Visit Istanbul Like a Local: Travel Guide (2024 Edition)


To visit Istanbul, you need insider knowledge on exploring the largest city in Turkey. With Istanbul’s long history and various civilizations that ruled the city, it’s easy to see how this major Turkey city became a melting pot of cultures. Each neighborhood and town provides insight into the rich history of the city. In some towns, you’ll find relics from the ancient Egyptians. In other villages, you’ll find Byzantine churches.

Istanbul is a stunning country waiting for you to visit. This Istanbul travel guide will provide you with information on what makes this city special, how to get here, Istanbul travel planning tips, and activities to add to your itinerary.

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Visit Istanbul Travel Tips

➡️ BEST TIME TO GO: April–October

➡️ POPULATION: 15.46 Million

➡️ CURRENCY: Turkish Lira (TL)

➡️ PLUGS: Standard C | 220 V | 50 Hz


  • Hot sunny summers
  • Mild spring
  • Mild rainy fall
  • Cold winter | Snow & Rain


  • Historical
  • Food
  • Slow

Top 23 Things to Do in Istanbul

One of the best parts about traveling is viewing the local attractions, and Istanbul has quite a few. Whether you’re staying for a few days or on an extended trip, you’ll want to make it to as many of the following bucket list locations as possible.

Iznik tiles in Blue Mosque

1. Blue Mosque

The Blue Mosque, also known as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, is as impressive outside as it is inside. This mosque was built in the early 1600s and continues to be a working mosque today.

As soon as you enter the mosque, you’ll understand why it’s called the Blue Mosque. Beautiful mosaics using blue tiles travel up the walls and onto the ceilings at the mosque.

There is no fee to enter the mosque, making it an excellent addition for those with a tight budget. Something to keep in mind is the rules associated with the mosque, including conservative clothing and a head covering for women.

Update 2022: The Blue Mosque is under renovation. You can still go inside but you cannot see the blue Iznik tiles.

Bucket List Experiences Hagia Sophia

2. Hagia Sophia

The Hagia Sophia is a cathedral in Istanbul built in 537 AD. For nearly 1000 years, it was used as the seat for Constantinople’s Orthodox Patriarch. In the mid-1400s, it became a mosque. Since then, it has shifted into a museum and then a mosque again.

This is a family-friendly location to visit, and the architecture is stunning. Expect to spend about 1- 2 hours exploring the outside and inside of this mosque. You will need to purchase tickets beforehand on the Hagia Sophia website.

basilica cistern travel istanbul

3. Basilica Cistern

The Basilica Cistern offers a look into the lives of the ancient civilizations that once resided in Istanbul. As you tour the underground reservoir, there are multiple statues to keep an eye out for, including the head of medusa.

You’ll be walking through stunning marble columns built in the 500s. This underground cistern is in Hagia Sophia, so it’s a great extra to do after you tour the mosque above.

As a note, you can only purchase entry to this exciting activity with the Turkish Lira. Cards are not accepted.

Fener Balat colorful houses

4. Colorful Houses of Fener-Balat

One of the best ways to learn about a destination is by exploring the streets and observing the architecture. The Fener and Balat neighborhoods are a fun place to explore, with brightly colored houses stretching up and down the streets.

5. Golden Horn View on Pierre Loti Hill

The Golden Horn is an inlet at the base of the Bosphorous Strait. It is the biggest natural harbor globally, and many people head to Pierre Loti Hill for a panoramic view of the inlet.

The Pierre Loti Hill features a café where locals and tourists sip Turkish coffee and enjoy the views. You can access it by cable car, bus, or walking.

grand bazaar visit istanbul

6. Grand Bazaar

The Grand Bazaar is a large covered market in Istanbul (one of the largest and oldest worldwide). This market is fun for people of all ages (including children). Local goods, brightly colored spices, and clothing are only a few items found here.

It’s a great place to pick up souvenirs or find interesting goods from local merchants.

bosphorus cruise travel istanbul

7. Bosphorus Cruise

There are multiple Bosphorous Cruise options that you can enjoy while visiting Istanbul. Some cruises offer dinner and a show geared more toward couples.

