Istanbul Things to Do

Table of Contents

Things To Do as a Family

1.   Cruise along the Bosporus

One of the most popular things to do in Istanbul with the family is to cruise along the Bosporus. Hop aboard a private boat or ferry and enjoy the sights of the city from one of the world's narrowest straits, the Bosporus. Given the abundance of sightseeing spots by the strait, adults and kids will enjoy this fun activity.

You will have plenty of options for the cruise. The local Department of Transportation runs the Şehir Hatları passenger boat services along the river, while many other private operators offer cruise trips and sightseeing excursions to tourists. Sit and relax as your cruise traverses along the river, passing the landmark-filled skylines of Bebek, Ortakoy, and Golden Horn. The most popular terminal departs from Eminönü.

2.   Marvel at the Lovely Sea Creatures in Istanbul SEA LIFE

Kids will have a blast at Sea Life Aquarium Istanbul, where they will witness a wide variety of marine life, from turtles to sharks, whales, and piranhas. As the fifth largest aquarium in the world, Sea Life Aquarium Istanbul is home to a wide variety of sea creatures and has one of the largest collections of sharks in Europe. 

There's so much to see and discover at the Sea Life Aquarium. At the interactive rock pools, kids will have a chance to touch starfish and crabs. Stroll through the 83-meter-long underwater Ocean Tunnel, marvel at the giant seabed display, and feel like you're on the ocean yourself! The other exciting attractions worth checking out are the Turtle Hospital, thematic zones, and the Digital Aquarium.

3.   Visit a Miniature Park

One of the best things to do as a family in Istanbul is to visit Miniaturk, a fantastic open-air museum showcasing a miniature version of Turkey's famous landmarks and architectural monuments. Also known as the "Miniature Turkey Museum," Miniaturk is an ideal place for little ones who want to learn more about Turkey and its history.

The park sits on an area of 60,000 square meters, at the far end northern coast of the Golden Horn. It also houses the Panorama Victory Museum and the Istanbul Crystal Museum, a 3D museum featuring crystal glasses, lights, and high-tech laser technology.

4.   Have Fun at the Istanbul Toy Museum

At some point in the history of Turkey, the İstanbul Oyuncak Müzesi used to be a famous toy shop selling all kinds of classical Turkish toys and dolls. Located in the neighbourhood of Göztepe, on the Asian side of Istanbul, it was later converted into a toy museum, showcasing more than 4,000 different toys, puppets, and miniature sets collected from more than forty countries for twenty years.

İstanbul Oyuncak Müzesi offers you and your little ones great insights into the history of toys, with many of its collections being antiques dating back many centuries. The museum was established in 2005 by Sunay Akın, a Turkish poet and novelist.

5.   Play at the Legoland Discovery Center

Take your kids to a world of fun and creativity at the Legoland Discovery Center. It's an indoor area for entertainment and education located inside the Forum Istanbul Shopping Mall. Ideal for kids aged 3 to 10, it's an ideal place to hone the creativity of your kids and spend quality time with the family.

Families visiting the Legoland Discovery Center will have plenty of fun attractions to enjoy, including access to indoor attractions. You will see iconic buildings made from Lego bricks, and kids can have fun at the rides and the Lego 4D cinema. If your kids are fond of Lego, they should check out the Model Builder Academy and learn tips on how to build a Lego masterpiece.

6.   Ride the Rollercoaster at Isfanbul

If your kids are into thrilling rides, take them to Isfanbul, a massive complex home to a theme park, shopping venues, and entertainment areas. One of the park's highlights is the Nefeskesen rollercoaster, which can run to a speed of 110 km per hour in only three seconds! For families who are brave enough, riding this roller coaster is a must!

Aside from the roller coaster rides, you can enjoy many other things in Isfanbul with your little ones. The complex also serves as a shopping, entertainment, and exhibition venue, and the shopping center is home to an indoor zoo called the "Jungle," where the kids can have fun while the adults shop around.

