9 unmissable things to do in Istanbul from an insider

What to do in Istanbul? Here is the ultimate answer

Istanbul is full of amazing things to do and many places to discover. Here is an ultimate list of the 9 best things to do in Istanbul.

Rent a bike in Büyükada (Prince Islands)

When we think of the best things to do in Istanbul, one of the first things that comes to mind is the Prince Islands, an indispensable destination that makes us feel like we are not in Istanbul. In the Sea of Marmara, not far from the shores of the Anatolian side of Istanbul, you can find three Prince Islands, of which Büyükada is the largest and most popular. You can reach Buyukada by ferries departing daily from Kadikoy, Bostanci, Eminonu or Besiktas. The journey takes between 25 and 90 minutes depending on your departure location. Once you arrive, you can start your sightseeing by buying ice cream from Prinkipo, visiting the small souvenir shops and boutiques, or you can rent a bike and explore the streets, houses and hills of the island as we prefer. Rental bikes with child seats are also available for families with small children. One thing we can guarantee is that you will feel like you have been transported back in time as you pass by the island’s magnificent houses.

Eat a Kumpir (filled potato) when visiting Ortaköy and the famous mosque

Where to stay in Istanbul? Ortaköy

Ortaköy is one of the most beautiful places on the Bosphorus. It offers spectacular views of the Bosphorus Bridge and has a small mosque that you may have seen in many photos of Istanbul. Ortaköy is famous not only for the Ortaköy mosque, but also for its numerous kumpir stands and restaurants. Kumpir is a fast food dish made of large fried potatoes stuffed with butter and cheddar cheese. It is usually served with many toppings such as salami, sausage, corn, corn on the cob, olives, American salad. It is topped with many other ingredients such as pickles, ketchup and mayonnaise. Kumpir is a Turkish street food that you should not miss when you visit Ortaköy. Buy your kumpir prepared with your favorite ingredients from the shops lined up at the entrance of Ortaköy and sit on the benches overlooking the view. We promise that spooning your kumpir by the sea will be an unforgettable experience for every Istanbul visit. 

Eat Fish Bread in Eminönü and visit the Spice Bazaar

Street Food Istanbul - Balik ekmek

Once the most important commercial center of Istanbul, Eminönü is still frequented by a certain local audience for electronics, watches, household goods and clothing. Eminönü is also one of the most popular destinations for tourists. When you arrive in Eminönü, you can buy fish and bread from the ornate boats on the seaside after shopping at the spice and dried nuts shops selling all kinds of spices in the lively Spice Bazaar. After eating your fish and bread with the view of the Galata Tower in front of you, you can watch the fishermen crossing the Galata Bridge or have a drink in the cafes under the bridge. Eminönü has an authentic Istanbul vibe that you should not miss. Be prepared for long queues for Fish Bread, a Turkish street food in high demand by tourists. 

Enjoy the view from the Galata Tower

Where to stay in Istanbul? Galata

Exploring Galata Tower and its surroundings is one of the best activities you can do when visiting Istanbul. Built by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian in 507-508 as the Lighthouse Tower, this fascinating structure is located in the Galata neighborhood of Istanbul’s Beyoğlu district, which dates back at least as far as the Historical Peninsula. Located exactly in the Bereketzade Neighborhood, the tower is not only a historical building, but also the heart of Galata. While you are here, it is impossible not to climb the Galata Tower, one of the most important symbols of Istanbul. You can climb Galata Tower, one of the oldest towers in the world, and enjoy a panoramic view of the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus. 

Shopping in the 3000 shops of the Grand Bazaar

After a stroll in Sultanahmet, it is customary to go to the Grand Bazaar and crown the day with shopping. Dating back to 1461, the Grand Bazaar attracts people like a magnet. With 67 streets and more than 3000 shops, the Grand Bazaar is a huge historical monument and the last surviving representative of the traditional shopping style. You will also find great traditional restaurants and cafes here. Visiting the Grand Bazaar is one of the best things to do in Istanbul for nostalgia lovers. If you want to learn more about the Grand Bazaar, read our full guide on everything you need to know before visiting the Grand Bazaar.

Walking through the nostalgic streets of Fener and Balat

Fener and Balat are two neighborhoods whose popularity has been increasing day by day in recent years. These neighboring districts can be easily visited with a walking tour that will take a few hours. These two districts, which best reflect the Ottoman period of Istanbul, are of great historical importance. Fener and Balat districts represent the mosaic structure of Istanbul with their mosques, churches and synagogues on their neighboring streets. These neighborhoods, which were mostly inhabited by non-Muslim Ottoman citizens in the past and therefore have an important cultural heritage, should be on your list of things to do in Istanbul. Be prepared for many authentic cafes, historic buildings and vintage shops.  

Climbing Pierre Loti Hill by Cable Car

Some tourist attractions in Istanbul are not as well known by tourists as others. Eyüp Sultan and Pierre Loti Hill neighborhoods are some of them. Pierre Loti Hill, located on the Eyüp ridges, is one of the most beautiful places to take photos in Istanbul. Going up Pierre Loti Hill by cable car is one of the activities to do. You can also walk to Pierre Loti Hill from Eyüp Square through the cemetery. You will have an incredible view of the Golden Horn during the whole walk. Pierre Loti Hill is named after Pierre Loti, a French writer and novelist of military origin. During the Ottoman period, the café here was actually called Rabia Hatun Kahvesi. However, after Pierre Loti wrote his novel “Aziyade” here, the cafe and the hill started to be called by his name. As Pierre Loti describes himself in his novel, he fell in love with a married woman here. Pierre Loti Hill is one of the must-see places in Istanbul with its breathtaking view.

Having breakfast with a view of the Bosphorus

Both the Anatolian and European sides of the Bosphorus are very lively on weekends. Breakfast culture has a special place in Turkish cuisine and is more than just a meal. Breakfast is known as a social activity among Turkish people. You can see breakfast gatherings all over the city. Large trays of eggs, sausage, olives, jams and traditional breakfast foods are shared. There are great breakfast opportunities all over the city, but some places are known for having great breakfast restaurants. Neighborhoods such as Galata, Cihangir and Kadıköy have many restaurants serving traditional Turkish breakfast. Beşiktaş is famous for its ‘breakfast street’, a street with many breakfast places and pastry shops side by side. However, no neighborhood can replace having breakfast on the Bosphorus: Bebek, Ortaköy, Kuruçeşme or Sarıyer – all of them are home to some of the best places to enjoy a traditional Turkish breakfast with a view!

Strolling through Istiklal Street and visiting Taksim square

Probably every tourist who has done a little research has come across Taksim and its famous shopping street Istiklal Street. Taksim Square has a history of 280 years and is the center and heart of Istanbul. Taksim Square is the biggest tourist attraction in Istanbul with its hotels, restaurants, cafes, eateries, shops and entertainment centers. Because almost everyone who visits Istanbul has at least one photo taken in Taksim Square. From Taksim Square, you reach Istiklal, the most famous street in Istanbul and even in Turkey. With a total length of 1,400 meters, the street is located between Tünel and Taksim Square in the Beyoğlu district. Istiklal Street has been popular since the late 19th century and is one of the first places you should visit when in Istanbul. Here you will find many local and international shops, cafes and restaurants.

Didn’t book your trip to Istanbul yet?

A city spanning two continents, Istanbul is a destination you should not miss. If you haven’t booked your trip yet, hurry up and grab the best flight deal. Don’t miss our articles on the best places to stay in Istanbul!

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