Istanbul, Europe's largest city, is a vibrant metropolis known for its beautiful architecture, colourful souks and fragrant spice bazaars. When it comes to choosing the top things to do in Istanbul, you are so spoilt for choice that it can be hard to pack everything into a single trip. If you're struggling to know where to begin when it comes to planning your dream trip to this vibrant city, read on for our handy roundup of what to do in Istanbul...
Seek out Street Eats
With its melting pot of cultures, the food scene in Istanbul is wonderfully diverse. We can recommend the top restaurants in town if you're looking to indulge in a full sit-down feast, or we can point you in the direction of some seriously good street food stalls, for those all-important light bites to refuel you during your day of exploring. While exploring the street food stalls you'll find everything from freshly squeezed orange juice to simit (sesame pretzel bagel).
Take a Tour of Topkapi Palace
Visiting the opulent Topkapi Palace, a sprawling waterfront complex in the east of the city's Fatih district, is one of the most popular things to do in Istanbul. Accompanied by a knowledgeable local guide, take a tour of the grand pavilions, the jewel-filled Treasury and the huge Harem which has a whopping 400 rooms and was designed to house the Sultan's many wives and concubines.
Explore the Old City
Home to some of the most historic sites in the metropolis, the Old City is the beating heart of Istanbul. Explore on foot as part of a guided walking tour, or go at your own pace, getting a taste of the city's past as you wander along the ancient walls, haggle in the historic bazaars and discover beautiful old buildings dotted throughout the time-worn streets. Two of the most impressive structures in this area are the Blue Mosque, named after the thousands of blue Iznik tiles that decorate the walls inside and out and the 1,500-year-old Hagia Sophia.
Souq Shopping at the Grand Bazaar
Turkey's most famous market, Istanbul's Grand Bazaar, is a place like no other. There are some 4,000 cafes and stalls inside, selling everything from antique carpets and leather goods to silverware and sweet mint tea - you won't find a better place to shop and put your haggling skills to the test. Lose yourself in the maze of narrow alleyways, soaking up the local atmosphere as you wander through the stalls hunting for the perfect souvenir to take home.
Explore the Spice Bazaar
Another market that deserves a spot on any list of things to do in Istanbul is the Spice Bazaar. Smaller than the Grand Bazaar it is a delight to explore, home to colourful stalls heaped with mountains of fragrant spices as well as Turkish Delight, nuts and dried fruit. As you walk around the market, many of the stallholders will allow you to taste, or at least sniff, the produce which is sure to get your tummy rumbling, so don't be surprised if you accidentally walk away with a bag full of goodies.
Tour the Basilica Cistern
Dating all the way back to the 6th century the Basilica Cistern, the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns, is a subterranean world of pools and columns that lie beneath the busy streets of Istanbul. As you stroll through the cathedral-like chambers keep an eye out for the two heads of Medusa, which are thought to have come from another Byzantine building and are displayed upside down to prevent onlookers from being turned to stone.
Cruise on the Bosphorus
After a busy day of exploring, climb aboard a private luxury yacht for a serene cruise along the shimmering Bosphorus Strait. Along the way you'll pass the impressive Ortokoy Mosque and The Fortress of Europe. During the cruise, you'll have the chance to disembark in the historic neighbourhood of Bebek, where we can recommend a fine fish restaurant for dinner.
Unwind in a Turkish Baths
Make sure to carve out some time in your busy sightseeing schedule to visit a traditional Turkish bath. With relaxing hammam steam baths and a pampering massage menu, this is a truly indulgent experience and one of our favourite things to do in Istanbul. Traditionally men and women bathe separately, so wave goodbye to your other half and enjoy some sweet solitude for a few hours, for the perfect way to round off your trip.