What to see in Istanbul in 1-7 days – only the most interesting

What to see in Istanbul in a day

I’ve been to Istanbul several times and would go again: it’s a colorful city that never sleeps.

Turkish Airlines planes often make connections in Istanbul. If it’s more than 6 hours between flights, I suggest you go downtown and walk around. That way you get two trips in one.

I made a 6 km itinerary. It’s short, but it’s a busy one.

Turkey’s national currency is the lira.

If the Turkish Airlines connection in Istanbul takes 6 to 24 hours, the airline offers free guided tours of the city for passengers


The Sultanahmet Mosque, or Blue Mosque, is a symbol of Istanbul and one of the most prominent mosques in Muslim architecture. It is located in the European part of the city. You can enter the Blue Mosque for free but you can only stay inside until the next namaz. The schedule of prayers depends on the time of year and is determined by the position of the sun in the sky.

Before entering the mosque shoes must be removed. There are special shelves for storage, but I put my shoes in a bag and took them with me to avoid confusion. Women are asked to wear a scarf and cover their legs and shoulders. For this, they give out a free scarf and dress at the entrance. Men, too, must be in closed clothes – in shorts and a T-shirt will not be allowed.

Buy tickets for the museums on the Müzekart website in advance so you don’t have to wait in lines

Topkapi Sultan’s Palace. If you want to know how the sultans and their wives lived, go to Topkapi Palace. It was the residence of the Ottoman rulers since the 15th century and became a museum in 1923. There you can see the treasures of the sultans, a collection of weapons, cooking utensils and everyday objects. The total area of the complex is 700,000 m². I was impressed with the interiors, decorations and scale of the palace.

In one hour it is impossible to see everything. I advise you to walk around the beautiful palace grounds and look into the harem. Overall, Topkapi is very atmospheric. Towards the end of the walk I had the feeling that I was the heroine of “The Magnificent Century” and was about to start weaving intrigues against the rest of the sultan’s wives.

To get to the Basilica Cistern, you have to go down 52 steps. It’s dark, damp and a little creepy inside, especially when you look at the column with Medusa Gorgon. When you look at the flooded corridors with faint lighting, it looks like a monster is about to come out of them.

Grand Bazaar is the most famous market in Istanbul, where they sell sweets, souvenirs and clothes. It is worth stopping by for the atmosphere of an oriental fairy tale. The bazaar resembles a separate city with 61 streets – it is easy to get lost in it. I advise you to use a navigator and remember which gate you entered.

Grand Bazaar is open daily from 8:30 to 19:00, except Sundays and religious holidays.

The scent of spices, the glitter of silverware and the clinking of dishes can make your head spin, so I advise you to hold your bag tightly so thieves don’t get anything.

Taksim is where Istanbul’s nightlife is concentrated. Istiklal, a long pedestrian street with plenty of cafes, restaurants and stores, is the starting point of Taksim Square, where crowds of people walk around the clock.

It is also easy to find a club with free entrance and inexpensive drinks in the Taksim district. The main thing is not to get too excited and not to miss your flight.


Two airports. You can take a bus from Taksim to the airport. From the same stop at Taksim Square, the Havataş shuttles leave for different airports: Ataturk and Sabihi Gökçen. Most connections are made at Ataturk airport. Check the name of the airport on the shuttle’s electronic board, otherwise you could go to the wrong airport and miss your flight.

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The fare is 14-18 ₺ (175-224 P ) and the ticket can be purchased from the driver.

