Travel Guide •  Istanbul, Turkey

13 Unique Ways To Experience The Best Of Istanbul In 2024

Last Updated On:  May 30, 2024


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Welcome to the vibrant and culturally rich city of Istanbul, Turkey. Step into a world where ancient echoes meet contemporary charisma, where the fragrant aromas of exotic spices intertwine with the bustling rhythm of modern life. Istanbul, a city steeped in history and buzzing with life, invites you to explore its treasures and experiences that shouldn’t be missed. In this carefully curated travel guide, we’ll unveil the essential must-dos that will transform your visit into an unforgettable adventure. From the awe-inspiring landmarks that have witnessed centuries unfold, to the hidden gems that capture the essence of local life, get ready to immerse yourself in the enchantment of Istanbul Turkey. Join us as we embark on a journey to uncover the heart and soul of this mesmerizing city that bridges cultures, continents, and dreams. Keep reading to discover all of the unique things to do in Turkey for this upcoming 2024 travel season.


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Closest Airport:

Istanbul International Airport (IST) or Sabiha Gokcen Airport (SAW


The rooftop pool at Fairmont Quasar in Istanbul Turkey shot by The Nomadic People
Views from the rooms at Fairmont Quasar in Istanbul Turkey shot by The Nomadic People

1. Book a stay in the magical Fairmont Quasar Hotel

Price: starting from $250/night (225€)

Highlights: Spa, Fine Dining, Incredible Views

Rising majestically above the heart of Istanbul, the Fairmont Quasar stands as a testament to luxury, elegance, and impeccable hospitality. This iconic hotel offers a seamless blend of modern sophistication and timeless charm, providing an unparalleled experience for its guests. The Fairmont Quasar boasts lavish accommodations, each thoughtfully designed to offer breathtaking views of Istanbul’s iconic skyline as well as the Bosphorus Strait. With an array of upscale amenities, including divine dining options, a serene spa, and state-of-the-art event spaces, the hotel caters to both leisure and business travelers. The attentive staff ensures that every guest’s needs are met with personalized care, enhancing the overall sense of indulgence. Whether you’re looking to indulge in gourmet cuisine, unwind in the spa’s soothing embrace, or simply take in the panoramic vistas, a stay at Fairmont Quasar is the perfect introduction to the rich and diverse culture of Istanbul.

Sushi at Ukiyo Japanese Restaurant at the Fairmont Quasar in Istanbul Turkey shot by The Nomadic People
The interior at Ukiyo Japanese Restaurant at the Fairmont Quasar in Istanbul Turkey shot by The Nomadic People
Views from Ukiyo Japanese Restaurant at the Fairmont Quasar in Istanbul Turkey shot by The Nomadic People
Sushi at Ukiyo Japanese Restaurant at the Fairmont Quasar in Istanbul Turkey shot by The Nomadic People

2. Dine at Ukiyo Sushi for Sunset

Dress Code: Casual Elegant

Dinner Service: Tuesday - Sunday 6:00pm - 11:00pm

Ukiyo Lounge & Bar is a luxury restaurant located on the fifth floor of Fairmont Quasar Istanbul, serving delicious Japanese cuisine, including sushi, poke bowls, and dim sum. Ukiyo adds a stylish Asian element to the property with a quirky design by Marcel Wanders and spectacular city views. Savor a Japanese-inspired cocktail while nibbling on fare like beef tataki, dashi-marinated lamb chops, and summer rolls with sesame plum sauce while watching the sunset over the Bosphorus. If you love Japanese food, you won’t want to miss Ukiyo’s Unlimited Sushi Night – available every Wednesday and Thursday from 6:30pm to 8:30pm. The experience is only 1250TL (~$44) per person and includes a glass of local wine.

