Culture is one of the main components of Istanbul’s travel industry. With its 8,500 years of history and culture, Istanbul has consistently stood out and facilitated a large number of guests. In response to this continuing interest today, Istanbul brings together the cultural dynamism of the age with its residents, modern art museums, galleries, streets hosting artists and concert venues, festivals; It offers all the opportunities it has regarding cultural tourism, which permeates every field of art. So what are the activities that you should not leave Istanbul without doing?
Located between two continents, Istanbul offers many choices in terms of activities to be done. However, if you have only a few days to spend in the city, do not skip the top activities in this article. I recommend you to rent a car for an efficient Istanbul tour. Traveling by public transport can tire those with limited time. However, since public transportation is very developed in Istanbul, you can easily reach the central locations by alternatives such as tram, metro, and Metrobus.
Don’t Leave Istanbul Without Doing These on the European Side
- Bosphorus Tour in Ortaköy
Of course, the first thing you need to do in Istanbul is to take a ride on the Bosphorus line. There are numerous alternatives on both the European and Asian sides of the city to see this great excellence that separates the city into two. To visit the best locations of this novel course, you can come to Ortaköy and hop on one of the pontoons beginning the visit from here. Visits from better places, for example, Eminönü and Kadıköy are likewise composed in the city to investigate the Bosphorus, however, as per numerous voyagers, Ortaköy is the best. Besides, heavenly flavors, for example, prepared potatoes and waffles are sitting tight for you here. I think the best thing to do in summer must be a tour of the Bosphorus. When your tour is over, don’t forget to rest and have a drink at Bebek beach.
- Fish & Bread in Eminönü
In Eminönü, one of the oldest districts of the city, you can have a fast and delicious feast from the fish and bread boats on the beach. If you want to visit and explore historical areas, the Spice Bazaar, where you can find various spices, is right here. In my opinion, eating fish and bread in Eminönü is one of the most beautiful things to do in Istanbul in winter. Another thing to do in Eminönü is to buy dried fruits and coffee. Dried nuts sold on the streets of the historical district and Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi’s delicious coffee, which goes back a long way, are the favorite of local and foreign tourists. However, I definitely recommend you to see the bazaars and shops in Eminönü. Especially in Doğubank, you can find most electronic items you are looking for at affordable prices.
- Palace Tours
You should definitely see historical palaces such as Topkapı and Dolmabahçe in Istanbul, which served as the capital of Byzantium and the Ottoman Empire for many years. You can witness the places where the most important events in history took place during your palace tour, where you can also participate in one of the guided tours. Do not forget that you have to spend almost a day to fully visit these palaces, which are spread over a very large area. In the meantime, be sure to have a museum card with you while going to many historical places. So you can enjoy it without paying entrance fees to most places.
- Sultanahmet Tour
After visiting the Topkapı Palace, you can first rest in Gulhane Park and then go down to Sultanahmet Square and see the magnificent Blue Mosque, visit the Hagia Sophia Museum and the Basilica Cistern. You can take lots of photos in these places, each of which is a masterpiece of architecture and art. It is a must in Istanbul. In addition, you can stay in beautiful historical hotels in this region, even for 1 night. However, don’t forget to stop by the Grand Bazaar within walking distance. You can find everything you are looking for in the historical bazaar.
- Enjoying Coffee in Nişantaşı
Nişantaşı, one of the most important districts of Istanbul, is a frequent destination for many local and foreign travel lovers. It is a beautiful district where you can feel like you are in many cities in Europe, not only for shopping but also for walking around the stone streets. Nişantaşı, one of the most beautiful districts of the European side, is one of the best addresses to enjoy Istanbul. Here, you can visit luxury stores and drink your coffee in stylish cafes. If you want to go down to some green areas and walk around the park, Maçka Park, which is right next to it, is among the best options in this regard.
- Tea and Sahlep at Pierre Loti
If you get away from the Bosphorus and come towards the Golden Horn, admirable beauties await you here. Take the cable car to Pierre Loti and order yourself a cup of tea. Especially in the early morning hours or in the evening before the sun goes down, you cannot get enough of the view from here. You can even get lost in the footsteps of the historical region by descending from Pierre Loti to the Golden Horn and walking all the way to Eminönü.
