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The 10 Best Istanbul Tours
Istanbul is the most important city in Turkey as it stands out for its history and geographical location. With almost 15 million inhabitants, Istanbul was the ancient capital of the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires. Its valuable heritage inherited to humanity such as the Basilica of Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Blue Mosque, Galata Tower, and Roman Hippodrome have made Istanbul a unique city.
Istanbul is the only one among all the cities in the world that is located between two continents, Europe and Asia. It has a channel called "The Bosphorus" that separates these two continents and connects at each end with the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea.
Because of having this privileged geographical territory, Istanbul has become one of the favorite tourist spots in Turkey for travellers, especially for those who are passionate about history and travel. Because it is located in the heart of the world, the city is a meeting point between the cultures of the East and the West. No matter how long you are staying in Istanbul, the fun way to discover the city is participating in Istanbul tours day or night.
This ancient city always has something to show to travellers. Through this article and list of The 10 Best Activities To Do in Istanbul, we will provide information about the sightseeing attractions of Istanbul that you cannot miss.
Top 10 Private and Group Tours in Istanbul
Through this list of activities, we want you to enjoy Istanbul to the fullest. This list will optimize your time in Istanbul and you will have the opportunity to take advantage of everything Istanbul offers day or night.
You can take these day trips prioritizing the most outstanding monuments and bazaars. You can book a trip through the Bosphorus and end your tour with walks to the busiest places such as the neighborhoods that we will mention.
Hear the call to prayer of the mosques, go to Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace, haggle in the bazaars, enter great museums, watch the sunset from Uskudar in the well-known "Carpet Walk", get lost in the neighborhoods of Kadikoy, Taksim, Galata, cross the Bosphorus and experience a relaxing Turkish bath. These are just some of the many activities that you can do on your own or with a guide in English through guided half day or full day tours.
There is diversity of activities, regular excursions, full-day paid tours, short-duration tours such as "Free tours" and / or day trips, which are always available to travellers. Through these services you can get the best of this ancient city. Throughout this article we are going to propose different Istanbul tours and sights that you cannot miss while in Istanbul.
1. Enter Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia, a splendid place, is undoubtedly the most well-known monument in Turkey and one of the oldest attractions of Istanbul, not only for its beauty and architecture, but also for its history. Hagia Sophia is more than 1500 years old and despite the time and the different transitions it went through, it still stands. Almost all tours in Istanbul includes a visit to Hagia Sophia.
Hagia Sophia was initially a Byzantine Orthodox cathedral of the great Constantinople, except for the years 1204 and 1261 which was converted into a Catholic cathedral by the Latin Patriarchate founded by the Crusaders. After the conquest of the Ottoman Empire, Hagia Sophia became a mosque and after the decadence of this, it was named a museum. In 2020 a mosque was declared again and today to enter Hagia Sophia, we must consider the recommendations and appropriate clothing.
There is no set price to enter Hagia Sophia. Your pass is free. You can visit Hagia Sophia independently or with a guide for 1 hour. To enter Hagia Sophia, women must cover their hair and wear modest clothing. Both men and women should take off their shoes and carry a bag to store their shoes.
Travellers can do the excursions from Monday to Sunday, except for Fridays. You can book a private or group tour to see Hagia Sophia with an English or Spanish speaking guide here. Don't forget that the world-famous Hagia Sophia is a not to be missed breathtaking sight in Istanbul.
2. Visiting the Blue Mosque
The Blue Mosque is another major Ottoman remains ordered to be built by Sultan Ahmed I during his reign and it is the greatest religious symbol of Istanbul. Its magnificent exterior does not overshadow its sumptuous interior. This architectural work designed by Sedefkar Mehmet Aga, has dimensions similar to those of Hagia Sophia with a central dome measuring 23 meters in diameter and approximately 43 meters high.
