Istanbul is enchanting and unique and there are plenty of things to do in Istanbul. The only city in the world to reside on two continents. The city sits on either side of the Bosphorus strait, halving the city down the middle with the European side of the city to the west, and to the east the Asian half of the city.
Istanbul city has been named one of the top cities to visit in the last few years, and it is easy to understand why this is so. A rich history dating back more than 4000 years, unique architecture, diverse neighbourhoods and fascinating culture make for an amazing tourist destination.
If arriving by plane or bus, you will arrive along the M1 metro line. By bus arriving at the huge Otogar Station and by plane arriving at Ataturk Havalimani Station. Both metro stations are connected to the airport and bus station so very little walking is done.
There are ATMs around both the bus station and airports. You will need to purchase either an Istanbul card (you can use and recharge when needed) or individual tokens for each trip. I purchased tokens each time, with each trip costing $1.50. The metro system is the best I have experienced in Europe thus far.
Sultanahmet is a large district with many of the most popular attractions located here. It is home to the Topkapi Palace, the Grand Bazaar and the Blue Mosque. Here you can also find a lot of restaurants and cafes and travel agents all catering to the large numbers of tourists that visit the area daily.
The Blue Mosque
The Blue Mosque is very large and is a very popular place for locals to pray. The mosque was actually built by a 15-year-old Sultan Ahmet.
Once inside the mosque, you can admire the grandness and beauty of the structure. Entrance is free, although visitors can only enter outside of prayer times.
The locals gather for prayer every 5 hours at this mosque for a time session of 30 minutes. Muslim people pray 5 times per day. You can sometimes observe locals praying outside of prayer times. The mosque is open from 9 am to 6 pm.
There is a free information session at 1 pm and 3:50 pm to learn about Islam, the Blue Mosque and the prayer rituals that Muslim people undertake. It is a very interesting and informative half-hour. The building is located just in front of the blue mosque (there are signs pointing to it).
If you are female, you must wear a headscarf (see photo below) when entering the mosque. You must also take off your shoes. There are free cloaks and scarfs you can borrow as well as bags to carry your shoes.
The Grand Bazaar
If you walk just 10 minutes from the Sultanahmet Square area, you can find the Grand Bazaar. This bazaar is a massive marketplace filled with small stores, passageways and alleys.
There are 86 streets in the bazaar and over 4000 stores making this place huge. It is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, attracting between 300,000 and 400,000 visitors EACH DAY!! It is listed as one of the world’s most visited tourist attractions.
This is one of my favourite places to wander and explore, and I do not like shopping! It can get crowded and you will be approached by many vendors hoping to sell you various items!
Egyptian Spice Bazaar
The spice bazaar is the most famous, after the Grand Bazaar, in Istanbul. If you are looking for some fresh spices, or some traditional Turkish delight, nuts or dried fruits you should visit this spice bazaar.
There are a total of 86 stores in the building, open from 9 am to 7 pm. However, there are many small market streets surrounding the Spice Market selling the same products for a much lower price.
The streets around the Spice Market were one of my favourite places to wander. I purchased most of my souvenirs from the market streets outside the Grand Bazaar and Spice Market buildings.
This is not a free attraction, however, for 12 TL you can access the inside of the tower and see a 360-degree view of the whole city. If you are visiting in the summer months on a clear day this makes for not only some beautiful photos but a great experience to see the city attractions from above. The area around Galata Tower is also the scene of many boutique hotels in Istanbul.
Hagia Sofia was once an Orthodox Church, turned Roman Catholic, turned Mosque, with many religious features taken away or added over the years. Today, however, it now houses a museum (Ayasofya Muzesi).
Found directly across the gardens from the Blue Mosque, in Saltanament. Arriving early ensures the entry line is not super long (because it is huge by midday!) and helps take photos of the building rather than crowds. Entry from 9 am to 4 pm (and the museum closes at 5 pm). Tickets cost $10.
Wander the streets around Taksim Square
The streets around Taksim Square, the main shopping street and the backstreets were another favourite of mine to walk around. The area in the evening comes to life with large crowds gathering, shopping, eating and meeting in the area. Super vibrant, full of life and exciting. This is not your normal Europe where everything seems to close quite early – stores in Istanbul are open until late at night.
Visit the Prince Islands
The Prince Islands are in the Sea of Marmara – approximately 20km southeast of the city. A ferry trip to the Prince Islands takes between 1 to 1.5 hours, costing $2.
There are a total of 9 islands in the group, however, 4 are most frequently visited as they are closer to Istanbul. Ferries leave from Kabatas (which is around a 20-minute walk, or a 5-minute tram ride (T1 Kabatas-Bagilar) from Taksim Square.
I visited the biggest island, Buyukada. Visiting in sunny and warm weather makes for a pleasant day, where you can walk the loop around the island, up the hill, through the small village streets lined with wooden houses, take a picnic on the top of the mountain overlooking the sea, stroll the small village port and observe a much slower quiet pace of life.
Favourite Turkish food
I found Istanbul one of the best cities in Europe for street food and Vegan street food options!! Some of the food you can expect to find while wandering around are barbecued corn, roasted chestnuts, pretzel-shaped bread and my favourite – Kumpir.
Kumpir is basically a huge oven-baked potato with a very large variety of fillings which you can choose yourself. Such fillings include; olives, pickles, pickled cabbage, mushrooms, peas, corn, carrot, beans and a large variety of sauces.
I also really enjoyed Turkish delight.
A trip to Ortakoy was one of my favourite places to visit. It is an upmarket, village-like, neighbourhood located on the bank of the Bosphorus.
Here you can find a huge amount of cafes, bars, and restaurants and of course, it is THE PLACE to eat Kumpir (the stuffed potatoes). Walking through the main square you will find the sidewalk lined with Kumpir serving street food carts!
You can also find the Ortakoy Mosque, a beautiful pale pink coloured mosque – which is located right on the jetty.
A hamman is a Turkish bathhouse. It is basically a public bathing area. When you enter the hamman there is a hot room, almost like a sauna to relax before entering the scrubbing, or washing room.
There are staff working in the hamman that can scrub you down, although if this is a little too intimate or intimidating for you then you can choose to do so to yourself.
Male and female rooms are separate. Males must strip down, however, females can leave their underwear bottoms on (that’s if you were wearing them in the first place). If you plan to wear your underwear, it is easier to just bring your bikini bottoms with you so your underwear is left dry to wear when leaving the hamman.
There are many bathhouses in the city and the prices vary depending, however, you can expect to pay around $20
I hope this post has been helpful to those planning a trip with things to do in Istanbul. As a solo female traveller, I felt the most welcome and safe in Istanbul. The locals were helpful and friendly. Istanbul is by far my favourite city I visited on my euro trip and where I would most want to live in Europe. There is not one part of Istanbul I didn’t like.