Aside from visiting the well-known historic places and museums in Istanbul, there are a variety of different activities you can do. Especially if you have already traveled to Istanbul and have seen everything you are supposed to, this list may give you some ideas for your next trip. After all, traveling is best when you get to discover something new each time. We have gathered some well-known activities as well as some different ones that are usually not mentioned anywhere even though they are worth checking out.
To start exploring Istanbul, all you have to do is read on and choose the activities that sound fun and interesting!
- Be mesmerized by the remnants of Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia is a very old structure dating back to the 6th century. It served as a church for the Christendom in the times of the Roman Empire and Byzantium. Later on, it became a mosque when the Ottomans took over Constantinople. You should definitely visit this incredible structure where you can see both the remnants of the church and the mosque existing together in one place.
- Dolmabahce Palace
Dolmabahçe Palace was built in 1856 and was used as the headquarters of
the Ottoman Empire until 1922. It was built on the demand of Sultan Abdulmecid. Dolmabahce Palace also has a significant value for the Turkish people as the founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk passed away in this place on November 10, 1938. His room is still kept the same and the clock is set to his time of death which is 09:05 am. Every year, at this exact time, the entire country commemorates him.
- Suleymaniye Mosque
Suleymaniye mosque was built during the reign of Süleyman I the Magnificent on his demand. The mosque owes a part of its fame to the most famous architect of the Ottoman era, Mimar Sinan whose tomb is located right outside the garden of the mosque. The mosque has a breathtaking beauty and simplicity that you cannot take your eyes off of it.
- Get lost in the crowd in the Sultanahmet District
Sultanahmet district is the one place that every single tourist visits. Known to be a tourist-friendly area, it is located in the Old City where you can feel the history deeply in your bones. The location has many landmarks for you to visit from historical places to museums yet it also has many different restaurants and cafes for you to taste Turkish food.
- Topkapi Palace
Topkapi Palace is a huge place known for being the home of the Ottoman Sultans for centuries. The Topkapi Palace was not only the home of Sultans but it also was the headquarters of the Ottoman Empire where the entire empire was ruled from. You can witness the history still standing as it was in this place.
- Blue Mosque
Blue Mosque is found in Sultanahmet and it is a famous landmark in İstanbul. It was built between the years of 1609 and 1616 by the demand of Sultan Ahmet I. The mosque gets its name from its blue tiles used in its decoration with the traditional Ottoman floral designs on top. Blue Mosque is also unique due to having six minarets as opposed to four or two.
- View the entire city panoramically from the Galata Tower
Galata Tower was initially built as a watchtower, however, now it serves as the favorite spot to view the entire Istanbul for many people including the locals and tourists. The top of the Galata Tower allows you to view the city panoramically, resulting in some epic panoramic shots as well. Since there is a restaurant located at the top, you can eat or drink something while enjoying the view.
- Go on a shopping spree and a cultural trip in the Grand Bazaar
Grand Bazaar is the oldest shopping area in Istanbul. It has 4,000 shops located in 61 streets. This covered outdoor market houses many little shops that can introduce you to the Turkish tradition and culture. You can find anything you are looking for in the Grand Bazaar from carpets, fabrics, clothes, ceramics to sweets, desserts, lanterns, spices.
- Visit a Turkish Bath and get squeaky clean
One of the most exceptional experiences you can have in Turkey must be going to a Turkish bath or hamam as it is called in Turkish. In a Turkish bath, you wear your Turkish towel and steam off for a while. Then a masseur comes and washes you with the towel still on, covering your private parts, and then scrubs you until you are squeaky clean. Most of the visitors are surprised by the amount of dirt that comes off of them after the scrubbing process. We recommend you to research the best hamams in Istanbul and the hamam etiquette that you need to follow.
- Basilica Cistern
Basilica Cistern was built in 532 during the reign of the Emperor Justinian. Basilica Cistern has 336 columns some of which are from the remnants of temples. The cistern was able to store 100,000 tons of water and was serving the Great Palace. The cistern was closed after the emperors moved from the Great Palace. It was forgotten for quite sometime before it was found in 1545. It was opened to public visit in 1987
- Get a taste of the soft and delicious Turkish Delight
Turkish Delight is one of the most famous Turkish sweets. The history of Turkish Delight goes way back to the 19th century. You can buy Turkish delight from anywhere but if you want to get the best and the original one, you have to visit Hacı Bekir.
- Eat baklava at Gulluoglu in Karakoy
Baklava is another dessert of Turkey known well in the entire world. While it comes in many different types, you can find the best one you most like. There are many different places that sell baklava, however, the best one is no doubt Güllüoglu in Karaköy. Do not leave Istanbul without tasting it once!
