my top 10 things to do in Istanbul, Turkey

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

I've said it a few times, and I'll say it again: Istanbul is a cool city that should definitely be on your wish list if you suffer from incurable wanderlust like me.

Here are my absolute top 10 things you must experience while visiting Istanbul...

1. Hagia Sophia

Even with scaffolding Hagia Sophia is breathtaking, and it's a rare opportunity to visit a site that has been both a church and a mosque. Top tip - don't buy your tickets online with plans of skipping the queue if you don't have access to a printer. We had our tickets on our mobiles but they weren't accepted in digital format so ended up queueing twice!

looking up at the ceiling of Hagia Sophia - Istanbul, Turkey
looking up at the ceiling of Hagia Sophia - Istanbul, Turkey

Hagia Sophia - Istanbul, Turkey

Hagia Sophia - Istanbul, Turkey

2. Take time out with a 'full body rub down' at a hamam.
Check out my post what to expect at a Turkish bath or hamam for more details. You won't be disappointed.

inside Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamami - Istanbul, Turkey
inside Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamami - Istanbul, Turkey

3. Take a stroll across Galata Bridge to Karaköy and Beyoğlu for shopping and cafés galore!
Coffee and tea culture is alive and thriving in the new town. You could spend weeks here sipping on coffee, people watching and spending every last dime on the bustling shopping streets.

my favourite named shop in Beyoğlu - Istanbul, Turkey
my favourite named shop in Beyoğlu - Istanbul, Turkey

4. Observe prayer time at the Blue Mosque.
As all the other tourists were being herded out of the mosque at prayer time, my friend and I were being given a personal tour. The trick is to show a little interest - ask if you might sit and observe prayer time and you'll have the whole observation area to yourself. The mosque is just beautiful too!

observing prayer time at the Blue Mosque - Istanbul, Turkey
observing prayer time at the Blue Mosque - Istanbul, Turkey

observing prayer time at the Blue Mosque - Istanbul, Turkey

5. Chat with locals as they fish for the sport of it at Istanbul's top spot for fishing - the Galata Bridge.
Every day hundreds of fishermen cast their fishing rods over the side of Galata bridge in hope that they might just snag the big one. It didn't matter what time of day we passed by - morning, afternoon, evening or even the middle of the night the bridge was always a bustle of activity.

men fishing on Galata Bridge at sunset - Istanbul, Turkey
men fishing on Galata Bridge at sunset - Istanbul, Turkey

6. Take a cruise to Kadıköy Market on Asia Side.
Absolutely worth a visit - Kadıköy Market is one of the biggest fruit, vege, fish, cheese, spices, clothing and toy markets I've ever visited in my years of travel. And it was almost certainly one of the cheapest too. Just a fifteen to twenty minute walk from the port - my friends and I were in Christmas Stocking shopping heaven (we visited just a few days before Christmas).

the entrance to Kadıköy Market - Asia Side, Istanbul
the entrance to Kadıköy Market - Asia Side, Istanbul

7. Go underground into The Basilica Cistern.
Underneath the city of Istanbul is the Basilica Cistern, also known as the Sunken Palace. Built during the 6th Century it is claimed that 7,000 slaves were involved in the construction of this gigantic, amazing space. Although the Cistern has the capacity to store 100,000 tons of water it is virtually empty today with just a few feet of water lining the bottom.

inside the Basilica Cistern - Istanbul, Turkey
inside the Basilica Cistern - Istanbul, Turkey

8. Hang out with Istanbul's purring, smooching cat community.
I couldn't write a post without some mention of Istanbul's cat population. It wouldn't suprise me if there are more cats than people in the city. And the locals seem to love them - leaving out food all over the place so none go hungry.

cats sunning themselves on the friendly streets of Istanbul
cats sunning themselves on the friendly streets of Istanbul

9. Stroll through Istanbul's Grand Bazaar.
Famous for being famous, the Grand Bazaar is the perfect place to indulge in some time-honoured haggling, or a dry spot to explore if the weather turns sour. Browse to your hearts content, and buy if you see something you absolutly must have. But if you can hold on to your self control, do your shopping in Galata and Beyoğlu instead where you can buy all the same stuff at much better prices.

inside the Grand Bazaar - Istanbul, Turkey
inside the Grand Bazaar - Istanbul, Turkey

10. Explore Sultanahmet (the old city) on foot.
Hagia Sophia, Topkapı Palace, Sultanahmet Mosque, Basilica Cistern, the Hippodrome and much more. There's lots to see in Sultanahmet - so go explore. My favourite time of day was during the call to prayer - when the prayer calls echoed around the whole neighbourhood.

exploring Sultanahmet by day - Istanbul, Turkey
exploring Sultanahmet by day - Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul taken your fancy? Check out my other Istanbul posts too:

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8 comments

  1. I would love to visit Istanbul, it is a place that would be completely different than any other I have visited and I would love to experience the culture!

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    1. You know what to do Kiki :) Book it in now!

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  2. Love this post Claire! My fiancé and I are looking at spending a day in Istanbul during our honeymoon! Unfortunately it's just one day but still, I think we can pack a fair bit into 24 hours! Love this top 10 list - it's super helpful to us!

    Carly x

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    1. Thanks Carly. Let me know if you have any other questions and enjoy your travels.

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  3. I wish I had gone to Istanbul, but rumours of it and of Turkey being dirty put me off a bit so I always opted for Greece. Doesn't look at all dirty though.

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    1. Dirty, really? It's just like any other big city. If you've been to London or LA you'll do fine in Istanbul. Where are you headed next Holly?

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  4. A great itinerary.. a like the mix of tourist attractions with lesser known activities. And I definitely appreciate the fact that it is a generally affordable list! I've pinned this to refer back to one I make it to Istanbul. Thanks!

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    1. I'm glad you liked the recommendations Kelsey. Hopefully one day soon they will be useful and you'll be winging your way to Turkey!

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