10 Best Things to Do in Istanbul, Turkey For First-Time Visitors

Are you wondering what are the best things to do in Istanbul? Istanbul is the most populous city in Turkey and a famous tourist destination that attracts thousands of tourists on a daily basis. It is a blend of modern beauty and ancient artistry that works so well in presenting a captivating selling point that is unique to Istanbul.

Joining Asia from one side and Europe on the other via the Bosphorus Strait, it is not surprising to know that Istanbul found a way to merge what’s good from these two continents. Hire a guide and get a good introduction to the city from its most iconic tourist sites.

The Golden Horn in Istanbul Turkey

Fancy some Turkish tea with a view? The scene is so nice that several movies and shows have featured this city. Charmed by the old? Head to one of Istanbul’s countless museums that showcase a collection of things and stories that talk of Turkey’s past. See this great Istanbul itinerary

Do I need a visa for Turkey?

If you are a British citizen, securing your visa for Turkey will be handy to avoid any hassle upon your arrival in this ancient city. Securing an e-visa is pretty straightforward and will only require a few important bio details and a photograph.

Turkish Visa sample
My Turkish e-visa

This travel authorisation is applicable if you are visiting Turkey for tourism purposes whether you are arriving by land, air or cruise (Only applicable when you are staying ashore for more than 72 hours). In urgent circumstances, they can process a Turkish e-visa within 15- 20 minutes with a premium fee.

Is Istanbul safe?

Whether you are exploring the area for a couple of days or for longer, be sure to interact with the locals and learn more about the city from the people who know it best. Doing so will give you insider tips on secret spots, lawful (and unlawful) practices, and surefire ways how to exhaust your stay in this dreamy destination. You could also potentially save time and money from tourist traps and pricey deals.

More than that, you’ll get to gain friends, connections and positive energy.

Read more: Luxury Hotel Review: Shangri-la Bosphorus Istanbul (Turkey)

Best Things to Do in Istanbul, Turkey For First-Time Visitors

1. Try Turkish Coffee

If you are a coffeeholic like me, then you must experience the traditional Turkish coffee and coffee houses dotted around the bustling streets of Istanbul. Freshly brewed right in front of you get comfy on your wooden stool and sip the strong flavoured Turkish coffee.

Turkish Coffee
Traditional Turkish coffee
Photo Credit: JP Licudan / The Rustic Nomad

It might come in a small demitasse cup but it is one strong hot drink that will keep you energized throughout the day or night! Don’t forget to drink plenty of water after each sip to clean your palate and partner it with Turkish delight. 

2. Make your tummy happy with Turkish food

You are up for a great treat and will surely make your tastebuds satisfied when you explore the gastronomical scene in Istanbul.  Turkish cuisine is an infusion of Mediterranean and Asian food.

best delicious Turkish Food

From the famous savoury Kofte up to the sweet Baklava, there is something that will surely sit with your palate with the flavourful Turkish food

Turkish Baklava dessert

3. Shop until you drop at the Grand Bazaar

They take the shopping business very seriously in Istanbul.  The home of Grand Bazaar. The oldest and largest covered market in the world. Trading began in the 15th century, and eventually expanded to be one of the main current tourist attractions in Istanbul.

Grand Bazaar in Istanbul

A labyrinth of alleys and shops with various Turkish trinkets, jewellery, spices, sweets, carpet, colourful Turkish lamps, coffee and everything in between. Make sure to wear your comfy shoes and bring a big shopping bag, and of course, cash!! You can also practice your haggling skills here!

4. Explore the Basilica Cistern

If you love history and Greek mythology, a visit to the underground Basilica Cistern is a must.  Just a stone throw away from the Hagia Sophia and Sultanahmet square is one of the most visited tourist attractions in Istanbul

Medusa Head in Basilica Cistern
Medusa Head sideways in Basilica Cistern

Be Bewitched by the mysterious vibes of this underground historical water reservoir attraction in the city.  The Basilica Cistern is comprised of 336 columns with 12 rows of 28 columns. Right at the far end of the Basilica Cistern, you can find a couple of upside-down and side ways Medusa’s head as the foundation. 

5. Be mesmerized with the beauty of Blue Mosque

One of the main places to visit in Istanbul is the Blue Mosque.  An outstanding historical landmark in the city and the world. It is also known as the Sultan Ahmet Mosque and it is located at the main square of Istanbul which is named after this famous Istanbul attraction

Blue Mosque in Istanbul

The mosque was built more than 400 hundred years ago, the building has witnessed the various transitions of the Ottoman empire. The Blue Mosque is currently a place of worship for our Muslim brothers and sisters. Please be mindful with your clothing when you visit the mosque. As for ladies, wearing a headscarf to cover your hair is a must as a form of cultural respect.

6. Stand in front of the Milion Pillar

The Milion Pillar is located at the centre of Istanbul, just a stone’s throw away from the Sultanahmet square where the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque are located.

Milion Pillar in Istanbul

The Milion Pillar is the last remaining column of the once intricately designed arched structure from 4 AD in the Byzantine era.

7. Cruise on the Bosphorus Strait

Istanbul is the land where Europe and Asia meet. In between the two continents is the Bosphorus Strait where the famous historical Golden Horn is located.

Bosphorus Cruise in Istanbul
Maidens Tower in Istanbul

You will pass by different bridges that link the Europe and Asia sides of Istanbul. You can also be amazed by the various Istanbul attractions as you cruise along the strait including the Maiden’s Tower (Leander’s Tower) from the Byzantine era of Istanbul. 

8. Wander around the Topkapi Palace

Be amazed in Topkapi Palace, the previous residence of the Ottoman sultans. Built during the 15th century it became a vital institution of the Turkish empire and culture. It is home to countless treasures and various holy relics from the Prophet Muhammed.

The intricate interior and architectural design of this palace were surely made to impress the foreign dignitaries that were guests of the Sultans. Filled with colourful arts, lush gardens and courtyards. It is a place worth visiting in Istanbul. 

9. Visit the Hagia Sophia

No visit to Istanbul is complete without a visit to Hagia Sophia. This middle ages historical landmark has been a gem of the city and one of the most visited tourist attraction in Istanbul.

Hagia Sophia Istanbul Turkey

Built around 537 AD as a Greek Orthodox Christian Cathedral and during the occupation of the Ottoman Empire, it was turned into an Imperial Mosque and currently a museum for everyone to visit.

10. Be amazed at Chora Church and Museum

The medieval Chora (Khora) Church was built around the 5th century. It was a place for religious celebrations during its early times. During the Latin invasion, the Chora Church was destroyed and was only rebuilt during the 13th century.

Chora Church in Istanbul

The painting and all frescoes that you currently see inside the Chora museum were part of the late Roman 14th-century art that influenced the current interior design of the church.

I hope that these amazing tourist attractions and places to visit in Istanbul will inspire you to explore the ancient city where the east and west meet. 

Have you been to Istanbul?
Share your favourite travel experience while exploring the city.


Ryazan Tristram EverythingZany Author Bio

Ryazan Tristram

Travel Writer & Photographer

Ryazan has a Bachelor’s Degree in Tourism and Hotel Management. She also has more than 10 years of work experience gained from working in the hotel and travel sectors in Asia and Europe. Her work has been featured and published on Huffington Post, Reader’s Digest, Discovery Channel, World Travel Guide, MSN, CNBC, GMA, Daily Mail UK, Lonely Planet and many more. She is currently living in the UK as a dual citizen (British – Filipina). Join her in travelling around the UK and beyond with a mission to promote sustainable tourism and share travel guides, travel tips, foodies, history and culture.

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