The top 10 things to do in Istanbul: Enjoy the full experience of the city

I had the chance to visit Istanbul so far three times in my life. And what was special about that is that each trip was totally different than the other and therefore had the chance to discover the city in a different way.

Whether you are looking for a vacation of one week or one of simply 3days, a vacation full of touristic and historical experiences or one that is more about relaxation and discovering new neighborhoods…. Istanbul should be the city of your choice!

This one of a kind city that straddles the two continents Asia and Europe by its natural strait the majestic Bosporus is nothing else than the historical Constantinople. Known for its culture and history this city also hides in her numerous neighborhoods, different styles and vibes as well as beauty and charm.

The question remains, are you looking for the full experience?😍 This article is your answer. What I am about to show you is the main things to explore and enjoy in Istanbul in order to live it all!

OH! And here is Your perfect Istanbul Itinerary 😎 to spend 5 Magical days in Istanbul. As for the Street food Lovers, check out the Top 8 street food that you should try while roaming the streets of this Iconic city.

Let’s find out some of the coolest areas in the city and the top 10 things to explore in there!😎
  1. Visit the Dolmabache Palace
  2. Meet Ortakoy
  3. Go on a Bosphorus Cruise
  4. Explore the Iconic Taksim Area
  5. Spend the Day in Sultanahmet
  6. Discover the Galata Tower & Bridge
  7. Visit the traditional Bazar and local shops
  8. Indulge yourself in those Turkish Bath
  9. Search for Istanbul’s Hidden Gems
  10. Go for a day trip to the Princess Islands

1- Visit the Dolmabache Palace

One of the most impressive palaces I have ever visited! The famous and Marvelous 19th-century Dolmabahçe Palace. It simply takes your breath away with its white color and its gates towards the Bosporus. You get the impression of being in some kind of heaven with an open wide white gate towards the waters and the other side.

Start your Journey in the Dolmabache by enjoying its perfect exterior. Enjoy yourself wandering in its garden and walking towards its magnificent gates that opens to the Bosphorus. Once you are ready, get inside and keep in mind that you can’t take any pictures there.

Whatever you do in Istanbul make sure you visit this Magnificent symbolic structure of the Ottoman Empire. It is really worth your time!

Tips!

  • Take the full tour in order to witness all the beauty of this palace, its richness and uniqueness.
  • In case you are not interested in museums and paintings stick to the Palace + Harem pass.
  • You can ask for your Audio guide at the information desk once you get your tickets.
  • Visit the castle around late afternoon in order to have the best pictures with the Bosporus views during sunset.

Address & Fees: Directorate of National Palaces Administration Dolmabahçe Palace 34357 Beşiktaş / İSTANBUL. The visit of the palace + Harem costs currently 110TL

Recommendation

Visit one of Istanbul’s largest parks the Yildiz Park. At 10 min walk from the Dolmabache, this impressive park is known for its gardens of roses and Dalhias. There are many spots in the park that overlooks the Bosphorus. Try to get to those areas in order to enjoy the view from top and get the best pictures! Oh and have a walk around the park’s fountains.

2- Meet Ortakoy

This area along the Bosphorus coastline, is all about amazing views, beautiful walks great food and relaxation. While Ortakoy is pleasant for lunch and coffee time, Bebek on the other hand is highly recommended for sunset and dinner time. Both areas are charming full of life and have great vibes.

The Büyük Mecidiye Mosque area

This might be the most touristic area in whole Istanbul. Everyone rushes there to get the best pictures with the Iconic mosque and the famous Bosphorus bridge. You can go there simply for the walk and to enjoy the beautiful scenery. Also many restaurants and cafes awaits you there if you’d like to have a pause. Wander I the narrow cobbled streets and checkout the traditional souvenir shops.

Don’t miss out the chance to be there early evening in order to enjoy the breathtaking view of both iconic structures in lights.

Tip! If you are coming from Besiktas towards Ortakoy, make sure to walk further to the other way of the Büyük Mecidiye Mosque. From this side you get to take closer pictures with the Bosphorus bridge and explore the nice surrounding narrow street full of colorful buildings and kumpir selling kiosks.  

Another thing to enjoy in Ortakoy is the flavored tea! So right there while wandering in those back streets, You will find many street sellers. Don’t hesitate to try on a flavor! I had the orange tea and ended up loving it!

