Your Istanbul checklist: what to do + where to go

Only have a day or two to visit beautiful Istanbul? Here are a few things you can add to your itinerary to make the best of the time you have there!

Haggle at the Grand Bazaar

The Grand Bazaar of Istanbul has 66 alleys and over 4000 shops. With that many shops, it’s a grand feat to explore it in its entirety.

But what better challenge than to walk down its alleys and trying your luck with haggling for some items.

Take your bet on how low you can get jewelry, carpets, and fake-name brands for — will you be able to get it to 1/3 of its original price?

A portion of the Grand Bazaar that sold ceramics. Stalls selling these ceramics line the alley.
A portion of the Grand Bazaar that sells ceramics

For a variety of tips on haggling, take a look at 5 things you should know before your trip to Istanbul.

Experience the intertwining of religion at the Hagia Sophia

A quick history lesson: The Hagia Sophia used to be a Greek Orthodox Christian patriarchal cathedral. However, in 1453 it became an Ottoman imperial mosque when Constantinople (Istanbul) was captured by the Ottoman Turks. In 1935, the Hagia Sophia became a museum.

You’ll notice the mix of religions the moment you walk inside – Islamic and Christian symbols come together in beautiful displays.

Looking over the first floor of the Hagia Sophia. People can be seen crowding the bottom.
A view from the upper story of the Hagia Sophia
The inside of the Dome of the Hagia Sophia. Restoration works appears to be happening. The Dome is intricate and detailed with gold Arabic (?) letters.
The inside of the Dome of the Hagia Sophia
A mosaic panel of Christ, John the Baptist, and Virgin Mary.
“Mosaic Panel, 13th Century Deisis. Christ in the middle, John the Baptist on the right, and Virgin Mary on the left. Virgin Mary and John the Baptist (Ioannes Prodromos – the Precursor) requesting Christ’s intercession for humanity (Deisis).”

Price: 72 TL

Experience Turkish hospitality with a cup of tea

There’s enough tea in Istanbul as there are grains of sand on a beach. Tea is everywhere – and rightly so!

Turkey’s staple drink is offered as a sign of hospitality or drank as a way to socialize.

You won’t want to pass on this black tea on your trip – so make sure to take a moment to enjoy it!

A peaceful street where small wooden tables and chairs are set-up to drink tea or coffee

Interested in learning more about Turkish tea? Check out Learning about Turkish çay and Kahvesi.

Drink some Turkish coffee and get your fortune read

Coffee in Turkey is considered a special treat – so make sure to treat yourself on your trip and get a cup!

And when you finish your warm drink, see if anyone can tell you what your future holds. You may be surprised with what you hear.

A small white porcelain cup filled to the brim with delicious Turkish coffee. It sits on a colourful mat.

Want to know more about the origins of Turkish coffee and coffee readings? Check out Learning about Turkish çay and Kahvesi.

Experience the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque)

When you tell your friends and family that you’re visiting Istanbul, the first place that will most likely come to their mind is the Blue Mosque.

A shot of the entrance of the Blue Mosque

This distinctive mosque was constructed between 1606 and 1616 and is still used to this day.

It is free to go inside, but make sure that you are appropriately dressed.

For more information about visiting mosques, make sure to check A guide to visiting mosques in Turkey. Here you’ll find information about appropriate attire, the call to prayer, and more.

A photo depicting the opening hours of the Blue Mosque

Indulge in Turkish cuisine

Turkish cuisine is a fusion of Central and Middle Eastern cuisine, Eastern European cuisine, and Balkan cuisine.

Its cuisine varies across the country, giving you the perfect excuse to eat as much food in whichever city you go to.

When in Istanbul, don’t miss out on the delicious mixed kebabs, dolma (stuffed grape vine), and unique Mediterranean salad – they’ll be sure to energize you for all the walking you will do.

Pictured is some Ayran (Turkish yogurt drink), mixed kebabs with some rice and fries, a salad with onion, tomato,cheese, and corn, and some peppers and a red sauce
Enjoying some delicious Turkish cuisine (salad, mixed kebab, side dishes, and Ayran – a Turkish yogurt drink).
Right to left: Mediterranean salad, mixed kebabs, dolma (stuffed vine leaves), olives, and bread.
Right to left: Mediterranean salad, mixed kebabs, dolma (stuffed vine leaves), olives, and bread.

Give the Old Ottoman Cafe and Restaurant a try if you want to experience traditional Turkish cuisine!

Eat Turkish delight and find out what the hype’s all about

I now understand why Edmund (The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe) gave up his siblings for a box of Turkish delights. I would too.

Thankfully, no siblings have to be given to a dark queen in Istanbul – so eat to your heart’s content without feeling any guilt!

An assortment of Turkish delights cut up into little squares
An assortment of Turkish delights
An assortment of Turkish delights with a variety of nuts within them. They are cut cylindrical.
Some Turkish delights have different kinds of nuts in them. Try each one out and see which you like best!

Get lost in Istanbul’s side streets

Sometimes getting lost is the best way to find something special.

Take your eyes off your map and wander about the streets to see what treasures they hold. You might come across a beautiful garden, or a tea house hidden in the corner, or a vendor selling the most unusual things.

Give it a go and see what you find.

Finding pretty lanterns and umbrellas when exploring the streets of Istanbul
Finding pretty lanterns and umbrellas when exploring the streets

Visit the bustling street of Taksim

Taksim street is filled with energy – people are walking everywhere, going into shops, and enjoying delicious foods being sold at stalls or restaurants.

Because of this vibrancy, it truly feels like this street contains the soul of Istanbul – so make sure not to miss out!

Also, be mindful of your purse – the more crowded an area is, the higher the chances of getting pick-pocketed.

A view of a portion of Taksim - where crowds upon crowds flock the street.
Walking down the busy street of Taksim. Crowds upon crowds passing me by.

Have you ever been to Istanbul? What are your top recommendations for things to do and places to see?

For more blogs from Turkey, check them out here.