Istanbul is currently the hottest discovery in the travel industry and because of this, a treasure chest of fun things to do has sprung up. Historical mosques and buildings make for gorgeous vacation photos, but the city was thrust into the tourism limelight due to an influx of world-class restaurants, stylish bars, art galleries and a hip fashion scene.
There is a loud, positive energy that abounds in Istanbul, but locals hold culture and heritage close to their hearts, and the city was awarded the title 2010 European City of Culture. To list all fun things to do in Istanbul would take at least 500 pages of a printed book. From the Asian side to the European side, there are many attractions so we have just listed our favorites.
Fun Things to Do in Istanbul, Turkey
Amazing Views of the Golden Horn at Pierre Loti Hill
The Pierre Loti Hill was named after celebrated French novelist, Pierre Loti or Julien Viaud in real life. He fell in love with the stunning panoramic view of the Golden Horn and eventually with a married Turkish lady.
Pierre Lotie was a favorite and frequent customer at the Rabia Hanim Kiraathanesi, a coffee shop where you can enjoy a warm cup of Turkish coffee while admiring the horizon, most exquisite of which is the sunset, when a warm golden hue envelopes the hill and the ford that surrounds. You may go up the hill by climbing it or riding a cable car.
Cruise the Bosphorus
The Bosphorus is the world’s narrowest strait, which links the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara. The strait itself is not as appealing as the historical sights found on its banks. The best way to enjoy the Bosphorus is by riding a cruise boat along the length of the strait and then getting off and seeing the banks on foot or by car.
See and visit some great architectural works such as the Rumeli Fortress, Dolmabahce Palace and Ortakoy Mosque. After sightseeing, shop in chic boutiques or people watch in the waterfront cafes. Read more about cruising the Bosphorus here.
Camlica Hill Viewpoint
On the Asian side of the Bosphorus rises one of the highest points of Istanbul, the Camlica Hill. Rising 267 meters above sea level, it affords a sweeping view of the Bosphorus, the Sea of Marmara, the Historical Peninsula and even the Princes’ Island.
You may even see the Bithynian Olympus at dusk, the snow-capped ridge of Uludag. Aside from the amazing view, people visit Camlica Hill to breathe cool fresh air and to admire colorful flowers that come in full bloom during spring time.
Have Fun in the Galata District
Galata is on the European side of Istanbul, which says much about its predominant geography and culture. The most famous landmark is the Galata Tower, which has a 360⁰ view of the district. Next to it in prominence is the Galata Bridge, which links the banks of the Golden Horn.
Other sights you may visit are the Pera Museum, Hagia Triada Orthodox Church and Ceyazir Street, or the “French Street”. Don’t forget the visit the famous floating fish boats at the end of the bridge.
Things to Do – Shop in the Grand Bazaar
People who love shopping will have the time of their lives at the Grand Bazaar, one of the oldest and largest covered markets in the world. It dates back to the 15th century and boasts of 5000 shops. The Grand Bazaar is not only a treasure trove of interesting merchandise, but is very much an important part of Turkey’s heritage.
Go crazy over jewelry, antiques, traditional clothing, spices, hand-painted ceramics and many other great finds. Non-shoppers can also have a great time admiring the exquisite paint work and architecture of the massive market. Aside from shops, there are restaurants, cafes, fountains, hamams and a couple of mosques.
See The Ancient Hippodrome of Istanbul
The Hippodrome is a symbol of ancient Istanbul (Byzantium), dating back to 203 AD, and built under the governance of Roman Emperor Septimus Severus. It was a venue to hold events such as chariot races. The Hippodrome gained significance during the reign of Emperor Constantine the Great, where he implemented measures to give glory to his city.
He ordered beautiful artworks to be brought in from various Roman Empire cities, reflecting his aspiration of splendor for his city, which was renamed to Constantinople. It’s rather unfortunate that much of the artworks were looted by the Crusaders at the start of the 13th century, leaving only the Constantine Columns, the Egyptian Obelisk and the Serpentine.
Ottoman Nostalgia on Princes’ Island
The Princes’ Island is a group of nine islands, four of which are open to the public for picnics, a leisurely stroll or swimming and sunbathing at the beach. The four islands, collectively known as Adalar, are Buyukada, Heybeliada, Burgazada and Kinaliada. The largest is the Buyukada, thus most famous with tourists, with small hotels, restaurants and cafeteria.
There are also historical sites such as Hamidiye Mosque, Aya Yorgi Church and Monastery and Ayios Dimitrios Church. The smallest is the Kinaliada, albeit still a favorite among travelers because of its unique reddish color brought about by iron and copper mining in the area.
The Final Port of Defence – Rumeli Fortress
Located on the European bank of the Bosphorus, the Rumeli Fortress was built in 1452 by Mehmed II. It features three imposing towers, used to be guarded by 400 soldiers and many large cannons. A fortress until the fall of Constantinople, it became a customs checkpoint then a prison and even became home to a neighborhood that had wooden houses, mansions and also a mosque. At present, it is open to the public as a museum and a venue for music festivals.
Egyptian Spice Market
Get lost in the intoxicating scents and colors at the Spice Market, the center of Istanbul’s spice trade since 1660. It is undoubtedly a lot smaller than the famous Grand Bazaar, but you’ll love how you won’t have to battle your way through large crowds and actually have a glimpse into the locals’ lifestyle and culture.
The Spice Market is also known as the Egyptian Bazaar because spices were imported from Egypt in the ancient times. Merchants are generous with haggling and would offer you a sniffing of their choices of spices. Aside from spices, you can also buy nuts, dried fruits and local delicacies such as the baklava.
Topkapi Palace – Home of the Sultans
The Topkapi Palace, dating back to 1459, is as opulent as it is historical. Having served as the royal residence of the Ottoman Sultanate for about 400 years, it is a powerhouse of colorful stories that are as stellar as the antique relics and artifacts. As you enter the premises of the Palace, you’ll be greeted by a well-manicured landscape and extravagant courtyards. Inside, have a glimpse of the lavish lifestyle of the Ottoman Sultans as evident in their extensive collection of jewels, preserved China, ornate ceremonial outfits and weaponry.
Further Reading on fun things to do in Istanbul, Turkey
Turkey covers two continents, including Europe but a majority of it is in Asia Minor, of which Jews have lived in since the 5th century BC. The Ottoman Empire during their reign was also respected for offering shelter and homes to Jews, expelled from other countries, especially during the 15th century, when the Alhambra Decree, ordered the explosion of Jews from catholic Spain. Read more about discovering Jewish Heritage in Istanbul.
Istanbul has been the city of dreams, capital of empires and now as a modern voyager you can look back in awe at the rich history of this metropolis through the eyes of many museums scattered about the city. Find out which are our top ten museums in Istanbul