7.   Watch Dolphin Shows at Istanbul Dolphinarium

Your kids will surely be thrilled by the thought of seeing dolphins up close. So, take them to the Istanbul Dolphinarium, a popular theme park along the Golden Horn. As Europe's largest indoor dolphinarium, it offers many exciting activities and attractions. Aside from watching the dolphin shows, you will have the opportunity to swim and interact with these incredible creatures!

The dolphin show lasts up to an hour, and visitors will have the chance to take photos with the dolphins after the show. And aside from the opportunity to swim and dive with the dolphins, you can participate in supportive alternative therapy, suitable for kids 3 to 16 years old.

8.   Admire the Wax Figures at Madame Tussauds Wax Museum

One of the top things to do as a family in Istanbul is to visit the Madame Tussauds Wax Museum at the Grand Pera building in Istiklal Avenue to marvel at the incredible, life-size wax figures of celebrities and personalities in the field of sports, arts, and politics. There are also wax figures of Turkey's historical and cultural icons.

Madame Tussauds has many branches worldwide, but the main one is in London. When you get inside the Madame Tussauds Wax Museum in Istanbul, you can get a closer look at the life-size wax replicas of some of your favourite celebrities, football players, and other personalities from Turkey.

The museum consists of different themed galleries - sports, music, science and culture, history, the leaders, and VIP party. There are about sixty wax replicas inside the museum, and some of the most popular ones include Julia Roberts, Leonardo da Vinci, Madonna, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, and more!

9.   Take a Boat Ride to the Princes’ Islands

After exploring all the exciting family-friendly attractions of Istanbul, you might want to escape the bustling city and visit a more tranquil place. So, hop on a ferry and enjoy a short boat ride to Princes Island, a cluster of nine islands along the Sea of Marmara.

Unlike the mainland, the Princes’ Islands have a more serene vibe, home to quaint villages of charming wooden houses. Motorized vehicles are not allowed in the archipelago, so the best way to explore is through a horse-drawn carriage. There are also fun rides for the entire family to enjoy. But if you are looking for more adventures, rent bicycles and ride through the bike paths of the islands.

10. Shop for Turkish Delights

For families with a sweet tooth, your trip to Turkey should include shopping for the mouthwatering Turkish delights! Locally known as "lokum," these are different confections made from a gel of starch and sugar. Some of the most popular varieties have chopped dates, hazelnuts, pistachios, or walnuts bound by starch and sugar. 

Shopping for Turkish Delights in Istanbul should be easy since you will find them all over the place, in different flavors and forms, and at various shops and markets around the city. Some of the most popular places to buy Turkish Delights are Ali Muhiddin Haci Bekir and Hafiz Mustafa in the downtown area of Istanbul. The best part about shopping for Turkish delights is that vendors would happily hand out generous portions of these sweets for you to taste!

Top 10 Places to Visit in Istanbul

1.   Hagia Sophia

When it comes to the list of the best places to visit in Istanbul, the Hagia Sophia often tops the list. As the city's best-known landmark, Hagia Sophia should be on everyone's itinerary. Its soaring domes and vibrant minarets dominating above the Old City attract millions of travellers who come here to discover the mosque's 1,500 years of history. Hagia Sophia was the heart of Byzantium and the oldest structure in the Sultanahmet area.

The current structure of the Hagia Sophia is the third to be built in the area. Riots and fire have destroyed the two previous buildings. When you visit the mosque, you'll discover centuries of Islamic and Christian history with icons of both religions displayed side by side. Some of the fascinating treasures in Hagia Sophia include the Tomb of the Princes, the Viking Alphabets, the weeping column, and more!

2.   The Bosphorus River

What makes Istanbul unique is that it occupies two continents - Europe and Asia, divided by the Bosphorus Strait. One of the most popular activities in Istanbul is cruising along the Bosphorus River, which is also a great way to admire both sides of the city.

