5 Fun Things to Do in Istanbul
I loved Istanbul from the moment our airport shuttle bus drove underneath an ancient aqueduct with city lights all around it. I could feel the city’s energy before I even got out of the bus, and when we arrived in Taksim Square around 1AM, I couldn’t contain my excitement at being there. I’m definitely a city person, and any city that still feels alive at 1AM is my kind of place. Andy and I spent about five days Istanbul. While there are endless possibilities, these were five of the most fun things to do in Istanbul.
1. Hagia Sophia
Once a church, now a museum, Hagia Sophia is one of Istanbul’s most popular tourist attractions for a good reason. The Byzantine architecture is impressive, making this building beautiful inside and out.
We were a little overwhelmed by the long line to get in, but it moved quickly. Once inside, we could really see the history. Being a church in a country that eventually became Muslim made for some interesting details. There were several images of Jesus and other important Catholic figures, but in one area we saw crosses that had been partially covered up.
This is definitely a place where you can spend several hours wandering through the two different levels, admiring the details, and just trying to get a sense of its size.
2. Blue Mosque
Opposite the Hagia Sophia is the beautiful Blue Mosque. We first went there in the middle of the afternoon when the sun was streaming into the courtyard, making it a nice place to just relax. Unfortunately we couldn’t go inside that day because I completely forgot about bringing a scarf to cover my head, which is necessary for entering a mosque.
We returned prepared the next day, and went inside the mosque. The detailed tiles on the walls and ceilings, the multiple arches, and the stained glass windows are the reasons why this is probably the most famous mosque in Turkey.
3. Galata Tower
The Galata Tower is on the Taksim side of Galata Bridge, near the bottom end of Istakal Street. Built in the 1300’s, this tower offers the best panoramic views of the city. The elevator takes you up to a small restaurant where you can go outside and take in the views. The narrow balcony goes all the way around the tower, and from there you can see Agya Sophia, several mosques, Galata Bridge, and much more. It was overcast and rainy when we were there, so I can only imagine how much more breathtaking the view must be in good weather.
4. Grand Bazaar
The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul is the ultimate shopping experience. No matter what you’re looking for, chances are it’s sold there. Whether you can find it is a different issue.
The bazaar has been around for centuries. Even though there have been updates to modernize the building, it’s still a massive maze of confusing streets and alleyways. The gates are numbered, which helps you find the way you came in, but for your first visit, just let yourself get lost for awhile.
Then when you’re ready to buy, make sure you haggle. I haven’t experienced haggling too many times before, so I wasn’t quite comfortable with the theatrics of it, but in the end it was kind of fun.
Eating is definitely one of the most fun things to do in Istanbul. As much as I loved the sites and the history of Istanbul, what I remember and crave the most is the food. I knew I loved Turkish food before I ever got to Turkey, but having it in its country of origin sent me over the edge.
We really didn’t have a bad meal. We liked the food so much we brought home two bags of spices. Whether it was the sandwich I got when we first arrived in Taksim Square, the amazing doner we had at the Grand Bazaar (a place called Ege Doner between gates 18 and 19) or the delicious salad that had lemon juice on it, eating in Istanbul turned out to be my favorite thing.
Istanbul is now one of my favorite cities for all the great things it offers. It’s definitely a city you need several days, if not more, to really enjoy. There are so many more than just these five fun things to do in Istanbul, but they would make a great start for a visit to the city that straddles two continents.
You might also enjoy:
- Turkey’s Warm Hospitality
- Exploring the Overlooked Town of Selcuk, Turkey
- The Ruins and Travertines of Pamukkale
- Ephesus Photo Tour
May 31, 2012 @ 12:57 PM
It is so hard to just chose five things for Istanbul isn’t it? I don’t think I would be able to narrow my list down. Did you manage the Topkapi palace as well, just round the corner from the Hagis Sophia?
May 31, 2012 @ 8:47 PM
I know, I had way more than 5 things! We really wanted to go to Topkapi, but it was pouring the day we were going to go and we were miserable, so we decided to skip it. There are enough things we didn’t get a chance to do, and we loved Istanbul enough, that we know we’ll be back.
May 31, 2012 @ 3:57 PM
My mother went to Turkey about a year ago and spent nearly two weeks in Istanbul venturing around the city. When she was there it was the Turkish summer and she said the weather was stiflingly hot.
About two years ago the BBC Worldservice Radio ran a radio documentary series with a blind man who was tourist from Britain guiding the listener through the streets of Istanbul. It was really interesting to listen to the sounds as he would have listened to them. There was even a tram ride that he took in the middle of Istanbul to go somewhere and he managed to describe the tram and its characteristics in very fine detail for somebody who could not see. If wonder if that documentary series is still downloadable from the BBC website? It would be a great addition to your travels there.
May 31, 2012 @ 8:49 PM
We intentionally went in April because we didn’t want to deal with the super hot Turkish summer. It meant that we actually needed our winter coats a few times, but there were also plenty of warm sunny days too. That’s really interesting about the blind man, I’ve never heard of that documentary.