The kumpir experience Ortakoy

One of the best street food I have ever had! Whatever you do in Turkey and whether you are a street food lover or no, don’t miss out on trying the Kumpir! This is where you find this delicious Potato and where you should definitely have to eat it. In case you wanna know more about it, check my article: 8 street food in Istanbul you must eat

Tip: If you’d like to have the Kumpir while sitting with the Bosphorus view head to the Beltas Rest Café Istanbul and enjoy your delicious potato!

3- Go on a Bosphorus Cruise

Various tours and cruises are offered. You can either book online for any cruise that pleases you or head directly to the port and get your cruise tickets. The cruises in the Bosphorus are all day long so you get to choose what time suits you better. Where is the best place to take this boat tour? The Besiktas Pier! This one offers many rides all day long and one of the greatest location overlooking the Bosporus and its impressive bridges. You can visit the Besiktas pier for simply the view and surrounding shops and restaurants. It remains one of the main ports in Istanbul that houses many big boats.

Tip: Don’t forget that the Bosphorus bridge is simply stunning when its illuminated! So I would recommend an early evening cruise with a dinner on board! This can be a bit more expensive but it will be totally Worth it!

A day trip to Kadikoy

If you would like another type of cruise that will eventually be your taxi to the Asian part and its Unique Kadikoy area, here is your answer. Head to Besiktas Pier, and take the Boat to either Uzkudar or Kadikoy itself. Boats are available all over the day with around a 30min gap of time between one and the other. In that case you will be enjoying Istanbul’s sceneries from the Waters and reaching the Asian Part in a unique enjoyable way.

Tip: In case you chose to go on a day trip to kadikoy, don’t leave the area without walking towards Moda and exploring this beautiful area of the Asian Part.

4- Explore the Iconic Taksim area

The famous Taksim square, one of the busiest area of the city. This is where you find both tourists and locals roaming the streets, doing some shopping and eating in the various restaurants. The square is central and a strategic point in Istanbul. It is alive all day long and worth the visit both at day and night. The square decorated by its Republic Monument, right in its center, is a center of attraction for almost everyone in the city.

Discover Istiklal Street
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Stroll down istiklal street and make sure to walk through a small passageway called Çiçek Pasajı that features a beautiful architecture and various shops. Check out the historic churches along the way. Tip! There is also a Madame Tussaud Museum of wax, and a museum of illusions if you’d like to check them out.

A small entertaining experience

Take a tramway ride. The one that goes through Istiklal street is an iconic old one. Just like the ones you find in Portugal! Make sure to take the ride from the top of taksim square till you reach the Tunnel square. Enjoy it!

Enjoy Taksim Food

The food experience is at its best in Taksim, from street food to coffee shops and restaurants, you have it all. There are many things to grab and eat in Istiklal street and let me warn you that you will be definitely tempted to try them all. Don’t hesitate to grab something to eat and enjoy the street food experience there. If you’d like to learn more about those delicious things to eat check out my article: 8 street food in Istanbul you must eat

Tip: Whatever you do….don’t leave Taksim without visiting the Iconic Hafiz Mustafa store & Restaurant

Recommendations:
  • Even though Taksim is super central, If you don’t feel comfortable in hectic areas don’t consider booking your hotel there.
  • Go to Taksim during the day if you want to do some shopping. And head there at night for a drink or dinner in one of its rooftop or restaurants.
  • Have a drink and great dinner with views over the Bosphorus in one of the nicest Rooftops of the City called 360 Istanbul. Here is the official website for you: http://www.360istanbul.com/eng/
  • If you wish to exchange some money, Taksim has some of the good Exchange shops in the city.

5- Spend the Day in Sultanahmet

The most Iconic historical area of the city. If it happens that you are in Istanbul for only 1 day, this is the area you should visit. You can’t possibly travel to Istanbul and leave without visiting its old town.

The core of Constantinople History and the Richness of Istanbul Remains in this Outstanding area. If you still haven’t guessed which area this one is, well its the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque area. And it doesn’t end here, its the area where you get to Visit the Sultan’s Palace Called the Topkapi wander in its Park and get amazed by the old cisterns below the city. The list is endless, the area is breathtaking, and the experience is Priceless.

