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Best things to do in İstanbul

Discover the city according to locals. Find the best things to do, places to eat, and get priceless advice from the people who live here.

History Museum
“The Hagia Sophia, a historical architectural wonders is a must see when visiting Istanbul. It’s an amazing feeling to stand under the gigantic dome, look at the ceiling and realize that you standing in a building with hundreds and hundreds of years of history. ”
161 locals recommend
“The Galata Tower, Galata Kulesi in Turkish, is one of the highest and oldest towers of Istanbul. 63 meter (206 feet) high tower provides a panoramic view of the old town. It was built in the 14th century by the Genoese colony as part of the defense wall surrounding their district at Galata directly opposite ancient Constantinopolis. They called the tower as "Christea Turris", or "Tower of Christ". The Genoese were involved in trade with the Byzantines and the tower was used for the surveillance of the Harbor in the Golden Horn. After the conquest of Constantinople by Mehmet II, it served to detect fires in the city. Hezarfen Ahmet Celebi was the first flying Turk during the Ottoman Empire of the 17th century. He copied bird wings and studied air flows, than jumping from the Galata Tower he overflew the Bosphorus and landed at Uskudar district on the Asian side, around 6 kilometers (4 miles) in distance. After the Republic, Galata Tower was restored and opened to the public in 1967. The tower houses a cafeteria on top, there was also a night club which is closed down after the last restoration in 2013. A couple of elevators will take you up but there are still three more floors to climb by stairs to get on the panoramic terrace which is 52 meters above the ground. A small souvenir shop is located inside the tower just across the ticket office at the entrance level.”
202 locals recommend
History Museum
“Topkapı is the subject of more colourful stories than most of the world's museums put together. Libidinous sultans, ambitious courtiers, beautiful concubines and scheming eunuchs lived and worked here between the 15th and 19th centuries when it was the court of the Ottoman empire. A visit to the palace's opulent pavilions, jewel-filled Treasury and sprawling Harem gives a fascinating glimpse into their lives. Mehmet the Conqueror built the first stage of the palace shortly after the Conquest in 1453, and lived here until his death in 1481. Subsequent sultans lived in this rarefied environment until the 19th century, when they moved to the ostentatious European-style palaces they built on the shores of the Bosphorus. Before you enter the palace's Imperial Gate (Bab-ı Hümayun), take a look at the ornate structure in the cobbled square just outside. This is the rococo-style Fountain of Sultan Ahmet III, built in 1728 by the sultan who so favoured tulips. The main ticket office is in the First Court, just before the gate to the Second Court. First Court Pass through the Imperial Gate into the First Court, which is known as the Court of the Janissaries or the Parade Court. On your left is the Byzantine church of Hagia Eirene, more commonly known as Aya İrini. Second Court The Middle Gate (Ortakapı or Bab-üs Selâm) led to the palace’s Second Court, used for the business of running the empire. In Ottoman times, only the sultan and the valide sultan (mother of the sultan) were allowed through the Middle Gate on horseback. Everyone else, including the grand vizier, had to dismount. The Second Court has a beautiful park-like setting. Unlike typical European palaces, which feature one large building with outlying gardens, Topkapı is a series of pavilions, kitchens, barracks, audience chambers, kiosks and sleeping quarters built around a central enclosure. The great Palace Kitchens on the right (east) as you enter have reopened following years of restoration. They hold a small portion of Topkapı’s vast collection of Chinese celadon porcelain, valued by the sultans for its beauty but also because it was reputed to change colour if touched by poisoned food. On the left (west) side of the Second Court is the ornate Imperial Council Chamber (Dîvân-ı Hümâyûn). The council met here to discuss matters of state, and the sultan sometimes eavesdropped through the gold grille high in the wall. The room to the right showcases clocks from the palace collection. North of the Imperial Council Chamber is the Outer Treasury, where an impressive collection of Ottoman and European arms and armour is displayed. Harem The entrance to the Harem is beneath the Tower of Justice on the western side of the Second Court. If you decide to visit – and we highly recommend that you do – you'll need to buy a dedicated ticket. The visitor route through the Harem changes when rooms are closed for restoration or stabilisation, so some of the areas mentioned here may not be open during your visit. As popular belief would have it, the Harem was a place where the sultan could engage in debauchery at will. In more prosaic reality, these were the imperial family quarters, and every detail of Harem life was governed by tradition, obligation and ceremony. The word 'harem' literally