Istanbul was the first stop on our recent European Adventure, and it didn’t disappoint! This city spans two continents, Europe and Asia, and is definitely not short of things to do. From the main sights, to the less expected, from the food, to exploring the streets, Istanbul is exploding with things to experience. Here our 35 things to do in Istanbul…
Things To Do In Istanbul
1. Drink A Traditional Turkish Tea (Cay)
I’m not a huge coffee or black tea drinker. But they are different all over the world, so I always try. Turkish coffee wasn’t my cup of tea ;) … but the Turkish tea was! They come in cute little tulip shaped glasses, and are small enough to have a few each day with a cube of sugar. Walking the streets you will see many Turkish men sitting, drinking tea and playing backgammon.
2. Be Mesmerised By Hagia Sophia
This was one of my favourite sights of Istanbul. It’s a religious building that has seen 3 different religions over it’s history: pagan, Christian and Islam. It’s a beautiful structure to look at and you can see refletions of all three relgions throughout. Make sure you go upstairs (it’s easy to miss).
3. Go Underground At The Basilica Cistern
Just across the road you will find the Basilica Cistern. A beautiful cistern under the city of Istanbul. Surrounded by glistening waters and what could be mistaken for candlelight, it’s easy to forget it’s just a place to store water.
4. Try A Kebab
You can’t really escape this, if you want to eat, it’s pretty easy to find a kebab (or Kebap as they call it) anywhere. They taste nice, but are different to what we are use to in Australia. They are much drier with the flavours coming from the meat, spices and oils rather then from sauces. Our favourite Kebab was from Durumzade (thanks to a great recommendation from Anthony Bourdain)
5. Taste The Ice Cream
We got off the plane at 7.30am, by 10.30am we were on Istiklal street, buying an ice cream. I had heard about the ice cream having a stringy texture and couldn’t wait to try. I didn’t expect the big show that came with the ice cream, which you have to experience once but made me think twice about buying an ice cream the next time. You will see what I mean…
6. Walk The City Walls
There are lots of points to see the city walls in Istanbul. It’s amazing to think there was a time where Istanbul was a walled city. I love thinking about the history of places, especially coming from Australia, where we live in such a young country. You can walk ontop of the walls for a little way, but we only walked a short way as it was pouring rain and windy.
7. Grand Bazaar
Grand is definitely the right word to describe the Grand Bazaar. When I first walked in, it did look big, but I thought nothing off it. It wasn’t until we had to meet Chris’ family at the “front”, that we realized the enormity of this place.
8. Take In The View From Galata Tower
9. Walk Across The Galata Bridge
After you finish with Galata Tower you can walk over the Galata Bridge, with it’s fisherman up top, and its restaurants below.
10. Have A Fresh Squeezed Juice
These are everywhere and are pretty tasty! From pomegranate to orange juice and lots of things in between.
11. Try Lahmacun
Lahmacun is a traditional Turkish pizza, topped with minced meat and herbs, with a dash of lemon squeezed on top. Yum!
12. Get An Awesome Cat Photo
Istanbul is the land of stray cats. They are everywhere. But I’m not sure if stray is the right word. They are more “community cats”. They may not have a home, but they seem well looked after. You will find people putting bowls of food and water out for them, and a lot of them look well groomed and friendly. So four day’s into our time in Istanbul, it just so happened that some of our best photo’s were of… cats.
13. Visit The Blue Mosque
One of the most well-known sights in Istanbul, and although beautiful, it was very busy inside.
14. Take A Peek At The Chora Church
The Chora Church isn’t right in the centre of things, but can be reached by a 10 minute taxi from Sultanahmet. Much smaller than other sights in Istanbul, but depicts the Byzantine era. At the time we visited some parts were closed for renovations, and being a small church already we found it a little disappointing. But perhaps it is different when completely open, as we have heard many people speak highly of this historic gem.
15. Walk, Shop Or Just Experience Istiklal Street
We stayed right near Istiklal and there were people here no matter what time of day, although much busier at night. If you want to beat the crowds go early morning, but you have to experience the crowds too! Istiklal is lined with shops and restaurants, and is a must on any trip to Istanbul.
16. Have Some Borek For Breakfast
Just writing this makes me hungry for some Borek! Borek is a filo pastry often filled with cheese or meat (the savoury type), but my favourite was the sweet borek, with a little bit of icing sugar sprinkled on top (ok…a lot)!
17. Take In The Surrounding Locals And Culture
18. Find The Rainbow Stairs
Apparently painted just to create a sense of “happiness”, you can find these if you get of the tram at Findikli Station and walk towards Tophane.
19. Clean Up At A Turkish Bath
This was on the top of our list of things to do, but as you will find out, there is so much to do in Istanbul, that by the time we left, we didn’t even realise we had completely forgotten about it. The only thing on our list we didn’t do, but we left it on as it would be a unique experience… if your up for it!
20. Take A Ride On The Tunel Funicular
Running for more then 139 years, the Tunel will take you from the end of Istiklal Street to Karakoy.
21. Check Out Taksim Square
Sometimes the place for protests, but when we were there it seemed peaceful. A large open space filled with people, lots of birds and Simit vendors, right at the top of Istiklal Street.
22. See Istiklal Street From The Red Tram
Another way to see Istiklal Street is from the little red tram that runs up and down.
23. Look Around The Spice Bazaar
The spice bazaar not only has spices, but cheeses, meats, and Turksih delight to name a few. Definitely worth a look… and a taste!
24. Eat A Stuffed Eggplant
My first experience of a stuffed eggplant was having it put in front of me for free in a restaurant. Not having ordered it, and not being told what it was, at first I wondered if I was about to bite into liver. I was pleasantly surprised when it turned out to be an eggplant stuffed with this spicy, tomato rice, that was delicious.
25. Admire the Diverse Buildings And Architecture
You can marvel at some of the amazing structures in Istanbul, but I was also fascinated but some of the unique homes and buildings that were much less grand. From the Blue Mosque, to Hagia Sophia, to the mansions along the Bosphorus to the buildings and homes crammed in with each other, In Istanbul, there is always something to look at.
26. Discover The Street Art
27. Taste The street Food
Simit (bread like pretzel), roasted chestnuts, charcoaled corn, borek, lahmacun and stuffed mussels to name a few! So much to eat in Istanbul!
28. Get A View From Up High
29. But Don’t Forget To Look Down
30. Let Time Pass You By In A Park
I was surprised by the parks and open spaces in Istanbul. A great way to unwind after a hectic day of sightseeing.
31. Take A Ferry To The Asian Side
It’s only short ferry ride to cross continents! Kadikoy is a great place to start, with it’s great food markets and streets that aren’t filled with tourists. A great way to spend half a day or a day in Istanbul.
32.Have A Mezze Plate
Often served with hummus, eggplant dip, grilled sweet peppers, stuffed eggplant or a range of other small plates and bread, a mezze plate can be a great snack or a light dinner (here are some great recipes from The Perennial Plate).
33. Walk The Streets Without A Map
Get lost and love it! Find some back streets and keep going. I love doing this in the early morning, when most people are sleeping or just rising. You get an entirely different look at things.
34. Cruise Down The Bosphorus
We did a full day tour down the Bosphorus and loved it. From the scenery to the village stop to the mansions that line the Bosphorus, you will see a different side to Istanbul and it’s surrounds.
35. Watch The Sunset Over The Buildings And Chimney Tops Of Istanbul
So there it is, 35 things to do in Istanbul!