Things to do in
Istanbul

East meets West, Byzantine meets Ottoman, bustling meets leafy — Istanbul is full of eclectic surprises.

Enter your dates to find available activities

Our most recommended things to do in Istanbul

The Whirling Dervishes Show at the HodjaPasha Culture Center

1. The Whirling Dervishes Show at the HodjaPasha Culture Center

Enjoy the Mevlevi Sema ceremony at the HodjaPasha Culture Center in central Istanbul and witness the miracle of the whirling dances and dervishes. Dating back 800 years, the show represents in thrilling fashion the idea that everything in the universe, from atoms to the solar system, to the blood that circulates in the body, revolves. Sema is a spiritual journey that the soul makes to God as it becomes mature and attains unity. After the journey, it returns to its life and serves humankind again. This thrilling program begins with a classical Turkish music concert, followed by the Sema ceremony, comprised of 7 parts. Watch in wonder as the whirling dervishes and sheikh take their place and praise the Prophet Mohammed. Following the chant, a drum voice is heard and all 7 parts unfold, - the ceremony climaxes when the extraordinary whirling dervishes revolve to represent the birth of humanity. The Sema ends with a Fâtiha for the souls of all prophets, martyrs, and believers, and a prayer for the salvation of the country. Chosen as the best authentic local event in 2010 by the Federation of Tourist Guides in Turkey, this fantastic show takes place in the fantastic HodjaPasha Culture Center, which is a restored 550-year-old Ottoman Turkish bath in Sultanahmet-Sirkeci.

Istanbul: Bosphorus Music and Dinner Cruise w/ Private Table

2. Istanbul: Bosphorus Music and Dinner Cruise w/ Private Table

Join a sightseeing dinner cruise along the Bosphorus Strait. Enjoy a welcome cocktail and dine with live entertainment. Pass some of Istanbul's most famous monuments, including Dolmabahçe Palace. Cruise between Europe and Asia and pass under the Bosphorus Bridge and Fatih Sultan Mehmed Bridge. See the summer palaces of the Ottoman sultans, including Dolmabahçe Palace and Beylerbeyi Palace. Admire the fortifications of Rumeli Castle and Anatolian Castle, and marvel at the mansions that line both coastlines. Watch live folk dances from the regions of Turkey, be seduced by a belly dancer, and relax to international music played by the on-board DJ.

Istanbul: Bosphorus Sunset Cruise on a Luxurious Yacht

3. Istanbul: Bosphorus Sunset Cruise on a Luxurious Yacht

Sunset on the water is an amazing way to end your cruise experience and an equally amazing way to start your evening. Whether it is to impress that special someone with a picture-perfect moment or just to appreciate a great time with great friends, a sunset cruise is something everyone will remember.  Few places in the world are as mesmerizing as Istanbul in the setting sun. Aboard an elegant yacht, drinking traditional Turkish drinks, and nibbling on canapés and fruit from tastefully arranged platters, glide by palaces and minarets as you sail along the Bosphorus.  When dusk sets in, a soothing breeze arrives from the Sea of Marmara and the sky over the city puts on a colorful show, tinted with shades of orange and rose. The muezzin calls from a towering minaret. Majestic palaces and villas standstill along the strait’s banks, as if nothing has changed over a millennium. Breathe in the legacy of ancient Byzantium, Constantinople, and the mighty Ottoman Empire with each breath of fresh salty air. Kick back and ride gentle waves in the comfort of a yacht. Watch the city and its iconic landmarks pass by, which is the perfect way to unwind after a busy day of sightseeing. The tour starts at Kabatas Pier and ends at Karakoy Pier.

