Hagia Sofia, Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul: The Ultimate Guide to Exploring Istanbul

November 7, 2023

Istanbul is one of the largest cities in the world with a population of over 15 million. It is a city of immense size, with a rich history and a great cultural heritage that makes it a truly global city. Istanbul is a must for those who like to explore cities, experience new cultures, see interesting buildings and bridges and try new flavors.

Many people know Istanbul from history books. It used to be called Constantinople for the longest time. The old Turkish (Ottoman) Empire occupied enormous areas of Europe in the 13th-16th centuries. This is why Turkish foreign words, Turkish food or local versions of it, and the style of Turkish folk music have infiltrated almost all of Eastern Europe. Famous Turkish history series produced in the last decade help you to understand parts of Turkish history and culture. They are wonderful series, well worth watching.

Istanbul is separated by the world-famous Bosphorus Strait. The Bosphorus is the border between Europe and Asia. Istanbul therefore has a European and an Asian side. The two sides are connected by famous bridges, numerous ferry crossings and a new tunnel, so transit is well organized.

Next, let’s look at the basic information you might need as a tourist in Istanbul.

How much time is needed to visit Istanbul?

The places listed below can be visited in around 5 days. This article will tell you about the best way to spend these 5 days in Istanbul. This is the duration you can visit Istanbul as a tourist without missing any must-see places. If you can only spend a shorter time in Istanbul, you need to prioritize the sights you want to see in less time.

Dining in Istanbul

Turkish cuisine is undoubtedly one of the most prominent aspects of Turkish culture today, and when it comes to the best food in Istanbul, few countries can match Turkey’s delicious offerings. Whether it’s kebabs, tasty mezes or heavenly desserts like baklava, the culinary delights found in Istanbul are simply perfect. With a countless number of Turkish restaurants to choose from, you can enjoy a gastronomic experience and sample some of the best food Istanbul can offer.

In particular, Turkish breakfast is a must. Below you will find a photo of one of our breakfasts in Istanbul. The waiters filled our table with all kinds of delicacies. Egg dishes, cheeses, Mediterranean vegetables and fruits, sweets… Turkish breakfast is simply divine. The streets of the Old Town are full of breakfast places, with better and better offers. For a fixed price, you can get a fully loaded table with delicacies such as Turkish cheeses, menemen, omelettes, vegetables, jams, Turkish honey…etc. In the meantime, you can admire the views of the Old City, such as the Hagia Sofia or the Blue Mosque.

And for lunch and dinner, you can choose from thousands of Istanbul’s best restaurants, offering delicious food at good prices and often with fantastic views. Experiencing traditional Turkish food is truly amazing, especially while enjoying a panoramic view of Istanbul, so don’t miss out.

Getting around Istanbul

The traffic in Istanbul is huge. We prefer the car, but public transport is also a good option. We didn’t measure it, but we think we were faster and more flexible by car. However, driving in Turkey is only recommended for those who have driven in the south and are very experienced. Another good opportunity is to pay for a hop on hop off bus to see the main sights. However, this is not a flexible option. You can even buy tickets for public transport, but you will also have to expect huge traffic jams and possible poor public safety. Moreover, there are plenty of taxis, which can be another good choice if you can afford it. Taxis are perhaps the most flexible and fastest mode of transport. So the decision is yours.

Costs in Istanbul

We can only write good things about it. It’s true for Turkey as a whole that the country is a fairly cheap destination, but Istanbul stands out because the quality in Istanbul is also excellent. So you get very good services at a low price. Unfortunately, this is something Turkish people suffer from (low wages), so always think about tipping sufficiently.

It’s easy to organize low budget trips in Istanbul, because the 3-4 star hotels are basically cheap and the quality of service is good. In addition, there are plenty of luxury hotels in Istanbul, which makes Istanbul a very advantageous destination for better-off tourists. We generally prefer mid-price trips, and in the mid-price range we got much more for our money than elsewhere in Europe. That’s why we love Istanbul! And for many other reasons too.

The best places to visit in Istanbul

In the following you can find out more about the best places to visit in Istanbul. By location, we have ranked the best sights in order of preference, focusing on those that are close to each other.

When it comes to scheduling, activities in Istanbul can be organized flexibly. However, you can save time by visiting places close to each other at the same time.

So let’s see what you should definitely visit when you travel to Istanbul.

Hagia Sophia

The Hagia Sophia is a Byzantine-built former Orthodox basilica in Istanbul. It was used as a mosque from 1453, when Constantinople fell to the Ottomans, until 1934, and was a museum from 1934 to 2020, but since July 2020 it has been a mosque again. Visible from many parts of the city, it is a very impressive building.

Because it is currently a mosque, there is no entrance fee, but you have to be careful about how you dress, especially if you are a woman.

Our personal favorite for the best views of Hagia Sofia is the rooftop terrace of the Seven Hills Restaurant. Here, for a fixed price, you can get a huge breakfast table with a wide variety of dishes to choose from. And the view is five-star, and has been popular on social media lately.

Blue Mosque

One of Istanbul’s central mosques, located in the city’s Sultanahmet district, opposite the Hagia Sophia. It takes its popular name from the blue tiles that cover its inner walls. The Blue Mosque was built between 1609 and 1616 by order of the Ottoman Sultan Ahmed I. That is why its other name is Sultan Ahmed Mosque. The Blue Mosque is one of Istanbul’s most popular landmarks and one of the world’s most famous buildings.

The park between the two mosques is a wonderful place to relax with its fountain (which is colorfully illuminated in the dark) and flowers.