Booking.com
The Blue Mosque in Istanbul Turkey shot by The Nomadic People
The interior of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul Turkey shot by The Nomadic People
The Blue Mosque at Sunset shot from Seven Hills Restaurant in Istanbul Turkey shot by The Nomadic People

3. Experience the beauty of The Blue Mosque

Price: Free

Hours: 8:30am - 6:45pm (except during prayer times & closed all morning on Friday until 2:30 pm)

The Blue Mosque, also known as the Sultan Ahmed Camii, rises high into Istanbul’s skyline as an exquisite masterpiece of Islamic architecture and spiritual significance. Completed in 1616 during the Ottoman era, its nickname, the “Blue Mosque,” is derived from the thousands of blue tiles that adorn its interior walls, creating a serene and ethereal atmosphere. The Blue Mosque’s strategic positioning opposite the Hagia Sophia symbolizes the harmonious coexistence of two great empires and religions, offering a powerful testament to the city’s historical and cultural richness. Its expansive courtyard, surrounded by intricate arcades, welcomes both worshippers and curious visitors alike. The mosque’s interior is a symphony of delicate artistry, with splendid stained glass windows, intricate calligraphy, and elaborate mosaics, transporting you into a world of visual splendor. What I love about Istanbul is that the entry to all mosques in Istanbul is free. Whether you are going to pray or just to see it, you don’t have to pay an entrance fee. Just remember that the Blue Mosque is closed 3 times a day during prayer time and you will be required to follow the dress code, which is modest clothing that covers the shoulders, knees, and cleavage for both men and women, as well as head coverings for women (head coverings are usually provided at the entrance). Want to learn more about this majestic structure while you are inside, book a tour with a local guide!

The interior of Suleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul Turkey shot by The Nomadic People
The courtyard at Suleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul Turkey shot by The Nomadic People

INSIDER TIP: The Blue Mosque can get really really busy due to it’s popularity so if you are looking for a quieter and more peaceful experience I would recommend visiting Suleymaniye Mosque. It is just as beautiful in our eyes, instead of a grandiose blue dome you will be able to admire a yellow one.  I honestly don’t know which one I like more, I loved our experience at Suleymaniye Mosque because you almost have the whole place to yourself, especially if you go right when it opens or before it closes.

The interior at the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul Turkey shot by The Nomadic People
The interior at the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul Turkey shot by The Nomadic People

4. Marvel at the Hagia Sophia

Price: Free

Hours: 9:00am to 10:00pm everyday

Hagia Sophia, also known as Aya Sofya, is an architectural masterpiece that rises high above the historic district of Sultanahmet in Istanbul, Turkey. The structure’s awe-inspiring dome, intricate mosaics & artwork, and stunning architectural details continue to captivate visitors, offering a tangible connection to the past. Originally constructed as a cathedral in the 6th century, it served as the center of Eastern Orthodox Christianity for centuries before being converted into a mosque during the Ottoman Empire. The Hagia Sophia’s conversion from a cathedral to a mosque brought about further embellishments, including minarets and Islamic calligraphy, resulting in a unique blend of the two influential civilizations. It is important to note that Hagia Sophia is an active mosque, which means that it is partially closed during prayer times and has a dress code like every other mosque you will visit, which is modest clothing that covers the shoulders, knees, and cleavage for both men and women, as well as head coverings for women. The lines can get pretty long so I would recommend visiting right when it opens or before it closes. If you are looking to learn more about this fascinating historical wonder I would suggest booking a tour.

The inside of the Spice Bazaar in Istanbul Turkey shot by The Nomadic People
The best pizza with Sujuk meat near the Spice Bazaar in Istanbul Turkey shot by The Nomadic People

5. Stroll Through History Amidst The Spice Bazaar

Price: Free

Hours:  9:00AM to 7:00PM daily (closing only for religious holidays)

The Spice Bazaar, also known as the Egyptian Bazaar, is one of the city’s many iconic landmarks. Featuring more than 85 shops and spanning over 3,200 square meters, it draws both locals and curious travelers into the kaleidoscope of spices, herbs, dried fruits, nuts, and other exotic goods. As you step through the ornate entrance, a whirlwind of colors and scents takes over the senses. The air is thick with fragrant notes of saffron, cinnamon, cardamom, and countless other spices that have been traded here for centuries. Piles of vibrant spices, herbs, and dried fruits are meticulously arranged, creating a mesmerizing tapestry of hues and textures. Shopkeepers eagerly showcase their goods, inviting visitors to explore the treasures within their stalls. The market’s intricate architecture, featuring arched ceilings and intricate tilework, adds a touch of grandeur to the scene. Beyond spices, the bazaar also offers a diverse array of teas, Turkish delights, unique handicrafts, and souvenirs, making each visit a delightful cultural journey.

