The 7 Best Tours in Istanbul – A Guide to the City’s Must-Do Experiences

Last Updated on December 20, 2023

Istanbul is a city where different continents come together, creating a unique blend of history and culture. It is a place where the aroma of spices fills the air and architectural wonders stand tall. With so much to see and experience, how can one make the most of their visit? Here are the 7 best tours in Istanbul that will take you on unforgettable experiences, from exploring the city’s historical wonders, diving into its culinary scene, or unveiling its hidden gems.

Key Takeaways

  • Explore Istanbul’s iconic landmarks and cultural diversity with guided tours, cruises, cooking classes, and more.
  • Discover the hidden treasures of the city through a unique off-the-beaten-path tour or a personalized experience tailored to your preferences.
  • Experience its history, culture, and beauty with unforgettable memories of its art, architecture, and cuisine.

1. Istanbul's Historic Wonders: Unforgettable Guided Tours

Istanbul’s rich history spans over millennia, and its iconic landmarks stand as a testament to the city’s storied past. Immerse yourself in the history and culture that shaped this magnificent city by embarking on expertly guided Istanbul tours. Discover the fascinating stories behind Istanbul's iconic landmarks, from the magnificent Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque to the grand Basilica Cistern.

Guided city tours are highly recommended for history fans and first-time visitors, and they offer a thorough introduction to the most important sites in Istanbul. Moreover, as knowledgeable tour guides give captivating insights, you’ll uncover the secrets of the grand Topkapi Palace and navigate the lively alleys of the Grand Bazaar. Whether you choose a half-day city tour or a 7-day exploration, prepare for an unforgettable experience as you delve into the heart of Turkish culture with the best tours available, including the great tour of Istanbul and other amazing tours in Istanbul.

Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque Tour

On the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque tour, you can marvel at the architectural splendor of two of Istanbul’s most iconic landmarks on a guided walking tour. The Hagia Sophia, once a church and later a mosque, is an emblem of the city’s diverse heritage. The impressive dome and detailed mosaics of this place make it a perfect destination for any traveler.

A short stroll away, the Blue Mosque captivates with its cascading domes and slender minarets, serving as an enduring symbol of Ottoman architecture. The knowledgeable tour guide will share the fascinating history and cultural significance of these majestic structures, providing a deep understanding of their allure.

Feel free to ask your helpful guide any concerns you may have regarding visiting hours, attire, and proper etiquette at these holy sites as you set out on this fascinating adventure. The tour allows ample time to admire the stunning details of Hagia Sophia’s mosaics and the Blue Mosque’s tilework.

Your exploration of Istanbul’s historic wonders will leave you with a newfound appreciation for the city’s beautiful culture, making you eager to visit Istanbul again.

Topkapi Palace Exploration

As you delve into the opulence of the Ottoman Empire and explore what once was the home of sultans and the center of political power, this sprawling complex, boasting exquisite architecture and lavish gardens, offers a window into the lives of the royals who once ruled these lands. After your visit, take a moment to relax in the hotel lobby before your expert guide leads you through the palace’s ornate halls, sharing the fascinating history of its construction and conversion into a museum.

The Topkapı Palace tour also provides access to the Harem section and provides a glimpse into the private lives of the sultans and their families. Don’t miss the chance to admire the breathtaking treasures of the Imperial Treasury, showcasing the wealth and power of the Ottoman Empire. Through the enthralling storytelling of your guide, this palace exploration will take you back in time and immerse you in the opulence of a bygone era.

Basilica Cistern: A Journey Underground

Beneath the bustling streets of Istanbul, you can discover the ancient Basilica Cistern, an impressive subterranean reservoir that once supplied water to the city’s great palaces. This stunning hall, with its 336 marble columns, offers a unique perspective on the city's engineering marvels and fascinating history.

As you walk through the dimly lit and cavernous chamber, your guide will recount its construction and significance, as well as the myths and legends that surround it. Keep an eye out for the enigmatic Medusa heads, repurposed as column bases, as you navigate this haunting yet captivating underworld. A visit to the Basilica Cistern is truly a journey into the hidden depths of Istanbul’s past.

2. Culinary Adventures: Istanbul Food Tours

Istanbul has a diverse culinary scene with enticing street food aromas and vibrant traditional flavors reflecting its cultural heritage. You can always join an Istanbul food tour to sample the city’s gastronomic delights and learn about the customs and techniques that shape Turkish cuisine. These Istanbul food tours offer a tantalizing taste of the city's culinary landscape for both curious foodies and seasoned epicures.