- Pet stray cats of Istanbul
Istanbul is the city of cats. There are cats in every street, in every corner in this city. The cats are well fed and cared for by the locals and the government. You can see cat houses, food and water almost everywhere. These extremely friendly and spoiled cats love affection. Do not hesitate to pet them if you see any cats around. We are pretty sure that they will come to say hello and show affection first before you even pet them!
- Visit the Aquarium and explore the world beneath the blues
The Aquarium located in Florya is an amazing place to visit if you are looking for a different activity. You can explore the world underwater, see sharks up close, even dive with the fish, enter the atmosphere of the Amazons, see frogs with a trip to the Aquarium. The tour takes around 3 hours and you don’t even realize how the time passed.
- Wander the İstiklal Street
Istiklal Street is a famous street in Istanbul, located in Beyoglu. Istiklal Street never sleeps. By day, you can see people visiting the shops or sitting in cafes and restaurants, at night you can see people in bars, pubs or clubs. Whether you are visiting the street by day or night, you will enjoy your experience.
- Enjoy the sea breeze by going on a Bosphorus cruise
Going on a cruise of the Bosphorus is one of the things you have to experience. You can go to Eminonu and get on a cruise from there if you wish. Seeing the silhouette of Istanbul is one of the rare experiences you can have. Especially if you go on the cruise while the sun is setting on the horizon.
- Explore the entire Büyükada by riding a bike
Princes’ Islands are amazing places to visit since they are a part of Istanbul. There are a few islands that you can visit such as Kinaliada, Burgazada or Heybeliada which are much smaller islands. However, Buyukada is the most popular and the biggest of them all. You can explore the entire island by bike since no motor vehicles are allowed. Bike rides in the islands have become a tradition over the years, you will come across many people doing the same thing and we assure you it is extremely fun!
- Eat Kebab
Forget what you know about kebabs until you taste them in Turkey. There are countless varieties of kebabs here with different types of meat and cooking styles. They even are different according to the city that they have emerged from. You can try shish kebab, Adana kebab, Iskender kebab, Cağ kebab, doner and many more other types of kebabs while you are in Istanbul.
- Eat Fish in Eminonu
Eminonu is famous for its street food: fish. On the docks of Emınonu, you can see floating boats that are functioning as kitchens where the fish is grilled. You can enjoy this fish put in a piece of bread and topped with onions in Eminonu.
- Visit the second-hand book stores in Beyazit
Beyazit is famous for its second-hand bookstores. These bookstores are called “sahaf” in Turkish and you can find anything you are looking for in them. From first editions to signed books, these secondhand bookstores sell a wide range of books. You can find books not only in Turkish but also in English, German and French.
- Visit İstanbul University, the oldest university of Istanbul
Istanbul University is the oldest university in Istanbul dating back to 1453, the time Istanbul was conquered by Mehmed II the Conqueror who demanded this university to be built. If you wish, you can visit the oldest university in Istanbul and even explore its library.
- Visit Kadikoy
Kadikoy is the beating heart of the Asian side of Istanbul where you can explore many shops and boutiques, have a drink in cute cafes and eat delicious food in restaurants.
- Visit some of the museums
There are a lot of museums in Istanbul from historical to contemporary ones. All you have to do is to decide what you would like to discover and choose a museum accordingly. Our recommendations would be the Archeology Museum, Rahmi Koc Museum, Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts, Istanbul Modern and Pera Museum.
- Visit Balat
Balat is one of the old districts in Istanbul where you can find small, two or three-story houses in different colors. This beautiful district has become one of the popular areas that bloggers and influencers pay a visit to take Instagram worthy pictures in front of the houses that take their colors from the rainbow itself.
- Buy a Turkish towel
Turkish towels are amazing due to their specially woven fabric and famous for being lightweight and quick to dry. These traditional colors now come in different trendy colors and cute designs. Turkish towels can be used after swimming to dry yourself off or after having a bath. You can find hundreds of different towels to choose from in the Grand Bazaar.
- Visit the Belgrad Forest
Most people do not realize there is a forest in Istanbul that you can visit and be one with nature, escaping from the fuss of the central city. Belgrad Forest has many areas for hiking or mountain biking as well as for going on a picnic. Whether you would like to work your muscles or have a fun picnic, this place is perfect for it. You will forget that you are in a metropolitan city in this 55,000-hectare forest. You can reach Belgrad Forest by car or bus from the city.
- Buy an antique Turkish carpet
Turkish rugs are quite famous around the world. They are known for being handwoven from high-quality materials. Grand Bazaar has many carpet stores from modern to antique where you can find handwoven rugs. Whether you are looking for a simple and cheap souvenir or an expensive and antique rug with a history, Grand Bazaar is the place to go.