Day cruises provide the opportunity to view some of the most famous landmarks in Istanbul over a few hours. Our favorite is a private tour on the Bosphorus that includes drinks and local appetizers.

eminonu street food istanbul travel guide

8. Eat Eminonu Street Food

Eminonu Street lies along the Golden Horn and provides access to mosques, restaurants, and ferries. On your way to your next attraction, take a few minutes to enjoy the many offerings of street food.

You’ll find everything from cheap sweets like Turkish delight that cost a few Turkish Lira to balik ekmek, an Istanbul fish sandwich. According to many, you’ll find the best fish sandwiches while walking down this street.

istiklal trolley istanbul

9. Ride the Istiklal Trolley

Istiklal Street, near Taksim Square, is a unique street in Istanbul that is pedestrian-only. There is one exception, which is the Istiklal Trolley.

This historic trolley travels up and down the street, picking up passengers who get tired after exploring the long list of shops along the street. You can ride it one way and walk back to explore the shops or ride it both ways for a short tour of the area.

This trolley is a slower form of travel, so only take it if you have the extra time. Since it moves on a pedestrian street, the drivers often have to wait for people to cross before continuing on the track.

10. Picnic in Gülhane Park

Gülhane Park is a beautiful place to stroll through or enjoy a picnic. It features perfectly manicured flowers of all varieties. You can find this park nearby the Topkapi Palace Museum and Hagia Sophia.

Take a break from exploring the landmarks and attractions to enjoy a peaceful lunch in Gülhane Park. It’s only about a 15-minute walk from Eminonu Street, so you can easily take your street food purchases and enjoy them in the park.

This park also holds a science museum, a fun stop for the whole family.

11. Topkapi Palace & Harem

Visiting Topkapi Palace & Harem is like stepping back into the golden age of the Ottoman Empire. Prepare to be awestruck by the grandeur of the palace’s numerous rooms and the intricate design of the Iznik tiles within the Harem. It’s not just a visit; it’s an immersive journey through a fascinating part of Istanbul’s history.

12. Explore the Istanbul Archeological Museum Complex

A visit to Istanbul’s Archeological Museum Complex is a journey into the rich tapestry of history, spanning the Ottoman Empire to the Turkish Republic. You will step back in time at the Tiled Pavilion Museum, before marveling at the extensive collection of over a million works at Turkey’s first museum, the Istanbul Archaeological Museum. End your journey at the Museum of the Ancient Orient, where a unique collection of pre-Greek and pre-Islamic era artifacts awaits, transporting you to the ancient civilizations of Anatolia, Mesopotamia, Egypt, and the Arabian Peninsula.

13. Visit the Historic Hippodrome of Constantinople in Sultanahmet

The Hippodrome of Constantinople, nestled in the heart of Sultanahmet, was once the vibrant heart of public life, hosting chariot races, gladiatorial games, and grand ceremonies with a 40,000 seat capacity. A visit to this historic site takes you on a journey through the Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman periods, providing a tangible connection to Istanbul’s rich and layered history.

14. Chora Church – Kariye Museum

Dive into the exquisite Byzantine art as you visit the Chora Church, a true gem of Istanbul. Its breathtaking mosaics and frescoes, showcasing Biblical scenes, are admirable remnants of the city’s rich historical layers. A trip to this masterpiece, once a church, then a mosque, and now a museum, is a must when exploring Istanbul.

15. Dolmabahce Palace

Complete your visit to Istanbul with a tour of the magnificent Dolmabahçe Palace. This grand palace along the beautiful Bosphorus provides stunning views. Get a glimpse into the lifestyle of the Ottoman Sultans. With captivating architecture and lavish interior design, it’s a must-visit location that will leave you spellbound.

16. Ortakoy Mosque

Discover the perfect blend of tradition and modernity at the Ortaköy Mosque near the Bosphorus Bridge in Istanbul. This stunning architectural masterpiece was completed in 1855 by the renowned Armenian architects Garabet and Nigoğayos Balyan. With its captivating view, it’s a must-visit destination in Istanbul. The mosque’s picturesque setting and rich history will leave you fascinated, providing a unique exploration of the city’s diverse cultural heritage.

