11 and younger can visit for free.)
  • Open: Tuesday through Sunday 9 a.m.- 7 p.m.
  • Website: The Museum’s website was down at the time of this publication

 

Galata Tower (Galata Kulesi)

  • Info: Once used as a jail tower, the Galata Tower offers one of the best views of Istanbul from the observation deck, and is now home to a restaurant and a night club located at the top of the tower.
  • Note: Wait times can be a pain so it is recommended that you get there earlier in the day or be prepared for a long wait (especially around sunset).
  • Address: Bereketzade Mahallesi, Galata Kulesi, 34421 Beyoglu/Istanbul, Turkey
  • Price: adult tickets are $25 Turkish lira ($7) to visit the observation deck
  • Open: Daily 9 a.m.- 8:30 p.m.
  • Website: No Website

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taksim Square

  • Info: This bustling square is part of Istanbul’s Beyoglu district and contains a number of cafes, restaurants, shops, bars, hotels as well as several stop worthy monuments and landmarks. A great way to spend a casual afternoon walking around, eating great food, getting yummy drinks, and checking out the historical sites.
  • Address: Gümüssuyu Mahallesi, 34437 Beyoglu/Istanbul, Turkey
  • Price: Free to visit the square and landmarks; prices vary at surrounding establishments
  • Open: 24/7
  • Website: No Website

 

 

Take A Boat Tour Down the Bosphorus

  • Info: Taking a coastal cruise is a great way to soak up a lot of Istanbul in a short period of time. Especially on a clear and sunny day it is a great way to see some of the main points of interest while giving your feet a rest! While zipping along the coast you can seeDolmabahçe Palace, the Rumeli Ruins, the Maiden’s Tower, and many mosques, mansions and interesting city buildings (and you can feed the birds if you bring your own bread!). There are lots of options for companies providing these tours so the best thing you can do is go down to the harbor and check out the options to see what company has a tour in the price range and length of tour that works best for you.

 

 

Watch Whirling Dervishes In a Sema Ceremony In An Old Turkish Bath

  • Info: The Whirling Dervishes are part of the Mevlevi Order, a Sufi order founded in the 13th century by followers of the poet, philosopher, and Sufi mystic Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Balkhi-Rumi. The Whirling Dervishes get their name based on their whirling which they do in remembrance of God (called dhikr) and is done as part of a sacred ceremony called Sama. In 1925, during the Ottoman reign, The Mevlevi Order was banned along with their sacred practices where they were forced to then take their religion and practices underground for fear of punishment. It wasn’t until 1954 that the Order was aloud to perform their ceremony in public again but as it stand now, the Sufi order is still technically banned. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) described The Mevlevi Sama Ceremony as a “Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity”.
    • Being able to bear witness to such an old religious ceremony is quite an honor and experience. We recommend doing a little bit of reading up on the ceremony itself (the history, the significance of the clothing they wear, and the different parts of the actual ceremony) as there is no explanation of what is going on once the ceremony begins. As an audience member you get to be a fly on the wall to their sacred ritual- that means no clapping, talking, photography, video recording, nothing. Just sit and enjoy the experience- and an experience it is! It is truly mesmerizing to watch as the men all whirl in perfect unison to the beat, rythm and chanting. What is incredible too is to notice that they do it with their eyes closed and still seem to get in unison with each other with a beautiful look of one who is meditating- it’s really quite beautiful!
  • Note: No photography, clapping, or children under 6 years old allowed
  • Address: Ankara Caddesi, Hocapaşa Hamam Sok No. 3B
  • Price: Adult tickets are 60 Turkish Lira (about 30 U.S. dollars) and this includes refreshments.
  • Open: Daily at 7:00pm (arrive 30 minutes before the ceremony)
  • Website: https://www.hodjapasha.com/en/whirling-dervishes-sema-ceremony/
  • *Pictures here are from their website as no photography is allowed during the ceremony

 

 

Visit A Turkish Bath (Hamams)

  • Info: At one point Istanbul had over 230 hamami. Modern day Istanbul has approximately 60 still in use (many of which have been refurbished and brought back to their original glory) so you have lots of options based on the experience you are looking for and the price range you are willing to pay. If you want to experience the real ‘Sultan Treatment’ style Turkish Bath experience here are the top recommendations. Please note that most have separate areas for men and women and/or different hours available for the different genders so you should go to the website provided for specific details. Please also check-out our article {Etiquette and What to Expect at a Turkish Bath} so you get the most out of your experience.
  • Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı This stunning hamams is women-only from 8am to 4pm and men only from 4pm to 11.30pm, so make sure you book a session before you walk in.
  • Ayasofya Hürrem Sultan Hamamı Built in the 1500’s this impressive bath has separate areas for men and women and offers baths, massage and other ritual services which should be booked in advance. There is also an on-site restaurant if you want to make a day of it.
  • Cemberlitas Hamami Built in 1584 this incredible bath is worth a visit for its history alone. Men and women are separated in their own areas with 38 different washing stalls. There is a pre-bath ‘hot-room’ (steam room) where you sweat out toxins, then a self-service bath from traditional copper bowls, or you can opt for services provided by their staff including a body scrub with bubbles, a body massage, head massage, or clay mask. No reservations are necessary and can be requested when you arrive.
  • Suleymaniye Hamam Built between 1550-1557 you can get a truly authentic bath experience in one of the only hamami that allows couples and families (and does not allow individuals not in a couple so single friends can not join you at this one). Children over 6yrs old are also allowed but they only allow children between 11:00am- 8:00pm though the bath are open from 10:00am- 10:00pm. Credit cards are not accepted so be sure to bring cash.

 

Enjoy Some Turkish Delight

  • Info: This traditional Turkish treat known as lokum to locals is a must try treat while you are in Istanbul. Some recommended shops to get this tasty treat:
  • Altan Sekerleme, Istanbul– Address: Kantarcilar Cd. No: 68 | Eminonu, Istanbul, Turkey (most highly recommended flavors: pistachio (supposedly the best), and rose)
  • Cemilzade Etiler– Address: Bebek Yokuşu Sok. No: 3/1, Modern Apt. Etiler, 34337 İstanbul, Turkey
  • Haci Bekir– has multiple shop locations so check site to find the best location for you
  • Divan Pastaneleri– 9-10. Kısım Atrium Alışveriş Merkezi, Ataköy 7-8-9-10, Nilüfer Sk., 34158 Bakırköy, İstanbul – Avrupa, Turkey Location

 

Visit Miniatürk- One of the largest miniature model parks

  • Info: This large collection of models demonstrates the various influences from Ancient Greece, Rome, the Byzantine Empire, the Seljuks and the Ottomans. A great and unique way to view Turkey and its incredible history.
  • Address: Örnektepe Mahallesi, İmrahor Caddesi, No: 7/1 Beyoğlu – İSTANBUL
  • Price: 15.00 TL
  • Open: Daily 9:00am-7:00pm
  • Website: Miniatürk

 

Summary
12 Things to Do In Istanbul - our favorite picks
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12 Things to Do In Istanbul - our favorite picks
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Discover a dozen different awesome activites tried and tested by our authors.
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Wehr in the World
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