Most cruises will start slightly to the east of the famous Galata Bridge before travelling to Anadolu Kavagi, a beautiful finishing village and the entrance to the Black Sea. On some cruises, you can have lunch in this village. From here, walk uphill to reach Yoros Castle, where you can marvel at the panoramic views of the Black Sea.

You will also find a range of boat cruises departing from the ports of Eminonu, Kabatas, or Besiktas. It's also possible to book a private boat tour for special celebrations, such as birthdays and anniversaries. The boat will make numerous sightseeing stops along the way.

3.   Grand Bazaar

One of the highlights of your trip to Istanbul is shopping at the world-famous Grand Bazaar, one of the world's oldest and largest covered markets, home to more than 4,000 shops. The Grand Bazaar is one of Istanbul's top tourist destinations where you can shop for some souvenirs and everything else.

Occupying an area of 47,000 square meters, the Grand Bazaar consists of a dizzying labyrinth of streets and narrow passageways. Here, you can shop for silky shawls, scarves, antiques, traditional items, leather goods, carpets, handicrafts, and more!

While most people would come here to shop, the Grand Bazaar is not only a place for shopping. It's a historical site where you can experience the local culture and history. The massive market is also home to a historical coffee house where you can sample the tastiest Turkish coffee cooked on a coal fire. Make sure you check out the wide selection of Turkish delights!

4.   The Blue Mosque

One of the top places to visit in Istanbul is the Sultanahmet Camii or the Blue Mosque. It's called "blue mosque" due to the intricate blue tile work covering the building interiors. Built in 1616, Blue Mosque is one of Turkey's most fascinating buildings. It was built as an imperial show of strength, complementing the nearby Hagia Sophia, which faces the Sultanahmet Square just across the Blue Mosque.

Four elephant foot pillars support the Blue Mosque, while the central dome is surrounded by four semi-domes, making it almost a square in shape. The ceramic Iznik tiles decorating its interiors are handmade, featuring designs of different flowers, such as roses, tulips, and carnations.

It's free to enter the Blue Mosque. But since it's a working mosque, it is closed to tourists during prayer time. Also, there are general to follow when entering the mosque. One of these is to dress respectfully, although shawls and outer garments are available if necessary.

5.   Topkapi Palace Museum

The Topkapi Palace used to be the administrative centre of the Ottoman Empire. It was used for four hundred years until the construction of the Dolmabahçe Palace during the mid-1800s. One of the best places to see in the Topkapi Palace is the Harem, the dwelling place of the mother of the sultan, his concubines, and wives.

The Topkapi Palace is truly impressive, making it one of the top places to see in Istanbul. Its walls feature exquisite tile work that looks very attractive. And if you visit during springtime, you'll find the gardens filled with colourful hyacinths and tulips. Plus, you can enjoy panoramic views of Istanbul from here.

As you explore the palace, you will also learn about the lives of the Ottoman Sultans and see their actual clothes and accessories. You will also experience some aspects of Ottoman architecture.

6.   Basilica Cistern

Basilica Cistern is the largest of all the ancient cisterns lying underneath Istanbul. Built around the 6the Century under the order of Emperor Justinian, the underground structure features more than 300 columns, many of which came from ruined temples with finely carved capitals. The cistern's sheer grandeur is breathtaking, and its cavernous depths can make for a great respite during hot summer days.

Like most sites in Istanbul, the Basilica Cistern has a strange history. The reason behind is name is because it lies below the Stoa Basilica. The cistern's main purpose is to serve the Great Palace and the surrounding buildings, capable of storing up to 80,000 cubic meters of water delivered through 20km of aqueducts from a reservoir close to the Black Sea.

The İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality cleaned and renovated the Basilica Cistern in 1985 and opened it to the public in 1987. It's now one of Istanbul's top places to visit.

7.   Istiklal Street

Set within the Taksim neighbourhood, Istiklal Street is a 1.5 km stretch of pedestrian-friendly street lined with shops, restaurants, and cafes. It runs towards the famous Taksim Square, another popular spot for tourists. Istiklal is always bustling with tourists day and night, with thousands of people walking through it every day.