- Feed the birds in Beyazit
The Beyazit square is famous for its pigeons. People who spend time sitting in the square who are catching their breath, waiting for a friend or simply enjoying the view all have something in common. They feed the pigeons with the seeds they buy from a seller nearby. Beyazit square is always full of pigeons enjoying their food. You can also join them and feed the pigeons.
- Eat Simit and drink ayran
In Istanbul, especially in the touristic areas, you will see street sellers with their carts. Most of them sell simit which is a kind of bagel that Turkish people are fond of. They especially love to eat with either ayran or black tea. So if you are looking for something to eat, try simit along with some ayran. You will also be happy to hear that it is extremely cheap.
- Drink Turkish Tea
Turks love their tea! They drink black tea in the morning along with breakfast and they keep on drinking it throughout the day. However, they also love drinking it, especially at night while watching a tv show or a movie or if they have some friends and family over. Basically, they drink it all the time! You should definitely drink Turkish black tea at least once if you are visiting Istanbul or Turkey in general.
- Drink boza at the famous Vefa Bozacısı
Boza is a traditional drink that is slightly sour due to being made by fermented wheat. Vefa Bozacısı is the oldest and the most famous place that makes the best boza out there. Especially during the winter time, boza is a drink that the Turks enjoy having. You may even hear people selling boza late at night, roaming the streets with their typical tune that they sing for people to hear and buy.
- Eat corn
While traveling around Istanbul, you will come across street sellers who boil or grilled corn. It smells heavenly and many people buy it because they cannot resist the smell. If you are feeling a little bit hungry and looking for a light snack, boiled or grilled corn topped with some salt is a great and healthy option that you can try in the streets of Istanbul.
- Drink Turkish coffee
Turkish coffee is a drink that you must try. Even though Turks love their coffee, they do not drink it all day long like they drink tea as the Turkish coffee is quite dark and bitter. Wherever you go, whether it is a cafe or a restaurant, they can always serve you Turkish coffee with or without sugar according to your preference. Do not forget that Turkish coffee comes in small cups similar to espresso due to its strong nature and also do not forget the fact that you are not supposed to drink the coffee grounds that are at the bottom of the cup.
- Buy some Turkish coffee from Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi
If you loved the Turkish coffee and want to make some for yourself when you get back home, you can buy it from the best Turkish coffee maker out there: Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi. You can buy some Turkish coffee here and learn how to make it online very easily. You can also buy some for your friends and family back home as a gift from your Istanbul trip.
- Eat meat at Nusret aka the Salt Bae
Nusret has become quite famous in recent years due to his video going viral on the internet and he came to being known as the Salt Bae. If you are a meat lover, you will surely enjoy your experience here. Even though Nusret is quite expensive for the locals, due to the exchange rate, it may not be as expensive for you.
- Eat Turkish ice cream
If you are visiting Istanbul during the summer, you should definitely try some Turkish ice cream which is usually known as Maras Dondurması. This is a special ice cream made from goat’s milk and its consistency is gummy. Even though not every ice cream maker follows the same traditional recipe, you will still enjoy this particular ice cream on a hot summer day.
- Go fishing on the Bosphorus
Bosphorus is full of people who love to fish in their spare time. During the weekends and afternoons, you can spot men fishing. Try to join them, you can even ask them to teach you how to fish. Even if you can’t catch any fish, you will immensely enjoy your time and relax while doing it.
- Visit the Maiden’s Tower
Maiden’s Tower is one of the most iconic historic places in Istanbul, located in the middle of the Marmara Sea, between Europe and Asia. Known for its fairytale-like story, Maiden’s Tower attracts visitors both local and foreigner. The legend says that an emperor built the tower out of reach, in the middle of the sea, in the hopes of saving his daughter from dying by a snake bite as the prophecy foretold. However, fate caught up with the daughter and a snake hidden in a fruit basket coming from the city bit and killed the maiden. Visit this incredible place and if you like to have dinner in the restaurant located in the Maiden’s Tower while enjoying the view.
- Visit Pierre Loti Hill and enjoy the beautiful view of the city
Pierre Loti was a French author whose real name was Julien Viaud who loved Istanbul and the Ottomans. He frequently visited the city in his lifetime and even fell in love with an Ottoman lady whose name became the name of one of his novels: Aziyade. He was even welcomed by one of the Sultans on one of his visits to Istanbul as he was an Ottoman sympathizer. In 1921, the hill and the coffee shop in Eyup were named after him as a symbol of gratitude. The hill is still referred to as Pierre Loti and has the most incredible view of the Golden Horn. You can reach the Pierre Loti Hill by car or by taking a cable car