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35 Essential things to see and do in Istanbul

Istanbul surprised me a lot. It is difficult to describe it in words, but it is a vibrant city, full of energy, with many things to see and do.

Istanbul is the only city in the world that is located on 2 continents. It is the bridge between East and West, something that you will be able to appreciate on your first visit to the city. And in it you will find a great mix of cultures, architecture, gastronomy...

It is a very big city and although it has many things to see and do, you can visit the essential places in 3 days. Although if you have more time, you can add some more to finish knowing its secret corners and places further from the center.

If you still do not have a clear route through Turkey, here is a 10-day route through Turkey visiting the most incredible places in the country.

In this post I talk about the 35 things to see and do in Istanbul, I add tips on how to save on your trip and at the end you will find tips on where to stay and some cool accommodation options.


1. Visit the Topkapi Palace, an essential thing to see in Istanbul

Construction of Topkapi Palace began in 1459. It was the residence of the Ottoman sultans from 1478 to 1853, until Sultan Abdulmecid decided to move his official residence to Dolmabahçe Palace.

Today, Topkapi Palace is a museum about the imperial era. It is made up of several buildings connected to each other through gardens and patios. I recommend you buy the ticket to Topkapi Palace online and thus avoid queues:

The best time to visit the Palace is first thing in the morning. Despite the fact that many think the same and there are people, it is nothing compared to the rest of the day, where endless queues form. A great way to visit the Palace is by booking a guided tour in Spanish. There is a tour that includes the Palace and the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul. You also have a free tour of the Topkapi Palace, I leave you the two links:

2. Saint sophia (Ayasofya)

Saint sophia is one of the most iconic and most photographed places in Istanbul.

It was built between 532 and 537. From its construction until 1204, Hagia Sophia was an Orthodox basilica. In 1204 it became a Catholic cathedral, until 1261, when it became an Orthodox cathedral again.

Later, in 1453, by order of Sultan Mehmed II, the temple became a mosque. From the year 1935, until 2020 Hagia Sophia was a museum. From August 1, 2020, the temple became a mosque again.

Moved huh?

It is a real beauty. It is even more beautiful from afar, appreciate it from a viewpoint, especially when night falls and it lights up. (Later I will tell you about the viewpoints of Istanbul).

It is well worth a visit inside. The cost of the ticket is 60 TL (9.25 euros)

3. Free tour of Istanbul in Spanish

One of the best things to do in Istanbul (especially the first day) is to take a free walking tour. You have the opportunity to get to know the most emblematic places in the center of the Turkish capital from the hand of a Spanish-speaking guide. The guided tour lasts about 2 and a half hours.

Do not forget to give the guide a tip at the end of the visit, which I am sure he deserves.

4. The Istanbul Archaeological Museum

Next to Gülhane Park and just before reaching Topkapi Palace, is the Istanbul Archaeological Museum.

It was opened in 1891 by the painter Osman Hamdi, becoming the first museum in Turkey.

In the museum you can find several sections. Among them are exhibitions of classical archaeology, of adjacent cultures of Anatolia, of Turkish tiles and ceramics, of the ancient East...

5. Disconnect in the Sultanahmet Park

This beautiful green space in the heart of the city is located between Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. It is usually the meeting place for locals and is a good option to disconnect a bit from the hustle and bustle of the city. It has a great variety of garden areas, full of flowers and huge trees that give plenty. It is perfect for a picnic or an afternoon.

6. Visit the Blue Mosque in Istanbul

The Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii) is one of the most important and impressive mosques in all of Istanbul. This impressive building was built between 1609 and 1617, during the mandate of Ahmed I. It is located in front of Hagia Sophia.

It is known as the Blue Mosque due to the blue tiles that adorn the interior. It is still an active mosque, therefore tourists cannot access it during prayer time.

The best way to get to know it is by taking a guided tour. There is a tour that includes several activities and is very complete. For 7 hours you will cruise through the Bosphorus Strait, visit the Blue Mosque with a Spanish-speaking guide, and visit Hagia Sophia.

