Istanbul

Things to do in Istanbul

With such a rich cultural past, there's no shortage of things to do in Istanbul. If you have very limited time in the city, you should concentrate on the historic district and put Topkapi Palace and the Hagia Sophia at the top of your list. If you have a little more time, visit the nearby museums. The Istanbul Archeology Museum is easily accessed through the Topkapi Palace or Gulhane Park. This museum, located in the Eminönü district, is actually a group of three museums, the Archaeology Museum (Arkeoloji Müzesi), the Museum of the Ancient Orient (EskiŞark Eserler Müzesi), and the Tiled Kiosk (ÇiniliKöşk). The Archaeology museum houses sarcophaguses and mummies from the ancient Turkish Empire. It also has a children's museum where the most popular attraction is a life-size rendition of the mythical Trojan horse. 

No travel to Istanbul would be complete without heading over to the city's world-renowned markets, filled with extraordinary tapestries, beautiful ceramic tiles, and unparalleled and colorful fabrics. Your top stop: The Grand Bazaar, which is among the oldest and largest covered markets in the world.

This well-regarded antiques shop carries Islamic calligraphy, religious icons, weapons, and reproductions of ancient Anatolian designs.

The sheer number of carpet stores in Istanbul, particularly in the Sultanahmet area, can be overwhelming, but Noah’s Ark has an excellent reputation for honesty, quality, and a willingness to educate customers without pressuring them (much) to buy.

Try the Turkish Delight in flavors like mint and pistachio at this exotic candy shop.

This is the only gym at the airport. Unfortunately, it isn’t convenient for international layover passengers: you have to go through Passport Control and immigration—and purchase a visa, if you’re a U.S. citizen.

Quartz comes in many colors and some of the world’s bluest is mined in the Eskisehir region of Anatolia. Deriving its name from Chalcedon, a district on the Asian coast of Istanbul (now Kadikoy), the stone remains a popular and affordable souvenir at Chalcedony in Sultanahmet.

Two treatments—neither of them traditional Tui Na—are available at this outlet operated by a friendly Turkish couple. The more private option is a Swedish-style back rub in a massage chair behind the curtain, with a human massage therapist (prices begin at $20 for 10 minutes).

Not only does Istanbul’s chicest set live in the Nisantisi neighborhood in Istanbul, they shop there too.

Also known as the Egyptian or Gypsy Bazaar, this covered market’s main attraction isn’t, sadly, the eponymous spices (no, that’s not real saffron at an unbelievably low price—it’s safflower, which isn’t the same thing at all).

The rapidly gentrifying side streets between Cihangir and İstiklâl Caddesi are lined with shops selling antiques, furniture, and weird-but-wonderful junk.

For a peaceful place to get right with God—or to get away from the PA system—prayer rooms, called masjids, are available throughout the airport (5 a.m.–11 p.m.). Men and women pray separately (and in modest clothing—no shorts or bare arms).

All major flights to Istanbul touch down at Ataturk Airport, located approximately 14 miles west of the city center. On average, 82,000 passengers pass through it daily, and 700 planes arrive and depart, making it the 17th busiest airport in the world.

Responding to complaints from villagers throughout Turkey about large-scale textile production, Metin Tosun opened Abdulla in the center of the Grand Bazaar to both support a more traditional, handmade approach and sell 100% organic cotton, linen, and silk products like towels, blankets, robes, a

If Istanbul’s romantic rooftop views work their customary magic, you may suddenly find yourself needing one of costume designer Bilge Mestci’s opulent, Ottoman-inspired bridal gowns in silk and Indian lace.