This precious monument bears its name because it has 20,000 handmade Iznik tiles, which adorn both the dome and the interior. Its internal splendor draws attention to the hundreds of square meters carpets that were that were woven in the imperial looms adorned its interior with lavish lamps brought from abroad.
To enter it, you must wear suitable clothing. Its entrance is free. We recommend that you visit this beautiful monument with a guide so that you cannot miss any details. Book a tour to see the Blue Mosque with an English-speaking guide. It is advisable to visit Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque on the same half day tour. You can book a private tour by signing up here.
3. Get to know the Topkapi Palace
Topkapi Palace is another place worth seeing during the old town tours in Istanbul. The Ottoman sultan lived in this palace with all his entourage and family, this palace being the administrative center of the Ottoman Empire from 1465 to 1853. It has an area of 700,000 m2 and is distributed in 4 large courtyards where you can see different spaces such as: the ceremonial courtyard, the museum where the collection of weapons of the sultan, the royal kitchens, rooms of the eunuchs, the audience hall, the royal rooms, the pavilion of the circumcision, the harem, among others.
As it is a paid museum, you have to arrive early because there is usually a line and have a set time to visit it of at least two hours, since it is the ideal time you need to visit it.
If you want to discover this place without queuing, the practical way to discover it is by hiring a regular tour, private tour or participating in the Free Tour of Istanbul in English. Free Tour Istanbul is a 3-hour walking tour that takes you on a safe tour (outside) of the most relevant points of Istanbul including the first courtyard of Topkapi Palace. During free tours you never feel pressured as you are free to make payment through tips depending on your budget. Join either a private tour or a free tour because Topkapi Palace is one of the most famous places in Istanbul and visiting this magnificent palace with an English-speaking guide will be a rewarding experience for you.
4. Strolling through the Grand Bazaar
This is another activity that you should not miss. The Grand Bazaar is the oldest and largest supply market in the world built in the time of the Ottoman Empire during the reign of Sultan Mehmed II in 1455. This opulent place has more than 3,600 stores that over the years have gone expanding and that today are distributed in 64 streets. This great market is visited by thousands of people every year to buy countless products in which we can mention lamps, rugs, spices, jewelry, soaps, clothes of all kinds of quality, ceramics, Turkish delight, etc.
- The old market is open every day except Sunday and among the tips that we can offer are:
- If a trader offers you tea or coffee, it is because he wants to negotiate with you.
- Don't show excessive interest in a product.
- Be nice, as long as you have the right attitude and not contrary, you can get a good price.
- The best time to visit this place is in the morning.
If you want to visit this place in the company of a guide who knows the area, book your private guide here.
5. Navigate the Istanbul Bosphorus
Also known as the "Strait of Istanbul", this place is the water channel that divides the European continent from the Asian one and connects at one end with the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea. It has a length of 30 kilometers and a width diameter between 0.7 km - 3.7 km. Strolling through this strait is one of the most popular activities in Istanbul because it allows you to see the city from another perspective, be it at night or during the day.
By navigating the Bosphorus you will be able to see in the distance the different palaces such as Dolmabahce and Beylerbeyi, the fortress of Rumeli, wooden houses, valued in millions of dollars, mosques of great beauty such as the Ortakoy Mosque, large bridges that connect the 2 continents and stunning panoramas that adorn the banks of each continent.
To enjoy the Bosphorus on a boat, you have several alternatives. You can take boat tours privately, by yacht or on daily routes that can be day or night. In the latter you can enjoy a traditional Turkish dinner with a show included.
You can take advantage of our promotions and purchase our Bosphorus cruise in English, avoiding complications and booking in advance.
6. Walking through Taksim and Galata
If you are a lover of shopping and hiking, walking with guides or independently through the neighborhoods of Taksim and Galata will be very useful. The Taksim and Beyoglu area are the greatest exponents of the young and cosmopolitan city of Istanbul. This part of the European side of Istanbul is considered the heart of the city and here you can find various forms of entertainment, especially endless restaurants, shopping centers, shops, small bazaars and many night spots to drink beer or coffee.