7. Visit the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art

The Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art is one of the best museums to visit in Istanbul. In it you will find a total of 40,000 pieces on display. Some exhibitions that stand out are the immense collection of carpets, that of manuscripts, ceramic objects, textiles...

8. The Spice Bazaar

One of the most curious places to visit in Istanbul is the Spice Bazaar. The mixture of colors, textures and smells is something worth appreciating. It is a small market if we compare it with the Grand Bazaar (which I will tell you about later), but I think it is precious for this, that it is a place with much more charm. It consists of a fairly wide and long corridor full of spice shops on both sides. You will also find some sweets and nuts, as well as traditional Turkish sweets.

9. Basilica Cistern

Near the Sultanahmet Park you will find the Basilica Cistern. It is an underground water tank that was built between 527 and 565 in order to have water reserves in case of adversity. It is located under what was formerly a basilica.

Inside the basilica a total of 336 columns, 2 of them are based on the head of Medusa, a mythological being that turned anyone who looked at her into stone.

10. Grand Bazaar, an essential place to see in Istanbul

The Grand Bazaar is an essential place to visit in Istanbul. It is the largest covered market in the world. In it you can find a wide variety of handicrafts, fresh products, spices, sweets, fake brands...

It is the best place in the city for shopping. Don't forget to haggle. If you do not intend to buy anything.

Even if you do not intend to buy anything, it is well worth visiting and taking a walk around it. Not only are there shops/stalls inside the Grand Bazaar, but the streets around it are packed.

11. The Rüstem Paşa Mosque

The Rüstem Paşa Mosque is less well known but you cannot leave it off your list, it is worth visiting. Many say that it is a miniature of the Blue Mosque, because of its blue tiles. It was built by the architect Mimar Sinan, who died in 1561, before the construction of the mosque was completed in 1563.

12. The New Mosque

Right next to the Spice Bazaar and the Galata Bridge is the New Mosque, one of the most beautiful mosques in Istanbul. The Mosque was built between 1597 and 1663. At the time of its construction there were quite a few disputes and controversy regarding the place where it was being built, since it was done in an area where a Jewish community lived. This, added to other financial and political problems, lengthened the construction time considerably.

13. The Suleiman Mosque

The Suleiman Mosque is one of the most important mosques in Istanbul.

It is one of the most outstanding in the city, because it is located on a hill. In addition, it is one of the largest and has a beautiful interior. From its location you will have beautiful views of the city. It was designed by Mimar Sinan and its construction lasted 8 years, from the year 550 to the year 558.

14. The Aqueduct of Valente

This large aqueduct was built in the year 368, during the reign of the Byzantine emperor Valens. It was the main source of water in all of Constantinople for a time. But with the arrival of the Ottoman Empire, the aqueduct lost importance.

It is very likely that you will pass under it at some point during your visit to the city. And if not, come and visit it.

15. Tour the Balat neighborhood, a very nice place to see in Istanbul

The Balat neighborhood is one of the trendiest areas in Istanbul. Its streets with buildings full of color, modern cafes and art galleries have made this neighborhood go viral on social networks. It is a place with a lot of charm, it is also a good option to stay in Istanbul.

16. Incredible views from a hotel in Istanbul

In Istanbul you have several hotels with incredible rooftops (with cafes or restaurants) from where you will have incredible views of the city. I recommend looking for one of these options because they will not disappoint you at all.

To see Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque you have two hotels; the Four Seasons Hotel or the Seven Hills Hotel.

17. Sehzade Mosque

The Sehzade Mosque, better known as the Prince's Mosque, is also the work of the architect Mimar Sinan. This mosque was built by Süleyman I in honor of his son, who died at the young age of 21. It is located in the Fatih district and was completed in 1548.

18. The Fatih Mosque

If you have not tired of visiting Mosques, the Fatih Mosque is another of the recommended mosques to visit in Istanbul. Construction began in 1463, 10 years after the capture of Constantinople by the Ottomans. Its construction ended in 1470. In the earthquake of 1766 most of the mosque was destroyed and had to be rebuilt. Today, only the external portal, some parts of the garden and the remains of Mehmet II and his wife remain of the original mosque.

