Things to do in
Istanbul

East meets West, Byzantine meets Ottoman, bustling meets leafy — Istanbul is full of eclectic surprises.

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Our most recommended things to do in Istanbul

Istanbul: Bosphorus Music and Dinner Cruise w/ Private Table

1. Istanbul: Bosphorus Music and Dinner Cruise w/ Private Table

Join a sightseeing dinner cruise along the Bosphorus Strait. Enjoy a welcome cocktail and dine with live entertainment. Pass some of Istanbul's most famous monuments, including Dolmabahçe Palace. Cruise between Europe and Asia and pass under the Bosphorus Bridge and Fatih Sultan Mehmed Bridge. See the summer palaces of the Ottoman sultans, including Dolmabahçe Palace and Beylerbeyi Palace. Admire the fortifications of Rumeli Castle and Anatolian Castle, and marvel at the mansions that line both coastlines. Watch live folk dances from the regions of Turkey, be seduced by a belly dancer, and relax to international music played by the on-board DJ.

The Whirling Dervishes Show at the HodjaPasha Culture Center

2. The Whirling Dervishes Show at the HodjaPasha Culture Center

Watch a magnificent 1-hour show of the Mevlevi Sema ceremony at the HodjaPasha Culture Center in central Istanbul and witness the miracle of the whirling dances and dervishes. Dating back 800 years, the show represents in thrilling fashion the idea that everything in the universe, from atoms, to the solar system, to the blood that circulates in the body, revolves. Sema is a spiritual journey that the soul makes to God as it becomes mature and attains unity. After the journey, it returns to its life and to serve humankind again. This thrilling program begins with a classical Turkish music concert, followed by the Sema ceremony, comprised of 7 parts. Watch in wonder as the whirling dervishes and sheikh take their place and praise the Prophet Mohammed. Following the chant, a drum voice is heard and all 7 parts unfold, - the ceremony climaxes when the extraordinary whirling dervishes revolve to represent the birth of humanity. The Sema ends with a Fâtiha for the souls of all prophets, martyrs, and believers, and a prayer for the salvation of the country. Chosen as the best authentic local event in 2010 by the Federation of Tourist Guides in Turkey, this fantastic show takes place in the fantastic HodjaPasha Culture Center, which is a restored 550-year-old Ottoman Turkish bath in Sultanahmet-Sirkeci.

Istanbul: Bosphorus Sunset Cruise on a Luxurious Yacht

3. Istanbul: Bosphorus Sunset Cruise on a Luxurious Yacht

A sunset on the water is an amazing way to end your cruise experience and an equally amazing way to start your evening. Whether it is to impress that special someone with a picture-perfect moment or just to appreciate a great time with great friends, a sunset cruise is something everyone will remember.  Few places in the world are as mesmerizing as Istanbul in the setting sun. Aboard an elegant yacht, drinking traditional Turkish drinks, and nibbling on canapés and fruit from tastefully arranged platters, glide by palaces and minarets as you sail along the Bosphorus. When dusk sets in, a soothing breeze arrives from the Sea of Marmara and the sky over the city puts on a colorful show, tinted with shades of orange and rose. The muezzin calls from a towering minaret. Majestic palaces and villas standstill along the strait’s banks, as if nothing has changed over a millennium. Breathe in the legacy of ancient Byzantium, Constantinople, and mighty Ottoman Empire with each breath of fresh salty air. Kick back and ride gentle waves on the comfort of a yacht. Watch the city and its iconic landmarks pass by, which is the perfect way to unwind after a busy day of sightseeing. The tour starts at Kabatas Pier and ends at Karakoy Pier.