Istanbul: Bosphorus Night Dinner Cruise

4. Istanbul: Bosphorus Night Dinner Cruise

You will be picked up from your hotel between 7:00 PM and 8:00 PM and taken to the cruise ship in the Bosphorus Strait. Once you board the ship you will sail up the Bosphorus, the waterway between Europe and Asia, passing under the suspension bridges and viewing Ottoman summer palaces, waterside mansions and modern villas which line the European and Asian coasts. When you board enjoy a welcome cocktail before dinner as well as ten different cold starters. For dinner, you will be served a fresh seasonal salad before your main. You will have three options for dinner: grilled fish with scallion garden rocket mashed potatoes, and lemon, or grilled chicken steak with rick and mashed potatoes, or grilled meatballs with rice and mashed potatoes. Throughout dinner, you will be able to enjoy unlimited non-alcoholic local (or optional unlimited alcoholic) drinks. After your entree, you will be served dessert and can enjoy coffee or tea.  Onboard you will not only enjoy dinner and the stunning views of the city but have plenty of entertainment. There will be an Anatolian folk team onboard and you will get to watch a traditional Turkish musical performance known as Katibim. You will also get to watch a performance by two male dancers known as Asuk Masuk, and belly dancers perform. You will also get to enjoy live music onboard, as well as a Turkish Romany dance and a dance party. After taking in the sights, enjoying dinner and watching the shows you will be taken back to your hotel at midnight.

Hagia Sophia: Entry with Guided Tour

5. Hagia Sophia: Entry with Guided Tour

Meet with your professional local guide in front of Hagia Sophia. Hear a short history of the Old City then start the Hagia Sophia Tour.  Your guide will explain the mystery of the magnificent Hagia Sophia. Hagia Sophia is a great architectural beauty and an important monument both for the Byzantine and the Ottoman Empires. Once a church, later a mosque, and now a museum at the Turkish Republic, Hagia Sophia has always been a precious building. 

Istanbul: Bosphorus Sightseeing Cruise from the Old City

6. Istanbul: Bosphorus Sightseeing Cruise from the Old City

A Bosphorus cruise is one of the best things to do in Istanbul. Get on the boat and start discovering the long waterway which separates Europe and Asia. Discover Istanbul’s main attractions, including magnificent palaces, ancient castles and famous hills and parks, as well as spectacular seaside residences from different centuries while passing under famous bridges. You will start your tour from the Old City in Eminönü and cruise along the European side until the 2nd Bosphorus bridge and return back along the Asian coast. You will pass by Dolmabahce Palace, Ciragan Palace, Ortaköy Mosque, Bosphorus Bridge, Rumeli Fortress and Beylerbeyi Palace. You will aslo get to see some historical landmarks from a distance such as Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Maiden Tower, and Galata Tower. 

Istanbul: Dolmabahçe Palace Admission and Guided Tour

7. Istanbul: Dolmabahçe Palace Admission and Guided Tour

Explore Dolmabahçe Palace - the biggest royal residence of the sultans and the imperial family of the Ottoman Empire. Meet your licensed English-speaking guide outside the monument and enter with your skip-the-line admission ticket. Begin a guided tour of the stunning interiors. Learn about how the palace was built by the orders of Sultan Abdülmecid I and opened in 1856. Admire the greatest collection of Baccarat and Bohemian chandeliers on the planet, including the biggest Bohemian chandelier ever. Marvel at the vast collection gold inside, specifically on the ornate ceilings.  As you continue the tour, learn about the distinct differences between the Dolmabahçe Palace and the Topkapı Palace - for example, the architectural style and the way that the furniture was used. Find out about how the Dolmabahçe Palace was the last headquarter of the empire and was served until 1922. At the end of your one hour tour, you can explore Imperial Harem on your own freely, without a guide.

Istanbul: 1-Day Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus Tour with Commentary

8. Istanbul: 1-Day Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus Tour with Commentary

Explore the beautiful city of Istanbul at your own pace with this hop-on-hop-off bus ticket including audio commentary in 8 languages. Your ticket is valid for 1 day and will let you spend more time discovering the highlights that most interest you. Jump aboard your double decker bus and enjoy a tour designed for those who want flexibility during their sightseeing exploration of Istanbul. With additional commentary from your audioguide, you will learn interesting facts about key sights whilst savoring delicious complimentary snacks on board. During the route you can stop at locations like Sultanahmet Square, Eminönü, Karaköy, Galataport, Dolmabahçe Palace, Naval Museum, Beylerbeyi Palace, Taksim Square, Beşiktaş Bazaar, Şişhane, and Egyptian Spice Bazaar.

