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.

For prestige, no schools top Galatasary Lise in central Taksim. Across from its vaunted black gates, Homer Kitabevi (bookstore) specializes in academic material for its students and other collegiate clientele throughout the city.

As one of the top souvenirs, hordes of salesmen troll the streets for customers to buy carpets. Top threads can be found just behind the Blue Mosque at Mehmet Çetinkaya Gallery.

Lining the narrow, labyrinthine streets behind the Çiçek passage off İstiklâl Caddesi are hundreds of bars, taverns (called meyhane), and outdoor cafés.

Visitors often overlook this spectacular but small mosque next to the Spice Market. Don't be among them. The inside walls are dramatically sheathed in colorful 16th-century tiles.

One of the top choices for duty-free cigars in Europe is this fragrant, humid antechamber tucked away behind the tobacco section of the duty-free shop.

Better known as the Blue Mosque—for the 20,000 blue tiles that line its domed ceiling—this 17th-century architectural masterpiece is Turkey’s crown jewel.

Located in the Beyoğlu district, this artisan shop sells handmade candles in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. Translating to “pearl candle,” Sedef Mum uses patented production methods and European candle-making traditions to ensure quality, one-of-a-kind products.

Towards the south end of the city’s main commercial drag, Istiklal Caddesi, Robinson Crusoe bookshop often teems with intellectuals, expatriates, and tourists, who come for the high-end English language books.

What Lies Beneath: Eighty-two feet below Istanbul is a 450-foot-long, 213-foot-wide former royal reservoir.

A pious, conservative district populated mostly by migrants from Anatolia (like Wasilla, but warmer), Üsküdar is positively hopping in the evenings; on summer nights, the boardwalk here is an Islamic Coney Island.

Hard to find—Edirnekapı is not used to tourists, and the signage is terrible—but worth the effort, this pumpkin-domed church-turned-museum is one of the great surviving jewels of Byzantine art and architecture.

At this, one of Europe’s biggest duty-free shops, prices are lower than comparable shops in the airport’s Euro Zone.

The greatest surviving example of Byzantine architecture and one of the eight wonders of the world, Hagia Sophia reigned as the greatest church in Christendom from the fourth century to the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453.

At her combination museum-shop, owner Gönül Paksoy turns everyday objects into pieces of art and creates hand-dyed silk coats with vintage beads.