Istanbul is a vibrant city full of an exquisite culture, vivid colours, stunning aromas and enticing flavours. I was here last month with Turkey tourism India and absolutely loved exploring this magnetic city.
The best of Asia and Europe join together in harmony in this culturally rich and diverse city located in close proximity to major European capital’s and easily accessible from all corners of the globe.
From the aqua blue waters of the Bosporus to the stunning architecture of Topkapi palace, the hustle and bustle of Taksim square to grand mosques, from the sites and aromas of Grand Bazaar to award-winning restaurants, Istanbul has it all.
Here is my complete guide to things to do, see, eat, shop and experience in Istanbul/ Istanbul Itinerary :
I. THINGS TO DO IN ISTANBUL/ WHAT TO SEE IN ISTANBUL :
1. Take a cruise over the Bosporus:
Hiring a private yacht or hopping onto one of the many public cruises over the majestic Bosporus is a must-do activity when in Istanbul. Marrying two continents, the Bosporus is a magnificent water body flowing through the heart of Istanbul.
Sailing across its turquoise blue waters is one of the best ways to explore this magnanimous city.
We hired a private yacht with breakfast on yacht, impeccable service and stunning views of the city including its ample bridges, luxury water houses, castles and palaces.
2. Explore Old Town :
Istanbul’s Old Town has a majority of it’s most famous monuments, religious buildings and palaces.
A walk along its cobbled streets, rustic alleys and bustling squares will leave you spellbound.
Here’s what you absolutely must see and do in Old Town:
A. Hagia Sophia :
A former Cathedral converted into a Mosque, the spectacular Hagia Sophia is studded with one of the world’s largest domes. Also a museum, you can learn a lot about the rich Turkish history with a visit to this mesmerizing structure.
The grand marble pillars, stained glass windows and the regal carpets add to the beauty of the experience.
B. Topkapi Palace :
Bask in the midst of eye-catching Ottoman architecture at the stunning Topkapi Palace, Istanbul.
The majestic blue and white pillars, tall ceilings, intricate carvings, historic paintings and stunning views make Topkapi Palace one of Istanbul’s most beautiful buildings.
Get transported to the Ottoman era with the mesmerizing historic structures, ceilings and colours.
Explore the golden arches of the Dîvân-ı Hümâyûn (Imperial Council) or get engulfed in the grandeur of Arz Odasi (Audience Hall), walk into the historic divans or experience stunning views of the city from the marbled terrace.
Walking around the old town, you can come across many historic monuments, squares, restaurants and stores to pick up souvenirs.
3. Experience the grandeur of Süleymaniye Mosque :
Donning one of Istanbul’s many hills, the grand Süleymaniye Mosque is one of the city’s largest mosques.
Built by the great architect Sinan it is truly an architectural masterpiece.
With it’s four tall minarets, intricately carved domes, classic balconies and a huge courtyard this simple yet stunning mosque is a must-visit. This is also a great spot for watching the Istanbul sunset and soaking in great views of the skyline.
4. Go on a culinary journey through Spice Bazaar, Istanbul :
Full of exciting aromas, sights, sounds and flavours Istanbul’s Spice Bazaar is a must-visit for every food enthusiast. Also known as Mısır Çarşısı, this is one of the city’s oldest markets, going back to 1664.
While the Grand Bazaar may be the more popular market, I would personally recommend visiting the Spice market for food shopping as prices are relatively lower and you can walk about trying samples of local products.
From the colourful array of exotic spices to rows and rows of Turkish delight, fragrant teas to the highest quality pistachios, you can find the best of Turkey’s rich produce at the Mısır Çarşısı.
5. Shop your heart out at the historic Grand Bazaar :
One of the largest markets in the world, dotted with over 4,000 shops the popular Grand Bazaar is Istanbul’s most popular shopping destination.
From rich Turkish carpets to sweet dates, a wide range of Turkish coffee to Arabic jewellery, high-end clothes to souvenirs, find it all at this enormous market. Almost like a city within a city, thousands of people flock to the Grand Bazaar every day. Meander through a maze of thousands of vendors selling everything under the sun.
These are some of my favourite things to do in Istanbul. Apart from these, if you have time do plan a visit to the gigantic Blue Mosque, soak in the views from Galata tower and walk around Taksim square.
II. Istanbul Food Guide/Where and What to eat in Istanbul/Top eats in Istanbul :
The vibrant city of Istanbul is every foodie’s paradise with its vast variety of restaurants serving cuisines from all over the world.
With flavours influenced by both Asia and Europe, there are some amazing cafes, bars and street food to be found in every nook and corner of this electrifying city.