- Photography in Balat
Balat was not one of the popular places in recent years. But whatever happened, it was one of the most curious places in 2019. With its cute cafes, historical buildings, and colorful houses, it is a place where you should spare at least half a day. Especially, it is one of the most beautiful neighborhoods to take photos in Istanbul. It is a full photographic place. If you ask me, Balat is one of the places that must be visited on the weekend in Istanbul. Don’t forget to see the antique shops and live auctions.
- Journey to History in Galata
Galata Tower, known to have been built during the Genoese period, is located in the immediate vicinity of İstiklal Caddesi and Beyoğlu. You can have your meal at the restaurant located in the tower where Hezarfen Ahmet Çelebi flew down to Üsküdar or you can go here just to watch the view. Galata is also one of the increasingly active centers of the city in recent years. You can visit the galleries open nearby, shop at boutiques, or taste some of the city’s most delicious coffees. And at the end of the day, you can stay in the beautiful hotels of the Galata Region.
- Walking in Taksim
If you ask what to do in Istanbul, probably 90 out of 100 people will somehow direct you to Taksim. Actually, I wrote this part on purpose. Since it is one of the spots in Istanbul that never shuts off and one of the spots that outsiders appreciate. Without a Taksim, Istanbul cannot be complete. Concerning Taksim, You can walk around Istiklal Street, participate in an introduction at the Istanbul Modern Art Museum, or visit exhibitions, for instance, the Museum of Innocence or the Pera Museum. In Taksim, where religious shrines are also sided by side, you can stop by the Church of St. Anthony. However, you can visit Madame Tussauds Museum, which is among the places to visit in 2020 and one of the popular museums of recent years. In this museum, you can see wax sculptures of different artists/celebrities from all over the world.
Don’t Leave Istanbul Without Doing These on the Asian Side
- Istanbul from Camlica Hill
In order to fully understand Istanbul and see the city from above, be sure to go to Camlica Hill in a winter month. Watch the European side of Istanbul, which is under the snow, first. Since its location will be on the Anatolian side, you can start your trip on this side from Çamlıca. The historical peninsula would be on your left. I am not even talking about the beautiful Bosphorus view in front of you.
- Scenery View in Moda
If you go to the Anatolian side with one of the ferries that you can take from places such as Beşiktaş and Eminönü, you should definitely stop by Moda, which is one of the most beautiful districts of the city and is located in the immediate vicinity of Kadıköy. With its tea gardens, parks, and tranquil atmosphere along the beach, Moda is literally a corner of peace. This region is one of the favorite places in Istanbul to live in.
- Visit the Islands
Comprising of various islands like Heybeli Ada, Büyükada, Kınalı Ada, and Burgaz Ada, the Istanbul islands are otherwise called Prince Islands. The purpose behind this is their utilization as outcast spots for Byzantine rulers long ago. Nowadays, islands became a top choice of guests, particularly in hot seasons, with their verifiable houses and special marvels. To visit them, you should use ships from the other side of the Bosphorus. Be prepared to sacrifice one whole day for this visit. Islands are calm spots to go particularly with youngsters, yet I recommend you to visit on non-weekend days rather than at the end of the week.
- Tour in Bagdat Street
Bagdat Street which is one of the longest streets of Turkey is one of the places worth seeing on the Anatolian side. Cafes and restaurants located on the street, where you can find the most famous brands in the world, make it a center of attraction with delicious eating and drinking alternatives at all hours of the day. If you descend from the street towards the coast, you can take a walk in places such as Caddebostan, Suadiye, and Fenerbahçe against the magnificent view of the island. After a stroll on Bağdat Street, you can go to Kadıköy and end the day by chatting with your friends in one of the many places here.
- Enjoying Maiden’s Tower
The Maiden’s Tower, which is an absolute necessity for Istanbul, is entirely agreeable with its nightfall and the perspective on the Historical Peninsula, particularly in the late spring evening. You can value a dazzling perspective by looking against the chronicled legend of numerous years and feeling the awesome breeze of the Bosphorus. You can even show up at the Maiden’s Tower by vessels and have dinner. I can say with significant serenity that it is one of the most wonderful stops to go with your sweetheart, particularly in Istanbul.
