Top 10 Things to Do in Istanbul

top 10 istanbul

Turkey was one of my favorite stops on my 90 day travel adventure. I was so excited to go there and it exceeded all of my expectations. It was such an easy place to travel with so many different things to do. Turkish food is amazing, Turkish people are so warm and welcoming. And Istanbul was the perfect place to start my 3 month journey.

My coworker visited Turkey during the holidays, inspiring a little wanderlust envy, and was talking all about it. Then I saw this amazing video about Turkey which is seriously one of the most beautiful and creative travel videos I’ve ever seen. Ever since then, I’ve been remembering all of my favorite experiences from Istanbul. There are so many awesome things to do in the historical city, so picking just 10 was hard. But on this list, is my top 10 experiences in Istanbul.

1. Eat street food

Istanbul is a foodie city. There are so many delicious options to try, and you can find them right on the street. Me and Sam really enjoyed just exploring and eating whatever we saw or smelled. I really loved the kebabs, either chicken or meat, because it was such a comfort food. But you can’t go wrong with kumpir or soggy hamburgers! And of course the sweets. There are tons of little bakeries were you can just walk in and buy a single piece of baklava or pistachio dessert. YUM!

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2. Visit the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia

I’m such a sight-seeing tourist. I enjoy seeing historical sights and famous landmarks. And Istanbul is full of them! There is so much history here and it has (amazingly) preserved so much of it over the years. I was particularly impressed with Hagia Sophia, which was the largest building in the world for nearly 1,000 years. And just across the street is the Blue Mosque, which is still a working mosque. The tile work, colors and murals in both mosques were so striking and beautiful, but may be dwarfed by the sheer size of these structures.

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3. Ride the Street Car

It’s so easy to get around in Istanbul, and I was shocked by how many people spoke English. Plus if you get lost, people will definitely help you out! My favorite way to explore the city was the street car. It goes from the airport into the city, and covers lots of different areas. It’s easy to figure out and you pay before you get on, so you don’t have to worry about holding people up. And then at each stop, the map will list the famous landmarks and sites at the stop. It’s like it was designed for touring the city! Although it closes at midnight, it’s still a great resource for getting around Istanbul.

4. Relax in a Turkish Hammam

Now this experience might not be for everyone, but I loved it! A hammam is a traditional spa and who doesn’t love being pampered for a day. I went to the Hagia Sofia traditional hammam right in the center of the Sultanahmet neighborhood. It was so luxurious! You can choose to get any number of treatments, but the body scrub and Turkish bathing experience is the most traditional choice. The employees get up close and personal, so get ready to bare it all. But I felt so relaxed afterwards. Plus, I did an oil massage and left with the softest, baby-bottom skin I’ve ever had.

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5. Buy Turkish delights

A classic desert in the Euro-Middle Eastern country, Turkish delights are a must try. Starch and sugar are the basic components but you can get a range of different flavors. Try whichever sound good to you! I was a fan of the pistachio and nut varieties, but same really like the fruit and ginger flavors. I really enjoyed the ones near the Spice Market, but you can get them anywhere.

6. Cruise the Bosporus

Istanbul is so unique because half the city is in Europe and the other half is in Asia. It is spli down the middle by the famous Bosporus straight. And I’m a sucker for boats, so Sam and I did not miss an opportunity to cruise on the Bosporus. We opted for the longer half day tour, which took us all the way up to the black sea. The view from the water are lovely and you can really appreciate all the unique architecture and minarets the litter the skyline of Istanbul. Plus, you can stop for a lovely waterside lunch near the black sea, complete with fresh fish of your choice!

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7. Shop along Istikal Avenue

A famous pedestrian area, Istikal Avenue is a great spot for people watching at night. I was truly amazed by the sheer amount of people that pass through this mile long stretch. No matter what time of the day you’re there (believe me, we went in the middle of the day and the middle of the night), it will be lively! It’s lined with shops, mostly chain stores, as well as restaurants, coffee shops, and turkish delight stands. Explore a few of the side streets nearby for some of the best restaurants and bars in town. There’s a street car that rides up the middle if your feet get tired, and tons of street performers to keep you entertained. Leave yourself some time to wander around, because I guarantee you’ll be allured by this place.

8. Drink freshly squeezed juice

One of the first things you’ll notice on the streets of Istanbul is all the fruit juice sellers. They’re on nearly every corner. Now don’t just walk by, stop and try some! They’re all super fresh and you can watch them press the fruit right in front of you. Sam and I got juice nearly every day and tried an assortment. The pomegranate is super intense, very sour, but I really enjoyed the blood orange flavor. Lemon was another popular choice and will leave you feeling super cleansed!

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9. Shop in the Grand Bazaar

Any reader of my blog knows I’m no stranger to a good shopping experience, especially when it comes to handcrafts and unique foreign art. It get’s me everytime! The Grand Bazaar in downtown Turkey is truly a sight to see, even for those who don’t like shopping. Be prepared for crowds and haggling, but you can see the widest assortment of handcrafts I think I’ve ever experienced. Turkish lamps, handcrafted scarves, silver jewelry, perfumes. You name it, it’s there! Definitely budget an afternoon in your schedule to check out this place.

10. Take in the views from the Galata Tower

Even though the lines can get long, going up to the top of the Galata Tower is worth it. I recommend getting there in the morning around when it opens, so you don’t have to spend too long waiting. You take the speedy elevator up to the top, and be greeted by 360 views of the city. If you get hungry, there’s a restaurant up there too! It was beautiful being able to see what a unique geography the city has and admire all the traffic, buildings and boats the traverse this stretch of city.

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Author: Megan Arz

I am a travel and food obsessed Midwesterner living in Chicago and dreaming of the world. I work as a full-time program manager for Greenheart Travel, but I am also committed to integrating the travel lifestyle into my every day routines. I am passionate about ethical travel, meeting new people, creating unique memories and eating local cuisine!

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