10 Unique Things to Do in Istanbul

“A lifetime isn’t enough to discover Rome” is an expression that also applies to its fellow former Roman capital, Istanbul, a city I found nothing short of magnificent.

I wanted to finish off my Istanbul coverage by recapping some activities that I strongly advise you not to miss. And while I hate the guilt that the word “must-see” tends to ascribe, here are some things to do in Istanbul that I really loved.

Cross the Bosphorus


You truly cannot understand Istanbul if you don’t see both the Asian and European sides so I highly recommend taking the ferry over to visit both. Plus, the views of mosques perched proudly upon hills make for the most beautiful ferry ride in the world.

Shop at the Grand Bazaar


When I travel I crave the frenetic energies of markets so I made sure to head over to the Grand Bazaar, one of the oldest covered markets in the world with more than 3,000 shops. At this enormous market vendors hawk anything from hookah sets to fake Prada bags to beautiful Turkish pottery. Come early for the best deals- and of course, don’t forget to barter!

Drink Black Tea


While many might think that Turkish coffee is the most common beverage in Turkey, nothing is more ubiquitous than black tea, or çay. Served in glass to show off its deep-red hue, Turks drink the piping hot tea at all hours of the day.

Escape Underground at the Basilica Cistern


Need a break from the hustle and bustle of Sultanahmet? Cool off at the Basilica Cistern, which the Romans used as an underground water storage system with a capacity to hold around 100,000 tons of water. Take a moment to breathe as you listen to the sound of water dripping and watch fat carp lazily drifting across the bottom of the pool.

Marvel at the Hagia Sophia


If you only have time for one site in Istanbul (and I sincerely hope you have more), run, don’t walk, to the Hagia Sophia. This Byzantine church turned mosque turned museum packs nearly 2,000 years of history, a fascinating mix of Arabic and Byzantine architecture and a timeless, haunting energy.

Read more -> Finally Laying Eyes on the Magnificent Hagia Sophia

Experience a Working Mosque at The Blue Mosque


If you’re jonesing to see some beautiful Arabic architecture as well as visit a working mosque, head over to the nearby Blue Mosque. I loved beautiful interior of cobalt blue tiles paired with gold Arabic script- and of course, the opportunity to visit my first mosque and learn a little more about Islam.

And while I didn’t have time to see it, I’ve also heard great things about the Süleymaniye Mosque- so make sure to check out a few other mosques while you’re in Istanbul!

Read more -> Blue Mosque Dreaming

Have Brunch


While I think the Turks do all meals extraordinarily well, brunch was one of my favorites. Enjoy tangy white cheeses, Jewish-deli style sliced meats, warm bread rolls and ambrosial honey mixed with butter every morning. Really enjoy the honey and butter.

Where to find it: Namli Gurme Rihtim Cad, Istanbul, Turkey (Beyoğlu, Asian side) Trip Advisor 

Feast on Lamb


In Istanbul, please eat lamb. While normally lamb is an extremely expensive treat, in Turkey it’s top-quality as well as affordable. And if you don’t eat lamb, fill up on the mezze course of vegetable-based appetizers that come before the meat course- they’re healthy and beyond scrumptious as well.

Read more -> The Best Meal I Had in Istanbul

Indulge your Sweet ToothIMG_2328

Though I decidedly don’t have a sweet tooth, I loved finishing the meal with anything from pistachio baklava to a humble bowl of pomegranate seeds. Another popular dessert is Turkish delight- which I sadly didn’t try but you should!

Read more -> The Complete Guide to Turkish Food for Foodies



While Istanbul has many incredible sites on offer, it’s also a city in which you should lose yourself in the details. Explore winding allies where colorful rugs hang, hear to the call to prayer, watch the seagulls swoop over the Bosphorus and smell the salty sea air.

Read more -> The Beauty of Doing Nothing while Traveling

Have you been to Istanbul? What did you enjoy doing most?

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About Ashley Fleckenstein

Ashley is a travel and lifestyle blogger who lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Since college she has au paired in Paris, backpacked the world solo, and lived in Uganda. Her work has been featured by Buzzfeed, Forbes, TripAdvisor, and Glamour Magazine.

16 thoughts on “10 Unique Things to Do in Istanbul”

  1. This is a great list, Ashley! Whenever I visit Turkey…someday…I will have to visit that basilica cistern you mentioned. It sounds so eerie and interesting! BTW are those pyramids of Turkish Delight in the photo beneath Sweet Tooth? aaaaa!

  2. Argh! Can’t believe I missed Basilica Cistern! Looks like we both missed parts of Turkey…

    I found the grand bizaar interesting but eventually all the same… until I got to the “old bazaar” and spent time in the antique map/compass/old world navigation shop. Unqiue in a place where there’s alot of the same stuff.

  3. Other worlds that are so exotic sounding, and so different from our world.
    Mind-expanding and spirit lifting.
    Love, Gamma

  4. This is a great list! Hopefully, one day I’ll be able to visit Turkey. After reading your posts, it’s definitely high on my list of places to visit. I’d love to see the Turkish pottery in person, as I do pottery myself!

  5. I was so terrified of the Turkish Delight when I first saw it, and then I found myself eating every sample I was offered. So good!

    I’m co-hosting travel tuesday today – you should definitely link this up!

    Still soh appy we got to meet!

  6. I love love love love Istanbul!! And I can’t tell you how much I agree with all of your points! :) I’d like to specifically point out Ortaköy, a place I love, right by the First Bosphorus Bridge, where a small bazar is buzzing with life and the Kumpir (baked potatoes filled with salads) is DELICIOUS :)

  7. basilica cistern not just one, but others are not open to visitors. :) there are alot of place in istanbul. a video shows them in youtube :) underground cities – Istanbul. i didnt know it when i watched

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