Top Ten: Top Ten Things to do in Istanbul

The 2010 Culture Capital of Europe which narrowly missed out on hosting the 2020 Olympic Games after city-wide demonstrations mid-2013, Istanbul is still the jewel in Turkey’s crown and a hot spot for tourists from across the world. And rightly so considering its majestic past as home to three great empires and unique position sprawled across two continents. If you are heading out to Istanbul here is our list of top ten things to do in this bustling cosmopolis.


The Bosphorus


It is not uncommon for a city to have a river running through it. There is London and the Thames, Paris and the Sein and Budapest and the Danube to name a few. But a city that has a sea running through it? Welcome to Istanbul and the famed Bosphorus which connects the Marmara Sea to the Black Sea up north and to the Aegean in the west. Taking its name – which means “ox crossing” (oxford) from the Greek myth about Io who was transformed into a cow and condemned to wander the earth until she crossed the Bosphorus where she met Prometheus, the Bosphorus is a must for any traveller in Istanbul.


The Old City



Another must, as any seasoned traveller or ever-helpful local would be in a hurry to tell you, another must in Istanbul is visiting the historic triangle which has Topkapi Palace, the home of generations of Ottoman sultans, in one corner, the breathtaking Blue Mosque on the other and of course the glorious church-turned-mosque-turned-museum Hagia Sophia on the other. The underground Roman cistern is a short walk away and offers an atmospheric walk in the bowels of the old city as are the dazzling Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar definitely worth a visit for those seeking traditional Turkish goods.


The Prince Islands


If you take a flight into Istanbul’s Sabiha Gokcen Airport, the first time you will spot the Islands is as your plane approaches the runway over the Marmara Sea. The Prince Islands are composed of Buyukada, Heybeliada, Burgazada and Kinaliada. Once the summer residence of elite Istanbul families and still home to Istanbul’s minorities, the Islands, with their ban of motor vehicles, horse drawn carriages, cobblestone streets offer a serene escape from the hustle and bustle of the city and a journey back in time. Places worth a visit are Aya Yorgi (Church of St. George) on Buyukada and Halki Palace on Heybeliada.


Anadolu Kavağı


Make sure to take a boat trip to Anadolu Kavağı where you can enjoy the slow pace of life in this small fishing village, a down-to-earth destination for locals and tourists alike to enjoy good food, good “rakı” (traditional Turkish drink) and picture-perfect views across the Bosphorus. Yoros Restaurant will not only offer the best views and fresh fish and meze (Turkish starters) but the chance to see the remains of Yoros Castle, also known as the Genoese Castle, due to Genoa’s possession of it in the mid-15th century.



Once a Levantine neighbourhood during the Ottoman times, Galata is now a bustling, bohemian district of Istanbul with plenty on offer with its cafes, restaurants and boutiques springing in every corner. Make sure you climb to the top of the famous Galata Tower, a medieval stone tower built as Christea Turris (Tower of Christ) in 1348 during an expansion of the Genoese colony in Constantinople.  You can enjoy some of the most amazing views of the Bosphorus at the restaurant housed within the tower. Alternatively pay a visit to one of the most interesting dining venues of Istanbul, Galata House, nearby, housed in the old British jail and run by the charming husband-and-wife team of Nadire and Mete Göktuğ (Mete who restored the venue is one of İstanbul's most prominent heritage architects.) Nadire uses recipes handed down from her Georgian mother to concoct simple comfort food and also plays the piano and sings for guests.


Turkish Bagel and Tea


On every street corner you are sure to find sesame covered circles of delicious bread, otherwise known as the Turkish bagel aka “simit.” While a tasty snack on the go, we suggest you sit down at one of the many street cafes or the boats criss-crossing the Bosphorus from one shore to the other through the day and enjoy your simit with traditional Turkish tea served in delicate hourglass shaped glasses.


Sahil Yolu (Coast Line)

Sahil Yolu (Coast Line)


While the Bosphorus shores may first come to mind for those who want to be beside the seaside, a more spacious alternative is the Sahil Yolu which stretches for miles from Fenerbahçe all the way through to Caddebostan. In spring and summer, families fill the coastline, with children playing, families riding bikes, fitness enthusiasts jogging and exercising across the green spaces, and the sea babies going for a dip on the newly relaunched Caddebostan beach. For a more laidback experience, opt for brunch or drinks at the Kalamış Marina.




Located on the European side of Istanbul separated from the old city (historic peninsula of Constantinople) by the Golden Horn, once known as Pera, Beyoğlu is the most active art, entertainment and night life centre of Istanbul and the district that perhaps never sleeps. With its tram line down its pedestrian İstiklal Avenue lined on each side with numerous cafes, boutiques, restaurants and cinemas, its never-ending buzz throughout the day with pedestrians walking all the way from Taksim down to Tünel, its many mosques, churches and synagogues existing a stone throw away from each other (Here you can find S. Antonio di Padova, the largest Catholic church in Turkey, and the Neve Shalom Synagogue, the largest synagogue in Turkey), Beyoğlu offers a unique kaleidoscope of Istanbul’s sights and sounds. If you’re visiting during summer, book a table at the historic Çiçek Pasajı to enjoy an al fresco dinner of fish and meze.


If you walk all the way down to Tünel (the Tunnel), you will find the second-oldest subterranean urban rail line in the world, after the London Underground (1863), and the first subterranean urban rail line in continental Europe, connecting the quarters of Karaköy and Beyoğlu.




A historic neighbourhood located on the European shores of the Bosphorus and once a popular residential district since the Ottoman rule, Bebek boasts attractive positioning on the Bosphorus with its deep, sheltered bay and sweeping views in both directions along the waterway, possibly lending the district its name meaning “baby” in Turkish, a reference to its position as "Boğaz'ın Gözbebeği", which translates, literally, as "the pupil [apple] of the Bosphorus.” You can enjoy a cup of Turkish coffee at Bebek Kahvesi or take a stroll on the promenade all the way to the historic fortress of Rumeli Hisarı.


Bosphorus by Night


We are not referring to a nighttime boat tour of the Bosphorus but the buzzing night life along the European waterfront along the strait. Reina, Anjelique, Sortie and Suada are the hot spots in the sizzling summer nights where you can enjoy the cool sea breeze, the cocktails, the fusion music from some of the city’s top DJs and of course celebrity-spotting of some famous Istanbulites.


Why not check out our Istanbul hotels offering special rates now to book yourself a fab home away from home as you set out to discover Istanbul?

By Sinem Bilen-Onabanjo