Walking or taking a tour of the street or the avenue of Istiklal is a must if you are in Istanbul. You can start the night with dinner in any of the restaurants with a variety of prices or enjoy a good glass of wine in an exclusive place. If you feel like dancing afterwards, you won't have to walk a lot, because you can find discos or nightclubs very close to the area.
The Galata neighborhood has a beautiful medieval tower that is the symbol of this area. Going up to this historic monument you will be able to see breathtaking panoramas and take lovely pictures of Istanbul, especially from the part of the Golden Horn.
To visit this neighborhood, you can participate in a free tour of Taksim and Galata by signing up here.
7. Explore the Basilica Cistern
In Roman-Byzantine times there was a network of columns in the subsoil called "Roman Cisterns" that were used to store water as a way of preventing possible poisoning or contamination of their aquifer deposits that the Romans had on the surface. Among the most popular, being the largest we can find the Basilica Cistern, which is located very close to the Sultanahmet square.
The cistern was ordered to be built by Emperor Justinian I in the. 532 BC. You can observe in two of its pillars the face of “Medusa”, the popular gorgon of Greek mythology.
In order to enter, you must pay a price and we advise you to book in several days advance or visit it early, because there are usually long lines.
8. The Spice Bazaar
The Spice Bazaar is another place we recommend visiting for shopping. It is very close to the Eminonu Bridge and is also known as “The Egyptian Bazaar”. This place is a little cheaper than the Grand Bazaar. You can buy a variety of spices or condiments of all kinds, as well as typical Turkish products, and a variety of nuts. The prices can vary a lot so we advise you not to buy at the entrance of it because the prices may be higher than the rest of the bazaar.
Products that you can find at a good price: Tea sets, silk scarves and other fabrics, Turkish sweets, soaps, key rings, bracelets, purses, candle holders, imitations of brands such as Adidas, Nike and other recognized brands. It is closed on Sundays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and you can take the tram line T1 to get there.
9. Tour the Asian side
Another activity you must do is to explore the Asian side in search of the best sunset in Istanbul. Here you will be able to walk through neighborhoods such as Uskudar or Kadikoy and have a Turkish tea waiting for a majestic and unforgettable sunset sitting on the “Carpet Walk”. The Uskudar neighborhood, although it is not a very well-known neighborhood for tourists, shows the authenticity and genuineness of the Muslim Turkish culture and it is this charm that makes it different.
Here you can find various shops and small commercial passages, as well as mosques that adorn its streets. Unfortunately, this place is not included in the tourist packages so a good alternative is to explore it with a native guide.
Kadikoy is another popular neighborhood that is worth seeing since it is characterized as being one of the modern places in this Asian part. Few tourists come to know it. Among its greatest attractions we can find the Moda neighborhood, the perfect place to go for a walk and enjoy the docks near the sea, do sports and shopping.
10. Relax in a sparkling Turkish bath
Taking walks, strolling the streets or taking tours in Istanbul can be exhausting. That is why one of the activities you should experience is relaxing with a traditional Turkish bath so that you can purify your body and soul. After this experience you will feel recharged to return to everyday life.
The Turkish baths or called "Hamam" are inherited from what were the Roman baths at the time and which Ottoman society adapted to its culture. They became a place where fulfilling the Islamic precept of the purification of the body and also get socializing. It is therefore as a result of this form of culture and body hygiene that special baths designed for the processes of this cleansing ritual.
One of the oldest hamams in Istanbul that has maintained the style of the Ottoman era over the years is the “Cemberlitas Hamam”. It was built in 1584 by one of the most prominent architects of the time Mimar Sinan. This hamam is very close to the historic center and if you want to experience this relaxing service you can book here. The Cemberlitas Hamam is open from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm and is divided into spaces for women and men.
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