Don’t Ever Leave Istanbul Without Diving into the History
- Take the ferry from Kadıköy to Beşiktaş
Taking one of the ferries operating between two continents is undoubtedly a very beautiful, cheap, and enjoyable activity that can be done in Istanbul. If you are on the Anatolian side, you should view the Haydarpaşa Train Station, Dolmabahçe and Topkapı Palaces, as well as Galata Tower, and other palaces on the coasts of the sea until you get on the ferry riding from Kadıköy to Beşiktaş and arrive in Beşiktaş. If you are on the European side, this time you can enjoy the same line by getting on Beşiktaş. Do not forget to buy bagels and throw them to the seagulls before you get on the ferry.
- Eat baked potatoes overlooking Ortaköy Mosque
When you say Istanbul, the first sight that comes to mind is the view that includes the Ortaköy Mosque and the Bosphorus Bridge. One of the must-haves of activities in Istanbul is to take your baked potato prepared with the ingredients you like from the baked potato makers lined up at the entrance of Ortaköy, relax and spoon your baked potatoes. It is also very enjoyable to sip your tea while playing backgammon in the cafes in this region or to feed the pigeons in the square.
- Tour Emirgan Grove during the tulip season
Visiting Emirgan Grove, especially during the Tulip season in April and May, is one of the most visually fascinating activities to be held in Istanbul. Emirgan Grove is one of the green and forested places preferred by Istanbulites who want to escape from the chaos of Istanbul on the weekend and leave the arms of nature. In Emirgan Grove and Park, you can take wonderful photos with colorful flowers, tulips in the season, trees with special motifs, and the Bosphorus view, you can have a picnic, enjoy breakfast in one of the 3 mansions, or enjoy eating and drinking at other meals.
- Explore Istiklal Avenue
Istiklal Avenue in the Beyoglu district is one of Istanbul’s oldest areas, is one of Turkey’s busiest and most famous streets. The street, which has preserved its fame since the 19th century, stretches between Tünel and Taksim Square. People from different countries create cultural mosaic on this street. Tourists who come to Istanbul for sightseeing prefer to stay in hotels close to İstiklal Street.
Here you can shop as you wish and find a cafe to sit when you get tired. The street where people of all ethnic backgrounds go and visit has an attitude that fascinates everyone. Istiklal Avenue becomes colorful every day with friends, families, and lovers in arms. This street, where loves are lived and loves end, has not neglected to be a source of inspiration for many people. He decorated the lines of poems that have been the subject of songs. İstiklal Avenue is a summary of the unspeakable Istanbul. It makes you feel like you. If you cannot decide what to do on your weekend, you can choose Istiklal Avenue.
- Go to Galata Tower
Galata Tower shows itself all alone in all that chaos and crowd in Pera, one of the most chaotic regions of Istanbul. It appears and disappears at the end of each street extending from Karaköy to İstiklal Street. Or, on a ferry ride, it winks like a pearl ruby in all those ugly concrete chunks that it’s there. It is a little troubled, too. As if it is longing for his old days. Unless you visit the tower and look at Istanbul through his eyes, Istanbul is actually not Istanbul. It still commemorates Hazerfan, winking at the ships passing through the Bosphorus, and standing quietly in the heart of Istanbul, like an old confidant that you will lean on despite all the past experiences. Go to the tower after all these stories.
- Visit the Spice Bazaar
The Spice Bazaar is an arcade, made in the classical Ottoman style, consisting of a combination of two bazaars with its feature of being the “Double Bazaar”. The Spice Bazaar was built in the “L” plan scheme with successive rows of stones and bricks in the Ottoman Classical style. The branches of these two bazaars that join by giving the “L” plan scheme are longer in the east-west direction. At the point where the long and short sides meet, there is a prayer square covered with a cross vault. The arches carrying the vault were not attached to the walls, instead of bearing legs were used. There is a clerk lodge next to the southeast one of these pillars. The main entrances of the Spice Bazaar are the entrances at the ends of the two major branches. The entrances at the ends of these two large branches are two-story structures with six porticoes. In addition, the door of the bazaar opening to Tahmis Street has a portico and two floors. Apart from this main entrance, the other two entrances are opposite each other.
