Top 10 Istanbul Bucket List Experiences
There is no denying that Istanbul, Turkey is a city unlike any other. Magnificent mosques, mouth-watering food, and extraordinary sites will take your breath away. Whether you wish to have a laidback weekend getaway or a fun-filled vacation, the mesmerizing city has something to offer for everyone. With our help, discover bucket list experiences in Istanbul. We guarantee you will have a blast!
Need help planning your trip – we’ve got you covered with our Turkey Trip Planning Guide.
Are you a shopaholic at heart? Even if you are not a fan of shopping, paying a visit to Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar will be an experience unlike any other. With more than 30,700 square meters, it is the largest covered market in the world. Inside you will find 64 streets that include about 4000 shops. But that’s not it! The Grand Bazaar also has its own mosque, plenty of restaurants, banks, and a police station. So in a way – it is actually a miniature city in itself.
What should you buy at the market? As you may already know, Turkey has a rich history of carpet making, and Grand Bazaar is one of the best places you can find the famous handicraft. Beautiful ceramics, jewelry, and lanterns are also quite popular choices. If you wish to taste or bring home some local foods, you may find plenty of edible gifts here. Look out for pul briber (which is a dried pepper), sweet-sour pomegranate molasses, and halva. Grand Bazaar can get a bit crowded, so we suggest planning your visit in the morning – as early as possible.
Even if you have never been to Istanbul, Turkey you have probably seen photos of the impressive building. That is no surprise – the Blue Mosque is perhaps the most famous landmark of Turkey and therefore worth a visit for anyone traveling to the city. The stunning building was built between 1609 and 1616. Since then, it has become a symbol of Istanbul that thousands of people swarm to every year.
The Blue Mosque is the embodiment of the word “grand”. It can hold up to 10,000 worshippers, and what makes it even more special is the fact you can almost hear the voice of any person in it. While you are there, make sure to admire its elegant blue tile mosaics (the statistics are mindblowing – the number of tiles used is 21,043), fantastic symmetry, and the wonderful atmosphere of the fascinating building.
Remember to be respectful and remain silent. Although it might be the most popular tourist attraction in the country, the building still operates as a mosque. Keep in mind that the entry to the mosque is monitored. All visitors are required to cover themselves.
Another site worth exploring is the Hagia Sophia which has been accepted as the 8th wonder of the world. Originally built in the sixth century as a Byzantine church, in 1453, it was converted into a mosque and is considered to be one of the world’s greatest architectural works. For almost a century, the Hagia Sophia served as a museum, but in 2020 it was formally declared as a mosque. Entrance to the impressive building is free of charge, but if you wish to have a more in-depth experience, joining a guided tour might be your best bet. Open for 24 hours every day of the week, we suggest discovering the beautiful mosque in the morning hours when it is not yet packed with people.
Istanbul, Turkey has a rich history and cultural life. Just by wandering around the streets of the city, you can spot impressive buildings on almost every corner. But Basilica Cistern, also known as the Sunken Cistern, might just be one of the most exceptional ones. It is not completely clear when exactly the incredible cistern was built, but it seems to be about 1500-1700 years old, making it one of the oldest historical heritage of the Byzantine period. Often called the “underground palace”, the Basilica Cistern has 336 columns that support small domes over them. Seeing the impressive building will definitely be a special treat for architecture and art enthusiasts alike.
Eating your way through Istanbul will be a memorable experience. In fact, Turkey will be a delightful surprise for all foodies. Forget about international food chains while you are there – tasting the local cuisine is a must. Make sure to try mantı – a hot dish served with garlic and cold yogurt. Often called the Turkish ravioli, the tasty meal comes in all variations – with spinach, salmon, and even chicken.
After that – satisfy your sweet tooth by tasting Baklava – perhaps the finest example of Turkish desserts. All around the city, you will find the yummy treat with walnuts, pistachios, and also hazelnuts. Just make sure your chosen baklava is fresh. We suggest stopping by Güllüoğlu or Köşkeroğlu – there you are guaranteed to find mouth-watering desserts. Of course, Istanbul is well known for its amazing kebaps. Have a bite of them, and you will quickly fall in love.
Read more about eating your way through Istanbul in our Foodie’s Guide to Turkey.
Taking a cruise on the Bosphorus might be Istanbul’s most overlooked tourist attraction, but in reality – it is one of the best. Exploring the gorgeous city on a boat will offer a new dimension to the loved holiday destination. A private Bosphorus cruise will give you an unforgettable experience for a relatively low price.
During your trip, you will catch a glimpse of the three suspension bridges that link the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara. If you wish to experience breath-taking views that feature fabulous palaces, stunning public buildings, and impressive mosques, this is the best way to get them. Perhaps the wisest choice is the hop-on-hop-off boat tour, then you have a chance to discover the many sites at a slower pace. If you wish to have a more luxurious experience, another way of boating the area is by hiring a private yacht. Those who are interested may choose between different routes. If you are a romantic soul, you will surely enjoy the sunset cruise.