17. Sulemaniye Mosque

The Suleymaniye Mosque, an architectural masterpiece built in the 16th century, stands as a testament to the accomplishments of Suleyman I, also known as Suleyman the Magnificent. This historic mosque, designed by the most famed Ottoman architect, houses the tombs of Suleyman himself and his wife, Hurrem Sultan (Roxelana). With its four minarets symbolizing Suleyman’s reign as the fourth sultan of the Ottoman Empire, a visit to the Suleymaniye Mosque offers a deep dive into Istanbul’s rich history.

18. Drink Tea with the Locals

Experiencing Turkish culture and hospitality is a highlight of any visit to Istanbul. The locals are pretty friendly, and it’s common to be invited by a shopkeeper to sit for a cup of tea. This simple act embodies the warmth and hospitality synonymous with Turkish culture, making your visit to Istanbul even more memorable and authentic.

19. Spice Market (Egyptian Bazaar)

Discover the Istanbul Spice Market, also known as the Egyptian Bazaar. Established in 1664, this historic market is a vibrant world of color and aroma. Explore a wide variety of spices, presented in enticing domes, and indulge in the authentic flavors of Turkey. A visit to Istanbul is incomplete without experiencing this sensory feast and bringing home spices like sumac, pul biber, and Nar Ekşisi to savor the taste of Turkey.

20. Local Shops & Cafes at Beskitas

Experience the vibrant district of Beşiktaş in Istanbul. Once tranquil, it has become a bustling hub with fashionable locals and hip cafes. Explore the streets with trendy boutiques, visit the local fish market for fresh seafood, and recharge with a cup of coffee from The House Cafe Ortakoy, known as the best in town. Don’t miss the opportunity to browse the books at Diyojen and Minoa Bookstores.

21. Galata Tower

The Galata Tower in Istanbul is an iconic attraction that you must visit. It takes you through the Byzantine period and offers breathtaking panoramic city views. Climb up this 67-meter-tall watchtower, and you’ll be treated to a stunning vista that genuinely captures the essence of Istanbul. It’s an experience that brings together the city’s rich history and vibrant present.

22. Istanbul Street Food Tour

Explore Istanbul’s vibrant culinary scene with a street food tour. Indulge traditional Turkish dishes from cafes, markets, street food vendors, and high-quality restaurants. Try simit with honey and kaymak, menemen, traditional Turkish tea, İskender kebap, stuffed mussels, balik ekmek, and the famous Turkish dessert, kunefe. Don’t miss out on sipping Turkish coffee cooked in a cezve for an authentic gastronomic experience you won’t forget.

23. Visit Kadikoy on the Asian Side of Istanbul

Kadikoy, located on the Asian side of Istanbul, is a lively neighborhood filled with independent art spaces, music venues, and beautiful murals. It’s a captivating place for those interested in culture and food, offering local markets, eateries, and traditional tea shops. Visiting Kadikoy is an opportunity to experience Istanbul’s vibrant energy, making it a must-visit destination during your trip to the city.

For more tips for your visit to Istanbul, you can see our top 10 bucketlist items in Istanbul.

besiktas district istanbul

Where to Stay in Istanbul

Whether you’re searching for a budget-friendly option or a luxury stay, you’ll be able to find accommodation that works for you below.

📍Conrad Istanbul Bosphorus

The Conrad Istanbul Bosphorus Hotel is the epitome of luxury and provides travelers with a relaxing, elegant stay in Besiktas.

This hotel has modern décor and incredible views of the Bosphorus Strait from the windows. The Conrad Istanbul Bosphorus has won multiple awards and is an excellent stay for those who want to be near shopping, attractions, and restaurant options.

Most rooms are around $350 per night. Though, if you feel like splurging, you can rent the Presidential Suite for about $7,500 per night.

📍Swissotel The Bosphorus

This five-star hotel features the perfect combination of Swiss décor with touches of Turkish culture. It offers guests the ability to swim on the rooftop pool or lounge by the fireplace while enjoying a drink. Other amenities include tennis courts, a gym, and a holistic spa.