Recommendations:
  • Head there early morning especially on weekends because it can get really crowded.
  • Make sure to walk in its unique Hidden Gem street called Yerebaten street.
  • Ladies, If you want to visit The Blue Mosque or Hagia Sophia make sure to be properly dressed and have some Kind of a scarf.
  • Don’t leave the area without stopping by some vintage souvenir and local food shops.
  • If you wish to visit the Topkapi Palace the queue can be insane during weekends. So make sure to by your tickets in advance.
  • I suggest that you have lunch in one of Sultanahmet Rooftop restaurants. My recommendation for you is: Seven Hills Restaurant. Address: Cankurtaran, Tevkifhane Sk. No:8, 34400 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey

6- Discover the Galata Tower & Bridge

One of my favorites areas in Istanbul. The Galata and Karakoy area is very well located and connected area. It is close to both Taksim and the old area known as Sultanahmet. With views over the Bosphorus, its iconic Tower and prestigious bridge, Galata Karakoy area definitely made it to the top destinations to be visited in Istanbul.

Galata Tower

It has its own vibes and is beautiful to visit during both day and night. Galata area which belongs to the Beyoglu district is known for its pedestrian cobbled streets, beautiful Café bars and all kind of retail shops. The walk there is pleasant but there is some uphill so make sure to wear something comfortable. At night they display a slideshow on the Galata tower along with some Turkish music. The vibes are attractive.

What about the Galata Tower?

It is a medieval stone Tower that rises up 16m and overlooks the city. At night its illuminated and sometimes at night some slide shows about Turkish history are displayed on its walls.

It houses a fine restaurant and café on its upper floors that offers views on the city rooftops and the Bosphorus. You can catch a mesmerizing view of the city from up there! The entrance fee to the Galata Tower as per 2020 is 35TL.

Tip! The Galata tower is kind of on top of a hill. The surrounding streets are so narrow and it is preferable to get there walking because if you might get stuck in a lot of traffic.

Recommendations!
  • If you’d like to visit in the evening, step by Buyuk Hendek street for a drink. The street faces the Galata Tower and has some cool restaurants/bars with quite an entertaining ambiance at night.
  • Make sure to check out the Kamondo stairs during your walk in the area. Here is your address: Bereketzade, Bankalar Cd. NO:10, 34421 Beyoğlu/İstanbul, Turkey

Galata Bridge

The Galata bridge is one of the main connections to the old historical city. Grasp the opportunity to walk through the pedestrian side of the bridge and stand with the Bosphorus beneath your feet.

The views of the city are simply breathtaking from that point. You will witness how busy gorgeous and historical Istanbul is. Don’t forget to take some beautiful and panoramic photos of the city from this strategic point.

7- Visit the traditional Bazar & Local shops

This is one of the most interesting experiences to explore Istanbul’s culture while also enjoying some delicious sweets, unique tea and spices and most importantly local souvenirs. You can’t possibly visit this city and living it without stopping by one of its souks or Bazar. There are many of them all over Istanbul but my mission is to tell you about the best of them😉

Grand Bazar

This is a very large Bazar! Stepping inside of it will be like stepping inside a maze. This Bazar actually offers everything, anything you might think about is there. Walk through its different tunnels and discover all the displayed goods all around the place. The grand Bazar is known for its colorful lanterns and its silky scarfs.

Address: Beyazıt, Kalpakçılar Cd. No:22, 34126 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey

Tip! Pay attention not to be lost. Take the name of the alley in case you liked a store and you wanna get back to it!

Mısır Çarşısı

I actually discovered this one by mistake and was so Happy about that😍 The Market dates back to the 17th Century and is known as the Egyptian Bazaar, with spice, food & textile shops. I can tell you that you wont be able to resist trying their delicious Turkish delight and customized tea.

Address: Rüstem Paşa, Erzak Ambarı Sok. No:92, 34116 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey

Emoninu & Fatih old Souk

This one is the famous old souk in the Traditional local area of Emoninu & Fatih. It is a whole small area with shops of all kind all over the place. If you are looking to buy some nice local handmade souvenirs this is the place to be. You will get both a very good price and the chance to witness the local way of shopping and explore this side of the culture.