Another must-see place in Istanbul, Turkey is the Dolmabahce Palace, which can be found on the shoreline of the Bosphorus. The awe-inspiring building is another example of the incredible wealth of the Ottoman Empire, in which the Dolmabahce Palace played an important role – it was its administrative center. Richly decorated in European style, the site will be a pleasant surprise even for those who aren’t big enthusiasts of history. Perhaps the highlight of the building is its grand Ceremonial Hall. With 2000 square meters, golden decorations, and impressive columns, it will mesmerize you with its beauty.
In fact, the hall has a 4,5-ton Bohemian crystal chandelier which was gifted by Queen Victoria and is considered to be the largest in the world. Don’t miss the famous Crystal Staircase, which features Baccarat crystal banisters, because it is truly breath-taking.
While you are exploring palaces, make sure to include the Topkapi Palace on your itinerary. Nestled on top of the most visible hill of the city, it gives a closer look into the lives of the Sultan during the Ottoman Empire. Built in 1461, the building’s museum is the most visited in Istanbul. It can get a bit crowded, so try to plan your visit early in the morning. When walking through the gorgeous palace, pay attention to the Spoonmaker’s diamond – an 86 carat diamond that is the fifth biggest in the world – and to the finest example of handmade Iznik tiles.
Ortakoy Mosque & Bosphorus Bridge
Visiting the Ortakoy Mosque should be on every traveler’s bucket list. Creating one of the most stunning scenes in Istanbul with the Bosphorus Bridge, the magnificent building is unlike any other in the city. The baroque-style mosque was built between 1853 to 1855 and is well known for its exquisite decorations. Even if you decide not to visit the mosque from inside, at least have a look at it and the Bosphorus Bridge from afar. The area is perhaps the most picturesque in the whole of Istanbul. It will be the perfect backdrop for a selfie.
Galata Bridge & Tower
When looking for the “it” place in Istanbul with all of the action, the Galata Bridge spanning over the golden horn will be a great choice. The bridge itself has a fascinating history. Did you know that it was rebuilt five times?! Historically, it was used to connect two different civilizations. In fact, it was the passageway from Constantinople to the Old City. Nowadays, the area around Galata Bridge is loved by both tourists and locals. If you want to get an authentic feel of the city, this is the place to be. Try cheap and delicious street food, admire the ferryboats passing by and simply learn more about the Turkish way of life.
There is no denying that the Suleymaniye Mosque is a serious competitor to the Blue Mosque. Although less popular, the masterpiece of architect Mimar Sinan will quickly capture your heart. As you walk in, you will be struck by the beauty of the mosque that is 59 meters in length and 58 meters in width. Similar to other monuments in Istanbul, throughout its life, the mosque has suffered quite a lot. During World War I, it experienced a fire but was restored in 1956. Now, it stands in its grace and is open to all curious visitors. Make sure to stop by the cafe in the sunken garden to have a cup of coffee in the beautiful surroundings.
Taksim & Istiklal Street
A part of what makes Istanbul, Turkey so special is its vibrant atmosphere. To experience the city in all of its beauty, remember to include Istiklal Street in your travel itinerary. The “Independence Avenue” is a bit more than 1,5 kilometers long and is packed with quirky and cool shops, delicious restaurants, fun street shows, and splendid cafes. The Istiklal Street might be one of the most popular meeting points in the whole city. As you take a walk through it, pay attention to the Hagia Triada Church, stop by the Madame Tussauds Wax Museum to take a photo with your favorite celebrity, and check out the flower passage – an excellent destination for foodies looking to have a delicious dinner.
To have a marvelous culinary experience, don’t forget to visit the Fish Market (Balik Pazari) that has a variety of stands offering street food, for example, midye tava (mussels fried in oil), kokorec (season intestines from mutton), and dolma (rice-stuffed mussels). This is also a good place for finding fresh fruits, fish, caviar, and vegetables.
What is the best time to visit Istanbul, Turkey?
Although discovering the beautiful city for the first time will be superb in every season, we suggest planning your trip in spring (April and May), or Fall (September and October) when the weather’s not too hot or cold yet. However, if you wish to stay away from crowds, it would be wise to plan your holiday in winter. Either way – you are guaranteed to have a marvelous time.
The largest city of Turkey has a timeless charm that seems to capture the heart of anyone who visits it. Istanbul, Turkey has a little bit of everything – modern skyscrapers, unbelievably beautiful historic sites, excellent restaurants, and fantastic shops. Whether you itinerary includes touring its stunning mosques, trying out the tantalizing food or simply wandering around its winding streets, you are guaranteed to make memories that will last a lifetime.
Learn more about what to pack on your trip to Turkey with our Ultimate Turkey Packing Guide.
So, are you ready for your Turkish adventure?