means 'forbidden' or 'private'. The sultans supported as many as 300 concubines in the Harem, although numbers were usually lower than this. Upon entering the Harem, the girls would be schooled in Islam and in Turkish culture and language, as well as the arts of make-up, dress, comportment, music, reading, writing, embroidery and dancing. They then entered a meritocracy, first as ladies-in-waiting to the sultan's concubines and children, then to the valide sultan and finally – if they were particularly attractive and talented – to the sultan himself. The sultan was allowed by Islamic law to have four legitimate wives, who received the title of kadın (wife). If a wife bore him a son she was called haseki sultan; if she bore him a daughter, haseki kadın. Ruling the Harem was the valide sultan, who often owned large landed estates in her own name and controlled them through black eunuch servants. Able to give orders directly to the grand vizier, her influence on the sultan, on his wives and concubines, and on matters of state was often profound. The earliest of the 300-odd rooms in the Harem were constructed during the reign of Murat III (r 1574–95); the harems of previous sultans were at the now-demolished Eski Sarayı (Old Palace), near present-day Beyazıt Meydanı. The Harem complex has six floors, but only one of these can be visited. This is approached via the Carriage Gate. Next to the gate is the recently opened Dormitory of the Zülüflü Baltacılar Corps, a meticulously restored structure featuring swathes of magnificent 16th- and 17th-century İznik tiles. Inside the gate is the Dome with Cupboards. Beyond it is a room where the Harem's eunuch guards were stationed. This is decorated with fine Kütahya tiles from the 17th century. Beyond this room is the narrow Courtyard of the Black Eunuchs, also decorated with Kütahya tiles. Behind the marble colonnade on the left are the Black Eunuchs' Dormitories. In the early days white eunuchs were used, but black eunuchs sent as presents by the Ottoman governor of Egypt later took control. As many as 200 lived here, guarding the doors and waiting on the women of the Harem. At the far end of the courtyard is the Main Gate into the Harem, as well as a guard room featuring two gigantic gilded mirrors. From here, the Concubines' Corridor leads left to the Courtyard of the Concubines and Sultan's Consorts. This is surrounded by baths, a laundry fountain, a laundry, dormitories and private apartments. Across the Concubines' Corridor from the courtyard is Sultan Ahmet's Kiosk, decorated with a tiled chimney, followed by the Apartments of the Valide Sultan, the centre of power in the Harem. From these ornate rooms the valide sultan oversaw and controlled her huge 'family'. Of particular note is the Salon of the Valide Sultan with its lovely 19th-century murals featuring bucolic views of İstanbul. Past the Courtyard of the Valide Sultan is a splendid reception room with a large fireplace that leads to a vestibule covered in Kütahya and İznik tiles dating from the 17th century. This is where the princes, valide sultan and senior concubines waited before entering the handsome Imperial Hall for an audience with the sultan. Built during the reign of Murat III, the hall was redecorated in baroque style by order of Osman III (r 1754–57). Nearby is the Privy Chamber of Murat III, one of the most sumptuous rooms in the palace. Dating from 1578, virtually all of its decoration is original and is thought to be the work of Sinan. The restored three-tiered marble fountain was designed to give the sound of cascading water and to make it difficult to eavesdrop on the sultan's conversations. The gilded canopied seating areas are later 18th-century additions. Continue to the Privy Chamber of Ahmed III and peek into the adjoining dining room built in 1705. The latter is lined with wooden panels decorated with images of flowers and fruits painted in lacquer. Back through the Privy Chamber of Murat III are two of the most beautiful rooms in the Harem – the Twin Kiosk/Apartments of the Crown Prince. These two rooms date from around 1600; note the painted canvas dome in the first room and the fine İznik tile panels above the fireplace in the second. The stained glass is also noteworthy. Past these rooms is the Courtyard of the Favourites. Over the edge of the courtyard (really a terrace) you'll see a large empty pool. Overlooking the courtyard are the tiny windows of the many small dark rooms comprising the kafes (cage) where brothers or sons of the sultan were imprisoned. From here, you can follow the passage known as the Golden Road and exit into the palace's Third Court, or follow the corridor north and exit into the Fourth Court by the Circumcision Room. Third Court The Third Court is entered through the Gate of Felicity. The sultan’s private domain, it was staffed and guarded by white eunuchs. Inside is the Audience Chamber, constructed in the 16th century but refurbished in the 18th century. Important officials and foreign ambassadors were brought to this little kiosk to conduct the high business of state. The sultan, seated on a huge divan, inspected the ambassadors' gifts and offerings as they were passed through the doorway