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About what to do in Istanbul (and on the transfer, and in general): – go to the Süleymaniye Mosque, a great view from the outdoor area; – try baklava at Karakoy Gulluoglu (Karakoy neighborhood near Galata Bridge); – stop by the little soup shop Karakoy Corba Evi, which was opened in the old monastery premises; – a modern version of balik-ekmek – balik-lavash: for those who want to feel the fish rather than the bread (one can try this version along with the soup one); – go to Fener (former Greek) and Balat (former Jewish) neighborhoods; – go to Kadiköy, the Asian part, for a change of scenery and a more relaxed pace on the vaporetto; – go up to the Galata Tower for 360-degree view of the city (but come – in the morning and on weekdays, and otherwise the queue, sometimes very substantial); – go to the district Ortakoy to the most delicate mosque, in Arnavutkey – to old mansions and trendy cafes, in Bebek and Nishantashi (luxury areas of Istanbul); – go to the Prince Islands, to rest from the noise of the metropolis and the crowds of tourists.

It is impossible to list everything. It is necessary to come and get acquainted with the city closer and closer <3

20 things to do in Istanbul. A guide to the most interesting foreign city of those where entry is open

Quite a few guidebooks have been written on Istanbul, but the city is constantly changing, some of its traditions and institutions are a thing of the past, some remain forever. Our editor-in-chief Artem Chapayev tells us what to do in Istanbul.

1. aya Sofia.

The main historical building and landmark of Turkey, or maybe Europe. It really is a very cool thing and nowhere else in the world there is anything like it, even though it’s a cliché, but you should definitely go there. My advice: read the chapter about St. Sophia in the book “In Search of Constantinople” by Sergey Ivanov the day before and use it as a guide to the cathedral.

Not only is it very beautiful inside, there’s a lot to see: fantastic 6th century engineering, major Orthodox mosaics, 11th century parishioner graffiti scrawled on the marble walls, etc. If you want to make sense of it all, Ivanov’s book is indispensable.

The conversion of St. Sophia into a mosque has had little effect on the inside view of this treasury, except that admission is free. Try to avoid the prayer times at the beginning of the second day and at five in the evening.

The best view of the Sophia from outside is from the terrace of the Seven Hills restaurant.

As a bonus, from here you can see the abandoned Byzantine excavations of the Great Imperial Palace, which was supposed to be an archaeological park but became a dusty wasteland behind a tin fence.

Aya Sofia from the terrace of Seven Hills restaurant (all photos taken from the author’s Instagram @artemchapaev)

2. Don’t eat balik ekmek (fish in a bun) on Galata Bridge

It’s tasteless, greasy, considered bad taste and a tourist trap, and Istanbul’s new progressive mayor, Imamoglu, has already promised to rid the bridge of these rancid eateries. Istanbulis go to the devil to eat cheap fish in bread, you are unlikely to go there, so you should just avoid this gastronomic genre. If you want to grab a bite to eat in Eminönü, better get a kebab at Şehzade Cağ Kebap or a Turkish pide pizza at nearby Hocapaşa Pidecisi.

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Fishermen on Galata Bridge

The Topkapi Shed and Harem.

Another must-see item on the program is the most accessible eastern sultan’s palace, a succession of courtyards and pavilions, as it should be. Admission to the harem, a women’s dormitory whose legends are much more beautiful than reality, is paid for separately.

In one of the courtyards there is an exhibition of Islamic relics: the hair of the Prophet, the Prophet’s tooth, the Prophet’s sword, etc., where there is always a long line of Muslim tourists. Here you will also find the Palace Kitchen and Living Museum with an exhibition of Ottoman and Chinese porcelain, verandas with views and in general quite a few corners in the open air, which is a plus in our covid times.

One of the rooms of the Topkapi Shed.

The remnants of the Great Imperial Palace of Constantinople.

There is virtually nothing left of the luxurious palace complex of the Byzantine emperor. To appreciate the scale of what has been lost and is underfoot and in ugly hotels south of Ayia Sofia, we must:

  1. read the relevant chapter from Ivanov’s book mentioned above;
  2. enter the Palace Mosaic Museum, east of the Blue Mosque;
  3. go down into the basement of the Palatium Cafe, where the ruins of the vaults of one of the state rooms are preserved;
  4. Go down to the embankment and find a piece of the ruined facade of Bukoleon Sarayı Palace, which was one of the most famous palaces in the complex. There is also an old Byzantine cistern in the basement of the Nakkaş carpet store, not sure if it is related to the palace, but it is worth a look.