From warm Turkish Coffee to freshly baked local bread, the entertaining Turkish Ice cream to sweet Baklava’s, melt in your mouth cheese to fresh salads, find it all in Istanbul.
Here are some of my favourite things and places to eat in Istanbul :
1. Breakfast at Emirgan Sütiş :
Located on the coastal road in Emirgan, Istanbul, right by the blue waters of the Bosporus is a lovely café called Emirgan Sütiş. A local favourite, the breakfast here is heartwarmingly delicious. From freshly baked ‘simit’ bread to amazing local cheese, strong Turkish tea to sweet jams to fresh hummus, the breakfast here is some of the finest in Istanbul.
With the salty sea air, floral walls, impeccable service and delightful food, pamper your taste buds with a meal at Emirgan Sütiş.
2. Step into history with lunch at Pandeli :
Located via a tiny staircase off the Spice market is one of Istanbul’s most popular restaurants, namely Pandeli.
Studded by turquoise blue marbled walls, wooden tables and an interesting history, this is one of Istanbul’s oldest and best restaurants to try Turkish food.
Some of Pandeli’s signature dishes are its beans in olive oil, vine leaves stuffed with herbed rice, Kadinbudu meatballs and local sea bass.
3. Experience modern Turkish cuisine at Neolokal :
Voted to be one of the world’s 50 best restaurants, Neolokal offers stunning views of the city skyline coupled with delicious modern Turkish cuisine. With elegant interiors, a vast wine menu, impeccable views and handcrafted dishes, this is one of Istanbul’s best rooftop restaurants.
Using fresh produce, age-old recipes and a modern touch I would highly recommend trying the daily chef’s special menu. I loved the hummus and the grilled vegetables here paired with baked pumpkin sinkonta.
4. Istanbul Street food :
Being a melting pot of flavours and cultures, Istanbul has a beautiful street food scene. You can find a variety of local and international street foods in places like Istekal Street, Pera and Karakoy.
What to eat/Street food in Istanbul :
- Simit: This popular baked pretzel style ring bread with sesame seeds is an extremely popular Turkish street food. Find it all over the city at Simit Sarayi or on the streets of Karakoy.
- Gözleme: It’s a delicious, handmade Turkish flatbread often topped with meat/vegetables or served plain with a dip. Find it on Istekal street or Gostepe Pazartesi Pazari (Monday bazaar).
- Dondurma: We all love the popular Turkish ice cream, now available all over the world. Presented in an entertaining way with a lot of theatrics, the sticky and soft Dondurma can be found in Pera/Taksim square in many flavours.
- Kumpir : A MUST try, hearty dish, the Kumpir is a huge baked jacket potato stuffed with your choice of fillings like meat/sour cream/grilled veggies/mayo/cheese and a variety of sauces. Find this on Istiklal street.
Apart from the above, also try traditional Serber, Boza (fermented winter drink), Doner kebabs and Shwarma’s in Istanbul.
III. Shopping in Istanbul :
Istanbul is a shopaholic’s paradise being home to some of the world’s top fashion labels as well as local boutiques and affordable street shopping. I would recommend checking out the Grand Bazaar, Spice Market, Istiklal Street and Forum mall.
IV. Where to stay in Istanbul:
Istanbul has a lot of accommodation options for every budget. From luxury hotels to backpacker hostels to serviced apartments, it’s easy to find what you need in this city.
We stayed at Divan Hotel Taksim Square which was elegant, luxurious and in the heart of the city.
Getting Around Istanbul :
You can get around Istanbul using the local metro/trams/busses or get a cab.
Istanbul is truly a magical city which will make you fall in love with it. I loved my visit to this spectacular place and I can’t wait to go back again soon.
For more information visit : https://www.goturkey.com/
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Wow! So beautifully written and there’s amazing info on Istanbul! Following this when I visit!
Can’t wait to go to Istanbul! Been seeing all your posts and videos and this and now I need to go here!
Thank you! Yes you should visit soon, it is gorgeous.
Thank you so much! Please do visit soon, it’s a beautiful city.
Planning to go to Turkey in June! So happy to see this guide. Can you tell me if there are good vegetarian food options available in Istanbul?
Hey! June is a really good time to go, great weather too. Yes there are a lot of vegetarian and vegan options in Istanbul which is super multicultural. You can find everything from fast food chains to Indian to Italian food. Even in the local cuisine, there are good veggie options like Kumpir, Hummus, Stuffed Vine Leaves, etc.
This is such a well penned and detailed guide. Thank you for sharing this, will be following it on my next trip to Istanbul.
Thank you Devina.