19. The Mosque of Eyüp

This mosque is one of the most important in Turkey. It is located over the tomb of Abu Ayyub al-Ansari, a close friend of Muhammad. You can go up with a cable car located near the Golden Horn. Despite its historical importance, it is not one of the most visited mosques in Istanbul (nor is it one of the most beautiful).

20. A coffee at Café Pierre Loti

Pierre Loti is one of the most famous cafes in the city due to its beautiful views of the Golden Horn. It is very close to the Eyüp Mosque. The best time to go for a Turkish coffee or tea is at sunset.

If you can't get a coffee here, don't worry. In Turkey you have great coffee and there are many charming cafes scattered around every corner. Turkish tea is very famous, although I'm not a big fan (of any in particular). They always complement it with sweets, so keep in mind that you will return home with a few extra kilos.

21. Climb the Galata Tower, something essential to do in Istanbul

The Galata Tower is one of the most well-known places in the city. It is located in the neighborhood with the same name, Galata. The Tower was built in 1348 by the Genoese during their expansion through Constantinople. It is 67 meters high and is the best viewpoint in the city.

There is always a long queue to gain access. I recommend you go first thing in the morning. The tower is visible from different points of the city.

22. Visit Dolmabahçe Palace

Dolmabahçe Palace has been since 1853 the residence of the last sultans of the Ottoman Empire. Building this palace cost 5 million Ottoman gold pounds. It has 285 rooms, 44 rooms, 68 toilets and 6 Turkish baths. As a curiosity, 14 tons of gold were used to decorate the ceilings. It really is a beauty worth visiting.

There is a very complete tour that includes a visit to the Dolmabahçe Palace, as well as other essential places to see in Istanbul:

23. Take a Bosphorus Cruise

Getting to know the city from another perspective is something recommended to do in Istanbul and the best way to do it is with a cruise through the Bosphorus Strait. From the cruise you will be able to contemplate the most emblematic buildings of the city, in addition to enjoying one of the most pleasant and peaceful activities.

The best time to take the cruise is first thing in the morning or at sunset. Avoid mid-day hours.

You have several cruise options that you can hire:

24. Maiden's Tower

The Maiden's Tower, also known as Leandro's Tower, is located on a small islet 200 meters from the coast of Üsküdar. It is one of the oldest buildings in Istanbul and has had various uses throughout history. It is open to tourists and has a cafeteria and restaurant.

25. Visit the Ortaköy Mosque, the most beautiful mosque in Istanbul

The Ortaköy Mosque is located next to the Bosphorus River and the Bosphorus Bridge. It is a small and very pretty mosque. It is located on the banks of the river and it is a beautiful walk and a very photogenic place. Personally, I think it is the most beautiful mosque in Istanbul.

The Mosque was built between 1854 and 1956, designed by the architects Nigogâyos and Garabet Amira Balyan.

26. Stroll down Istiklal Avenue

Istiklal Avenue is a busy shopping street in Istanbul. You will find many shops of all kinds, restaurants, cafes... In addition, the famous red tram passes through this street. It is a very popular area of ​​the city, and a good option to stay in Istanbul.

27. Enjoy a Turkish bath

After spending the day touring the city, I assure you that you will be looking forward to unwinding and relaxing. And what better way to rest in Turkey than with a Turkish bath?

The hamman (Turkish bath) consists of a steam bath to cleanse the body and relax.

28. Istanbul Hippodrome

Right next to the great mosques (Santa Sofia and the Blue Mosque), in Sultanahmet, is the Hippodrome built in the year 200. It was the sports and social center of the city and became the largest in the world.

In the hippodrome you can find the Egyptian Obelisk, the Karnak Temple, the Column of Constantine, the Serpentine Column and the German fountain.

29. The Church of Saint Sergius and Saint Bacchus

One of the lesser known and less frequented places by tourists in Istanbul is the Church of Saint Sergius and Saint Bacchus. It is a church that has its origins in an Orthodox church, converted into a Muslim temple during the Ottoman Empire.

This beautiful Byzantine building with a central dome was built in the 6th century, being the model that inspired the construction of Hagia Sophia, which is why it is known as Little Hagia Sophia. The mosque is located near the hippodrome and the Armenian quarter.