5. Archaeological Museum.

Most of it is still under restoration, but there are quite a few interesting things open to get enough impressions without getting tired. After the entrance – on the left – the house of ancient oriental art department (this is what ancient Greek art is and what it actually evolved from).

If you are lazy to look for prototypes of European art in ancient Sumerian and Hittite sculptures, you can just look at them as a modernist sculpture of the early 20th century, like some Picasso or Matisse with Brancusi.

There are only a few rooms open in the main mansion with columns, where the exhibits are immersed in context in a modern museum way, it turns out to be interesting. The main hit of the museum is the so-called Alexander sarcophagus, the king of Sidon who knew and obeyed Alexander the Great, who is depicted in the sarcophagus’ reliefs, was buried in it. Exhibits of such high sculptural skill, historical significance and excellent preservation are very few in even the coolest museums in the world.

At the pavilion of Ancient Eastern art

6. Parade Ottoman city of the 18th and 19th centuries

See the remnants of the old grand building of the ancient city by walking along the streets east of the Egyptian Market, past the New Mosque, along Bankacılar, Hamidiye, Büyük Postane, Yeni Camii and the surrounding alleys and squares – here the Ottomans tried to combine fashionable French Europe with Islamic traditions, all among the sultan pavilions, the 16th century bazaar, old Ottoman mosques and the Turkish crowd.

On Büyük Postane Street

7. “Perde Pilaw” in Siirt Şeref Buryan

If you want a hardcore Anatolian culinary experience, go to the conservative Fatih neighborhood of the Old City and go to Siirt Şeref Buryan, overlooking a huge Byzantine aqueduct, and order the baked pilaf with the intriguing name “Perde Pilav” or one of the signature kebabs. Then walk from there 300 meters northeast to the Zayrek Jami Mosque, the former church of the Pantocrator Monastery of Byzantine Constantinople, the largest surviving complex of Byzantine buildings after Sofia. First of all, from the platform across the street there is a great view of the city, and second, inside it will be empty, you can go in for free and look for traces of Byzantium in the mosque.

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View from the terrace of the cafe at the former church of Pantocrator Monastery

8. Sulaimaniye

If you want to see one major large Ottoman mosque, go to Süleymaniye Jami. First of all, it is considered the main structure of the architect Sinan, responsible for all Renaissance architecture in Istanbul. Secondly, the mosque has spectacular views of the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn. Thirdly, there are many other curious structures around, including the tombs of the characters from The Magnificent Century, Sultan Suleiman and Roksolana, as well as madrassahs, bathhouses and various 16th century buildings with characteristic puffer-roofs.

You can continue your journey in the nearby rooftop cafés with open terraces such as the Mihrişah Cafe or the Mimar Sinan Teras Cafe. To the east of Süleymaniye, there are rare streets of old Istanbul buildings (mostly wooden) that are disappearing at an incredible rate, as well as mosques in former Byzantine churches.

Süleymaniye Mosque

9. A day in Balata and Fener

It’s worth setting aside a day to spend time in the northeast of the Old City, see the Byzantine mosaics, palaces and walls, and walk around the rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods of Balat and Fener.

Better yet, catch a cab to the famous Chora Church, the city’s largest collection of preserved Byzantine mosaics. To make the brilliant comics on the ceiling make sense, it’s worth reading the chapter about this church in Ivanov’s book In Search of Constantinople and using it as a guide.

After the Hora, you can have lunch at the nearby Asitane Restaurant, the main restaurant of the sultan’s palace cuisine in Istanbul, where the dishes used to feed the sultans and harem dwellers are carefully reproduced from the historical recipes of the Topkapi Palace kitchens.

Then go through the alleys to the Byzantine walls of Theodosius, built in the V century and since then protecting the city from the east gate of Edirne, to appreciate the impressive hulk and the excellent preservation of ancient buildings. Along the walls, walk along the inside to the newly opened Tekfur Sarayı, a palace from Byzantine times, to imagine what the chambers of the nobility in Orthodox Constantinople looked like; there are none left in the city.