Turkish coffee near the Spice Bazaar in Istanbul Turkey shot by The Nomadic People
Turkish coffee near the Spice Bazaar in Istanbul Turkey shot by The Nomadic People

INSIDER TIP: Be sure to wander through the shopping streets surrounding the bazaar. We love sujuk, which is a type of beef sausage, and we found this delicious pizza place that serves sujuk pizza a 2-minute walk from the bazaar to grab a quick snack during our adventures. It was so good! Also, right next door there is the cutest Turkish Coffee Shop.

Bellini Pasta & More an Italian Restaurant inside of Ciragan Palace Kempinski in Istanbul Turkey shot by The Nomadic People
Bellini Pasta & More an Italian Restaurant inside of Ciragan Palace Kempinski in Istanbul Turkey shot by The Nomadic People
Bellini Pasta & More an Italian Restaurant inside of Ciragan Palace Kempinski in Istanbul Turkey shot by The Nomadic People

6. Get dinner on the terrace of Bellini Pasta & More

Dress Code: Smart casual

Dinner Service: Tuesday - Sunday 7:00pm - 11:00pm

Located in the heart of Istanbul, Bellini Pasta & More is a culinary gem that offers an elegant dining experience for the hopeless romantic. Nestled in a charming corner of the Ciragan Palace Kempinski, the restaurant is renowned for its celebration of Italian cuisine with a modern twist. The vibe has an air of sophistication combined with a warm and inviting atmosphere, making it an ideal destination for intimate dinners and gatherings. The menu is a symphony of flavors, showcasing an array of handmade pasta, each prepared to perfection and served with an assortment of delectable sauces. From classics like carbonara and bolognese to innovative creations, every dish is a masterpiece that spoils the taste buds. Make sure to make a reservation so you can sit at the edge of the Bosphorus eating handmade pasta while watching the sun go down.

Views of the Galata Tower in Istanbul Turkey shot by The Nomadic People
Views of the Galata Tower in Istanbul Turkey shot by The Nomadic People
Views of the Galata Tower from the Bosphorus Strait during sunset in Istanbul Turkey shot by The Nomadic People

7. Admire the historic Galata Tower

Price: 650 Turkish Lira (~$25) to climb the tower

Hours: daily 8:30AM – 10:00PM 

Perched on a hill in the Beyoğlu neighborhood the historic Galata Tower can be seen from anywhere in the city. Originally constructed in the 14th century during the Byzantine Empire, the tower has served various purposes throughout its existence. Initially built as a defensive structure to protect the city, it later transformed into an observation post, a signaling tower, a prison, and even an astronomical observatory. Now you can climb to the top and witness uninterrupted views of the Bosporus Strait, the historic peninsula, and the bustling neighborhoods below. The price to climb the tower is 650 Turkish Lira (~$25) To avoid crowds, you can visit early in the morning, right after it opens at 8:30 am. If you want to see the city come alive, you can visit during sunset or at night, it is open until midnight. There are so many great cafes and shopping stores in the area that I recommend just getting lost in all the cobblestone streets around the tower. Here are a few of our favorites:

Lastly, If you haven’t booked a place to stay during your trip to Istanbul, I would recommend staying in the Beyoğlu neighborhood. We found a few places, Hotel Des Arts Galata & The Wilson Galata Hotel, that are both really cute and quite affordable. INSIDER TIP: Get a reservation for the terrace at Mükellef Karakoy one of the coolest rooftops in Istanbul. The vibe is so romantic, the food is divine and the views of Galata Tower are unmatched. You can text them via WhatsApp to reserve a table!