Best of Istanbul in 1 Day

9. Best of Istanbul in 1 Day

You will start at the old Hippodrome of Constantinople which was the sports and social center of the old city. Discover major works of art including the Obelisk from Egypt, the Serpentine Column from Delphi, and the fountain of Willhelm II, constructed by the Germans. From there, continue to the Blue Mosque, whose six minarets are a key fixture of Istanbul’s skyline. Next, head for the Topkapi Palace, which was home to the Ottoman emperors between the 15th and 19th centuries. Marvel at the jewel-stuffed treasury and priceless displays of Oriental porcelain. Move on to the Hagia Sophia Mosque. Behold the dome and stunning Byzantine mosaics of this architectural gem as your guide recounts its turbulent history. Then visit the Grand Bazaar with over 3,000 shops selling everything from carpets to jewelry to ceramics and leather goods. Also stroll around the Spice Bazaar with its incredible smell from almost every spice imaginable, as well as dried fruits and nuts, sweets and the ubiquitous Turkish Delight.

Istanbul: Bosphorus Cruise with Audio App

10. Istanbul: Bosphorus Cruise with Audio App

Take part in one of the best Bosphorus Cruise in Istanbul and admire the cosmopolitan city from a completely different perspective while enjoying the beautiful views of the Orient and the Occident at the same time. The Bosphorus is 32km long, separates Europe from Asia and connects the Marmara Sea to the Black Sea. Cruise along the Bosphorus between Asia and Europe and discover Istanbul tourist attractions, magnificent palaces, ancient castles, and other historical sites, as well as fine seaside residences and the Bosphorus bridge. Historical places you will see from the distance include Galata Tower, Topkapı Palace, Hagia Sophia, and Blue Mosque. Furthermore, you will have a glance at the spectacular pieces of authentic civic architecture on the European and Asian coast.

Frequently asked questions about Istanbul

What top attractions are a must-see in Istanbul?

Planning Your Visit

  • How many days?

    Istanbul is a cartographical labyrinth with sights and experiences awaiting you round every corner. How long to stay depends on how immersed you want to get, but a week should be enough to cover the most famous attractions.

  • How to get from the airport to the city?

    Havataş Shuttle Buses are available from outside the terminal and leave every half an hour for Taksim between 4:00AM and 1:00AM. Taking a taxi is, however, the most convenient way, and shouldn't be more expensive than the shuttle service between a group of four. Be sure to ignore the hustlers inside the airport and take an official vehicle from the taxi rank at the terminal exit.

  • Where to stay?

    The key touristic areas are Fatih and Taksim, and which to stay in depends on the nature of your stay. Fatih is the old town and home to many of Istanbul's historic landmarks. Taksim, on the other hand, is modern and appeals more to those visiting the city to shop, dine, and party. Traveling between the two is simple, so don't worry if you fancy hitting the dancefloors after the Hagia Sophia!

Good to know

  • Language
    Turkish
  • Currency
    Turkish Lira (₺)
  • Time Zone
    UTC (+02:00)
  • Country Code
    +90
  • Best time to visit
    The weather is good at all times of the year, but it may be a good idea to avoid the summer if you do not like extreme heat.

Other Sightseeing Options in Istanbul

Want to discover all there is to do in Istanbul? Click here for a full list.

What people are saying about Istanbul

Overall rating

4.3 / 5

based on 14,472 reviews

Our guide was great! Such extensive knowledge about the Anzac wars and perfect stopping points to see key landmarks. For a day trip, it is a loooong day because Gallipoli is about 4-5 hours out of Istanbul. If you don’t mind the long travel, this is such a great trip!!

I recommend that you get to the Center earlier than 15 minutes prior to the show. It began to get really crowded. The Center is not that big. However, it was very smooth getting our tickets via Get Your Guide, and we had front row seating!

Excellent experience . Shows were great. Great views of the Bosporus. Pick up and drop service was smooth . Highly recommended

Foarte punctuali. Au venit la fix sa ne ia de la hotel. Foarte bine organizați. Recomand.

Was a wonderful tour! Very informative and the guide was fantastic!