Treat your senses to an extravaganza of street food, savoring local delicacies while exploring diverse neighborhoods and bustling markets. You can discover the art of Turkish cooking in a hands-on class. During the class, you will learn how to prepare authentic dishes like baklava, kebab, sarma, and more. After the class, you can share a meal with your fellow participants. Don't forget to discover the world of Turkish tea and coffee through guided tastings, including unique types like Dibek and Turkish coffee made with hot sand. Through these tastings, you will learn to appreciate the subtleties of flavor and tradition that make these well-loved traditional beverages what they are. No matter which culinary journey you decide on, we can guarantee you that your taste buds are going to be delighted.

Street Food Extravaganza

Join a guided tour and embark on a culinary journey through the bustling streets of Istanbul. On this tour, you will taste mouth-watering street foods that are unique to the region. From the savory delights of Tantuni, Kokoreç, Döner Kebab, and Kumru to the irresistible stuffed mussels and traditional sweets such as Baklava, Kunefe, Turkish Ice cream, and Turkish Delight, your taste buds will be treated to the delicious flavors of Turkish cuisine. A local guide will lead the way, taking you to the city’s bustling markets, food stalls, and interesting shops. You will discover hidden gems that only a local would know.

Moreover, it’s also an opportunity to immerse yourself in the vibrant atmosphere of Istanbul’s diverse neighborhoods. As you continue exploring the local neighborhoods and tastes, your guide will share personal stories and insights into the city’s culture, ensuring an authentic and unforgettable experience.

Yummy Food Tours in Istanbul

Yummy Food Tours in Istanbul is a great way to enjoy the local traditional taste of Turkey and the stories behind it. They have a wide range of tour options, such as Taste of Two Continents, Flavours of the Old City, Taksim Evening Food Tour, Kadıköy Street Food Tour, and even Private Food Tours.

One of our members has had the chance to go on an amazing tour with them, and she absolutely loved everything, from the guides to the local tastes. Moreover, you don't only get to taste Istanbul but also other cuisine from the popular Turkish cities of Antep, Mersin, Antakya, Bursa, Maraş, and more! We highly recommend this tour to Istanbul for an immersive holiday experience.

Traditional Turkish Cooking Class

If you've ever wished to bring the taste of Turkey to your own kitchen, then attending a traditional Turkish cooking class is the perfect solution. With the help of skilled Turkish chefs, you'll learn the techniques and secrets behind creating authentic Turkish dishes, such as delicious meze platters and kebabs. Moreover, you will learn to prepare a five-course meal with classic and regional recipes through hands-on instruction.

After you finish cooking, come together with the other participants around the table to enjoy a delicious meal filled with stories and laughter. This experience is more than just a cooking class, as it celebrates Turkish culture and cuisine and is a way to bond with new friends. With a newfound appreciation for the artistry of Turkish cooking, you’ll leave with the skills and confidence to recreate these dishes at home, impressing friends and family with your culinary prowess.

If you want to try your hand at cooking Turkish dishes, we highly recommend a Turkish Village Cooking Class & Bosphorus Tour offered by our friends at Sojourn Turkey. They offer a culinary adventure that goes beyond just a cooking class. After signing up for their classes, you first, take a private boat tour across the Bosphorus to their local village. Here, you visit the local markets, buy fresh ingredients, and finally reach your kitchen. In the kitchen, professional chefs will teach you the local cuisine with hands-on practice and English guidance. Moreover, local villagers join in on the experience to assist you throughout your journey. At the end, you will have a 5-course lunch with your new friends and a deeper understanding of Turkish cuisine.

Tea and Coffee Tastings

For centuries, tea and coffee have played a central role in Turkish culture, from the bustling coffee houses of the Ottoman Empire to the intimate tea gardens of modern-day Istanbul. In this beautiful country, you can discover the art of Turkish tea and coffee through guided tastings, where you’ll learn about the history, production, and brewing techniques of these cherished beverages.

During your tour, you will be able to sample a variety of teas, ranging from the strong black tea that is loved by millions to the aromatic infusions of apple, rose hip, and linden flowers. You will also have the opportunity to savor the rich and velvety taste of Turkish coffee, which is prepared using traditional methods and is served with a flourish of hospitality. As you make your way through this aromatic journey, your guide will provide insights into the cultural significance of these drinks, revealing the rituals and traditions that accompany them. With a deeper understanding of the role tea and coffee play in Turkish society, you’ll never look at your morning brew the same way again.

