Things to do in Istanbul

Whether you fancy getting lost in a bazaar of epic proportions or simply getting lost in history, you’ll be spoilt for choice in Istanbul. Best of all, the quality experiences don’t start and end with the main attractions. After you’ve seen the Blue Mosque, Grand Bazaar, Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia and Galata, there’s still much more to explore.

You must also check out Eyüp, a supremely religious neighbourhood at the far end of the Golden Horn in Istanbul. Fridays are pretty epic here when people gather at the mosque to pray. There are also ‘pre-circumcision’ parties where boys dress up in costumes that make them look like Indian maharajas. Just outside the mosque is a square packed with delicious bakeries. Stop by, try a Turkish treat, listen to the call to prayer 5 times a day, and do a little people watching here.

Still hungry? Grab a kumpir (a baked potato with loads of delicious fillings) in Ortaköy. In this neighbourhood you’ll find loads of market stalls, but make a beeline for Potato Alley for a takeaway kumpir and chow down under the Bosphorus Bridge with the local families. Another popular local thing to do is play tavla (backgammon) while smoking a hookah (shisha or waterpipe) and drinking tea. Head to a shisha café for flavoured tobacco like apple and strawberry inhaled through a pipe.

Love to shop? Bargaining is part of the culture here. Souvenirs to snap up at the bazaars to take home include beautiful textiles, ceramic pottery tiles, silver jewellery, Turkish slippers and traditional tea sets. For streets of style, head to high-end Nişantaşi, boho Galatasaray and the neighbourhood of Galata for emerging local designers.

The list of good times to be had in Istanbul is endless, but here are our top 5 things to do.

Hagia Sophia

Translating as the ‘Church of Divine Wisdom’, Hagia Sophia was built in 537AD at the order of Emperor Justinian. It was known as the greatest of all Christendom churches until the 1453 conquest.

Topkapi Palace

Istanbul’s ancient Ottoman palace displays opulence and colourful history at every turn. It’s also where you’ll find one of the most famous relics in the Muslim world – the clock and sword of the Prophet Mohammed.

Grand Bazaar

This labyrinthine marketplace in Istanbul offers possibly one of the most exciting shopping experiences in the world with its 60 streets, 5,000 shops and crowds of up to 400,000 people daily.


A historic area located on the northern shore of the Golden Horn inlet, which separates it from the old Constantinople, Galata is home to the famous Galata Tower and Galata Bridge, one of many bridges crossing the Golden Horn.

Basilica Cistern

Back in the day when the Byzantine emperors ruled, they sure didn't do things by halves when it came to building. Built in 532AD, the extraordinary Basilica Cistern (sunken palace) lies beneath the city of Istanbul.