Istanbul: Bosphorus Night Dinner Cruise

4. Istanbul: Bosphorus Night Dinner Cruise

You will be picked up from your hotel between 7:00 PM and 8:00 PM and taken to the cruise ship in the Bosphorus Strait. Once you board the ship you will sail up the Bosphorus, the waterway between Europe and Asia, passing under the suspension bridges and viewing Ottoman summer palaces, waterside mansions and modern villas which line the European and Asian coasts. When you board enjoy a welcome cocktail before dinner as well as ten different cold starters. For dinner, you will be served a fresh seasonal salad before your main. You will have three options for dinner: grilled fish with scallion garden rocket mashed potatoes, and lemon, or grilled chicken steak with rick and mashed potatoes, or grilled meatballs with rice and mashed potatoes. Throughout dinner, you will be able to enjoy unlimited non-alcoholic local (or optional unlimited alcoholic) drinks. After your entree, you will be served dessert and can enjoy coffee or tea.  Onboard you will not only enjoy dinner and the stunning views of the city but have plenty of entertainment. There will be an Anatolian folk team onboard and you will get to watch a traditional Turkish musical performance known as Katibim. You will also get to watch a performance by two male dancers known as Asuk Masuk, and belly dancers perform. You will also get to enjoy live music onboard, as well as a Turkish Romany dance and a dance party. After taking in the sights, enjoying dinner and watching the shows you will be taken back to your hotel at midnight.

Istanbul: Bosphorus Boat Cruise with Dinner & Entertainment

5. Istanbul: Bosphorus Boat Cruise with Dinner & Entertainment

Your tour begins with pickup at your Istanbul hotel between 19:00 and 20:00. When you board the cruise ship you’ll enjoy a complimentary welcome drink that you can enjoy along with the live music. Relax and get ready to enjoy an evening cruising along the Bosphorus Strait. Your cruise follows a route that passes historical sites, including Ottoman palaces, and stunning bridges illuminated by night. For dinner, you can choose from a fish or meat main course on a menu that features 3 courses. While you enjoy your meal you’ll be entertained by traditional belly dancing, a henna ceremony, a Romany dance, folk dancing, a live DJ, and an asuk-masuk show. You’ll be picked up and transferred back to your hotel, arriving by midnight.

Istanbul: 1-Day Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus Tour with Commentary

6. Istanbul: 1-Day Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus Tour with Commentary

Explore the beautiful city of Istanbul at your own pace with this hop-on-hop-off bus ticket including audio commentary in 8 languages. Your ticket is valid for 1 day and will let you spend more time discovering the highlights that most interest you. Jump aboard your double decker bus and enjoy a tour designed for those who want flexibility during their sightseeing exploration of Istanbul. With additional commentary from your audioguide, you will learn interesting facts about key sights whilst savoring delicious complimentary snacks on board. During the route you can stop at locations like Sultanahmet Square, Eminönü, Karaköy, Galataport, Dolmabahçe Palace, Naval Museum, Beylerbeyi Palace, Taksim Square, Beşiktaş Bazaar, Şişhane, and Egyptian Spice Bazaar.

Best of Istanbul in 1 Day

7. Best of Istanbul in 1 Day

You will start at the old Hippodrome of Constantinople which was the sports and social center of the old city. Discover major works of art including the Obelisk from Egypt, the Serpentine Column from Delphi, and the fountain of Willhelm II, constructed by the Germans. From there, continue to the Blue Mosque, whose six minarets are a key fixture of Istanbul’s skyline. Next, head for the Topkapi Palace, which was home to the Ottoman emperors between the 15th and 19th centuries. Marvel at the jewel-stuffed treasury and priceless displays of Oriental porcelain. Move on to the Hagia Sophia Mosque. Behold the dome and stunning Byzantine mosaics of this architectural gem as your guide recounts its turbulent history. Then visit the Grand Bazaar with over 3,000 shops selling everything from carpets to jewelry to ceramics and leather goods. Also stroll around the Spice Bazaar with its incredible smell from almost every spice imaginable, as well as dried fruits and nuts, sweets and the ubiquitous Turkish Delight.

Istanbul: Topkapi Palace Skip-the-Line Ticket & Audio Guide

8. Istanbul: Topkapi Palace Skip-the-Line Ticket & Audio Guide

Take the shortest way into the glorious Topkapi Palace of Istanbul. Choose the time that suits you best, meet your host in front of the museum, and go directly to the entrance. You can save up to 2 or 3 hours by not standing in the famous lines. Following security checks, receive a brief introduction as to what to see inside, including the council hall, arms and armory section, or holy relics. Afterward, enjoy the palace at your own pace. You can enjoy a long coffee break in-between looking over a spectacular view of the Bosphorus. It is possible to see all of the palace within one hour, or you can choose to stay inside for several hours at your leisure. After your 30 minute-tour with your guide, you can stay inside the museum as long as you would like.

