The distant sound of prayers will wake you up in the morning, the smell of spices will fill your afternoon and soulful dance of dervish will brighten your evening! Turkish metropolitan city Istanbul is the bridge between Europe and Asia. Here you will find an amalgamation of both worlds which even the Bosphorus can’t separate.. Continue reading for our list of top 15 amazing things to do in Istanbul…
Read Also: Are you wondering if Turkey is a safe country? Read our post on First Impressions of Turkey and learn more about safety and much more.
15 Amazing Things to do in Istanbul:
1. Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Mosque):
In our opinion, this is the prettiest mosque of all. The tile work on the wall is so intricate and the lighting makes the hall look glamorous. The entry is free for everyone however ladies need to cover themselves completely. Carry a scarf and wear jeans. You can borrow a scarf and long skirt at the site if needed.
2. Aya Sofia:
Just opposite the Sultanahmet Mosque is this another grand mosque. It was once a cathedral, then a mosque and now a museum. We couldn’t go inside as the day we had planned our visit, the mosque was closed. There is an entry fee though. In case you are a museum person, you should definitely visit. Raga had visited Aya Sofia during his last visit to Istanbul and the interiors are just as glamorous.
3. Dolmabahçe palace:
Our original plan was to visit Tupki palace but again, it was closed on the day we had planned our visit. Our hotel manager suggested Dolmabahçe palace instead and we are so glad he did.. The palace is grand and it reminded us so much of our visit to Buckingham palace.. We were specifically impressed by the grand hall part of the palace. Such a huge structure and decorated with magnificent paintings..
The entrance to the palace is divided into two parts Selamlik and Harem. You can get tickets for either of the sections or a combined one for both. Combined ticket* for both Selamlik and Harem costs 60 liras per person but you can choose to go to just one of them. Ticket for just Selamlik (official part of the palace) is 40 liras and for only Harem (residential part of the palace) is 30 liras. Also, it is not allowed to take photographs inside the palace.
*Rates are true of December 2017.
4. Grand Bazar:
Grand Bazar seems to have been renovated since Raga visit back in 2011. It’s a closed market area where you will find all kinds of traders or shops selling Turkish delights to souvenirs, gold ornaments, and anything & everything. If you look up, you will notice old traditional painting on the dome. Personally we were more impressed by the Moroccan souks as it felt much more colourful and lively. However, if you haven’t experienced a traditional bazar setup you should definitely add this place on your list.
5. Spice Market:
If you walk about a Kilometre from the Grand Bazar, you will find yourself in another tradition market place set up called the Spice Market. As soon as you enter this market, you will be hit by a blast of fragrances from a variety of spices and tea. This smell will definitely leave a lasting impression on you.. Don’t be shy of entering into a spice shop and exploring their huge variety of tea collection. Some of them have a beautiful smell and others have medicinal properties. We bought Jasmine (very expensive) and pomegranate tea and can’t wait to drink them when we get back to Irish winter.
Ortakoy is nice location along the Bosphorus where you can easily spend a couple of hours in the afternoon.. There are a lot of nice restaurants around that area where you can grab some lunch. Chase some pigeons, taste street food (you will find loads of street shops selling loaded potatoes) and watch the sun go down!
7. Bosphorus cruises:
You can take this cruise from various locations for example from near the spice market or Dolmabahçe palace or Ortakoy. They charge anywhere between 12-20 lira per person for an hour cruising on Bosphorus. Don’t go there to learn about the sites but to just enjoy your time watching the city sail by. A sea of sea gulls will fly around the cruise boat the entire time making it a very fun experience.. We enjoyed the experience and it should be a must do on your list as well..
Check out our blog for 15 amazing things to do in Istanbul! One of the experiences was cruising on the Bosphorus.. Turkey is a transcontinental country and the Bosphorus bridge connects Asia and Europe! Cruising on the strait gave us a feeling of being somewhere at the intersection of both continents….
8. Dervish dance:
Let me begin by saying that this experience is not for everyone. You can easily get bored and could even fall asleep. The dervish dance is the dance of the soul and a very spiritual experience. It’s accompanied by very slow, soft Sufi music. I was extremely impressed by the ceremony and it definitely left a lasting impression on me.. The Dervishes looked so peaceful and were extremely synchronised the entire time.. I would rate this as one of my most memorable experiences from Istanbul and Turkey! We booked our show at Hodjapasha and it costed us 70 liras per person.
9. Turkish hamam:
We couldn’t do this in Turkey as we fell short of time, but Raga had experienced this during his last trip to Turkey. Turkish hamam is a very traditional experience where you undergo a vigorous cleaning process by the masseuse. They will scrub you so hard that even the dirt from your previous incarnation would come off.. Do experience it if you get a chance.
10. Baklavas and Turkish Delight:
This is unlike any of the cheap variety of sweets you would have had elsewhere. The sweets here in Istanbul are not very sugary (if you go to a better looking shop) and have nice flavours to them. Raga packed so many of these from different shops and we are slowly munching on them.
11. Munch on dried fruits:
You will find dried fruits from pistachios to dried apple all around Istanbul. Shops are usually overflowing with a variety of treats and flavours. They are really yummy and a very healthy snack to munch on. I love pistachios and we packed so many of these..
12. Turkish Ice-cream:
Get teased by the ice cream vendor as he prepares your cone. He will make you want the ice cream more and more. The ice cream itself is very difficult than the usual variety (its more sticky and don’t melt easily) and extremely delicious.
13. Street food:
There are a variety of street food options available all around and it’s a must try. Get some hot roasted chestnuts, corn cobs, overloaded potatoes (stalls found in Ortakoy), Künefe (experience this only in a small local restaurant – a sweet made of vermicelli and cheese). So delicious..
14. Turkish coffee & tea:
It’s a must to experience the Turkish coffee and Tea when in Istanbul. Both are served in very small cups in size similar to espresso. The Turkish kahvesi (coffee) comes with water and Turkish delight on the side. You are supposed to have the water first to clean your pallet, then drink the coffee and in the end have the Turkish delight. The Turkish cay (tea) comes in various flavours but the original one would be very similar to as a strong version of green tea.
15. Dinning with view:
Seven Hills Restaurant makes it on the list only because of the view it offers. The roof top restaurant is placed in such a strategic location that you can see the mosques on one side and the strait on the other. Order a cup of coffee and some snacks and enjoy some time clicking creative aerial view photos for your Instagram.
Bonus photography tip: Go to Sultanahment Mosque early in the morning (an hour before the opening hours), if you want to get snaps in skirts and without the headscarf. Since the mosque is closed, the guards are not very strict and you can roam around freely. We found this out just by chance and were tad bit late, so missed out on the opportunity.
Check out our Accommodation and Transportation Guide in Istanbul
We are still not done writing about Istanbul. Check out our Transportation and Accommodation Guide in Istanbul because trust us you will want to know all about the taxi scam and ways to reach airport. This post has all the practical information that will help you plan your trip!
For now, leaving you with some more pictures from our collection.