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

The Whirling Dervishes Show at the HodjaPasha Culture Center

1. 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 Music and Dinner Cruise w/ Private Table

2. 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.

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

5. 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.

Istanbul: Dolmabahçe Palace Admission and Guided Tour

6. Istanbul: Dolmabahçe Palace Admission and Guided Tour

Explore Dolmabahçe Palace - the biggest royal residence of the sultans and the imperial family of the Ottoman Empire. Meet your licensed English-speaking guide outside the monument and enter with your skip-the-line admission ticket. Begin a guided tour of the stunning interiors. Learn about how the palace was built by the orders of Sultan Abdülmecid I and opened in 1856. Admire the greatest collection of Baccarat and Bohemian chandeliers on the planet, including the biggest Bohemian chandelier ever. Marvel at the vast collection gold inside, specifically on the ornate ceilings.  As you continue the tour, learn about the distinct differences between the Dolmabahçe Palace and the Topkapı Palace - for example, the architectural style and the way that the furniture was used. Find out about how the Dolmabahçe Palace was the last headquarter of the empire and was served until 1922. At the end of your one hour tour, you can explore Imperial Harem and Paint Museum on your own freely, without a guide.

Hagia Sophia: Entry with Guided Tour

7. Hagia Sophia: Entry with Guided Tour

Meet with your professional local guide in front of Hagia Sophia. Hear a short history of the Old City then start the Hagia Sophia Tour.  Your guide will explain the mystery of the magnificent Hagia Sophia. Hagia Sophia is a great architectural beauty and an important monument both for the Byzantine and the Ottoman Empires. Once a church, later a mosque, and now a museum at the Turkish Republic, Hagia Sophia has always been a precious building. 

From Istanbul: 2-Day Trip to Cappadocia with Flights

8. From Istanbul: 2-Day Trip to Cappadocia with Flights

Get an insider’s view of Cappadocia’s most iconic spots on an all-inclusive trip from Istanbul. Walk in the land of fairy chimneys. Hear commentary from your guide along the way about fascinating sites like Goreme Open Air Museum, Avanos Village, Uchisar, Avanos, Underground Cities, Ortahisar, and Pasabag. Day 1: Flight to Kayseri and Fairy Chimneys of Cappadocia Catch your domestic flight to Kayseri. Start with a visit to the Goreme Open Air Museum, a cave city in the Goreme Valley. See rock-cut churches, kitchens, and wineries left from Anatolian Christians. Gaze at Byzantine frescos at this UNESCO World Heritage Site and learn about its history. Next, make your way to Devrent Valley, famous for its animal-shaped rocks. See a rock pillar that looks like the Virgin Mary, holding Jesus Christ. Continue to Pasabagi Valley or Monks Valley to enjoy the wonderful landscape. Make your way to Avanos Village, the region known for its pottery, silk, wool and carpet weaving, wine cultivation, and agriculture. See the natural as well as human-made masterpieces of this charming old town. Savor a typical Turkish lunch. Experience pottery-making with local experts. After treating yourself to a hearty lunch, continue to Goreme Panorama, for views of fairy chimneys, which are tall rock formations with caps on top. Make the most of your time in Cappadocia by visiting Uchisar. Get to the top of the rock castle in the center of the town, the highest point of the region, a perfect vantage point for a panoramic view of the stunning Cappadocian landscape. After sightseeing, be driven to your hotel. Spend the night in Cappadocia in a special class cave hotel. Day 2: Underground Cities Of Cappadocia and Flight to Istanbul Start your day with breakfast at the hotel. After check-out, embark on a full-day tour. Visit Rose and Red Valley, an incredibly unique area of Cappadocia with sharp ridges, tinted in pink, especially during sunset. Go off the beaten path to visit Cavusin. See its famous rock churches. Next, enjoy a tour of Pigeon Valley, named after the countless man-made dovecotes or pigeon houses carved into the soft volcanic tuff. Walk through a picturesque maze of rock formations. Then, go down to the world of underground cities. Once a refuge for 15000 Christians, these settlements were of enormous value to the development of Christianity. Witness the ancient bedrooms, church, meeting hall, and food storage rooms in this 8-story city connected by 30 kilometers of corridors and passageways. Continue the tour with Ortahisar, famous for its friendly inhabitants, picturesque stone houses, narrow streets, and lovely churches. See the famous castle-like rock formation standing dominantly over the town. After the tour, be driven to Kayseri Airport for your domestic flight to Istanbul. Upon arrival, be greeted by your driver and return to your hotel.

Istanbul: Bosphorus Cruise with Audio App

9. Istanbul: Bosphorus Cruise with Audio App

Take part in one of the best Bosphorus Cruise in Istanbul and admire the cosmopolitan city from a completely different perspective while enjoying the beautiful views of the Orient and the Occident at the same time. The Bosphorus is 32km long, separates Europe from Asia and connects the Marmara Sea to the Black Sea. Cruise along the Bosphorus between Asia and Europe and discover Istanbul tourist attractions, magnificent palaces, ancient castles, and other historical sites, as well as fine seaside residences and the Bosphorus bridge. Historical places you will see from the distance include Galata Tower, Topkapı Palace, Hagia Sophia, and Blue Mosque. Furthermore, you will have a glance at the spectacular pieces of authentic civic architecture on the European and Asian coast.

Istanbul: Bosphorus Sightseeing Cruise from the Old City

10. Istanbul: Bosphorus Sightseeing Cruise from the Old City

A Bosphorus cruise is one of the best things to do in Istanbul. Get on the boat and start discovering the long waterway which separates Europe and Asia. Discover Istanbul’s main attractions, including magnificent palaces, ancient castles and famous hills and parks, as well as spectacular seaside residences from different centuries while passing under famous bridges. You will start your tour from the Old City in Eminönü and cruise along the European side until the 2nd Bosphorus bridge and return back along the Asian coast. You will pass by Dolmabahce Palace, Ciragan Palace, Ortaköy Mosque, Bosphorus Bridge, Rumeli Fortress and Beylerbeyi Palace. You will aslo get to see some historical landmarks from a distance such as Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Maiden Tower, and Galata Tower. 

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.