Things to Do in Istanbul

Istanbul is a city that full of life and an endless list of things to do. The top attractions and activities can be completed in a few days. If staying longer, then keep reading as the Istanbul has more than enough museums, landmarks and places to go sightseeing, along with an intense nightlife that can keep you busy for weeks on end.

Historical Sultanhamet

If you only have time to visit one area of Istanbul, the tourist mecca of Sultanahmet is your stop. Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace are the main highlights, but even they come with extras like Hagia Irene, the Topkapi Harem, Gulhane Park and the Istanbul Archeological Museums.

The massive, underground Basiclla Cistern is an engineering marvel of ancient times adorned with Medusa heads and enormous fish to feed.

Over at Sultahamet Park, you’ll find the Hippodrome open-air museum, the Obelisk of Theodosius, the Blue Mosque, the Museum of Great Palace Mosaics, along with old hammams, fountains, and an artisan bazaar.

If that’s not enough, scattered in between all of that are more parks, museums, historical landmarks, pavilions, castle walls, ruins and tombs for you to visit and photograph.

Whirling Dervish Show

The Whirling dervish (sema) ceremony is an 800-year-old dance with roots in Sufism. The religious ritual is now performed in shows for tourism by followers of Rumi/Mevlana. The dancers movements symbolizes their trying to establish a closer connection with God.

Of the venues to watch a dervish show in Istanbul, the Sunday evening one at the Galata Mevlevi Museum is the most authentic, but limited to just 150 entrants. The dervish show at the Hodjapasha Cultural Center, however, is held nightly and has more a touristy vibe along with a Dervish museum.

The Yenikapi Mevlevi Lodge also allow tourists into their dervish ceremonies and is similar to the Galata Mevlevi, while the shows at the Orient Express Hall at Sirecki Train Station are the cheaper version of the Hodjapasha.

View Istanbul from Above

The panoramic views across Istanbul are something to behold, especially at sunset. An endless stream of tourists can be seen taking photos from the top of Galata Tower during the day and its restaurant at night. The same can be said about the diners in Restaurant 360 and the famous clubs of Sorte and Reina showcase the Bosphorus and Ortakoy at night.

There is no shortage of hills in Istanbul either and so many places like, Camilica Hill and Ulus Park have terrace cafes and scenic picnic areas for all to enjoy. Even the Grand Bazaar has the Mimar Sinan Teras Cafe which overlooks the Bosphorus, while the terraced French Street provides a staircase-styled nightlife complete with couches views and live music.

The Pierre Loti cable car and the panoramic café atop the hill are tourist havens, but those who walk down the hill through the historic Eyup Cemetery can find those perfect and solitary views.

If you want to save your feet on route to the top of Istanbul, then the funiculars are your best bet. The one via the Karakoy-Tunel run takes just 90 seconds to climb up Istiklal Street and offers easy access to Galata or the nostalgic tramway to Taksim Square.

The Taksim-Kabatas funicular ride is only 2.5 and puts you within walking distance of the Dolmahbaçe Palace, and the fast ferry boats to Kadıköy or the Princes’ Island.