Here you can find our guide on things to do in Istanbul, including popular tourist attractions, sights, leisure, day and night out activities, trips and tours. Istanbul offers an unforgettable experience for its travelers, with its colorful daily city life and dynamic nightlife. The beautiful silhouette of the city combines countless historical places, churches, palaces, and mosques with variety of great Istanbul excursions to take.
In addition, the city is also one of the most lively metropolises in the world that offers variety of intercontinental events, international film, music and theater festivals, international biennials, and more than 80 museums and many art galleries showcase all the culture, arts and history; including painting, sculpture, photography and more.
Things to Do FAQ
What are the top attractions to visit in Istanbul?
The top attractions to visit in Istanbul include:
What Istanbul is famous for?
Istanbul is a magical composition of two continents. And especially the Bosphorus, Istanbul Strait will cheer up your hearts. Aside from being the largest and most popular city of Turkey, the city is also the biggest cultural and financial center of Turkey. Istanbul is considered to be the bridge that links Asia with Europe from a cultural and geographical standpoint.
What should I not miss in Istanbul?
Istanbul offers lots of one time experiences and sights that you won't want to miss. They include:
What are the features of Istanbul?
Istanbul's main features include:
- more than 8,500 years of history,
- capital of 3 glorious empires, the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman Empires,
- a magical composition of two continents, two Worlds, the East and the West,
- Islamic and Mediterranean mixture of cultures in a captivating atmosphere,
- population of more than 15 million,
- one of world’s main air traffic hubs with 2 international airports,
- 5th most visited city in the world,
- 2010 European Capital of Culture,
- 2012 European Capital of Sport,
- one of world’s leading congress destination,
- connecting 2 continents; Europe and Asia,
- more than 75 museums,
- more than 100 lively shopping malls, and 4 historic bazaars,
- 5 imperial palaces, and many summer palaces, pavilions and mansions,
- huge transportation network of metro, subway, tram, buses, ferries, sea-buses, etc,
- 4 seasons throughout the year.
What are the most popular things to do in Istanbul with kids?
Theme parks, kids friendly museums and sights are the top things to do with kids in Istanbul. And they include:
What should I do in Istanbul in 3 days?
Ideal 3 Day Istanbul Itinerary Overview
- Day 1: Basilica Cistern, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Sultanahmet Square, Blue Mosque, Grand Palace Mosaics Museum, Museum of Turkish & Islamic Arts, Istanbul Archaeology Museums.
- Day 2: Dolmabahce Palace, Taksim Square, Istiklal Street, Galata Tower, Whirling Dervishes Show, Pub Crawl in Taksim.
- Day 3: Bosphorus Cruise, Spice Bazaar, Grand Bazaar, Turkish Bath.
What is the best month to visit Istanbul?
Best month to visit Istanbul will depend on your reason for traveling, such as whether you like mild temperatures or hot, whether you look for popular cinema and music festivals or just to enjoy the popular sights and sounds of the city. See below the overview of the city's monthly offers.
- Sightseeing & Museum Hopping: May, June, September, and October
- Staying Outdoors: mid April to July, and September to November
- Cinema and Music Festivals & Events: April, May, June, July, October
- Honeymooners: April, May, September and October
- Budget Travelers: November, December, January and February
- Shopaholics: January, February, and July
The Essential Things to Do in Istanbul
Explore Sultanahmet area
For the ones who are a true enthusiast of history and want to see the city’s historic sites, we highly recommend you to visit and see Sultanahmet neighborhood. It is the best way to get the most out of the city’s sights, sounds, and scents.
In Sultanahmet, you can experience and feel the rich Byzantine heritage and the glory of the Imperial Capital. Sultanahmet will sure make you enjoy the ultimate experience of Istanbul in a nutshell.
Sultanahmet hosts about all of the most visited historical and tourist sites in Istanbul, such as the Sultanahmet Square (Hippodrome), Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Blue Mosque, Basilica Cistern, Istanbul Archaeology Museums and Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts are situated here and all can be explored by walking.
Explore Galata and Taksim
For the ones who are a true enthusiast of metropolitan city life and enjoy the city’s lively nights and vibrant streets, as well as most visited monumental sites and museums, we highly recommend you to visit and see the Beyoglu district of Istanbul, that is home to popular tourist neighborhoods of Galata and Taksim.
Taksim, with its iconic Taksim Square, is the main attraction spot for every tourist and the area is always vibrant with its cheerful tourists taking selfies before the monument or the historic tram. From Taksim, you can continue down to world famous Istiklal Street until you reach the Galata neighborhood of Beyoglu.
