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10 Amazing Things to Do in Istanbul

10 Amazing Things to Do in Istanbul

Join me as I recount my enchanting days in Istanbul, a city where the echo of history whispers at every corner. From bazaars brimming with life to palaces of bygone empires, these Istanbul highlights will lure you into a world where every sight has a story.


Discover the Grandeur of the Grand Bazaar

Istanbul delighted my senses upon setting foot in the Grand Bazaar. Famed as the world’s largest and oldest covered market, its labyrinthine alleys, stretching across 50 acres, offer a kaleidoscope of culture and craftsmanship. The bazaar’s maze-like corridors are lined with an overwhelming array of shops — 4,000 to be exact.


Basking in the bustle of the bazaar, I was enchanted by the lavish carpet displays, aromatic tea and spices, luscious Turkish Delight varieties, and an assortment of leather goods and glittering jewelries. The market’s magnificent Czech crystal chandeliers, above all, seemed to hold stories within their glint.

Heads up, haggling is not just welcome here; it’s part of the culture! It’s a playful exchange where smiles meet shrewdness. Just step through any of the 11 gates, and you’re thrust into this exhilarating shopping realm.


Step into the Splendor of Topkapi Palace

The grandeur of Topkapi Palace began its ascent in 1459. It was the royal residence of Ottoman sultans for four centuries, offering awe-inspiring views of the Bosphorus Strait. Nowadays, Topkapi stands as a museum extraordinaire, flaunting illustrious artifacts from ornate armor to exquisite art.

One cannot leave without beholding the Spoonmaker’s Diamond — a grand spectacle. The luminescent 86-carat diamond, flanked by rows of old-mine cut diamonds, was a mesmerizing sight that held me captive.

Sacred relics lie within these walls too. The staff believed to be Moses’s, the sword attributed to David, and John the Baptist’s glove are relics that transport you back in time.

Regretfully, some sections now stand silent. They’ve ceased to be toured since 2020, offering no more than a gaze from the outside. Still, the palace’s dancing fountains beckon, and its inviting benches offer respite.

A little trivia — this historic gem has been a celebrated UNESCO World Heritage Site from 1985 onwards.

Marvel at the Might of Hagia Sophia

But the real jewel in Istanbul’s crown is Hagia Sophia. Pronounced “hi-ya”, this enormous edifice once reigned as the Orthodox world’s spiritual nucleus for 900 years, then a mosque for half a millennium. In 2020, it once again embraced its mosque heritage.


Its vastness is outdone only by the beauty that lies within, from towering marbles and colossal fixtures to mesmerizing mosaics. Inside, holy Christian and Muslim symbols comfortably coexist, against the logic of their turbulent histories.

Tips to Engage with Tranquility

Remember, respect rides high here – no bare shoulders or shorts. It’s wise to don socks too, since shoes must be left at the door. Amidst crowds capturing this marvel on cameras, weave your way through to unearth the full splendor of this architectural masterpiece.


See beautiful sites like this through the ease of a Costa Cruise. Read more about it here.

Venture into the Basilica Cistern’s Depths

My jaunts through Istanbul led me to the Basilica Cistern, the city’s subterranean enigma. Twice I’ve descended into its depths, each visit distinct, from perusing eerie passageways and Medusa heads to a vibrant display of lights and lasers, akin to theme park extravagance.

With tours commencing hourly, this underground wonder evokes a sense of marvel unique to Istanbul.

Did You Know?

Hundreds of ancient cisterns sprawl beneath Istanbul, each with whispers of the past.


Behold the Majesty of the Blue Mosque

The Blue Mosque, another marvel rivalling the allure of Hagia Sophia, stands resplendent along the Bosphorus, punctuating the sky with its six minarets. Also known as the Sultan Ahmet Mosque, it’s a stone’s throw from Hagia Sophia and offers free entrance to those willing to witness its beauty.


Here, too, a dress code prevails — women are advised to cover their heads, but scarfs are provided should you need one. Stepping inside, the grandeur takes hold. This sanctuary is more than a religious site; it’s a canvas displaying the splendor of Turkish artistry.

Step into the surreal ambiance of the Blue Mosque, where a symphony of blue, green, and turquoise tiles (23,000!) dance across the walls, paired with the ethereal glow of 200 stained glass windows.


