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Things To Do In Istanbul That Will Make Your Trip A Memorable Affair

Embark on a captivating journey to Istanbul, where the East and West harmoniously converge in a mesmerising dance of culture and history. Imagine wandering through the bustling lanes of the Grand Bazaar, where treasures from around the world beckon. Marvel at the architectural wonders of Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, witnesses to centuries of history.

Unwind in luxurious hammams and savour culinary delights that narrate tales of Ottoman opulence. From grandiose palaces to vibrant bazaars, the city offers a tapestry of experiences, inviting you to indulge in the finest things to do in Istanbul.

Best time to visit Istanbul

The best time to visit Istanbul is between November and March. During these months, the weather is perfect for spending the day out in the sun.

Best things to do in Istanbul

Süleymaniye Mosque

Things to do in Istanbul Süleymaniye Mosque

Perched atop one of Istanbul’s seven hills, the Süleymaniye Mosque majestically overlooks the Golden Horn, etching an iconic silhouette on the cityscape. Among the best things to do in Istanbul, a visit to this architectural marvel is a must. While not the largest Ottoman mosque, its central dome soars 47 metres high, and within, the interior boasts intricate decorations.

Erected over eight years, and completed in 1557, it stands as a tribute to Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent, the empire’s longest-reigning ruler (1520-1566). The Süleymaniye Mosque complex encompasses a learning complex, soup kitchen, hospital, caravanserai (traveller’s resting space), library, bazaar, and various tombs.

Timings: 9 AM to 6 PM, barring prayer times
Entry: Free
Dress Code: Men need to wear clothes until below the knees, and women should cover their head, chest, shoulders and legs.

Hagia Sophia

Things to do in Istanbul

The Hagia Sophia, known as Ayasofya in Turkish, was initially constructed 1,500 years ago as a Greek Orthodox basilica. Over time, its purpose evolved, mirroring the rich history of Istanbul. Much like the Eiffel Tower or the Parthenon, it’s an enduring emblem of the city’s cosmopolitan essence and one of the essential things to do in Istanbul, Turkey.

With ethereal domes, stately marble columns, and unmatched mosaics, this architectural marvel blends Orthodox basilica features with expansive domes, semi-domed altars, and narthex porches. Perched on Istanbul’s historic peninsula, it’s embraced by the Sea of Marmara, the Bosphorus, and the Golden Horn. Renamed Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom) in the 5th century, it’s an iconic cornerstone of both Orthodox and Islamic heritage and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985.

Timings: The Hagia Sophia is open from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM, with the last entry at 4:00 PM. It’s closed for visits during prayer times, so be sure to check the prayer schedule.
Entry: Free
Dress code: Visitors to the Hagia Sophia wearing clothing that exposes the legs or shoulders are now required to wear coveralls and female visitors must wear a headscarf to gain entrance.

Topkapı Palace

The Topkapi Palace, one of the best things to do in Istanbul, Turkey, is a splendid testament to the Ottoman Empire’s legacy, standing as a monumental blend of Islamic, European, and Ottoman architecture. Built from 1460 to 1478 under Sultan Mehmed II, it served as the Sultan’s residence for nearly four centuries, housing a staggering 4,000 people across its four courtyards and 400 rooms.

This architectural gem encapsulates the opulent lives of the Ottoman Sultans, each room adorned with intricate tiles and designs. With its vast expanse of 700,000 square metres, the palace showcases the empire’s prized collections, housing the world’s largest assemblage of Ottoman belongings and manuscripts like a captivating array of jewellery, armour, and ornaments that provide a glimpse into the empire’s grandeur.

Timings: 09:00 AM to 06:00 PM. Ticket sales end at 05:30 PM. Closed on Tuesdays.
Entry Fee: INR 2,300 for the Hagia Irene Museum in the first courtyard of the palace and the audio guide. The price of the harem ticket alone is INR 1,072. However, if you buy a combined ticket that covers all three sections, it costs INR 2,910.

Sultanahmet Camii: ‘Blue Mosque’

The Blue Mosque, also known as Sultanahmet Camii, stands as a grand symbol of Ottoman might and artistic brilliance. Commissioned by Sultan Ahmed I, it was constructed between 1609 and 1616. Situated deliberately opposite the Hagia Sophia, it echoes the Ottoman power and resides on the historic grounds of the Byzantine emperors’ Great Palace.

This architectural marvel, crafted by Mehmet Ağa under the influence of renowned architect Mimar Sinan, carries a unique significance as it was funded by the public treasury rather than war spoils. Its intricate interior is adorned with an abundance of blue ceramic tiles, which led to its distinctive moniker, the Blue Mosque. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985 and is one of the most-visited free things to do in Istanbul.

Timings: 08:30 AM to 6:45 PM, barring prayer times. 
Entry: Free
Dress Code: Knees, shoulders and upper arms must be covered. Women also cover their hair.

Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı

For an introduction to Turkish hammam culture, Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamam is one of the coolest things to do in Istanbul. Its classical design, serene ambience, and spa-like treatments elevate the hammam experience. Dating back to 1580 and designed by renowned architect Sinan, this historic building was restored to its former glory in 2012. Operated by Nureddin İren and architect Cafer Bozkurt, the hamam now offers luxurious Ottoman-style scrubs, bubble washes, and massages.

Separate hours for men and women ensure a comfortable atmosphere. A personal attendant guides you through the process, from hot water soak to a thorough scrub and relaxing massage. Afterwards, unwind in the café beneath the splendid dome and explore the hammam’s boutique for authentic bath accessories. Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamam combines tradition and modernity, making it a must-visit spot in Istanbul’s Karaköy district.