The rooms at the Swissotel start at about $375 per night. It is located near the Blue Mosque, the Topkapi Palace, and both airports.

sultanahmet neighborhood

📍 Fatma Sultan Hotel

This brightly colored hotel in the Sultanahmet neighborhood offers great amenities at a more reasonable price. Expect to pay around $115 per night per room when staying here.

Besides being within walking distance of the Blue Mosque, the Fatma Sultan Hotel also has a spa and optional room service.

📍 Romance Istanbul Hotel Boutique Class

The Romance Istanbul Hotel is ideal for traveling couples. The interiors of each room are ornately decorated with rich colors and gold accents, making the stay feel even more luxurious.

This hotel is nearby the Grand Bazaar, Hagia Sophia, and many other attractions. An onsite sauna, swimming pool, and spa are also available. Rooms start at about $170 per night.

📍 RW Boutique Hotel

The RW Boutique Hotel is a more affordable option for those who want to stay in the Sultanahmet neighborhood on a tighter budget. Rooms start at about $75 per night. However, if you’re booking during peak season, you can expect prices to be around $115 per night.

This boutique hotel is within walking distance from some of the top attractions, including the Blue Mosque, Basilica Cistern, and Hagia Sophia. Continental breakfast is included with a stay at the RW Boutique Hotel.

Istanbul Tours

Experience the magic of Istanbul with our curated selection of small group and private tours. These tours allow for deeper exploration into the city’s rich history, culture, and cuisine. Whether you’re a history buff, a foodie, or seeking an authentic local experience, our diverse tours ensure something for everyone.

Discover the best of Istanbul in just a day or two with a small group or private tour. The tours highlight the city’s most famous sites like the Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, and Topkapi Palace. Perfect for time-limited travelers, the knowledgeable guides will take you through the bustling streets of Istanbul alongside a small group of like-minded explorers, ensuring a personalized and immersive experience.

The tour will go to the vibrant Grand Bazaar, where you can haggle for unique souvenirs and savor authentic Turkish delights. Whether you’re a new traveler or an experienced adventurer, a small group or private tour in Istanbul offers an unforgettable journey into the heart of Turkey’s vibrant culture and rich history.

History of Istanbul

Istanbul has a long history that dates back to 2000 BC. This city spans two continents – Europe and Asia, creating a unique atmosphere in the city. Istanbul is split into its European and Asian sides by the Bosphorus Strait.

The original king who discovered Istanbul is said to have been led by an oracle. He named the land Byzantium, a Greek name for a city right on the Bosphorous Strait. Persians, Romans, Byzantine emperors, and other rulers took over the city through the years.

Eventually, the city was renamed Istanbul and became the capital of the Ottoman Empire.

The Republic of Turkey came into existence in 1923. The city continues to be considered on European and Asian soil.

Essentials to Visit Istanbul

If you’re planning on visiting museums in Istanbul, you’ll want to look at the benefits of purchasing the Istanbul Museum Pass. Read on for all the details.

Museum Pass Istanbul

Get access to 13 museums to visit over 5 days in Istanbul. You can purchase the card through the website, at the first museum you visit or on the Museums of Turkey app. If you’re traveling to other reagions, get the Museum Pass the covers access to museums in ALL of Turkey for 15 days.

Blue Mosque Istanbul Turkey

How to Get to Istanbul

Not sure how you’re going to get to Istanbul? Here are a few transport ideas to get you to your final destination. Whether your flying from an international airport or local airport, there are man options.

By Airline

If you only plan to visit Istanbul for a few days or are arriving from outside of the country, flying is likely your best option. The Istanbul Airport and the Sabiha Gokcen Airport are the two closest options. We like to fly Turkish Airlines for our long international flights.

If you’re flying in-country from Izmir, Cappadocia, or Antalya airport you can opt for a smaller airline for cheaper fares. Both Istanbul airports, will have a 30-minute drive from the city.


Once you arrive at one of the mentioned airports, there are a few options to transport you to the city and your accommodations. Taxis are available for about $30 one-way. Also, you can schedule a private transfer from the airport to your hotel. Some hotels will schedule this for you so be sure to ask. Otherwise, you can book your own transfer.