- Go to Rahmi Koç Museum
When you reach Eminönü, you can meet the Rahmi Koç Museum, one of the most beautiful museums in Istanbul. You can visit the nostalgic Fenerbahce ferry, ride the historical tram and train, and browse classic cars in the Rahmi Koc Museum which was opened in 1994 with the support of businessman Rahmi Koc and which is the first major museum dedicated to the history of the industry, transport, and communications.
- Browse miniature works in Miniatürk
It is conceivable to venture out from Galata Tower to Hagia Sophia, from Sümela Monastery to Rumeli Fortress, from Selimiye Mosque to Safranbolu Houses, from Amasya Yalıboyu Houses to the Ruins of Nemrut Mountain, or wave to Beylerbeyi Mansion while crossing the Bosphorus Bridge on foot in Miniatürk, a miniature artifact park displaying 128 models from Turkey and Ottoman geography.
- Take a photo of the sultan in costume at the Basilica Cistern
A visit to the Historic Peninsula is a must for activities to be held in Istanbul. You can also visit the incredible water storage from the Byzantine time frame, called the Basilica Palace, and sit on the throne of the sultan and the sultan wearing Ottoman clothes and take photos. It’s guaranteed to have fun while taking photos 🙂
- Be enchanted by the architecture of the 8th wonder of the world, Hagia Sophia Museum
Visiting Hagia Sophia, one of the leading architectural wonders in the world with its style and structure, as well as its dizzying dome and incredible mosaics is one of the most beautiful activities to be done in Istanbul. Hagia Sophia is the 8th wonder of the world as it is a museum with a really huge number of visitors every year.
Don’t Leave Istanbul Without Visiting These Museums
- Istanbul Modern Art Museum
Istanbul Modern Art Museum is a museum that houses interdisciplinary activities and aims to transport Turkey’s artistic creativity to the masses and share the cultural identity of Turkey with the international art scene. As the first private museum to organize modern and contemporary art exhibitions in Turkey, in 2004, on the shores of the Bosphorus, it was founded on an area of 8,000 square meters. It offers a versatile service area with its temporary and permanent exhibition halls, photo gallery, video, educational and social programs, library, cinema, café, and design store.
- Chora Museum
The Chora Museum, which takes its name from the Greek word Khora, meaning outside the city (rural area), is among the best-preserved Byzantine works to date. The church, whose construction coincided with the 5th century, was used as a palace chapel in important religious ceremonies. Mosaics and frescoes in Chora are the most lovely instances of the last time of Byzantine artistic creation. Chora was utilized as a church after the victory of Istanbul in 1453, it was changed over into a mosque by Vizier Hadim Ali Pasha in 1511. It was converted into a museum in 1945, and the mosaics and frescoes made by the American Byzantine Institute between 1948-1958 were uncovered.
- Istanbul Archeology Museum
The Istanbul Archeology Museum is one of the largest museums in the world, with more than one million works belonging to various cultures. It is built in the 19th century. The museum has a different aspect though; Istanbul Archeology Museums comprise three exhibition halls: The prehistoric studies Museum, Ancient Oriental Works Museum, and Enameled Kiosk Museum.
The Old Oriental Works Museum, which was built in 1883 by Osman Hamdi Bey is the first Sanayi-i Nefise Mektebi (Academy of Fine Arts) in Turkey. On the other hand, the Enameled Kiosk Museum was built by Fatih Sultan Mehmet in 1472 as a summer mansion and was chosen as the richest and most important Museum of Turkey in Europe in 1992 where it is awarded as the “Museum of the Year” by the Council of Europe in the competition, in which 45 museums participated.
- Sakıp Sabancı Museum
Sabancı University Sakıp Sabancı Museum is in Emirgan, probably the most seasoned settlement of the Bosphorus, in Istanbul. The Atlı Köşk, which was used as a permanent residence by Sakıp Sabancı in 1966, hosted Sakıp Sabancı’s rich calligraphy and painting collection for many years and was allocated to Sabancı University in 1998 to be converted into a museum with the collections and items it contains.
