is a travel bug's dream come true; full of amazing architecture, culture, food
, shopping, and so much more. In fact, it is one of the most visited cities in the world. But your Halal vacation in Istanbul
can't be just a standard touristy affair!
That's why we've gathered up advice from the locals about what to do and what not to do in Istanbul. You can also see what the top-rated tourist attractions
are, as well as the lesser-known gems which will give you unique things to do in Istanbul. So, have fun on your vacation in Turkey and make sure to cover all the fun things to do in Istanbul!
1. Get A Local Tour Guide
One of the best things to do when traveling in Istanbul is to hire a local tour guide
to take you around the city. The best way to learn about a place is through the eyes of a local. If you don't know anyone in Istanbul, then a tour guide is your best option.
Group tours are fine, but if you can afford it, book a private tour. This way, you'll have the guide all to yourself, and it will feel like two friends exploring the city and trying the most unique things to do in Istanbul.
You can pick different themed tours, such as heritage walks
, food tours, architecture tours, etc. Most, if not all tour guides, are friendly, know all the best-hidden spots, and love to talk about their city; so you can be sure to get the ultimate experience!
Below the are the most-rated tourist attraction guides in Istanbul:
My Local Guide – Istanbul
Address: Istanbul 34400, Turkey
Phone: +90 534 200 55 65
Istanbul Tour Guides - Day Tours
Address: Istanbul Cd. Muhasebeci sokak. No:3/3 3rd Floor, Istanbul, Turkey
Phone: +90 212 516 53 00
Walks In Istanbul – Tours
Address: Yerebatan Caddesi, Istanbul 34122, Turkey
Phone: +90 533 382 60 47
2. Take Public Transport
Istanbul's roads are every driver's nightmare, especially if you aren't used to it. Your best option to getting around the city is to take public transportation.
When we say public transport
, we mean the ferry! It is the fastest and most efficient form of transportation
in Istanbul. And you get the bonus of getting to experience gorgeous views on your way. Avoid the roads as much as you can, especially during the peak hours (9 a.m. & 6 p.m.), except Sundays.
Look out for scams! Locals would also advise you to avoid cabs whenever possible as well. But if you do not have any choice, be smart about it as there are many scammers.
First, make sure to get a taxi that is connected to a taxi stand or “brand” (displayed in the form of a logo on its doors). Common names you'll come across are “Pera Taxi” and “Guven Taxi”.
Secondly, agree upon a rate before you start the journey. Go to taksimetrik.com to calculate typical rates for your ride. Even if the taxi has a meter, you cannot trust it as it is prone to make sudden drastic jumps in rate, or the driver might say he forgot to turn it on, etc. Also carry change, because the drivers will pretend not to have any.
You can also use one of the many taxi apps that are available. This way, you can pay by credit card, and you have the taxi driver's information in case he mistreats you. “BiTaksi” is one such app that you can try!
3. Get That Sweet Craving Fixed
consists of some of the world's best desserts. Flaky pastries, crunchy nuts, and sugar syrup is always a common feature, and what else can a combination of those be other than utterly, mouthwatering-ly delicious!
Everyone has heard of the famous baklava
(rightfully, cause yum!) but there are many other traditional Turkish desserts that you can try. Muhallebi, trilece (tri-leche), kadayif, are a few. If you're feeling adventurous, try the tavuk gogsu (chicken breast pudding); you will not be sorry!
Some of the best places to go for amazing traditional Turkish desserts
in Istanbul are Hafiz Mustafa 1864, Goreme Muhallebicisi, Bilgeoglu, Cafe Erol, and more!
4. Enjoy Istanbul's Magical Sunsets
One of the most magical experiences one can have in Istanbul
is sunset viewing.
For the best views, head to the Galata
Bridge, Sarayburnu, or Ulus Parki; these are the Istanbul attractions
are where you can get the best views. Arrive early and just chill around with your company, taking in the sights while you wait for the sun to begin her descent.
5. Visit Istanbul's Many Magnificent Mosques
Istanbul has many mosques; they are all elegant and extremely beautiful. As is most of Istanbul's architecture, they date back centuries and every one of them describes the time in history when they were built.
Of course, visiting the mosques
is something that everyone does on a holiday
in Istanbul, but that shouldn't stop you from doing so too (not all touristy things are bad). Some of the mosques that are the most famous Istanbul attractions
are the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, Suleymaniya Mosque, New Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Fatih Mosque, and plenty more!