30. Visit the Asian part of Istanbul, the Beylerbeyi Palace and the Eyup neighborhood

This tour is the perfect opportunity to get to know various places on the Asian side of Istanbul.

They pick you up at your hotel and once you cross the Bosphorus Bridge they head for the Beylerbeyi Palace. A beautiful palace built in white marble by Sultan Abdülaziz in the 19th century and used as a summer residence.

The palace has 3 main entrances, 6 great rooms, 24 amazingly decorated rooms and a beautiful garden with magnolias. Egyptian mats, Bohemian crystal chandeliers, French clocks and Chinese porcelain decorate the palace.

The next stop is to visit the Eyup neighbourhood, the third place of pilgrimage in the Islamic world behind Mecca and Jerusalem.

During the excursion there is time to eat and enjoy a coffee at the Pierre Loti café.

31. Do not leave Istanbul without eating traditional Turkish sweets

If you do not have a sweet tooth, go to the next point because I assure you that this essential thing to do in Istanbul is something very cloying.

I love sweets and if you have already read any more blog articles or follow me on tiktok you will have noticed. And in Turkey you have a wide variety of delicious sweets to try. These are the 4 sweets that you cannot miss:

  • Baklava: It is the quintessential Turkish dessert. It is a very fine puff pastry filled with pistachio and honey that together combine a very juicy and sweet flavor.

  • Lokum, Turkish delight: These are small cubes dusted with icing sugar called Turkish delight. A kind of sugar gummy with different flavors. Some of them have nuts. You can try and buy them anywhere, but if you go to the Species Bazaar you will find it for sure.

  • Simit: It is a sweet that you can find on the streets in street stalls. In reality, it is not a sweet as such since it is a kind of bread (somewhat sweet, not much), with sesame seeds. In some places you find them stuffed with jam or chocolate (although stuffed is no longer the traditional recipe).

  • Maraş dondurması, the Turkish ice cream: You will find them in street stalls and they are quite a spectacle. They are made from goat's milk and have a special elasticity, plus they are not very cold. They serve them in a kind of game, entertaining full of tricks that sometimes borders on hesitation before the incredulous faces of tourists who are unaware of this traditional way of calling attention for later sale.

32. Visit Cappadocia

The ideal thing to visit the most incredible places in Cappadocia is that you dedicate at least 3 days of your trip to this region.

However, if you don't have that many days on your itinerary, you can do a day trip. Cappadocia is the most essential place to see in Turkey and you cannot miss it.

If you do not want to complicate your life and organize your trip to Cappadocia on your own, you have several options already organized for several days:

If you want to organize your days in Cappadocia on your own, here is an article from the blog that can help you organize your trip:

33. Excursion to Ephesus

Ephesus is one of the most amazing places to visit in Turkey. This city in ancient times was the religious, cultural and commercial center of the Roman Empire. Today, you can visit the old Roman city that is in good condition.

Ephesus is far from Istanbul, therefore, it is advisable to organize a tour of Turkey and spend at least one night in this place. However, if you don't have time, you have the option of booking a 12-hour excursion to Ephesus where transportation by plane is included (to go faster), a Spanish-speaking guide, transportation to the airport, tickets and food.

34. Excursion to the Princes Islands

With this excursion you will visit the two prince islands; Heybeliada and Buyukada. It is an 8-hour excursion that includes a cruise around the islands, an English-speaking guide, food and a visit to Heybeliada and Buyukada with a golf cart ride included. It is an interesting and enjoyable excursion to do from Istanbul (also, it is one of the cheapest excursions).

35. Excursion to Hierapolis and Pamukkale

The sites of the ancient city of Hierapolis is an essential place to see in Turkey. The ideal would be to dedicate one night of your itinerary to this destination to be able to enjoy the place calmly during the day. But if you don't have time to add it to your itinerary, there is an excursion to do from Istanbul. The excursion lasts a total of 18 hours and includes transportation to the airport (round trip), plane ticket (round trip), entrance fees, guide in Spanish and food.



I hope you enjoy your trip to Turkey very much and that this article has been useful to you. You can continue reading many more related articles on the blog.

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A hug and see you soon!


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