May 31, 2012 @ 8:43 PM
It’s definitely on the Bucket List! Great pics!!!
May 31, 2012 @ 8:52 PM
Thanks Andi! You should really go, you’d love it!
May 31, 2012 @ 8:57 PM
I have managed to find the link for the documentary that I was talking about. http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/documentaries/2011/01/110105_blind_man_roams_the_globe.shtml
It’s titled Blind Man Roams The Globe and is in two parts – the first for when he traveled to San Francisco and the second part is Istanbul.
May 31, 2012 @ 9:26 PM
Great! Thanks Matthew!
June 1, 2012 @ 4:32 AM
Mmmm, I’m glad you mentioned eat! As much as Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque aren’t to be missed, I really want to try all the delicious food.
June 1, 2012 @ 12:08 PM
The food really was my favorite part of Turkey. Everything was so good!
June 1, 2012 @ 5:44 AM
I’m finally going to Istanbul this summer, and can’t WAIT! I will definitely keep your tips in mind!
June 1, 2012 @ 12:08 PM
How exciting! Let me know if you need any tips!
June 1, 2012 @ 7:56 AM
I can’t believe I have yet to make it to Turkey. I hear so many good things. The food would probably be my favorite part as well.
June 1, 2012 @ 12:10 PM
We absolutely loved Turkey, and the food was definitely the best part!
June 1, 2012 @ 10:31 AM
I so desperately want to visit Istanbul! It looks like such an incredible city and I know the food is going to be the highlight!
June 1, 2012 @ 12:11 PM
It’s such a great city! I don’t think we had bad meal the whole time we were in Turkey.
June 1, 2012 @ 4:18 PM
Definitely a city I want to visit when I get the chance. I’ve heard a lot of great things about Istanbul!
June 1, 2012 @ 4:22 PM
You’ll love it! Amazing city, great sites, lots of history, friendly people, and delicious food!
Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)
June 1, 2012 @ 6:38 PM
This post has made me so excited to see Istanbul with my own eyes! It looks like such a lively, bustling city, but still steeped in so much history and tradition. And the food! I can’t wait to try authentic Turkish food… I have a feeling all of the other variations I’ve had here in North America won’t compare at all!
June 1, 2012 @ 10:13 PM
We really enjoyed it there, definitely a city I could see myself spending a lot more time in. The food really was amazing, I actually miss it!
June 3, 2012 @ 1:36 AM
We spent two days in Istanbul while on a cruise last year and I fell in love – I would have needed several more days to do and see everything I wanted to. I still regret that we didn’t get to the Galata Tower. One of my favourite sights was the fishermen on the Galata Bridge and the sound of the call to prayer is what I remember most.
June 3, 2012 @ 11:13 AM
Galata Bridge was definitely an interesting place, we walked across and took pictures while we were there. The call to prayer was easy enough to get used to, except for the early morning one. Being woken up at 5 or 5:30 in the morning by that was not fun. Istanbul is a great city, I hope you make it back there so you can see more. I can’t imagine just having 2 days, we didn’t think our 5 days was enough!
Steve @ Back-Packer
June 3, 2012 @ 11:44 PM
i pretty much liked especially number 5 – indeed the food is awesome as we in germany already knew 😉
June 4, 2012 @ 2:29 PM
Yes, definitely love Turkish food! It was really great to taste different foods we don’t necessarily have at Turkish restaurants in Germany.
June 4, 2012 @ 6:56 PM
Girl we could have called this post A million things to do in Istanbul… Seriously one of the most amazing cities in the world… with so much to do… SO MUCH. I spent 10 days there and didn’t see it all. I’m glad you enjoyed it… It’s city near you so you could always just fly for a weekend and see more of it.
June 5, 2012 @ 2:45 PM
I know, I loved Istanbul! We definitely want to go back, especially since there are a few things we really wanted to do but ran out of time.
June 9, 2012 @ 10:22 PM
Oh gosh. I’ve been to Turkey a couple of times, but always along the southern Mediterranean coast. I haven’t yet ventured to Istanbul, but it’s one to add to the ‘to visit’ list, for sure. I’m in love with Turkish food, and the Blue Mosque looks breathtaking.
June 10, 2012 @ 11:52 AM
You should really go, Istanbul is such a great city! I’ve heard good things about the Turkish coast but we didn’t get to any beaches on our trip. And yes, I have to agree about Turkish food, so good!
A 9 day layover in Istanbul in photos.
October 9, 2012 @ 7:36 AM
[…] Sophia so finally did that. I also did some shopping for me, my family and friends back home at the Grand Bazar and sent a box home full of goodies. Then on my last 2 days in Istanbul… I really just did […]
March 1, 2013 @ 8:54 AM
I just arrived in Istanbul and it is better that I could even imagine..
March 1, 2013 @ 2:38 PM
That’s great Elizabeth! I’m so glad you’re enjoying Istanbul, one of my favorite cities! Have fun!
Sunday Spotlight - Things to Do in Istanbul Turkey
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