Once a Genoese neighborhood, Galata is home to the famous Galata Tower. From Taksim or Galata, you can walk towards Cukurcuma, Cihangir and Karakoy neighborhoods and feel the city life along their narrow streets dotted with historic facades of old Istanbul, as well as best vintage shops in the city.
Take a Bosphorus Cruise
Bosphorus Cruise is one of the more popular and fantastic forms of entertainment on your Istanbul visit.
Typical Bosphorus Cruises begin slightly to the east of the famous Galata Bridge and continues to Anadolu Kavagi which is the Bosphorus’ entrance to the Black Sea making numerous sightseeing stops along the strait.
Hop-on Hop-off Istanbul City Sightseeing Bus Tour
BigBus Istanbul tour is a cheap way to discover and explore the popular zones of Istanbul which you just couldn’t walk to and see in one day. It drives through the popular sights along the interesting and different districts and neighborhoods of Istanbul and offers informative pre-recorded commentary that is available in 8 languages. The open topped double decker tourist bus really looks cool.
You can get off at any of the designated stops (which means hop-off) and than explore the area and sights on foot at your leisure, and then you can catch the next bus (buses arrive the stops in every 30 mins/60 mins.) from any stop when you’re ready (which means hop-on) to move on and visit the other sights on the route.
The stops are all located close to the most visited and famous landmarks and attractions of Istanbul. The upper deck of the city sightseeing bus offers a great vantage point for the amazing panoramic views of the city and lets you take photos.
Enjoy the city’s best festivals & events
The yearly calendar of Istanbul features variety of lively festivals and events for every kind of traveler. You can experience and enjoy the most popular festivals and events in the city, from music and film, to gastronomy and culture.
Experience the Turkish Cuisine
If you are in Istanbul, it means that you are one step away from tasting the delicious meals of the Turkish cuisine, from spicy and hot Anatolian and Aegean dishes freshly cooked with olive oil. The city offers wide range of Turkish cuisine at the variety of well established, good and luxury Istanbul restaurants.
The traditional Turkish cuisine is really worth a taste. Travelers may choose from a wide range of Turkish kebabs, mezes (starters) and dishes that are mostly based on meat. Also Turkish sweets such as baklava and Turkish delight are worldwide famous.
Enjoy the lively Istanbul Nights
Entertainment in Istanbul revolves around many of the entertainment venues that the city has to offer. The nightlife in Istanbul has really come alive in recent years and the locals will all tell you that the nightlife spreads out in all directions throughout the city.
Istiklal Street between Taksim and Tunel offers the liveliest nightlife in Istanbul as it caters to college students and the younger crowd. The region is commonly alive with parties every night during the summer months and the locals are extremely friendly.
Another region for a great evening out is Kadikoy, located on the Asian side of the Bosphorus. With its numerous little bars, pubs, cafes, and restaurants, you can easily spend the night bouncing from one venue to the next.
Enjoy the Shopping Scene of the City
The variety of the traditional and modern products offered at the Ottoman’s originated historical bazaars and modern shopping malls, makes the city an attraction center for shopping lovers.
The famous Turkish carpets made of silk, wool or cotton, jewelries, authentic glass wares, traditional evil eye souvenirs, trendy and creative products, are the popular items that tourists buy on their Istanbul visit.
The world famous Grand Bazaar (Kapalicarsi) is one of the greatest historical malls in the world, with its more than 4000 shops. The Egyptian Spice Bazaar (Misir Carsisi) is also very popular where you can enjoy the scenery of the various spices, dried fruits, basketry, jewelry, drapery and haberdashery.
Visit the charming Museums of Istanbul
For the ones who are a true enthusiast of culture and art, the city’s museums offers the best of the city’s historical heritage, culture and modern art. The city hosts more than 80 museums and many art galleries showcase all the culture, arts and history; including painting, sculpture, photography and more.
Fun day out at the Istanbul’s Theme Parks
Istanbul offers great theme parks ranging from huge ones with variety of great thrills and rides to aquariums, dolphinariums, themed museums and more. Amusement and theme parks are not only the places for fun, but also great places for your kids’ learning and imagination development. We recommend you to visit the Vialand, Aquarium Sea Life and LEGOLAND Discovery Center.
Top-Rated Istanbul Tours
Below are the top-rated Istanbul tours gathered with the travelers’ ratings and comments. You’ll definitely enjoy these tours as they have quality of service and badge of excellence.