Istiklal Avenue in Istanbul Turkey shot by The Nomadic People
Istiklal Avenue in Istanbul Turkey shot by The Nomadic People

8. Shop, Eat, & Explore The Famous Istiklal Avenue

Location: Istiklal Avenue

Price: Free

Highlights: Amazing clothing, delicious restaurants & coffee shops, historic buildings

Istiklal Avenue isn’t merely a shopping destination; it’s a cultural experience. Stretching between Taksim Square and Galata Tower, this bustling pedestrian street is the busiest in the city and a true reflection of Istanbul’s cosmopolitan character. The nostalgic red tram that trundles up & down the avenue adds a touch of whimsy Lined with elegant boutiques, bustling markets, and bookstores catering to various tastes and interests, Istiklal Avenue is a hub of activity day and night. Looking to fill your suitcase with unique and affordable fashion? The fashion in Istanbul is on point. Every second store along the avenue has such unique and inexpensive finds, soon you may need to buy another suitcase, which they also have here! It is also a gastronomic haven, featuring a plethora of restaurants, cafes, and street food vendors that cater to a range of palates. Here are a few things you won’t want to miss while wandering this area

Whatever you need you will most likely find it along Istiklal Avenue! It is a microcosm of the city’s ever-evolving identity, where old traditions seamlessly merge with contemporary trends, creating a tapestry of sights, sounds, and flavors that is uniquely Istanbul.

The interior of Topkapi Palace in Istanbul Turkey shot by The Nomadic People
The interior of Topkapi Palace in Istanbul Turkey shot by The Nomadic People

9. Visit the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul

Location:  Historic District

Price: Starting from 350 TL (~$12 USD) for the Harem alone up to 950 TL (~$33 USD) for all sections

Hours: Wednesday - Monday 9:00am - 6:00pm (closed on religious holidays)

Nestled at the heart of Istanbul, the Topkapi Palace is a testament to the city’s rich history and imperial grandeur. Once the opulent residence of Ottoman sultans for nearly 400 years, this sprawling palace complex is a living chronicle of the empire’s glorious past. As you wander through its ornate halls and lush courtyards, you’ll be transported back in time to an era of sultans, harems, and political intrigue. The palace offers a captivating glimpse into the intricate architecture and exquisite craftsmanship that defined Ottoman aesthetics. Be mesmerized by the stunning Iznik tiles, intricate calligraphy, and the panoramic views of the Bosphorus from the palace terraces. Each room unfolds a different chapter of Ottoman life, housing treasures like the revered Prophet Muhammad’s cloak and sword. The Topkapi Palace isn’t just a museum, it’s a journey through history that continues to enchant and inspire visitors from around the globe. For the best possible experience be sure to book a local guide.

The Blue Mosque in Istanbul Turkey shot by The Nomadic People
Turkish Delights Hafiz Mustafa in Istanbul Turkey shot by The Nomadic People

10. Spoil your senses with Turkish Delights

Most Popular: Hafiz Mustafa

Price Range: $5 USD - $70 USD

Favorite Delight: Pistachio Rose

What are these mysterious Turkish Delights? This was a question I had walking through all of the different markets and bazaars in Istanbul. Turkish delights, known as “lokum” in Turkish, are a delectable and iconic confection that have captivated taste buds for centuries. These tasty treats consist of a gel-like, chewy center, typically flavored with ingredients like rosewater, orange blossom, or various fruit extracts. They are often studded with an assortment of nuts, such as pistachios or hazelnuts, and coated in a dusting of powdered sugar or finely grated coconut. What truly sets Turkish delights apart is their exquisite balance of flavors, a harmonious blend of sweet and fragrant notes. They are truly are the perfect gift for friends or family or something to take home to remember Istanbul by. With their vibrant colors and exotic flavors, Turkish delights continue to enchant palates around the world, making them a timeless and beloved dessert. Hafiz Mustafa is probably the most famous brand when it comes to Turkish confectionery. Their Turkish delights come in a tantalizing array of flavors that cater to a diverse range of tastes. From classic options like rose and pomegranate to more contemporary choices such as pistachio and chocolate, there’s a flavor for everyone. The use of natural ingredients and real fruit extracts ensures that each piece bursts with authentic flavor. There are multiple locations throughout the city, each of them buzzing with eager tourists and locals to get their exquisitely packaged high-quality treats.

