Istanbul, Turkey: A Traveler’s Guide

Istanbul is a city with a rich history and culture, and it’s no wonder that it’s a popular destination for travelers from all over the world. In this guide, I’ll share with you some of the top things to do and see in Istanbul, as well as an unusual tip that you might not find in other travel guides. Istanbul is a city that has a lot to offer for travelers, whether you’re interested in history, culture, or just taking in the sights and sounds of a vibrant and bustling city. Here are some of the top things to do and see in Istanbul.

Outdoor activities

Istanbul is a city that's best explored on foot, and fortunately, there are plenty of outdoor activities that allow you to do just that. In this section, we'll take a look at two of the best outdoor activities in Istanbul - a walk along the historic city walls and a cruise along the Bosphorus.

Take a Bosphorus Cruise

Take a Bosphorus Cruise

Istanbul is a city that straddles two continents, and one of the best ways to see both sides is to take a Bosphorus cruise. The Bosphorus is the narrow strait that separates Europe from Asia, and a cruise will take you past some of the city’s most famous landmarks, including the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia, and the Topkapi Palace. You can take a public ferry for a budget option or a private boat tour for a more luxurious experience. Sunset or nighttime cruises can be especially beautiful and romantic.

Walk around the Princes’ Islands

The Princes’ Islands are a group of nine small islands off the coast of Istanbul, and they make for a great day trip if you want to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. The islands are car-free, so you can rent a bike or take a horse-drawn carriage to explore the beautiful scenery and charming villages. Büyükada is the largest and most popular of the islands, but the smaller ones like Kınalıada and Burgazada are also worth visiting.

Princes' Islands

Must See Places

Istanbul is home to some of the most impressive historic sites and cultural landmarks in the world. In this section, we'll highlight two must-see places that you absolutely cannot miss - the Hagia Sophia and the Grand Bazaar.

Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia

The Hagia Sophia is one of Istanbul’s most famous landmarks, and for good reason. Originally built as a church in the 6th century, it was later converted into a mosque and then into a museum. Recently, it was converted back into a mosque, so it’s currently closed for renovation work, but it’s still a sight to behold from the outside. Its massive dome and intricate mosaics are a testament to the city’s rich history and architectural prowess.

Topkapi Palace

The Topkapi Palace was once the residence of the Ottoman sultans and is now a museum. It’s a sprawling complex that includes not only the palace itself, but also gardens, courtyards, and a harem. Some of the most famous objects in the palace’s collection include the Topkapi Dagger and the Spoonmaker Diamond, which are on display in the Treasury. Be sure to set aside plenty of time to explore this fascinating piece of history.

Topkapi Palace

Unusual Tip

To really get a sense of Istanbul's unique character and culture, it's important to step off the beaten path and explore the city like a local. In this section, we'll share one unusual tip for experiencing Istanbul like a true local.

Visit a Turkish Bath

Visit a Turkish Bath

A Turkish bath, or hammam, is a unique cultural experience that you won’t find in many other places in the world. It’s a traditional way to relax and cleanse the body, and there are several historic hammams in Istanbul that you can visit. One of the most famous is the Çemberlitaş Hamamı, which was built in the 16th century. The experience can be a bit intimidating if you’re not used to being scrubbed down by a stranger, but it’s definitely worth trying at least once.

Hidden Wonders

For travelers looking for off-the-beaten-path experiences, Istanbul has plenty of hidden gems waiting to be discovered. In this section, we'll explore two top places in Istanbul from Atlas Obscura - the Basilica Cistern and SALT Galata.

Basilica Cistern

The Basilica Cistern is an ancient underground water storage system that was built in the 6th century. It’s located right in the heart of Istanbul, near the Hagia Sophia, and it’s a fascinating glimpse into the city’s history. The cistern is supported by 336 columns, many of which were salvaged from other buildings, and it’s lit by atmospheric lighting that makes for some great photo opportunities.

Basilica Cistern
SALT Galata

SALT Galata

SALT Galata is a contemporary art gallery that’s housed in a former Ottoman bank building. The space itself is a work of art, with high ceilings, ornate ironwork, and a beautiful central staircase. The gallery hosts a rotating roster of exhibitions, as well as workshops, talks, and other events. It’s a great place to experience Istanbul’s vibrant contemporary art scene.

SALT Galata

Accommodation Suggestions

Whether you're traveling on a budget or looking for a luxurious stay, Istanbul has a wide range of accommodations to suit every traveler. In this section, we'll offer four accommodation suggestions in various budgets, from budget-friendly hostels to luxurious five-star hotels.

Budget:

Cheers Lighthouse Hostel – This budget-friendly hostel is located in the historic district of Beyoğlu, within walking distance of many of Istanbul’s top attractions. The hostel offers both dormitory-style and private rooms, as well as a rooftop terrace with great views of the city. Prices start at around $10 per night for a dorm bed.

Mid-range:

Hotel Amira Istanbul – This boutique hotel is located in the historic district of Sultanahmet, just a short walk from the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. The hotel offers comfortable and stylish rooms, as well as a Turkish bath and a rooftop terrace with panoramic views of the city. Prices start at around $100 per night.

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High-end:

Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at the Bosphorus – This luxurious hotel is located on the shores of the Bosphorus, offering stunning views of the water and the city. The hotel features spacious rooms and suites, an outdoor pool, a spa, and several dining options, including a restaurant housed in a historic Ottoman mansion. Prices start at around $600 per night.

Luxury:

Ciragan Palace Kempinski Istanbul – This iconic hotel is housed in a 19th-century Ottoman palace, offering a glimpse into the city’s rich history and culture. The hotel features opulent rooms and suites, a spa, an infinity pool overlooking the Bosphorus, and several restaurants and bars. Prices start at around $900 per night.

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Istanbul is a city that offers a unique blend of ancient history, stunning architecture, and vibrant culture. From the historic city walls to the bustling Grand Bazaar, there’s no shortage of must-see attractions in Istanbul. But the city also has plenty of hidden gems waiting to be discovered, such as the Basilica Cistern and SALT Galata. And to really experience Istanbul like a local, be sure to step off the beaten path and explore the city’s neighborhoods and markets. With a wide range of accommodations to suit every budget, there’s no reason not to plan your visit to Istanbul today!

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