Istanbul: Hagia Sophia, Topkapi & Basilica Combo Ticket

9. Istanbul: Hagia Sophia, Topkapi & Basilica Combo Ticket

After signing up for this experience, your name will be on the list for each of the monuments for 3 days. Be free to visit at the available times, gathering at the meeting points in front of the museums to skip the line with an authorized host. You can choose to visit all 3 museums in 1 day, or the three of them separately on different days. Once inside the museums, get tips on how to discover the museums in the best way. Afterward, you can stroll through the museums at your own pace as you listen to your audio guide app and explore for as long as you like. If you have any questions about the Hagia Sophia, the Topkapi Palace, the Cisterna Basilica, or Istanbul in general, please do not hesitate to ask your host.

İstanbul Welcome Card

10. İstanbul Welcome Card

When you arrive in Istanbul your welcome package will be waiting at your hotel. Inside the package, find your card loaded with 10 rides for public transportation and vouchers to join the Bosphorus Cruise, Hagia Sophia, Basilica Cistern, and Topkapi Palace tours. Skip the lines and explore the Hagia Sophia, Basilica Cistern, and the Topkapi Palace with a historian guide. Have fun on a cruise along the Bosphorus and witness breathtaking views over the shimmering waters of Istanbul's magnificent river. See bridges, palaces, fortresses, seaside residences and, many other historical places. Travel around the city with 10 transportation tickets including metro, tram, ferry, funicular, bus, and metrobus. Take advantage of numerous discounts at many top attractions across the city and discover museums with the included audio guides at your own pace.

Frequently asked questions about Istanbul

What top attractions are a must-see in Istanbul?

Planning Your Visit

  • How many days?

    Istanbul is a cartographical labyrinth with sights and experiences awaiting you round every corner. How long to stay depends on how immersed you want to get, but a week should be enough to cover the most famous attractions.

  • How to get from the airport to the city?

    Havataş Shuttle Buses are available from outside the terminal and leave every half an hour for Taksim between 4:00AM and 1:00AM. Taking a taxi is, however, the most convenient way, and shouldn't be more expensive than the shuttle service between a group of four. Be sure to ignore the hustlers inside the airport and take an official vehicle from the taxi rank at the terminal exit.

  • Where to stay?

    The key touristic areas are Fatih and Taksim, and which to stay in depends on the nature of your stay. Fatih is the old town and home to many of Istanbul's historic landmarks. Taksim, on the other hand, is modern and appeals more to those visiting the city to shop, dine, and party. Traveling between the two is simple, so don't worry if you fancy hitting the dancefloors after the Hagia Sophia!

Good to know

  • Language
    Turkish
  • Currency
    Turkish Lira (₺)
  • Time Zone
    UTC (+02:00)
  • Country Code
    +90
  • Best time to visit
    The weather is good at all times of the year, but it may be a good idea to avoid the summer if you do not like extreme heat.

Other Sightseeing Options in Istanbul

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What people are saying about Istanbul

Overall rating

4.3 / 5

based on 13,628 reviews

What a great tour! Exactly what I was expecting but actually it even Exceeded my expectations. The group was small, there were only 5 of us including Saleh, our guide. I was on my own and didn’t know the other participants but they turned out to be nice and sociable people. Saleh - our guide - was very knowledgable with good people skills, had plenty of interesting stories to tell about the places we visited and included everyone in conversations. We tried so many different delicacies, mainly in the Asian Market, that towards the end of the tour I started falling asleep due to the amount of food I tried ( I definitely wasn’t bored!). The tour ended in a local shisha place in Sultanahmet, the ambience and history of the place was extraordinary. Overall a great tour - highly recommend it. One tip though if you’re planning to attend - don’t eat anything at least 4 hours before as you’ll need plenty of free space in your belly!

The whole experience was amazing! The monument is magnificent, the guide was polite and explaining enough and he was speaking slowly and everything was understandable. Still he was not talking all the time so that you could be able to enjoy the energy and the tour. I especially enjoyed the explanation in concern to converting the orthodox church to mosque. The history and the energy of this place are inspiring and if there is one ‘must see place’, i would highly recommend that one.

Everything was great. We met with our guide on the meeting point, and then started the tour. He introduced us with all important and interesting details from the beginning until the very end of our tour. We saw all 4 courtyards of the Topkapi Palace, and then the Harem section. Amazing experience!

Prompt, polite, knowledgeable guide. Great overview of site, and good introduction to key areas. Time left at end to explore further or to re-visit areas of interest.

My guide to the Hagia Sophia was extremely knowledgeable and never made me feel rushed.