on the left. Right behind the Audience Chamber is the pretty Library of Ahmet III, built in 1719. On the eastern edge of the Third Court is the Dormitory of the Expeditionary Force, which now houses a rich collection of imperial robes, kaftans and uniforms worked in silver and gold thread. Also here is a fascinating collection of talismanic shirts, which were believed to protect the wearer from enemies and misfortunes of all kinds. On the other side of the Third Court are the Sacred Safekeeping Rooms. These rooms, sumptuously decorated with İznik tiles, house many relics of the Prophet. When the sultans lived here, the rooms were opened only once a year, for the imperial family to pay homage to the memory of the Prophet on the 15th day of the holy month of Ramazan. Next to the sacred Safekeeping Rooms is the Dormitory of the Privy Chamber, which houses an exhibit of portraits of 36 sultans. The highlight is a wonderful painting of the Enthronement Ceremony of Sultan Selim III (1789) by Konstantin Kapidagli. Imperial Treasury Located on the eastern edge of the Third Court, Topkapı's Treasury features an incredible collection of objects made from or decorated with gold, silver, rubies, emeralds, jade, pearls and diamonds. The building itself was constructed during Mehmet the Conqueror's reign in 1460 and was used originally as reception rooms. It was closed for a major restoration when we last visited. When it re-opens, look out for the jewel-encrusted Sword of Süleyman the Magnificent and the extraordinary Throne of Ahmed I (aka Arife Throne), which is inlaid with mother-of-pearl and was designed by Sedefhar Mehmet Ağa, architect of the Blue Mosque. And don't miss the Treasury's famous Topkapı Dagger, object of the criminal heist in Jules Dassin’s 1964 film Topkapı. This features three enormous emeralds on the hilt and a watch set into the pommel. Also worth seeking out is the Kasıkçı (Spoonmaker’s) Diamond, a teardrop-shaped 86-carat rock surrounded by dozens of smaller stones that was first worn by Mehmet IV at his accession to the throne in 1648. Fourth Court Pleasure pavilions occupy the palace's Fourth Court. These include the Mecidiye Kiosk, which was built by Abdül Mecit (r 1839–61) according to 19th-century European models. Beneath this is the Konyalı restaurant, which offers wonderful views from its terrace but is let down by the quality and price of its food. Up steps from the Mecidiye Kiosk is the Head Physician’s Pavilion. Interestingly, the head physician was always one of the sultan’s Jewish subjects. On this terrace you will also find the Kiosk of Mustafa Pasha, sometimes called the Sofa Köşkü. During the reign of Ahmet III, the Tulip Garden outside the kiosk was filled with the latest varieties of the flower. Up the stairs at the end of the Tulip Garden is the Marble Terrace, a platform with a decorative pool, three pavilions and the whimsical İftariye Kameriyesi, a small structure commissioned by İbrahim I ('the Crazy') in 1640 as a picturesque place to break the fast of Ramazan. Murat IV built the Revan Kiosk in 1636 after reclaiming the city of Yerevan (now in Armenia) from Persia. In 1639 he constructed the Baghdad Kiosk, one of the last examples of classical palace architecture, to commemorate his victory over that city. Notice its superb İznik tiles, painted ceiling and mother-of-pearl and tortoiseshell inlay. The small Circumcision Room (Sünnet Odası) was used for the ritual that admits Muslim boys to manhood. Built by İbrahim I in 1640, the outer walls of the chamber are graced by particularly beautiful tile panels.”
130 locals recommend
“Taksim, key interchange station for many buses also metro. From Taksim it's easy to get anywhere arround the city”
205 locals recommend
“İstanbul's most photogenic building was the grand project of Sultan Ahmet I (r 1603–17), whose tomb is located on the north side of the site facing Sultanahmet Park. The mosque's wonderfully curvaceous exterior features a cascade of domes and six slender minarets. Blue İznik tiles adorn the interior and give the building its unofficial but commonly used name. With the mosque's exterior, the architect, Sedefkâr Mehmet Ağa, managed to orchestrate a visual wham-bam effect similar to that of nearby star Aya Sofya's interior. Its curves are voluptuous; it has six minarets (more than any other mosque at the time it was built); and its courtyard is the biggest of all of the Ottoman mosques. The interior has a similarly grand scale: the İznik tiles number in the tens of thousands; there are 260 windows; and the central prayer space is huge. To best grasp the mosque's design, enter the complex via the Hippodrome rather than from Sultanahmet Park. Once inside the courtyard, which is the same size as the mosque's interior, you'll appreciate the building's perfect proportions. The mosque is such a popular attraction that admission is controlled in order to preserve its sacred atmosphere. Only worshippers are admitted through the main door; visitors must use the south door (follow the signs). The mosque is closed to nonworshippers during the six daily prayer times: two hours before dawn, dawn, midday, afternoon, sunset and right before the last light of the day.”