You'll also find a few historical sites at Istiklal Street, such as the Hagia Triada Church, which you will recognize by its towering dome and twin bell towers. It was built in the 1880s and renovated recently. It is now the Greek Church of the Holy Trinity.

Another beautiful building you'll find along Istiklal Street is the French Consulate building. It's a cultural centre offering French events and festivals. You will also find the Armenian Catholic Surp Voskeperan Church right behind the consulate.

8.   Galata Tower

Topped with a distinctive roof resembling a witch hat, Galata Tower is one of Istanbul's most famous landmarks. It's an old Genoese tower dating back to the 14th century, overlooking the beautiful city of Istanbul. One of its most distinctive features is the massive cone-shaped structure built about 38 meters above sea level.

The Galata Tower was the first tower constructed closer to the sea under the order of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian in 528. However, it was demolished by Latin Crusaders late on. Then in 1348, the Genoese constructed a beautiful tower on the site known as the Tower of Christ.

The Galata Tower is now considered one of the top places to visit in Istanbul. Most tourists would come here for the observatory deck, which has a 360-degree view of Istanbul. There are two elevators at the entrance taking you to the top.

9.   Dolmabahçe Palace

Featuring European Baroque style architecture, the Dolmabahce Palace Museum is one of Istanbul's most magnificent buildings, situated at the banks of the Bosphorus. It used to be the residence of the last six Ottoman Sultans, including Ataturk, who founded the Turkish Republic.

Glass and crystals are the palace's main features. It has beautiful staircases made of marble. You will also find giant crystal chandeliers, lush carpets, and British candelabras all over the palace.

Unlike the Topkapi Palace, the Dolmabahce Palace is a single large building with several pavilions and a sprawling garden surrounding the main building. It has high walls on the land side with two main gates, while the seaside entrance has five ports.

10. Sultanahmet Square

Also called the Hippodrome Square, Sultanahmet Square is a famous square in Istanbul. It's often full of life and lined with historical sites within walking distance away from each other. The bustling square is fun to explore on foot, where you'll find restaurants, shops, cafes, and a few attractions.

Nowadays, Sultanahmet Square is one of Istanbul's most popular sites to meet and a good starting point for exploring the many sights nearby. It also has a historical significance, built around the III Century AD under the order of the Byzantine Emperor.

Top 10 Places to Eat Out in Istanbul

1.  Spago by Wolfgang Puck

Set on the rooftop of St. Regis Hotel, Spago offers a modern and seasonal menu with exceptional service and stunning views. The restaurant was the first international branch of Wolfgang Puck's flagship restaurant. Aside from the sumptuous dishes, the restaurant menu also features an extensive wine list of more than five hundred outstanding selections.

Spago opens to stunning views of the Bosphorus Strait. Indulge in refreshing cocktails or choose from the extensive wine list while soaking up the golden sunset. The best dishes on the menu are locally inspired, such as the sautéed cauliflower served with almonds and raisins. If you are craving home comforts, head to the sushi bar, which serves some of the best sushi in the city.

2.  Nicole Restaurant

In the Beyoglu District, you will find Nicole Restaurant, which offers contemporary Mediterranean cuisines served on a charming terrace overlooking the panoramic views of the Prince Islands, Istanbul's historical peninsula.

The name "Nicole" came from Mother Agnes Martha Nicole, who healed several patients until the early 20th Century when the building was a Franciscan Monastery. The building now houses Nicole Restaurant, one of the top places to eat out in Istanbul. The restaurant's wine cellar is impressive and includes chateau-style local wines from the Anatolia, Thrace, and Aegean regions.

3.  Râna Meyhane

Formerly called Topaz, Râna Meyhane serves authentic Ottoman and Mediterranean cuisines. The restaurant overlooks the Bosphorus Strait with a very serene and relaxing atmosphere, while the interior features a blend of traditional and modern decors.

