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Things to do in Istanbul

Things to do in  Istanbul

Welcome to Istanbul

Once known as Constantinople and Byzantium, Istanbul's position on the Silk Road has made it an economical, historical and cultural center, serving as an imperial capital multiple times for the Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman empires. With both Asian and European sides to the city, there's a lot to explore. The old walled neighborhood of Sultanahmet is home to some of the most recognizable sights, such as the Hagia Sophia, with its dazzling mosaics and the enormous dome that has covered this space since the sixth century, when it was a Roman basilica. You'll also want to experience Topkapi Palace—containing lavish interiors and many Christian and Islamic relics—as well as the Blue Mosque and the giant underground Basilica Cistern. City views of the river suggest the next step: A Bosphorous cruise, navigating along the vast expanse of water that unites two continents, provides a wonderful way to see the banks of the Golden Horn. To delve into the local culture, as well as for help with haggling, visitors can take a private tour of the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar, containing some of the richest smells in the world. For longer visits, tours from Istanbul can take visitors far and wide to the remarkable rocky landscapes of Cappadocia, the ruins of the Greco-Roman city of Ephesus, and even to the WWI sites of the Gallipoli Peninsula.

Top 10 attractions in Istanbul

#1
Bosphorus

Bosphorus

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The Bosphorus Strait defines Istanbul. It is the divide between Europe and Asia, and the main connection between the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara. Dotted with parks and elaborate Ottoman mansions, including Dolmabahce Palace, and spanned by three intercontinental bridges, the Bosphorus is the veritable heart of the city.More
#2
Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya)

Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya)

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Built in 532 as the world’s largest place of worship, the Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya) shifts its identity with the times but never loses its grandeur. Converted from a church to a mosque during the Ottoman era and becoming a museum in 1935, the pink-hued Old City building is one of Istanbul’s don’t-miss attractions.More
#3
Topkapi Palace (Topkapi Sarayi)

Topkapi Palace (Topkapi Sarayi)

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Behold the imperial complex of Ottoman sultans at Topkapi Palace (Topkapi Sarayi), the royal residence in Istanbul throughout the first 400 years of the Ottoman Empire. The palace contains myriad buildings and courtyards, including a treasury, harems, an armory, imperial halls, and royal chambers—all with intricate Iznik tilework and opulent architecture.More
#4
Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii)

Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii)

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Explore the grandeur of Ottoman architecture at the Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii), located on Istanbul’s Old City peninsula. Opened in 1616 to rival the Byzantine-era Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya) across the way, the six minarets punctuating the Istanbul skyline and 20,000 blue Iznik tiles decorating its interior are designed to inspire awe.More
#5
Dolmabahce Palace (Dolmabahce Sarayi)

Dolmabahce Palace (Dolmabahce Sarayi)

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Built in an opulent European style, Dolmabahce Palace (Dolmabahce Sarayi) was the home of the Ottoman sultans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, before the fall of the empire. The giant crystal chandeliers, marble staircases, and lush carpets that adorn the interior reflect the shift toward Istanbul’s more European way of thinking.More
#6
Hippodrome (Sultanahmet Meydani)

Hippodrome (Sultanahmet Meydani)

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Built in the third century, the Hippodrome was the home of now-named Istanbul’s sporting entertainment during the Byzantine era, with a wide track for chariot racing. Today, the route of the old track is covered by Sultanahmet Square (Sultanahmet Meydani), a wide open space in the center of the old city, punctuated by ancient obelisks.More
#7
Bosphorus Bridge (Bogazici Koprusu)

Bosphorus Bridge (Bogazici Koprusu)

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The Bosphorus Bridge (Bogazici Koprusu) in Istanbul is one of three continent-spanning bridges over the Bosphorus Strait, connecting Europe and Asia. When it opened in 1973, the 5,118-foot (1,560-meter) bridge was the fourth-longest suspension bridge in the world. And though it has since slid down the rankings, it is still an impressive sight to behold.More
#8
Spice Bazaar (Misir Carsisi)

Spice Bazaar (Misir Carsisi)

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Built in the 17th century, the covered Spice Bazaar is Istanbul’s fragrant hub for all things flavorful. Piles of pepper, saffron, teas, and dried apricots nestle alongside shops selling colorful Turkish delight, silk scarves, and glass mosaic lamps. Take time to chat with vendors, sip tea, and haggle for the perfect price.More
#9
Galata Tower (Galata Kulesi)

Galata Tower (Galata Kulesi)

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Rising high above its namesake neighborhood, Istanbul’s Galata Tower (Galata Kulesi) dates back to the Genoese presence in Constantinople in the 14th century. An elevator takes you up to a viewing platform located under the roof, which offers panoramic views of the Old City peninsula and Beyoglu neighborhood.More
#10
Rumeli Fortress (Rumeli Hisari)

Rumeli Fortress (Rumeli Hisari)

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Built over just four months, the 15th-century Rumeli Fortress played a key role in the fall of Byzantine Constantinople. Together with the Anatolian Fortress (Anadolu Hisarı) on the Bosphorus, Rumeli Fortress was used by the Ottomans to cut off aid and supplies to Constantinople. Today, it serves as both an open-air theater and site of historical interest.More