Topkapi Palace

For centuries, Topkapi Palace was the administrative centre of the Ottoman Empire. Topkapi Palace is now a museum and one of the most interesting attractions in Istanbul. It consists of several smaller buildings and is surrounded by four courtyards. You need a ticket to enter, and there can be huge queues at the entrance, so it’s worth booking online in advance. The palace is huge, but inside you will find some restaurants and cafés where you can relax and admire the Bosphorus. In any case, plan with enough time, at least 3-4 hours.

Basilica Cistern

The Basilica Cistern is one of the largest of hundreds of former cisterns in Istanbul. It is located right next to the Hagia Sophia. The cistern was built by a Byzantine emperor in 532. After renovation, it can be visited again from 2022. It is best to book your tickets online in advance.

Cistern of Philoxenos

Cistern of Philoxenos is an underground reservoir similar to the Basilica Cistern in Istanbul. Because Basilica Cistern was closed when we were there, we visited the Cistern of Philoxenos. It is the second largest cistern in Istanbul after Basilica Cistern. We think it is a good choice for visiting an underground reservoir in Istanbul.

Süleymaniye Mosque

The Süleymaniye Mosque is the second largest mosque in Istanbul. It was built by the famous Turkish architect Sinan on the third hill of Istanbul by order of Sultan Suleiman I. Construction began in 1550 and lasted 7 years. The garden contains the mausoleum of Suleiman I and his wife (Hürrem) and daughter (Mihrimah).

Around the mosque there are several restaurants with a roof terrace, such as the Mimar Sinan Teras Cafe. The restaurant roof terraces offer breathtaking views of the Süleymaniye Mosque on one side and the Golden Horn Bay on the other. As you can see in the photo, it is especially recommended to take a photo at sunset while enjoying a nice Turkish dinner or a Turkish tea.

New Mosque

The New Mosque (Turkish: Yeni Cami) is a mosque built in the Ottoman period in the Eminönü district of Istanbul, at the southern end of the Galata Bridge, in the Golden Horn Bay, and is one of Istanbul’s main attractions.

Grand Bazaar

The Grand Bazaar is one of the largest indoor bazaars in the world, located in the centre of Istanbul. Here you will be able to buy the best souvenirs. There is a huge selection. You can find almost all kinds of things here: Turkish tableware, lamps, clothes, jewellery…etc.

Galata Bridge

The Galata Bridge is one of the most famous bridges in Istanbul. A crowded bridge over Golden Horn Bay with pedestrian walkways, street vendors, cafes down below. The bridge has been rebuilt several times over the last century for various reasons.

Galata Tower

The Galata Tower is a restored 5th century tower overlooking the Bosphorus and a former prison and warehouse. It has a restaurant on the top floor with a terrace offering a panoramic view of Istanbul and the Bosphorus. The top of the tower is reached by lift and stairs. The Galata Tower is an imposing sight from the outside and can be photographed from the surrounding streets.

Dolmabahce Palace

Dolmabahce Palace is located on the European side of the Bosphorus, north of Beyoglu. It was built to replace the old Topkapi Palace. It was the administrative centre of the Ottoman Empire from 1856 to 1923.

Currently open to the public by paying an entrance fee. Its enchanting gardens, seafront views and the incredible glamour of the palace make it a must-see in Istanbul.

Ortaköy Mosque

The Ortaköy Mosque is a Neo-Baroque Ottoman mosque in the Ortaköy district of Istanbul, on the banks of the Bosphorus. It was built in the middle of the 19th century. Today it is a popular tourist destination in Istanbul. In many places, photos of it are used to promote Istanbul.

The promenade next to it is full of Turkish street food stalls, so if you are there, try the Turkish krumpir dish. Krumpir is a baked potato stuffed with various delicacies.


Still on the European side of Istanbul, but further from the Bosphorus, is the Miniatürk Park. This is a relatively new park featuring some of Turkey’s most famous and spectacular buildings and natural wonders. Walking around Miniatürk you can see all the important attractions of Turkey in miniature.

Pierre Loti Hill

The Pierre Loti Hill can be found not far from Miniatürk, along the Golden Horn Bay. The hill can be reached on foot or by cable car. At the top you’ll find restaurants and cafés with magical views of Golden Horn Bay. Especially at sunset it offers breathtaking views. We had menemen, köfte and two Turkish teas while admiring the beauty of Istanbul.

Maiden’s Tower

The Maiden’s Tower (Turkish: Kız Kulesi) is a tower on a small islet at the southern entrance of the Bosphorus strait. This legendary building, originally used as a lighthouse, now contains a small museum and a restaurant. Ships sail to the island mainly from the Asian side of Istanbul. Otherwise, if you want to take photos from the outside, we recommend the Asian side, where you can watch the sunset with the tower from the seats of cafes with outdoor seating along the Bosphorus.

Otagtepe Park

Otagtepe Park is a park in the north of Istanbul overlooking the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge. As it has strict opening hours, it’s recommended to keep an eye on it. However, if you have more time in Istanbul, it is worth a visit.

Camlica Mosque

Currently the largest mosque in Turkey, the Grand Camlica Mosque is an Islamic complex that opened in 2019. It was built on a prominent hill on the Asian side of Istanbul, where it is visible from almost the entire city.

Not far from it, there is a park on Camlica Hill, which is one of the local people’s favorite outdoor areas. At sunset, locals sit out and eat, drink, enjoy each other’s company and the sunset with the Bosphorus view.

The above are Istanbul’s most famous attractions. There are also free activities such as a boat trip on the Bosphorus, a stroll along any of the Bosphorus promenades, a visit to any of the numerous Turkish restaurants and a taste of the local cuisine. Istanbul has a lot to offer tourists. Enjoy it. Istanbul is a magical city that we hope to be able to present on our blog.

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