122 locals recommend
Historic Site
“The colourful and chaotic Grand Bazaar is the heart of İstanbul's Old City and has been so for centuries. Starting as a small vaulted bedesten (warehouse) built by order of Mehmet the Conqueror in 1461, it grew to cover a vast area as lanes between the bedesten, neighbouring shops and hans (caravanserais) were roofed and the market assumed the sprawling, labyrinthine form that it retains today.When here, be sure to peep through doorways to discover hidden hans, veer down narrow lanes to watch artisans at work and wander the main thoroughfares to differentiate treasures from tourist tack. It's obligatory to drink lots of tea, compare price after price and try your hand at the art of bargaining. Allow at least three hours for your visit; some travellers spend three days!”
131 locals recommend
“Modern Art Museum of Istanbul.Check their calendar and must visit for good arts”
209 locals recommend
Pedestrian Plaza
“These days it’s fashionable for architects and critics influenced by the less-is-more aesthetic of Bauhaus masters to sneer at buildings such as Dolmabahçe. However, the crowds that throng to this imperial pleasure palace with its neoclassical exterior and over-the-top interior clearly don’t share that disdain, flocking here to visit its Selâmlık (Ceremonial Suites), Harem and Veliaht Dairesi (Apartments of the Crown Prince). The latter houses the National Palaces Painting Museum, which can be visited on a Selâmlık or Harem ticket. More rather than less was certainly the philosophy of Sultan Abdül Mecit I (r 1839–61), who decided to move his imperial court from Topkapı to a lavish new palace on the shores of the Bosphorus. For a site he chose the dolma bahçe (filled-in garden) where his predecessors, Sultans Ahmet I and Osman II, had filled in a little cove in order to create a royal park complete with wooden pleasure kiosks and pavilions. Abdül Mecit commissioned imperial architects Nikoğos and Garabed Balyan to construct an Ottoman-European palace that would impress everyone who set eyes on it. Traditional Ottoman palace architecture was eschewed – there are no pavilions here, and the palace turns its back to the splendid view rather than celebrating it. The designer of the Paris Opera was brought in to do the interiors, which perhaps explains their exaggerated theatricality. Construction was completed in 1854, and the sultan and his family moved in two years later. Though it had the wow factor in spades, Abdül Mecit’s extravagant project precipitated the empire’s bankruptcy and signalled the beginning of the end for the Osmanlı dynasty. During the early years of the republic, Atatürk used the palace as his İstanbul base and died here on 10 November 1938. The tourist entrance to the palace grounds is the ornate imperial gate, with an equally ornate clock tower just inside. Sarkis Balyan designed the tower between 1890 and 1895 for Sultan Abdül Hamit II (r 1876–1909). There is an outdoor cafe near here with premium Bosphorus views and reasonable prices (yes, really). Set in well-tended gardens, the palace is divided into three sections: the Selâmlık, Harem and Veliaht Dairesi. Entry is via a compulsory and dreadfully rushed guided tour (up to 50 people per group), which focuses on the Selâmlık but visits parts of the Harem as well; you can visit the National Palaces Paintings Museum independently. In busy periods English-language tours leave every 10 minutes or so; during quiet times every 25 minutes is more likely. Note that visitor numbers in the palace are limited to 3000 per day and this ceiling is often reached on weekends and holidays – come midweek if possible, and even then be prepared to queue (often for long periods and in full sun). If you only take one tour; we recommend the Selâmlık for its huge chandeliers and crystal staircase made by Baccarat. Note, admission here is not covered by the Museum Pass İstanbul. Just outside the gate, the Dolmabahċe Mosque (Dolmabahçe Camii) on Muallim Naci Caddesi was designed by Nikoğos Balyan and completed in 1853.”