Then, through the alleys of the former Roma ghetto one must go down to Vodina Caddesi Street, where the former Jewish and Greek neighborhoods of Balat and Fener begin. The whole street has been dotted with hipster coffee shops since a certain point, but if you want penny-pinching, very tasty and totally local food, go to Ada Restaurant.

In addition to Vodina Street, which is dotted with establishments, it is worth walking up Merdivenli and Kiremit Streets with its characteristic colorful houses that are just begging to be Instagrammed. At the end of the neighborhood, closer to the waterfront, is the World Orthodox Patriarchate, where the patriarch of Constantinople sits (an unbroken line of patriarchs since the fourth century, despite all the historical twists and turns). From the church it is worth walking out to Fener Wharf and taking the boat that goes along the Golden Horn back to Galata Bridge.

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The Streets of Balata

10. Chukurbostan .

For Islamic hardcore, go to the most conservative neighborhood in the city, where you rarely see a woman without a veil – Chukurbostan! There aren’t many special attractions there, except for the people on the streets, but you can see what conservative Erdogan voters would like the right Muslim city to be like. Women should definitely be in a long skirt or loose pants and a modest, not too open top, or the locals can throw a meaningful look or even verbally offensive.

Istanbul’s old buildings were mostly wooden.

New City/Beyoglu.

11. tomtom, Cukurcuma and especially Cihangir

The best places to live in Istanbul are the lovely neighborhoods of Tommom, Cukurcuma, or Cihangir, which line up one after the other south of Istiklal, the city’s main promenade street. These are the coziest parts of the city, reminiscent of old Europe, now populated by expats from the U.S. and Western countries and full of trendy cafes, designer stores and all other hipster businesses.

The cozy streets and fin-de-siecle houses of an era when Istanbul really wanted to be like Paris are accompanied by views of the Bosphorus and the minarets of the Old City from numerous staircases in the Sanatkarlar Parkı area.

The best coffee is said to be served at the exemplary third-wave Kronotrop Cihangir coffee shop, the best sweets are at Savoy Pastanesi, bars with cute Istanbulites like Geyik or Smyrna are open until night on Akarsu Yokuşu Sokak, You can have lunch and dinner at Cuma, an expensive by local standards institution or at Galaktion, a very nice Georgian restaurant with excellent khinkali and khachapuri whose owner speaks excellent Russian. Terraces with views are available at 5. Kat Restaurant and Terrace 41. There are numerous antique shops with cheap stuff on Cukur Cuma Street and its surroundings.

Cafes in Cihangir


A restaurant where the trendy cuisine of the average Michelin restaurant in Europe, with all sorts of molecular twists, you can try three times cheaper. It may not always be delicious, but it’s always memorable. From here you have a beautiful view of the Old Town with the protruding minarets of the big Ottoman mosques.

The restaurant is in a grandiose late 19th-century bank building, now a museum and various creative spaces where you can hang out while waiting for dinner.

Surroundings of the Galata Tower

13. Old World Charm

For a taste of old European luxury (at Istanbul prices), you should stop in for tea and cake at the Pera Palace Hotel, Istanbul’s main historic hotel built for the passengers of that very “Orient Express” in the late 19th century. Agatha Christie had her own room here, where she wrote her famous detective novel. However, every imaginable celebrity and historical figure – from Winston Churchill to Coco Chanel – has stayed here.

A kitschy and cheap version of the genre is Buyuk Londra Hotel nearby, where the shabby chic lobby and cheerful wallpaper on the first floor compete with the inexpensive bar and great views from the rooftop.

View from Buyuk Londra Hotel to Pera Palace Hotel

14. Sweets

Istanbul’s most beloved sweets by Istanbulites and knowledgeable tourists are Karaköy Güllüoğlu, near Karaköy Wharf. One of the secrets why the baklava tastes better there is that they just don’t make it as sugary sweet as everywhere else, where you can’t taste anything but sugar at all, and this baklava has flavor!