Free cancellation up to 24 hours before activity starts
Tours & Tickets
When planning an Istanbul visit, weekend break, getaway or holiday, there are always plenty of tours, attractions, deals, offers, packages and events to choose from and enjoy in the city. You may explore Istanbul via daily tours made by the local travel agents with professional guides. It is a very good option if you don’t want to go through the hassle of making all the arrangements including the tickets, waiting at the long queues and 2-ways transportation by your own.
Tourist Passes & Discount Cards
* Istanbul has several tourist discount cards. You’ll have access to variety of major Istanbul attractions and services with a fixed price and save a lot. This is by far the most practical and cheapest way to explore Istanbul, as well as get airport transfer, public transportation card, unlimited internet, etc. Below you can see our recommendations.
Istanbul Welcome Card Deluxe
The is an innovative city pass. It includes fast track entry to 12 museums (Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Harem, Basilica Cistern, etc), 3 tours with historian guide, 20 rides with public transportation (IstanbulKart), Bosphorus Cruise and digital guide book and city map. It also offers 20% discounts at the most important Istanbul attractions on their shop. With this card you’ll skip the long ticket lines and not have to pick anything up.
Our website visitors will get 5% extra discount.
Istanbul Welcome Card Premium
Valid for 7 days, free delivery to your hotel/airport pick-up and includes; Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace fast track entry tickets with 30 minutes guidance and Audio Guide App in 10 languages, Istanbulkart with 10 Rides, Bosphours Cruise (1,5 hours), Digital Guide Book and City Map.
Our website visitors will get 5% extra discount.
Combo Tickets for Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace & Basilica Cistern
Valid for 3 days, digital pass, no need a printed ticket, guidance service with certified guides.
Our website visitors will get 5% extra discount.
Istanbul Tourist Pass
Istanbul Tourist Pass is a digital travel discount card that provides entrance and transportation tickets to many of Istanbul’s top tourist attractions along with several guided museum tours with skip-the-line access in a simple, useful, convenient and fun way. Rather than paying for each item individually, the pass allows you to choose from 75+ things to do in Istanbul so you can pack as much into your stay as possible for a single set price. You’ll get valuable discounts of up to 75%.
After you purchase the pass, it will be delivered to mobile phone and will be ready to use at upon arrival. There are four types of Istanbul Tourist Pass (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7 or 10-Day).
This is a digital travel discount pass that is delivered to your phone upon your purchase online, and will be ready to use at your arrival. It includes 30+ attractions and services including skip the line access and guided museum tours, dinner cruise, hop-on & hop-off Bus, airport transfer, etc.
Guided Istanbul Highlights Tours Advice
We recommend this kind of tours, especially for first time visitors. You are able to make the most of the city’s sights and sounds with a private guide and save yourself from the hassle of making an ideal one day to 3 days plan. All will be made by professionals and you’ll get skip the lines tickets, as well as pick-up and drop-off hotel transfer.
Highlights of Istanbul: 1 or 2-Day Private Guided Tour
This is Get Your Guide’s top selling and certified tour, which means it has gained one of the best traveler experiences.
You’ll discover the magic of Istanbul on a private 1 or 2-day walking tour with skip the line tickets. Enjoy a river cruise and guided tour of the city highlights, including the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Grand Bazaar, Spice Bazaar, Dolmabahce Palace, and Istiklal Street.
Duration: 7 hours – 2 days
Live tour guide: English, Spanish, German, Japanese
Pick-up from the front desk of your hotel in Istanbul
Istanbul: 1, 2 or 3-Day Private Guided Tour
This is also Get Your Guide’s top selling tour. Has great traveler ratings and comments.
You’ll see the sights of Istanbul that most interest you on a customized tour with private guide. Marvel at some of the city’s most significant sights including Topkapi Palace, Chora Church, Basilica Cistern, Fener-Balat neighboorhood, and many more.
Duration: 7 hours – 3 days
Live tour guide: Spanish, English, French, German, Italian
Pickup is available from centrally-located hotels in Istanbul, by your guide on foot.
Istanbul in One Day Highlights Tour
This is Get Your Guide’s top selling tour. Has great traveler ratings and comments.
You’ll visit the iconic sites such as the Topkapi Palace, Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, The Hippodrome, and the Grand Bazaar, learn the highlights of Istanbul from a local guide and discover the historical peninsula and learn the whole story of Istanbul.