8- Indulge yourself in the Turkish Bath

What is better than pampering yourself during your trip by offering yourself a nice day at a spa? And what is even more tempting is experiencing the Turkish bath in the middle of the most iconic Turkish city. I don’t think you would say no to that😉


A traditional full Turkish bath package mainly includes 45 minutes of washing, a traditional body scrubbing, a foam wash, and a Massage. The needed towels are provided by the SPA so no need to carry yours on you. The entrance costs about $15, and a massage raises the price to about $23 but it all depends on the package and the Turkish bath you chose. My Recommendation?😍

Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Hamam

Many of us visit Istanbul to experience the Turkish Bath or Hammam. And what’s better than experiencing it in the middle of the historical square? So here it is my suggestion for you. The Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Hamam a 16th-century, Ottoman-style hammam at your disposition.

You have many packages that you can chose from that ranges from 55euros up to 185 euros. Check out the official website: https://www.ayasofyahamami.com/ and pick the one that suits you best. Tip! You can book it in advance. And this is what I actually recommend you because it can get a bit busy.

Address: Cankurtaran, Ayasofya Meydanı No:2, 34122 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey

9- Search for Istanbul’s Hidden Gems

The city is priceless, it can surprise you in each and every corner with some outstanding Gems. Wherever you go in Istanbul you will notice some narrow streets that leads to some hidden nice places, coffee shops boutiques or buildings. Am I able to write all about it in this small section? Of course not as I wasn’t also able to discover all of those in one trip.

I have been to Istanbul 3 times, and each time I managed to discover some new hidden gems and new spots that literally took me by surprise.

Let’s talk neighborhoods

Wandering in the narrow streets of Istanbul is an amazing experience by itself. It’s all about discovering some nice authentic cafes, vintage Galleries, some local art works and fascinating souvenir shops. So now What Neighborhoods shall I recommend? The list might be long but my favorite one would be: Balat Fener neighborhood 😍 Followed by Arnavutkoy and Karakoy!

In case you are interested to know all about those areas, check out my article: Istanbul’s Hidden Gems where you will learn and witness the reason why I felt in love with those gems.

But Anna is that all of it? If you really like to discover cultural and typical neighborhoods, consider strolling down the old souk of Eminonu, and getting lost in the narrow streets of Suleimaniyeh.

10- Go on a day trip to the Princess Islands

So you might be wondering what Are the Princes’ Islands of Istanbul? As you might have guessed, its not about only one island but a chain of islands in the sea of Marmara. The Princess Islands or Adalar is one of the best preserved natural areas and sights in Istanbul. The islands have taken the name from the exiled Princes during the Byzantium era. They are one of the best attractions and perfect getaway for both locals and tourists.

How to get there?

Getting to the islands can be very simple and kind of an adventure itself. It is possible to access any of the islands by ferryboats that go on continuous trips departing from many piers around the city. Those piers being: Eminonu, Kabatas, Kadikoy or Bostanci.

The total ride can be around 2hrs depending on your location. Chose the closest pier to your hotel and in case you have an Istanbul card you can actually use it to pay for the ride. In case you don’t have it, no worries you can buy your roundtrip ticket right before going on board.

Which one is the best Island to Visit?

Before planning on going to the Princess Islands I didn’t know that there was a bunch of them. So if you are going there for a day trip and considering only one island I would suggest visiting the biggest one called Büyükada. The name itself means “big island” in Turkish.
Not only is it the largest of the four Istanbul islands but it’s also the most popular one. So yes obviously you can’t hit the islands and leave without stepping foot on Büyükada. Known for its sandy beaches, cozy town center and delicious sea food restaurants, the island attracts many locals and tourists during spring and summer time.

My Recommendations

As you know me by now, I can’t keep myself from giving you some tips and recommendations😊

  • If you wish to tan on a smaller cozy nice island check Kinaliada Island
  • If you chose to visit more than 1 island during 1 day leave early from Istanbul and make sure to be at Buyukada Island for sunset.
  • Have your sunset early dinner with a mesmerizing view in Eskibag Teras Restaurant at Buyukada island.
  • Electric golf cars are available in order to go around the island. But for your ultimate experience rent a bike and enjoy discovering the island while doing some exercise.
  • In case you are using your Istanbul Card make sure to charge is before leaving the shores. The one way trip is about 15TL.

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