Turkish tea is not like the regular tea that is commonly found in markets. It is made using local tea leaves from different parts of Turkey, particularly from the Black Sea region. This gives Turkish tea a bold and rich flavor that is bound to leave a lasting impression on your taste buds. To complement this unique taste, Turkish tea is traditionally served in smaller tulip glasses. Along with Turkish tea, Turkish coffee is also a specialty of the region. If you want to experience something truly local, you can try different variations of Turkish coffee, such as Dibek, which has a lighter taste, or Turkish coffee made on hot sand!

3. Bosphorus Cruises: A Unique Perspective of Istanbul

The Bosphorus Strait has always been Istanbul's lifeblood, connecting Europe and Asia and providing a stunning backdrop to the city's historic skyline. Here, you can experience Istanbul’s beauty and charm from a unique perspective on a Bosphorus cruise, enjoying the views from the comfort of a boat.

Whether you are looking for a relaxing sunset sail or an entertaining dinner cruise, these boat tours offer awe-inspiring views and unforgettable memories. Experience the charming sights of Istanbul on a day tour as you sail past palaces, mosques, and waterfront mansions. Your knowledgeable guide will provide fascinating commentary on the landmarks that have shaped the history and culture of the city.

As the sun sets over the Bosphorus, casting a golden glow on the skyline, toast to your Istanbul adventure with a glass of traditional Turkish tea or a refreshing Efes beer. With the wind in your hair and the city’s magic at your fingertips, a Bosphorus cruise is an experience not to be missed.

Bosphorus Sunset Cruise

As the sun begins to set, casting a warm glow over Istanbul’s historic skyline, there’s no better way to experience the city’s beauty than on a Bosphorus Sunset Cruise. This 2.5-hour journey takes you along the Bosphorus Strait, offering breathtaking views of iconic landmarks like the Maiden’s Tower, Dolmabahce Palace, and the Bosphorus Bridge. With the wind in your hair and the city’s enchanting sights unfolding before you, this is truly a magical experience.

To enhance your cruise, complimentary refreshments are provided, including:

  • Delicious snacks
  • Baklava
  • Seasonal fruits
  • Soft drinks
  • Bottled water
  • Hot beverages like tea and coffee

As you sip your drink and savor the flavors of Istanbul, your knowledgeable guide will share fascinating insights into the city’s history, culture, and landmarks, ensuring an unforgettable experience. With its stunning views and captivating commentary, the Bosphorus Sunset Cruise is a must-do for any visitor to Istanbul.

Dinner Cruise with Entertainment

Dine, dance, and delight in Istanbul’s nighttime charm on a dinner cruise with live entertainment. This unforgettable experience combines the magic of a Bosphorus cruise with a sumptuous meal and traditional Turkish music and dance performances. As you sail past the city’s illuminated landmarks, indulge in a delicious dinner of local and international cuisine, accompanied by unlimited drinks.

The entertainment doesn’t stop with the food; talented performers will take to the stage, showcasing the vibrant traditions of Turkish music and dance. From the rhythmic melodies of the darbuka drum to the hypnotic swirls of the whirling dervishes, you’ll be transported to a world of enchantment and celebration. With its dazzling sights, delicious cuisine, and captivating performances, a dinner cruise with entertainment is the perfect way to experience the magic of Istanbul after dark.

If you're looking for a trustworthy Bosphorus cruise company, Velena Travel is here to offer you one of its two exclusive tours. The Bosphorus Sunset Tour takes you on a magical journey along the Bosphorus to view the beautiful sunset with snacks and a narrative guide. On the other hand, the Bosphorus and Black Sea Cruise with Lunch offers an in-depth 5-hour adventure starting from the Bosphorus up to the Black Sea, including a two-course lunch.

4. Off-the-Beaten-Path: Discovering Istanbul's Hidden Gems

Beyond the well-trodden paths of Istanbul’s iconic landmarks lies a treasure trove of hidden gems, waiting to be discovered by the curious traveler. From the breathtaking Süleymaniye Mosque and the art-filled Kariye Museum to the vibrant neighborhoods and markets of the city’s Asian side, these off-the-beaten-path attractions offer a glimpse into Istanbul’s lesser-known charms and secrets.