146 locals recommend
“Istiklal Street is one of the most famous avenues, visited by nearly 3 million people in a single day over the course of weekends. It is an elegant pedestrian street that is 1.4 kilometers long. ”
173 locals recommend
Historic Site
“Vividly coloured spices are displayed alongside jewel-like lokum (Turkish delight) at this Ottoman-era marketplace, providing eye candy for the thousands of tourists and locals who make their way here every day. Stalls also sell caviar, dried herbs, honey, nuts and dried fruits. The number of stalls selling tourist trinkets increases annually, yet this remains a great place to stock up on edible souvenirs, share a few jokes with vendors and marvel at the well-preserved building. The market was constructed in the 1660s as part of the New Mosque, with rent from the shops supporting the upkeep of the mosque as well as its charitable activities, which included a school, hamam and hospital. The market's Turkish name, the Mısır Çarşısı (Egyptian Market), references the fact that the building was initially endowed with taxes levied on goods imported from Egypt. In its heyday, the bazaar was the last stop for the camel caravans that travelled the Silk Road from China, India and Persia. On the west side of the market there are outdoor produce stalls selling fresh foodstuff from all over Anatolia, including a wonderful selection of cheeses. Also here is the most famous coffee supplier in İstanbul, Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi, established over 100 years ago. This is located on the corner of Hasırcılar Caddesi, which is full of shops selling food and kitchenware.”
96 locals recommend
Historic Site
“This subterranean structure was commissioned by Emperor Justinian and built in 532. The largest surviving Byzantine cistern in İstanbul, it was constructed using 336 columns, many of which were salvaged from ruined temples and feature fine carved capitals. Its symmetry and sheer grandeur of conception are quite breathtaking, and its cavernous depths make a great retreat on summer days. Like most sites in İstanbul, the cistern has an unusual history. It was originally known as the Basilica Cistern because it lay underneath the Stoa Basilica, one of the great squares on the first hill. Designed to service the Great Palace and surrounding buildings, it was able to store up to 80,000 cu metres of water delivered via 20km of aqueducts from a reservoir near the Black Sea, but was closed when the Byzantine emperors relocated from the Great Palace. Forgotten by the city authorities some time before the Conquest, it wasn't rediscovered until 1545, when scholar Petrus Gyllius was researching Byzantine antiquities in the city and was told by local residents that they were able to obtain water by lowering buckets into a dark space below their basement floors. Some were even catching fish this way. Intrigued, Gyllius explored the neighbourhood and finally accessed the cistern through one of the basements. Even after his discovery, the Ottomans (who referred to the cistern as Yerebatan Saray) didn't treat the so-called Underground Palace with the respect it deserved – it became a dumping ground for all sorts of junk, as well as corpses. The cistern was cleaned and renovated in 1985 by the İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality and opened to the public in 1987. It's now one of the city's most popular tourist attractions. Walking along its raised wooden platforms, you'll feel water dripping from the vaulted ceiling and see schools of ghostly carp patrolling the water – it certainly has bucketloads of atmosphere.”
89 locals recommend
“Pedestrianized Istiklal Caddesi (Independence Street) is a bustling modern shopping street with a wealth of restaurants and cafés. The lower end of the street can be reached by taking the world's oldest underground railway from near Galata Bridge, the Tünel, constructed in 1875. There is also a quaintly old-fashioned tramway that runs along its length right up to Taksim Square at the top of the hill. From Taksim Square, busy Cumhuriyet Caddesi is lined with hotels, shops, restaurants, and high rises. On the east side of the road, just after the square, is Maçka Park, which is home to the interesting Military Museum. The area around Istiklal Caddesi is home to many churches and old consulate buildings with ornate facades. Also nearby is Orhan Pamuk's Museum of Innocence. Pamuk is Turkey's most famous author and the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. This conceptual-art museum is based around the theme of his novel The Museum of Innocence and is a rather bizarre, kooky, and wonderfully atmospheric experience.”
61 locals recommend
Shopping Centre
“one of the biggest shopping mall. 5 min y walk from the house . there are restaurant exchange office and many stores....”
67 locals recommend
“It has a spectecular view of Istanbul. You should go on sunset hours and see the colours of the sky with Istanbul siluette.”
96 locals recommend
General Entertainment
“A whole street of bars with indoor and outdoor seating. Good for watching a soccer game or having drinks with friends.”
72 locals recommend
“Ortakoy Mosque, one of the most famous sights in the city. Only a 15-20 min. walk away, only 5 min. with a taxi or bus!”
74 locals recommend