Râna Meyhane has two wasting menus - traditional and modern. The traditional menu includes classic dishes like ravioli with beef cooked in strained yogurt. Meanwhile, the modern menu consists of innovative dishes, the most popular being the goose liver terrine served with cranberry marmalade and walnut.

4.  Pokémate Restaurant

If you find yourself craving Hawaiian dishes, head to Pokémate Restaurant, a fantastic Hawaiian restaurant offering guests an incredible sushi experience you won't find anywhere else in the city. You will find the restaurant in the neighbourhood of Nisantasi, within walking distance of Taksim Square.

Pokémate is named after "poke" a world-famous Hawaiian dish where three large sushi rolls are served open on a plate. The restaurant also offers the option to cook your own healthy, delicious, and fresh poke bowls.

5.  Queb Lounge 360 Sultanahmet Restaurant

Queb Lounge 360 treats diners to delicious meals and drinks on its beautiful terrace surrounded by panoramic views of Istanbul. It's set inside the Byzantium Hotel and doubles as a restaurant and cafe.

The restaurant is close to some of Istanbul's famous sites, the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque. It's an ideal place to relax and enjoy delicious meals after a day of exploring the city. Featuring modern and aesthetic interiors, with a great location, you can enjoy your meals while surrounded by the panoramic views of the Bosphorus.

6.  Kinaliada Teos Beach Restaurant

If you're visiting the Princes' Islands, drop by the Kinaliada Teos Beach Restaurant, one of the top places to eat out in Istanbul. Teos Beach is a popular beach club in the Kinali Islands, one of the islands that make up the Princes' Islands.

Kinaliada Teos Beach Restaurant is a Greek-style restaurant offering an excellent dining experience. Enjoy delicious meals while surrounded by stunning sea views. The restaurant operates as a beach restaurant during the day and a club in the evening, offering live music and entertainment.

7.  Banyan

With a motto of "Food for the Soul", Banyan Restaurant serves up delectable Asian fusion fares. It's the best place to enjoy healthy cuisines with Asian roots, which you can enjoy on the top floor of a historical building, surrounded by striking views of the city.

The menu features popular Asian dishes like duck satay, Sichuan pepper steak, and several dim sum varieties. Enjoy your meals with refreshing cocktails, fresh juices, or tea. Whether dining outdoors or indoors, you are guaranteed to enjoy this beautiful Asian restaurant.

8.  360 Istanbul

If you're looking for a luxury dining experience, 360 Istanbul is the best restaurant to visit. Featuring 360-degree views of Istanbul, this high-end terrace restaurant has excellent offerings on its menu, with dishes suitable for every taste. Aside from the delicious meals, guests are treated to fun evening entertainment, including extraordinary shows.

Located on the top floor of the historic Mısır Apartment building, 360 Istanbul is popular among tourists looking for a great place to relax while on holiday. Featuring a fusion of Turkish and International cuisines with an excellent wine selection, 360 Istanbul is definitely one of the top places to eat out in Istanbul.

9.  Oligark

Oligark is one of the newest culinary hotspots in Istanbul. It's a dining complex featuring four restaurants and a winter nightclub. Thanks to its location right across the Bosphorus, you are guaranteed spectacular views as you enjoy delectable meals and refreshing drinks. Whether you are in the mood for Mediterranean cuisines, Turkish specialities, or international fares - you will find them all here!

After enjoying your meals, hit the trendy nightclub and dance to your heart's content! But make sure you dress up when going to this place since there is a strict dress code.

10.  Seven Hills Restaurant

Located close to Sultanahmet Square, the Seven Hills Restaurant is one of the best places to eat out in Istanbul. Located in the heart of the city, the restaurant is on the rooftop of the Seven Hills Hotel and overlooks the stunning views of Istanbul's historic peninsula.

The menu features a combination of Turkish cuisines and international dishes, but the most popular are those made from freshly caught fish from the Sea of Marmara. Featuring spectacular views of the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, the Seven Hills Restaurant is also one of the most Instagrammable spots in the city.

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