With the guidance of a knowledgeable local tour guide, you’ll uncover the stories and legends that weave through the city’s history, delving into the layers of culture that make Istanbul so unique. As you explore these captivating sites, you’ll gain a deeper appreciation for the city’s rich tapestry of art, architecture, and tradition.

Hence, we highly recommend venturing away from the well-trodden paths to discover the hidden gems of Istanbul, making it an unforgettable destination.

Süleymaniye Mosque and Kariye Museum Tour

Step off the tourist trail and immerse yourself in Istanbul’s rich history and breathtaking architecture on a guided tour of the Süleymaniye Mosque and Kariye Museum. The awe-inspiring Süleymaniye Mosque, designed by the legendary architect Sinan, who also built the Sehzade Mosque and over 350 structures, is an enduring symbol of the city’s Ottoman heritage and a masterpiece of Islamic art. Your expert guide will share the fascinating stories behind its construction as well as the cultural significance of this majestic mosque.

The Kariye Museum, also known as the Chora Church, is a hidden gem that boasts some of the most exquisite Byzantine mosaics and frescoes in the world. While exploring this enchanting space, your guide will recount the tales of its history and art, providing a profound understanding of its enduring allure. This tour offers a unique opportunity to discover Istanbul's hidden gems, revealing the captivating layers of history, art, and culture that define this remarkable city.

5. Princes' Islands: A Tranquil Escape

For those seeking a break from the bustling city, the Princes' Islands offer a tranquil escape. These nine islands in the Sea of Marmara, off Istanbul's Asian coast, are known for their charming cottages, peaceful beaches, and car-free streets.

The most popular islands to visit are Büyükada, the largest of the Princes' Islands, and Heybeliada, known for its beautiful green landscapes and historic sites. On Büyükada, you can explore the island by bike or take a horse-drawn carriage ride to visit the Aya Yorgi Church and Monastery, located at the island's highest point. Heybeliada is home to the famous Halki Seminary and offers beautiful walking trails.

A day trip to the Princes' Islands is a great way to experience the quieter side of Istanbul. You can reach the islands by ferry from both the European and Asian sides of the city. Once there, enjoy a leisurely lunch at a seafood restaurant, take a swim in the clear waters, or just relax and enjoy the serene atmosphere. With their lush landscapes, historic sites, and relaxed pace of life, the Princes' Islands are a must-visit for any traveler looking to explore beyond the city's main attractions.

6. Istanbul's Asian Side Adventure

Join a guided tour to experience the unique charm and vibrant energy of Istanbul's Asian side. Accompanied by a knowledgeable local guide, you'll explore the bustling Kadikoy Market, where the city's sights, sounds, and flavors come to life. After that, take a leisurely stroll through the Yeldeğirmeni neighborhood, admiring the colorful street art and visiting the bustling galleries that showcase the city's creative spirit.

As you journey through Istanbul’s Asian side, your guide will share captivating stories and insights into the history, culture, and daily life of this lesser-explored part of the city. With its unique blend of old and new, tradition and innovation, the Asian side of Istanbul offers a fresh perspective on the city’s rich tapestry of experiences and an unforgettable adventure for the intrepid traveler.

7. Private Tours: Personalized Istanbul Experiences

Private tours are the perfect solution for those seeking a more personalized and intimate exploration of Istanbul. Tailored to your interests and led by expert local guides, these tours provide a unique opportunity to delve deeper into the city’s history, culture, and attractions at your own pace. From customized culinary adventures to bespoke historical explorations, private tours ensure a memorable and enriching Istanbul experience.

Whether you’re interested in a specific aspect of Turkish culture or simply prefer the flexibility of a private itinerary, these private tours and group tours cater to your every need. Your knowledgeable and friendly guide will be on hand to answer questions, share personal stories, and offer insider tips on the best places to visit, dine, and shop. With a private tour, you can truly immerse yourself in the magic of Istanbul, creating unforgettable memories that will last a lifetime.

Discover Istanbul!

Istanbul is a fascinating city that offers a unique blend of rich history and exciting culinary experiences. From the magnificent landmarks that stand as a testament to its past to the tantalizing flavors of its diverse food scene, Istanbul has something for everyone.

Whether you want to explore its iconic sites, discover hidden gems, or enjoy a personalized private tour, the magic of Istanbul awaits you. So, pack your bags and get ready for an unforgettable journey of discovery in this enchanting city where history, culture, and adventure come together to create a breathtaking tapestry of unforgettable moments.

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