If you are trying to plan your trip to Istanbul and feeling lost among hundreds of recommendations and lists, you have come to the right place. This list is based on tried and true experiences - not google recommendations. We all face the same dilemma when visiting a new city. We want to experience it as a local, not a tourist, so we’ve compiled this list of the top 10 things so that you can experience Istanbul through the eyes of a local.
Istanbul has many nicknames because everyone experiences the magic of this city in their own way. It is the city of art, romance, two continents in one, history, culture, and more. Istanbul has something unique for everyone and we guarantee that you will leave a piece of your heart here in Istanbul so let’s dive in and discover your next adventure.
1- Where simplicity meets art
There is a neighborhood in Istanbul called Balat where every street tells a different artistic story. Balat is known for its colored streets and buildings. You can spend a whole day among its friendly locals and experience Istanbul’s true culture. All the cafes in Balat have beautiful interiors where you can take gorgeous pictures while enjoying a cup of Turkish tea. If you are an art seeker, Balat is definitely the right destination for you. Once you arrive there, turn off any navigation and let your heart lead you because nothing is more beautiful than getting lost in the streets of Balat.
2- Seeing things from a new perspective
A visit to Galata Tower will allow you to see Istanbul from an unforgettable point of view. From this incredible vantage point, you will be able to make out all of Istanbul’s famous landmarks and capture the city from above. Don’t forget to also spend some time down on earth and take a walk through the vintage streets around the tower in the historical area of Karaköy. There are a number of good cafes to try and shops to purchase souvenirs.
3- Take a tour around the world
Food is one of the best ways to discover Istanbul and its diverse culture. Kadıköy neighborhood is home to many incredible restaurants from the world’s most flavorful kitchens. If you are craving any food from any country- you will find it in Kadıköy. It is a great opportunity to try new flavors and explore more of Istanbul. Another suggestion would be to order from your choice of restaurant and have a picnic at “Moda Sahil Parkı” - a spacious, shaded park where you can enjoy a gorgeous sea view.
Thanks to the currency exchange rates, very reasonable prices, and various outlet malls and local markets, you can get in all the shopping that you want without breaking the bank. Here in Istanbul, you can find all the most popular brands at much lower prices. In addition, each district in Istanbul has a local market called a “Pazar”. A pazar is much like a farmer’s market, with the products all locally sourced, handmade, and authentic. You won’t find brand names, but you’ll get to experience a part of everyday Turkish life, as this is where locals buy most of their fruits, vegetables, spices, and even clothes.
5- Plan a day trip
A day trip to the princes' islands will put you in the needed traveling mode. You would take a ferry from Eminönü, Kadıköy or Bostancı ferry docks and enjoy a beautiful sea ride. You will arrive at the largest one of the 9 islands called “Büyükada”. It is a car-free island where you can enjoy discovering its authentic streets by the famous horse-drawn carriages (phaetons) or rent a bike. The island has panoramic magical views and beautiful beaches. There are also parks and forests for hiking lovers. It is a day trip to nature and you will feel like visiting an old peaceful era. Time traveling is no longer a dream.
6- Witness the magic of spring
Visiting Istanbul in the spring is truly a magical experience. The weather is delightful and in April you can enjoy the breathtaking sights of the Tulip Festival. Emirgan park on the European side of Istanbul is the perfect destination to visit the world famous Istanbul tulips. This park is one of the largest public parks in Istanbul and has several tulip gardens. It is truly an unforgettable and once in a lifetime experience.
7- A hidden gem For sunset lovers
It is time to reveal a non-touristic place to enjoy one of the best sunsets that Istanbul has to offer. Prepare a romantic playlist, grab a blanket and head to “Küçükçekmece” lake. It is a simple place and not crowded. You can sit right by the lake and enjoy one of the finest endings to the day with the beautiful sounds of nature. Don’t go with an agenda, just go for an awe-inspiring sunset.
8- Don’t miss the cable car (Teleferik)
Next to the Eyüp Sultan Mosque, you will find a cable car station where you can ride up the mountain. After the teleferik ride, You can take stunning pictures and eat Turkish Gözleme with a gorgeous view. If you are a night owl, you can take the teleferik at night and enjoy the city lights from a whole new point of view.
9- The capital of culture and history
There is nothing wrong with visiting the many touristic attractions and historical sites. Even if you are not a history fan, everyone loves Istanbul’s palaces, museums, galleries, mosques, churches, and temples. Amazing architecture, fancy royal places, and breathtaking stories will allow you to experience history first hand. Topkapı Palace, the Hagia Sophia mosque, Dolmabahçe Palace, Çamlıca Mosque, the Union Church of Istanbul, İstiklal street, the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts, and the Museum of Modern Art are all places that you don’t want to miss. These historical places will bring the history of Turkey to life.
10 - Where are the adventure seekers?
Imagine zip lining with a view of the Bosphorus. From a park called “Nakkaştepe Millet Bahçesi” you can enjoy an incredible zip lining experience and knock that off of your bucket list. Our recommended place is “Xtrem Aventures Istanbul” where you could let yourself be as wild as you dream.
Istanbul is a city where you can truly discover yourself. It will tell you about your hidden interests and passions. Try to enjoy it to the fullest, drink every cup of tea, taste all the delicious Turkish food, and always let its streets lead you. Get lost in Istanbul and share with us your own list of top things to do in the city of dreams.