- Istanbul Maritime Museum
Istanbul Maritime Museum which is Turkey’s largest museum in the maritime field is one of the world’s leading museums in terms of the diversity of the collection it includes. There are approximately 20,000 works in his collection. Maritime Museum, which is connected to the Navy, was the first military museum established in Turkey. The main exhibition building has 3 floors and 4 large halls and 17 rooms in the building are used as exhibition areas.
- Ancient Oriental Works Museum
In the Museum of Ancient Orient within the Archeology Museum, cultural artifacts brought from the Ottoman rule Egypt and the Middle East countries and findings of Anatolian civilizations before the First World War are exhibited. The museum, which contains artifacts from Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Anatolian cultures, as well as items from the Ancient and New Sumerian ages, also has a very rich, rare cuneiform collection of 70 thousand plates.
- Dogancay Museum
Dogancay Museum, Turkey’s first museum of contemporary art, opened doors to the public in 2004. The museum, located in a 150-year-old five-story historical building in Beyoğlu, displays the works of Adil Doğançay with a small retrospective of his son’s, Burhan Doğançay’s works. The works of the artist in the museum cover his fifty years of artistic development, starting with his early figurative paintings, to his works and photographs inspired by the city walls.
- Divan Literature Museum
Divan Literature Museum, built on the hunting farm of Beylerbeyi İskender Pasha in 1491, has been an important center of science and literature circles for many years in the Ottoman period. Many people gathered around the Mevlevihanes studied in many branches of fine arts and made a long talk of themselves in the scientific field. The Mevlevihane, located at the beginning of the slope that goes down to Yüksekkaldırım in Beyoğlu district, is the oldest Mevlevihane in Istanbul. The Mevlevihane built as a complex; It consists of dervish cells, sheik’s office, and sultan’s hall, bacılar section, library, a public fountain, timing room, kitchen, tombs, and treasury.
- Warehouse Museum
During the expropriation of palaces and mansions, which are important architectural works of the Ottoman Empire, items that were taken to the warehouses because they could not find a place in the new decorations, are now exhibited at the Warehouse Museum. Objects belonging to crystal-glass and metal tableware, weapons, various writing sets, porcelain, old telephones, cinema machines, kitchen equipment, heating tools, curtain cornices, silk fabrics, and cushions are exhibited in the museum. Periodical exhibitions are featured in the Dolmabahçe Art Gallery affiliated with the museum.
- Press Museum
In the halls of the Press Museum, it is possible to observe the evolution of press technology from the beginning. You can make a nostalgic trip among lithography samples, flat printing machine, rotary letterpress enterotype, proofing benches, guillotine, old typewriters, telexes, telephotos for free.
- Atatürk Museum
Mustafa Kemal’s house, where he lived from 1918 when he left the Syrian front after World War I and came to Istanbul until May 16, 1919, when he moved to Samsun, has been serving as the “Atatürk Museum” since 1942. In the museum, Atatürk’s personal belongings and documents related to the War of Independence, as well as the works of various painters on Atatürk and the National Struggle are exhibited.
- Military Museum
Approximately 5,000 works selected from more than 45,000 items are exhibited in the Military Museum. There are various weapons, military clothes, tents, flags, and banners, and similar military cultural assets in the collection, which is grouped from different angles such as period and subject. Among these, there are rifles, guns, cannons, and swords that constitute beautiful examples of wood and metal decoration art, armor, shields, and helmets with their elegant ornaments and inscriptions, golden tombacs that emphasize the glory of the Ottoman army, and the most precious examples of Ottoman palace tents.
- TÜRVAK Theater Museum
At the museum, there are posters, brochures, and photographs of the theater groups signed payrolls, masks and play accessories, the accessory box used by Darülbedayi in their tours, Ottoman and Turkish flyers, tickets, and invitations. In addition to the examples of our traditional theater, the Ortaoyunu Department, Akbank Culture Collection Karagöz and Hacivat characters, Darülbedayi Tepebaşı Drama Stage Hall interior and exterior models, the play costumes of artists such as the State Theater, Altan Erbulak, and Jeyan Tözüm, and portraits of our living and separated theater people can be seen here. There are sections that shed light on the history of the theater, where the individual belongings and private documents of Muhsin Ertuğrul, who took the role of pioneering the institutional and academic identity of our theater as well.