Things to do in Istanbul for a first-time visitor

“If one had but a single glance to give the world, one should gaze on Istanbul.” Alphonse de Lamartine

Istanbul is the city where Europe and Asia meet. It straddles two continents and on another level it straddles the ancient and modern worlds too.  Every building has its own story and history whispers anecdotes and tales from every brick and every stone.

This is a shortlist of things to do in Istanbul for a first-time visitor.

Things to do in Istanbul

What to see

1. Topkapi Palace and Museum
This is a large palace that was one of the main residences of the Ottoman rulers for almost 400 years. It contains some of the rarest Islamic artefacts in the world.

Topkapi Palace

Topkapi Palace

2. Blue Mosque aka Sultan Ahmed Mosque
This is one of the most famous and beautiful mosques in the world. It has 6 minarets and a blue-tiled interior , giving it its popular title “Blue Mosque”. See image above.

3. Hagia Sofia
Hagia Sofia is a beautiful monument and museum which was originally a cathedral, then an Ottoman mosque.  It is one of the most visited museums and most prominent monuments in the world.

Things to do in Istanbul Hagia Sofia

Hagia Sofia  

4. Dolmabahce Palace
Dolmabahce Palace is a beautiful, opulent palace built in the mid-19th century along the Bosphorus Strait which was used as the final residence of the Ottoman sultans.

5. Basilica Cistern   
This is the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns that lie beneath the city of Istanbul.

Medusa in the Basilica Cistern Things to do in Istanbul

Medusa in the Basilica Cistern

6. Grand Bazaar
The Grand Bazaaar is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world.

Grand Bazaar

Grand Bazaar

7. Bosphorus Cruise
A Bosphorus Cruise is one of the best ways to get a feel for Istanbul. You will see many beautiful sights along the way.

Things to do in Istanbul Dolmahbahce Palace from the Bosphorus, Istanbul

Dolmahbahce Palace from the Bosphorus Cruise

8. Istiklal Street and Taksim Square
This is the newer and more modern part of Istanbul.

Also highly recommended
1. Suleimaniye Mosque
2. Egyptian Bazaar
3. Turkish Islamic Arts Museum (near Blue Mosque)
4. Fish market
5. The Hippodrome

What to Eat

The best, and freshest Baklava



Turkish delights – every conceivable flavour

Turkish Delights

Turkish Delights

Iskender kebab – a local specialty consisting of meat, vegetables and yoghurt served with bread.

Iskender Kebab

Iskender Kebab

See here for a detailed guide on how to plan your 3-day Istanbul itinerary

To read more about Istanbul, go to Incredible Istanbul.

For a taste of Istanbul in South Africa, go to Nizamiye.

For cheap flights to Istanbul, click here.

Find accommodation in Istanbul here.  If you are a first-time tourist, the Sultanahmet area is highly recommended as this is where most of the historical attractions are located.

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