I have to admit, right from the beginning, that Istanbul is one of my favorite cities in the world. I have traveled a lot, on three continents, and I still consider Istanbul one of the best places I have visited. It is not only because there are a lot of things to do in Istanbul, but the city has a unique vibe and atmosphere, and gave me a feeling I never had before.
No matter which season you arrive in Istanbul, you will be fascinated by the city. After the first day spent there, I simple fell in love with this city, a mix between the European culture and the Asian one, so similar, but so different from everything I knew before. Here are the coolest things to do in Istanbul, I totally recommend you:
Visit the Blue Mosque
A visit to the Blue Mosque is one of the most important things to do in Istanbul. Actually, I’ve been in Istanbul three times already, and every time I visit the mosque. I like to admire the 20.000 shimmering blue tiles, the stained glass windows, the Muslims praying. The entrance is free, but make sure you are dressed appropriately when you visit it. Also, keep in mind that it is closed for tourists during the praying hours.
Go to Aya Sofia
The ancient cathedral was transformed into a museum and you can visit it any day. During the time, it was a church and a mosque as well, so you can admire inside an interesting mix of both religions. The cathedral was built when Istanbul was known as Constantinople, so you can see and learn a lot about Istanbul’s history. The entrance ticket is about 10 Euro, but it is definitely one of the must things to do in Istanbul.
Cross the Galata Bridge
It is one of the most important bridges in Istanbul, and catching a sunset here is a must. There are walkways on both sides, and you can find cafes and restaurants here. However, if you don’t want to spend a lot of money, I recommend you to try the fish at the end of the bridge: fresh, cooked in front of you, it is one of the best meals I had in Istanbul.
Admire the views from the Galata Tower
The Galata Tower is one of Istanbul’s symbols, and I strongly recommend you to visit it. The views from the tower are incredible: it is one of the few places in Istanbul that gives you a 360 degrees view over the city. In my opinion, it is one of the things to do in Istanbul you cannot miss.
The Topkapi Palace
If you want to see how sultans were living, visit the Topkapi Palace. It is one of the oldest palaces in the world, and you can admire the rooms where sultans lived every day. It is a maze between the party rooms, the bedrooms of the wives and concubines, and the praying rooms, but it can be an interesting experience. The tickets might be pricy, but I consider worth it. Make sure you are ready to spend there at least 3-4 hours, because there are a lot of things to do in Istanbul’s most famous palace.
Go shopping at the Grand Bazaar
The Grand Bazaar of Istanbul is probably the first shopping mall in the world. However, it is still one of the largest shopping areas in the world, so you must pay a visit to it. I am sure it will overcome your expectation: it is that big that we got lost three or four times, so make sure you always stay with your friend. You can find everything at the bazar, from clothes and jewelry, to souvenirs and food.
The Spice Bazaar
Visiting the Spice Bazaar is one of the things to do in Istanbul that I am sure you will love. It smells so good inside that I didn’t want to leave. From tea and spices to sweet, you will find them all in the Spice Bazaar. The sellers are extremely friendly and they will give you a lot of things of taste, but still: make sure you bargain with them before you buy anything. It is a Turkish habit!
Take a boat to Asia
If you’ve never been to Asia, you have to do it now! Istanbul is the only city in the world on two continents, so this is the perfect occasion to visit two continents on one day! Take a boat to Bosphorus and enjoy the ride! Once you arrive on the Asian part of the city, you will notice the differences. However, I liked this part as well, even if it is not that touristic. Make sure you eat a wet burger here; it is simply delicious!
Try a Hammam
The traditional Turkish bath, Hamman, is one of the oldest ways to relax in Turkey, and one of the things to do in Istanbul you definitely must try. Make sure you find a traditional, old bath, and you will have one of the best experienced of your life. We managed to go after the closing hours, so they let us (girls and guys) go together. Wrapped in cotton towels, two Turkish men washed, rubbed and massaged us for more than an hour. At the end, we got Turkish tea from the house.
Nargile and Turkish Tea
Your visit in Istanbul cannot be complete without a night in a special nargile place. You can find them in any bar or restaurant, and they come in infinite aromas and flavors. You cannot drink anything else but black tea. Believe it, it is one of the things to do in Istanbul that you will want to take home with you!