What to See & Do in Istanbul

Last Updated on June 28, 2022

No matter how much time you have to explore Istanbul, you will not run out of things to see and do.

I've made up an alphabetical list of all the things to see and do, and sightseeing itineraries for 1 to 5 days6 to 10 days, etc., and the best tours, but here are the top sights, the first to visit, no matter how long you stay:

Istanbul's Top Sights

These are the sights you should be sure to see, ranked in order of importance and ease of access. (Here are daily itineraries for the top sites, and here are the best things to do with kids.)

Luckily, the first six sights are close together near Sultanahmet Square. You can visit them on your own, or on Efendi Travel's value-for-money Old Istanbul Guided Walking Tour.

The Istanbul Museum Pass makes the sights quicker to access, and it can save you mone, but you have to know how to use it. More...

Sites farther out (Kariye mosaicsCity WallsTekfur SarayEcumenical Patriarchate) can easily be visited on a Kariye & City Walls tour.)

I've also made up self-guided walking tours.

1. Topkapı Palace

Home (and Harem!) of the sultans—a must-see. More...

2. Ayasofya (Hagia Sophia)

Changed the course of Western architecture; greatest church in Christendom for 1000 years. More...

3. Sultanahmet (Blue) Mosque

Islam's elegant answer to Ayasofya, with six minarets and blue interior tiles, one of Istanbul's numerous grand imperial mosques. More...

4. Byzantine Hippodrome

The political and recreational heart of Byzantine Constantinople and Ottoman Istanbul. More...

5. Turkish & Islamic Arts Museum

Facing the Blue Mosque on the Hippodrome, a treasure-house of 1000 years of fine art. More...

6. Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarnıçı)

An eerie subterranean "sunken palace" of 336 marble columns which could hold 2,265 cubic meters (80,000 cubic feet) of water in case of drought or siege. James Bond was here. More...

7. Grand Bazaar (Kapalı Çarşı)

The ultimate medieval "shopping center," with 4000 shops, fun whether you buy or just browse. More...

8. Egyptian (Spice) Bazaar

Food, spices, coffee, snacks and some touristy stuff. More...

9. Beyoğlu (Pera)

The romance of 19th-century European Istanbul, not to mention cafés, tavernas, restaurants, music clubs, boutiques... More...

10. Dolmabahçe Palace

The sultan's sumptuous new (1856) European-style palace on the Bosphorus—spectacular, if you have the time. More...

11. Bosphorus Cruise

The perfect 75-minute, half-day or full-day Istanbul excursion, up toward the Black Sea past castles, palaces and Ottoman-Victorian villages. More...

12. Princes' Islands

Get away to islands with Victorian-era towns free of motor vehicles: walk, bicycle, or take a horse-drawn carriage tour. More...

More Istanbul Sights


Want to see whirling dervishes?
Want to visit a hamam (Turkish bath)
These sights are also important but more difficult to get to, or of narrower appeal. More...

Best Things to Do With Kids

No matter what their age, there's something to appeal to children in this list. More...

Excursions from Istanbul

Want to get out of the city? Here are the best one-day and overnight destinations. More...

—by Tom Brosnahan


Istanbul in 1 Day

Weekend in Istanbul

Excursions from Istanbul

Turkey in 2 to 5 Days

Top Sights in 6 Days

Best Itineraries

Best Guided Tours

Istanbul Museum Pass

List of All Sights & Activities

Istanbul Hotels

Istanbul Restaurants

Beaches near Istanbul

Istanbul Transport

About Istanbul

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