Location: Kemankeş Karamustafa Paşa, Hamam Sk. No:1, 34425 Beyoğlu/İstanbul
Working Hours: 08:00 AM to 4 PM for ladies; 4:30 PM to 11:30 PM for men

Things to do in Istanbul with Family & kids

Basilica Cistern

Things to do in Istanbul

The Basilica Cistern, also known as Yerebatan Sarayı or the “Sunken Palace” in Turkish, stands beneath the western side of Hagia Sophia, embodying the Byzantine marvel in Istanbul. Constructed during Justinian I’s era, it boasts 336 columns, some repurposed from ancient temples, supporting its impressive architecture.

Once storing 80,000 cubic metres of water delivered through 20 km of aqueducts, it served the Great Palace and nearby structures. Rediscovered by Frenchman Peter Gyllius in 1545, the cistern now serves as one of the fascinating things to do in Istanbul with family, revealing the grandeur of past engineering.

Timings: 9 AM to 10 PM, Monday to Sunday

Best things to do in Istanbul at night 

Whirling Dervish show

Things to do in Istanbul

The Whirling Dervish Show in Turkey is a must-see cultural experience, especially among the top things to do in Istanbul at night. Dervishes are Sufis, followers of the mystic poet Mevlana Rumi. Their mesmerising Whirling Dervish ceremony is a journey of strict spiritual and physical training. This ritual, a UNESCO-recognised Intangible Cultural Heritage, offers more than visuals; it’s rich in religious elements.

In Istanbul, you can witness Dervishes at various venues like restaurants or Bosphorus cruises. A notable show is at Hodjapasha Culture Center which offers an hour-long tourist-friendly performance. The show begins with a brief introduction video about the Mevlevi order, followed by a 10-minute concert of Sufi music and the Sema dance, accompanied by live music, Persian chanting, and special effects.

Location: Hodjapasha Cultural Center, Hoca Paşa Mahallesi, Ankara Caddesi, Hocapaşa Hamamı Sk. 3/B, Fatih and
Time: Every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday at 19:00
Duration: Approximately 1 hour

Free things to do in Istanbul

Rüstem Paşa Mosque

The Rüstem Paşa Mosque, designed by renowned Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan, boasts exquisite 16th-century Iznik tiles that adorn its interior. Although incomplete due to Rüstem Paşa’s death in 1561, this mosque stands out for its intricate blue tiles with floral and geometric patterns. Situated in Istanbul’s bustling Tahtakale district, it’s a small yet remarkable gem among the delightful free things to do in Istanbul. With a ground-floor vaulted warehouse and a second-storey mosque, its architecture is captivating. Notable features include a street-view porch and an inner portico leading to the prayer hall. This mosque is a testament to Ottoman craftsmanship and has been meticulously restored, serving as both a mosque and a monument.

Timings: 9:00 AM to 6:30 PM, barring prayer times.
Entry: Free
Dress code: Knees, shoulders and upper arms must be covered. Women also cover their hair.

Things to do in Istanbul for couples / romantic things to do in Istanbul

Prince Islands

If you’re yearning for a romantic getaway in Istanbul, the Princes’ Islands, or “Adalar” in Turkish, offer an idyllic escape. This serene archipelago in the Sea of Marmara provides a peaceful haven and a nature-filled retreat, making it perfect for romantic things to do in Istanbul. To avoid crowds, consider visiting on weekdays during summer.

Named for their historical role as places of exile, these islands were favoured by both Byzantine and Ottoman elites. The main islands, Büyükada, Heybeliada, Burgazada, and Kinaliada, each hold a distinct character, shaped by diverse communities like Armenians, Greeks, Turks, and Jews. Accessible by ferry, the Princes’ Islands boast Victorian-style villas, active synagogues, churches, and mosques, showcasing their rich ethnic and cultural tapestry.

How to reach: Fast ferries and regular ferries ply to Prince Islands; both ferry types depart from Kabataş, easily accessible by public transportation.

Budget things to do in Istanbul

Taksim Square

Taksim Square, located in Beyoglu, is a captivating fusion of worlds in Istanbul. This vibrant district, a symbol of the city, thrives with diverse cultures, businesses, and public events. The Republic monument at its core commemorates Turkey’s foundation. Looking for things to do in Taksim Istanbul? Don’t miss the Flower Market and Atatürk sculpture. Amidst its evolution, Taksim remains a reflection of Turkey’s complex identity, shifting between Western influence and traditional values. Enjoy a glimpse of both in this energetic heart of Istanbul.

Best shopping places in Istanbul 

Grand Bazaar

Things to do in Istanbul

Explore Istanbul’s essence at the Grand Bazaar, the world’s largest covered market. Spanning 30,700 square metres with over 4,000 shops along 62 covered lanes, it’s a shopper’s haven. This historic hub, often dubbed an ancient shopping mall, was commissioned by Sultan Mehmed II for textiles and jewels trading. Today, it showcases exquisite Turkish architecture and is a must-visit on the list of top things to do in Istanbul. Immerse yourself in its labyrinthine lanes, offering a unique experience with chic boutiques and a range of goods, from carpets and textiles to jewellery and antiques.

Timings: Monday to Saturday, 08:30 AM to 07:oo PM; closed on Sundays and official holidays.
Must-buy things: Spices, Turkish handmade soaps and lamps, Lokum (Turkish delight), ceramics, antique items, carpets, rugs, and quirky lighters.
Pro tip: Don’t shy away from bargaining

Intelliness

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