If the not-so-large assortment of Karakoy confectionery gets boring – the Hafiz Mustafa chain has a good reputation, they have a dozen stores in tourist spots. Their most delicious is Pomegranate Ottoman Kadayif, a bombastic pomegranate lukum with pistachios in a crispy pastry.

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Baklava from Karaköy Güllüoğlu.

15. Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamami Hamam

The best historical hammam in Istanbul, without the crowds and exorbitant prices of the historic Old City baths. Opened in 1583, it was renovated not too long ago and looks chic. You will be given a bathing ceremony with a specially trained bath attendant, who will soap you and wash you according to the strict protocol, just like in the times of the Sultan.

Mosque Nusretiye, not far from the Kilic Ali Pasha Hammam, is a masterpiece of Ottoman Baroque.

16. Viewing Restaurants

If you are on Istiklal Street, Istanbul’s main promenade, you will find two restaurants with marvelous views of the city from their roof terraces: 360 Istanbul and Leb-i Derya. I will add to this well-known list the rooftop restaurant of The House Hotel Karaköy with Aya Sofia and the Golden Horn in front of my eyes.

The House Hotel Karaköy’s rooftop restaurant

17. Nishantashi

Totally unknown to tourists, the neighborhood of Istanbul that lies behind Taksim Square is familiar to Orhan Pamuk’s readers, it is where he lived with his family until his father went bankrupt and moved to Cihangir. Nishantashi is the most expensive district of the city, a place of Prada and Vuitton boutiques, European-looking streets and richly dressed passers-by.

The streets Teşvikiye and Abdi İpekçi are lined with expensive (by Istanbul standards) restaurants and mansions of the 19th and early 20th centuries. If you get tired of the endless bazaar of the Old City and want to experience the atmosphere of a European, clean and rich neighborhood, it is worth a walk here in the evening. Have dinner at Tatbak, a traditional Pamuk’s boyhood restaurant, or Pokemate’s trendy poké and 400°C Pizza, which offers the best Italian pizza in town.


18. Karaköy Lokantası.

For a taste of delicious Turkish food adapted from the rest of Europe and a pleasant, non-crowded atmosphere in Istanbul’s trendiest district, Karaköy is worth a visit.

If the prices are biting, go to Karaköy Çorba Evi soup shop 100 meters away, where you can choose from 20 traditional Turkish soups for pennies, which you will immediately be poured from a steaming vat.


19. Take a ferry trip on the Bosphorus.

To sail along the shores of the Bosphorus and see the Ottoman palaces and summer houses, it is better to choose not weekend cruises (it will be very crowded) but the regular weekday ferries of the provider Sehir Hatlari – from Eminenu or Besiktas to the Sariyor district.

The nicest stops for walking are the Greater Istanbul neighborhoods (formerly the suburbs for the elite) of Arnavutkoy, Bebek, Emirgan and Sarier. Or simply choose the palace you find most interesting from the water and go there (usually the biggest and most pompous ones are open to the public, whether it’s a museum or a fancy hotel).

Ferry deck

20. Princes Islands.

For an immersion in the dacha atmosphere, take a daytrip from Kabatas station to one of the Princes’ Islands, preferably the largest, Büyükada, walk past the nostalgic Old World wooden summer houses, have some fave tea at the old-fashioned Splendid Palace hotel, find Trotsky’s house: he lived on Büyükada Island from 1929 to 1933, after being expelled from the Soviet Union, and wrote “The History of the Russian Revolution” here.

Then walk through pine groves to a giant abandoned 19th-century wooden manor house, the former orphanage of Istanbul’s Orthodox Patriarchate. The walk will be accompanied by views of the sea and other islands of the archipelago. Just don’t go there on a weekend unless you want the whole of Istanbul to walk with you.

Villas in Büyükada

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