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10 Things To Do In Istanbul (And Turkey In General) From My 4-Day Trip

Updated: May 12

While I've covered my 10-Day Turkey trip in details in a separate post, Istanbul deserves its own verbiage. One of the most exciting capital cities in the world, Istanbul is like no other. For starters, it's the only city in the world that falls across two continents - Asia and Europe.

While the Asia part of it has overtones of an Islamic culture with mosques, bazaars, spices and a shadows of glorious history of the Ottoman empire, the European side lends itself into cobblestoned alleys, western style cafes, modern dressing and some of the best clubs in the world.

Insofar as things to do in Istanbul, since this was a work-cum-leisure trip, I spent most of my time in a boardroom in a boutique hotel discussing future plans and strategies by day and explored Istanbul in the after-hours. Istanbul like most capitals is a city that you explore at leisure, without an agenda or a checklist of things to "see", walk around, settle yourself at one of the slew of cafes and enjoy some Turkish coffee or the delicious local food. But still, if I had to, here's my list of 10 Things To Do In Istanbul.

1. Do a walking tour of Old Istanbul

Walking tour of Old Istanbul

Just like in Europe, walking tours help you orient with the city, get a sense of directions and figure out what's what -- even if you barely manage to hear your tour guide's monologue on the history and significance of the place. A walking tour of old city of Istanbul would take you right past the important monuments of the Ottoman era clustered around the Sultanahmet area like the Roman Hippodrome, the sprawling and impressive Blue Mosque,  Harem Baths and the iconic Hagia Sophia. You can pick up some fresh fruit, Turkish delights and a freshly-baked Simit bread to make your walking tour even more fun.

2. Go inside Hagia Sofia, the church turned mosque turned museum turned mosque again

Inside Hagia Sofia Mosque Istanbul

Even though the Blue Mosque or officially the Sultan Ahmed Mosque is more impressive from an architecture point of view, the Hagia Sophia has come to be an icon of Istanbul due to largely its mind-boggling history! The Hagia Sophia was originally built as a church in the Byzantine era in 5th century AD, damaged by a fire, rebuilt, damaged again by an earthquake, rebuilt, converted into a mosque nearly 1000 years under Constantinople's invasion, then a museum, and since 2020, a functional mosque again! Phew. Once you've wrapped your head around its twisted background and admired it from the outside go inside and marvel at its obviously Church-like interiors forcibly made to look like a mosque with Islamic signage. Irrespective of its sordid history and your own personal faith, the energy inside is powerful to sit and meditate and soak it all in for a few minutes.

3. Eat a vegetarian Gozleme made live by a Turkish grandma

Turkish ladies make Gozleme live through a shop window

As you walk around the busy shopping area, picking up knick-knacks and souvenirs, you'll come across a curious site of adorable geriatric ladies cooking live behind the glass shopfronts, almost as a tourist attraction, and they are. But they're worth it as they specialise in a dish called Gozleme which are flat breads (like the Indian Paranthas) stuffed with cheese, spinach or other fillings.) Dine on it or have one to go! (which is what I did throughout my trip.)

4. Do a yacht trip over the Bosphorus

yacht ride Istanbul

Istanbul is home to a body of water called the Bosphorus that connects the Asian and Europe parts and gives passage to trading and warships connecting major ports of the world. One can take the public ferry or if you're feeling fancy, like we were, go on a private 3-4 hour yacht ride with wine and snacks.

During our time, due to its being too cold and windy, we were confined to the insides of the Yacht but still was a breathtaking sight to see Istanbul glitter from across the blue sea with the Blue mosque and Hagia Sofia towering over it.

5. Savour a coffee and Sheesha at a cafe overlooking the an iconic mosque

rooftop Cafe with view Istanbul

We discovered a great place called the Nova Santiye Cafe (click here for location) in the busy market and grabbed a table on its rooftop for its amazing view! One one side we had the beautiful Sultania mosque up close and on the other, the entire Harbour with a peek of the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque). You can even get a photo clicked in Traditional Turkish clothes and on Turkish carpet-laid seating for an additional fees for the 'gram!

6. Get a hamam bath

Turkey is famous for its ancient hamams or royal bath houses where royalty was pampered silly with beauty treatments, massages and baths. A lot of them still operate and new ones have sprung up. Make sure to book an appointment to get yourself a royal hamam bath. Prices range from $50 to $200 for a one-hour sesh.

7. Climb the Galata tower

Galata tower street Istanbul

Crossing the Galata bridge over the harbour, taking in the smell of the sea interspersed with the smell of sizzling kebabs and freshly baked bread will take you the Galata Tower. While I didn't go all the way up to Galata, I hear the views from the 200-feet, 1000-year old tall medieval tower are stunning. Even without going up, you can enjoy a view of the tower by sitting in the Beyoglu street at one of the many hip cafes that cater to the young college crowds of Istanbul than the tourists. It's here where the famous Salt Bae's restaurant is located too.

8. Shoot your shot at the colourful houses in Balat

One of the hipper and local areas in Istanbul, Balat is straight out of Instagram rows of European style colourful houses. The Kiremet street is home to a lot of hip cafes and even more Reel-makers. Go shoot your shot and get some amazing pictures for the 'gram.

9. Get a hot pot meal at one of the restaurants in Sultanahmet

vegetarian Turkish meal in Istanbul

Istanbul is home to thousands of cafes and restaurants and finding a good meal from any cuisine is easy peasy. However on our first night, we walked into a restaurant called Last Ottoman which spoiled us with options. As a vegetarian, I had a one-pot grilled veggie meal with lots of delicious vegetables cooked live on a coal-stove with some theatrics by the chef! The food was paired with freshly baked Turkish breads, a glass of 'Rake' that Turkish liquor, and a free portion of Baclava as a dessert!

10. Shop at the Grand Bazaar and buy some Sumac, Turkish delights, evil eye charms, and pottery

Grand Bazaar Turkey

Unlike the Khan El Khalili market that I mentioned on my Egypt trip itinerary, Istanbul's Grand Bazaar is a massive indoor market with arches and mosaic work if with similar offerings. On offer are colourful lamps and lanterns, Turkish pottery and ceramic ware, Turkish rugs, souvenirs, clothes, spices, sweets including the famous "Turkish Delight" and a whole host of other goodies. Just before the Grand Bazaar is a more functional market with budget clothes, linen and lingerie which caters more to the locals than tourists.

Full of history, culture, colours, great food, shopping, 3 days in Istanbul can keep one thoroughly busy and buzzed.


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 I (Monica) am a lifelong traveler, (40 countries), sustainability and veganism advocate, and a marketer by profession. I'm old school in that I still like to blog and document rather than shoot and post.

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