The world’s largest single carpet spreads extravagantly beneath your feet, while you’re beckoned to look above at the majestic ceilings. Here, devout hearts find solace, so tread gently and drink in the silent poetry of faith and art woven together.


Did You Know? The tile’s designs show fruits, roses, tulips, and trees.


Get a Taste of Royalty

The Turkish table is a diverse palette of flavors where every bite speaks of culinary royalty. From succulent kebabs to tender grilled vegetables, the streets of Istanbul are your open-air restaurant. Sidle up to a sidewalk café and engage in people-watching, with Turkish tea in hand—apple-flavored is my personal twist.


And when in Pierre Loti Aziyade Restaurant, my favorite in Istanbul, order the Döner kebab; it’s an ensemble of tastes (lamb, beef, or chicken) that resonates with my palate every single time. Don’t miss the Kars Gruyere cheese—it’s divinity in a bite.


Feast on Sweet Tradition

Turkish delight was created in the 18th century and has been Turkey’s most famous sweet treat. It is available on nearly every street corner and mostly everywhere in between. The confection is starch and sugar, formed like a log or cube form (often dusted with powdery sugar), and contains chopped dates, hazelnuts, pistachios, or walnuts. They are often flavored, like rose, orange, or lemon.

Turkish Delight is not just candy; it’s a piece of history melting in your mouth. You’ll find its myriad forms beckoning you on every corner. My top pick is the apricot variation with a hint of nougat—an essential Istanbul souvenir, especially when paired with aromatic teas from the Spice Bazaar.

turkish-delight-candy -hop

Set Sail on the Bosphorus Strait

Navigate through the heart of Istanbul with a choice between an immersive full-day cruise or a swift two-hour adventure across the Bosphorus Strait. If language barriers intimidate you, consider a guided tour via Viator, with refreshing perks and a multilingual commentary on the iconic sights.

Gaze out at the towerings of Galata Tower, Rumeli Fortress, and Topkapi against the tapestry of the Eurasian skyline.

Please note this tour is not wheelchair-accessible, but strollers are okay.

Did You Know? Istanbul is the only city in the world to straddle two continents. Double the amount of people lives on the Asian side than the European.


Wander Through Dolmabahçe Palace

The grandeur of Dolmabahçe Palace, the main admin center of the Ottoman Empire mid 1850s to early 1900s) awaits in the Beşiktaş district—its magnificent façade only a prelude to what lies within. Adorned with the largest crystal chandelier glittering with 750 bulbs, gifted by Queen Victoria herself, this palace with 285 rooms and 44 halls is a showcase of the opulent Ottoman era.

Stroll through the stunning silk carpets, admire the ornamental alabaster, take in the striking art, and encounter unexpected pieces, like a painting of Old Faithful from faraway America. Photos are not allowed inside.


One More Fun Fact: The 31st Sultan built Dolmabahçe as he wanted a more modern palace than the one at Topkapi. In today’s currency, the price tag would be 1.5 billion dollars or one-quarter of the tax revenues collected annually.

Ultimate Istanbul Exploration

The vibrant mosaic that is Istanbul can be best appreciated through the insightful narration of a local guide. Whether it’s the sacred silence during a prayer call or the lively barter at street stalls, a guide lets you traverse the cultural depths of the city.


Witness the formidable lineup at Hippodrome Square, standing testament to ages past, or simply lose yourself in the rhythm of daily life, embraced by the scent of fruit trees. Thanks to Honifi of Tours by Locals for being giving me a great first visit to Istanbul.


Digesting Info from My Tour Guide

During a religious service, the mosque would be full of men only, standing shoulder to shoulder in straight lines across the carpets in prayer. Prayer in this part of the country (Muslim) occurs five times a day.

A loudspeaker inside the minarets broadcasts a chant or song that calls everyone to worship. This was the most different thing to get used to in Istanbul. Sometimes hear many of the calls at once, with each one making different sounds, and boy, are they loud!


Having never been to a Muslim country, I was surprised to learn that Muslims believe in Jesus Christ. They do not think he was the son of God but only a prophet.

There are so many amazing things to be discovered and explored in Istanbul, one of the world’s greatest cities. I hope you will love it as much as I did.

Thanks to Costa Cruises for hosting me on this cruise FAM which included visits to Turkey and Greece. As always, reviews and opinions are 100% mine and unbiased.

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