Trip ideas

Top Markets in Istanbul

Top Markets in Istanbul

Top activities in Istanbul

Taste of Two Continents Food Tour
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Best of Turkey Tour - 9 Days

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Best of Turkey Tour - 9 Days

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$1,135.00  $227.00 savings
Whirling Dervishes at Hodjapasha

Whirling Dervishes at Hodjapasha

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Istanbul New Airport Private Transfer

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Istanbul New Airport Private Transfer

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Recent reviews from experiences in Istanbul

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Istanbul at a glance one stop!
WasifZaman, Nov 2021
Small Group Tour: Essential Istanbul
Its a efficient way to see and get an idea of most of the important things that happened in Istanbul and rich Turkish history.
star-5
Breathtaking Istanbul Views!!
Mark_C, Nov 2021
Bosphorus Sunset Cruise on Luxury Yacht
My husband and I went on this cruise to get to see Istanbul in a different way and it more than exceeded our expectations.
star-5
A must do
Mathis_S, Nov 2021
Taste of Two Continents Food Tour
This tour was so much fun and in addition to tasting countless amazing foods in 10 different restaurants, you get to see a lot of Istanbul that you might not otherwise have seen.
star-5
A must-do for the Old City
Rebecca_L, Nov 2021
Full Day Historical Walking Tour of Istanbul Old City from Hagia Sophia
Great, comprehensive tour, would definitely recommend to see the old city and get an insight into Istanbul’s past and present, fascinating to discover the stories behind the hidden elements you wouldn’t even know to look for!
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Highlights of Old Instanbul historical sites
Robert_H, Oct 2021
Istanbul Sightseeing Walking Tour
His English is excellent and he was able to keep us on schedule.
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Best part of trip
Matthew_P, Oct 2021
Small Group Tour: Essential Istanbul
We were able to see so much of the city and he was full of knowledge.
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This cruise was one of my favourite Istanbul activities.
Esther_B, Jul 2021
Sunset Cruise on Luxury Yacht Istanbul Bosphorus (Small-Group)
This cruise was one of my favourite Istanbul activities.
star-5
Wonderful tour
Maria_M, Sep 2021
Bosphorus Sunset Cruise on Luxury Yacht
Highly recommend this tour if you want to see the beauty of Istanbul.
star-5
Awesome cruise
Zoila_M, Sep 2021
Bosphorus Cruise Boat Tour İstanbul 3 Hours Tour With 1 Hour Stop in Asia Side
You get to see Istanbul's splendor from the Bosphorus canal.
star-5
Incredible experience cruising the Bosphorus on a beautiful yacht.
Sonia, Sep 2021
Short Circle Bosphorus Yacht Cruise with Stopover on Asian Side
Highly recommend this experience to anyone looking for a fun and unique way to see Istanbul.
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Fun day
Andrew_J, Sep 2021
Full Day Istanbul Old City & Bosphorus Cruise Tour incl Lunch & Tickets
This is a fun day trip to see the main sights of Istanbul.
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Great experience, totally worth it.
Corina_C, Sep 2021
Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace Half Day Tour
Erol is an amazing guide, very knowledgeable and with very good English skills.
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Mislav
Mislav_K, Sep 2021
Just Hagia Sophia Tour /Skip The Lines
The city is big so you need mibimum one week to see the most important sites in it.
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Happy customer
Goran_K, Jul 2021
Istanbul Sunset Cruise - Luxurious Yacht Cruise with Live Guide on the Bosphorus
Very professional ,friendly stuff with good English.
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Best tour and Ugur is the best tour guide!
Sirus_T, Nov 2021
Best of Istanbul: 1, 2 or 3-Day Private Guided Istanbul Tour
We never felt rushed and were able to see everything and more!
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Highly recommendable!
AnaMaria_A, Nov 2021
Best of Istanbul: 1, 2 or 3-Day Private Guided Istanbul Tour
Not only did he speak great English but he was very knowledgeable!
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Best Experience in Istanbul
Christine_C, Nov 2021
Historic Off the Beaten Path Tour of the Real Istanbul
It was amazing to see the city through the eyes of an Istanbulite.
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Amazing Layover in Istanbul
Emily_L, Nov 2021
Private Layover Tour from Istanbul Airports & Hotels
Our guide, Onder, made sure we saw and did everything we wanted, and so much more that we didn't realize we wanted to see and do.
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My favorite activity from our trip
Aysu_U, Oct 2021
Bosphorus Cruise with Audio Tour in Istanbul
You get to see all the historical buildings (‘yali’) on the shore.
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Loved it!
Hector_c, Oct 2021
Istanbul Classics Half Day Morning Tour
My wife and I loved this tour, it is a great way to see the main historical sights in Turkey.

All about Istanbul

When to visit

Spring is a beautiful time to explore Istanbul, when dolphin sightings are possible along the Bosphorus and the International Tulip Festival casts a wave of color through the city’s parks. To avoid the crowds, visit in fall when the cruise ships have left and the humidity drops—travelers on a budget will appreciate the post-summer drop in prices, too.

Frequently Asked Questions