Most mosques do not restrict non-Muslims from entering, but here are a few things what not to do in Istanbul when visiting mosques:
Do not take pictures of people praying
or partaking in other religious activities.
Do not make any noise, eat or act inappropriately inside the mosque.
Wear modest clothes that do not show off the skin (women must cover their hair), and take your shoes off before entering the prayer hall.
If you do not intend to pray along with the congregation, do not enter during times of prayer.
6. Visit the Basilica Cistern
This is the largest ancient underground water cistern in the city, and definitely one of the most unique places to visit in Istanbul. Explore the area, walking on wooden planks, amongst massive columns, and ponds filled with koi fish. It also houses two eery statues with the head of Medusa. It's like a real-life scary house: so cool!
7. Have A Traditional Turkish Breakfast
The city is a food-lovers
dream! With so many delicious local dishes served at all sorts of restaurants
and cafes, there are countless “must-try” Halal dishes in Istanbul, like Turkish delights, falafel, doner kebabs, and more. But if you were given the chance to try just one dish in Istanbul it should be the traditional Turkish breakfast; ask any local!
A traditional Turkish breakfast consists of: cay (Turkish tea), a variety of cheeses, butter, eggs, tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, jam, honey, kaymak (similar to clotted cream), sucuk (spicy Turkish sausages), regional breads (pastirma, borek, simit, pogaca), and soup. Of course, all of these dishes might not always be present at the same time, but they can be!
Turkish food is always generous, hearty, and meant to be shared with loved ones so take a group of friends with you. Some of the must-visit restaurants in Istanbul for the most important meal of the day are:
Van Kahvaltı Evi
Address: Ömer Avni Mh., Defterdar Ykş. 52/A, 34425 Beyoğlu/İstanbul, Turkey.
Address: Sahkulu Mahallesi, Galip Dede Cad. Timarci Sok. No: 3 | Beyoglu, Istanbul, Turkey
Address: Sadri Alisik Sok. No:14/A Taksim, Beyoglu, Istanbul, Turkey.
Phone: +90 212 251 32 03
8. Bargain at Istanbul's Lively Markets
Istanbul is a great place for shopping as well. Of course, the city has its designer stores and malls, but if you want the local experience, shopping at the vibrant and lively bazaars is one of the most fun things to do in Istanbul!
The Grand Bazaar
is one of the top-rated tourist attractions in Istanbul, which is why you should avoid it! It is so full of tourists, that it's hardly a local experience. Of course, you can visit, but save the shopping
for other places like the spice bazaar (a short walk from the grand bazaar), Carsamba (Wednesday) market, the old booksellers' market (near the Grand Bazaar and Beyazit Mosque), and more!
The best time to visit these bazaars
is around noon (from 11 a.m. - 1 p.m.) when the markets are at their least crowded and you won't get hounded by salespeople from all angles.
Become a skilled bargainer! Nab things for dirt cheap prices by expressing very little interest. Ask about prices noncommittally, and always let the seller do the talking. Start to leave and the seller will begin to lower the price even further. Remember to be friendly and smile during the whole process!
Look out for scams! Some of the most common ways you'll find yourself involuntarily spending money is when you have no choice but to pay for services/goods that you did not ask for. Like the shoe-shining trick (the guy drops his brush, you politely pick it up, and suddenly your shoe's getting shined), or the friendly roadside flower ladies who keep you talking while making a massive bouquet of expensive flowers for you.
9. Explore the Asian Side
One of the most amazing things about Istanbul is that it is the only city that falls in two continents, so it has a European
and an Asian
side as well! It's known as the Anatolian side and offers many fun activities to do in Istanbul like shopping, food, culture, and incredible views.
10. Experience A Real Hammam
Hammams are traditional Turkish baths
, and one of the most unique experiences you'll have in Istanbul. You can also choose to get a traditional Turkish massage; it might hurt, but it hurts so good!
11. Visit the Prince Islands
Image Credit: Angel's Home Hotel
Also, known as just Adalar (islands)
, these include an archipelago of 9 islands that are the ideal seaside getaway. Cars are not allowed on the island, so you know it's peaceful! IThey are full of old mansions and other charming places to explore. Hire a buggy or just walk around to explore.