Book your private airport transfer from Istanbul or Sabiha Gokcen airport to your hotel.

Istanbul Travel Hub

Istanbul is a travel hub and many flights in country will fly to Istanbul first to connect you to other locations in Turkey. Some popular locations to fly to from Istanbul are:

istanbul street food

Where to Eat When You Visit Istanbul

Eating local food is one of the best ways to learn about the culture. Istanbul has some of the best food in the country, so you can’t go awry when trying one of the available spots. If you’re unsure where to start, try the below options.

Adana Ocakbasi

The Adana Ocakbasi is a spot beloved by locals featuring Turkish BBQ dishes. The restaurant is located in the Sisli neighborhood and offers a great spot to stop for lunch or dinner.

This family-friendly restaurant is tucked away, so it might be tricky to find. Once you find it, you’ll be rewarded with delicious sauces, grilled meats, and fresh salads.

Balat Sahil

Balat Sahil is another local favorite that you can enjoy on a trip to Istanbul. This restaurant is cozy and offers delicious seafood options. Fresh fish is grilled or steamed based on your preference.

This authentic restaurant is a great spot to enjoy a meal with your family. It’s in the Fener-Balat neighborhood, so it’s a great place to stop after enjoying the brightly colored houses.

Elde Börek

Elde Börek is a great location for breakfast, brunch, lunch, and small appetizers (aka mezzes). It has a friendly staff and a cute interior with a little garden view.

Enjoy the fresh cherry juice or the pastry options after sharing a plate of mezzes. The dishes are local and well-thought-out, providing a delicious experience.

SultanAhmet Koftecisi

This is another restaurant loved by locals. It has been around for about 100 years, and they’re well-known for the kofte.

The meals at SultanAhment Koftecisi are also budget-friendly. Try the lamb – it’s juicy and delicious!

FAQs: Visit Istanbul Travel Guide

Do you have questions about a visit to Istanbul? See below for our frequently asked questions.

Is it ok to visit Istanbul now?

Yes, it is safe to visit Istanbul now. The city is open to travelers worldwide, with safety measures in place for everyone’s well-being. Whether traveling alone or with family, you can enjoy Istanbul’s beauty and vibrant culture. It’s an excellent choice for your next vacation.

How many days do you need to visit Istanbul?

For a comprehensive visit to Istanbul, we recommend spending at least two days to see the highlights. Keep in mind that this will be a fast-paced trip due to the city’s numerous sites and experiences. If you prefer a more relaxed exploration, consider extending your stay to three or four days. This will allow you to immerse yourself in the vibrant culture, savor the delicious cuisine, and enjoy the city’s unique shopping opportunities.

Is 3 days enough for Istanbul?

Yes, 3 days is enough to explore the major attractions and get a good feel for Istanbul. However, keep in mind that there is so much to see and do in the city. You should allocate more time if you have specific interests or want to experience the city at a more leisurely pace.

Is Istanbul expensive to visit?

Visiting Istanbul’s cost varies based on your budget and preferences. Accommodation, food, and activities cater to different types of travelers, ranging from affordable to luxurious. Turkish Lira (TRY) offers a favorable exchange rate for many visitors. Budget travelers can enjoy street food, public transportation, and cheap hostels. Those with a larger budget can indulge in fine dining, private tours, and high-end hotels. With planning, Istanbul is a cost-effective destination that offers a rich mix of history, culture, and cuisine.

Conclusion: Visit Istanbul Travel Guide

Istanbul is a stunning city rooted in its history, though it’s not afraid to modernize, as evidenced by the Istanbul Modern Museum of Art. Attractions dating back thousands of years, the upkeep of the Spice Bazaar, and restaurants that have been in business for 100+ years are a testament to the strength of tradition in this city. Using the above tips and information to visit Istanbul as you learn about the people and culture.

If you’re interested in investing more time in learning about the local culture when you visit Istanbul, read our Guide to Slow Travel in Turkey for additional details. 

Some links on this page are affiliate links—that means that at no extra cost to you, we earn a small commission if you book through these links, and that helps keep this blog running.

Visit Istanbul Like a Local
Visit Istanbul Like a Local - Istanbul Travel Guide