11. Embark on a Sunset boat cruise

Favorite Operator: Velana

Price: Varies depending on operator

Duration: ~2.5 hours

Climb aboard a luxury yacht and head out onto the Bosphorus. As the sun descends behind the iconic silhouettes of the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, watch as the Bosphorus Strait transforms into a shimmering canvas and the city’s skyline is painted in hues of orange, pink, and gold. The warm breeze carries the scents of the sea and distant spices, creating an atmosphere of tranquility and wonder. The gentle lapping of the water against the boat’s hull sets a serene backdrop for the enchanting views that unfold. Gliding past ornate palaces, waterfront mansions, ancient forts and underneath the Bosphorus Bridge—the colossal steel suspension bridge that connects Europe and Asia—the cruise offers a unique perspective on Istanbul’s rich history and architectural splendor. There are a thousand options to choose from when it comes to the sunset boat cruise, so we will make it easy for you, go with Velana Travel. They offer a variety of small & intimate tours, but the sunset tour is the perfect way to take in the beauty of Istanbul from the water. The guides are amazing, funny and informative, so not only will you have beautiful sunset scenery, but you will also learn and laugh along the way. Whether enjoyed with a loved one or in the company of fellow travelers, a sunset boat cruise in Istanbul is a poetic experience that encapsulates the city’s timeless allure and offers a moment of respite from the bustling urban life.

Nash & Kim walking into the Willow Stream Spa amidst the Fairmont Quasar in Istanbul Turkey shot by The Nomadic People
Kim enjoying the Hammam at the Willow Stream Spa amidst the Fairmont Quasar in Istanbul Turkey shot by The Nomadic People

12. Spoil yourself with a Traditional Turkish Hammam

Favorite Hammam: Kilic Ali Pasa Hamami

Price Range: Between $44 (40€) USD & $100 USD (90€)

Duration: 45 minutes to 1 hour

You cannot leave Turkey without booking yourself a Hammam. If this is your first time hearing about this, you are in for a real treat! A hammam is a Turkish bath, a very ancient tradition that embodies relaxation, rejuvenation, and cultural heritage. Steeped in history dating back to the Roman and Byzantine periods, the Turkish hammam is a place where the art of cleansing and self-care is elevated to a sublime experience. The ritual begins with a soothing session in a warm, steam-filled chamber, where one reclines on heated marble slabs. The combination of steam and heat helps to open pores, relax muscles, and prepare the body for cleansing. A skilled attendant, employs a traditional method of exfoliation using a coarse mitt, which leaves the skin soft and radiant. This is followed by a gentle soap massage, where aromatic, frothy bubbles are worked into the skin, offering an invigorating sensation. The beauty of Istanbul is that you can find a hammam in every price range. If you just want to get a taste of what it is like there are so many affordable places spread throughout the city. If you want a glamorous experience within a lavishly designed sanctuary that spoils all of your senses and plays upon the traditions of old, you can find that too. Here are a few that we recommend:

The Turkish hammam transcends mere physical cleansing; it is a holistic experience that promotes a sense of tranquility and well-being. The ambiance, the therapeutic benefits, and the deep connection to Turkey’s cultural heritage make visiting a Turkish hammam an unforgettable and deeply enriching experience. This city guide for Istanbul wouldn’t be complete without it. Enjoy your time in this magical city and feel free to leave us a comment with your personal highlights. We would love to hear if you found this carefully curated travel guide for Istanbul helpful.

Waiter serving Nash at Seven Hills Restaurant in Istanbul Turkey shot by The Nomadic People
Kim looking out to the Blue Mosque at Seven Hills Restaurant in Istanbul Turkey shot by The Nomadic People
Seven Hills Restaurant with views of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul Turkey shot by The Nomadic People

13. Experience Seven Hills Restaurant

Location:  Historic District

Highlight: Views to Blue Mosque & Hagia Sophia from the rooftop

Hours: Wednesday - Monday 9:00am - 6:00pm (closed on religious holidays)

Perched above the enchanting cityscape of Istanbul, the Seven Hills Restaurant offers a culinary experience that harmonizes breathtaking views with delectable Turkish flavors. Situated strategically to provide panoramic vistas of the city’s iconic landmarks, this establishment captures the essence of Istanbul’s historic charm. As the sun sets over the Bosphorus, the restaurant rooftop terrace offers a front-row seat the Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, and other architectural marvels all bathed in the golden hues of twilight. The menu at Seven Hills is a tribute to Turkey’s rich culinary heritage, featuring a medley of traditional dishes prepared with a modern touch. Guests can savor the intricate flavors of Ottoman cuisine while relishing the ambiance of this elegant dining space. Whether for a romantic evening or a celebration of Turkish gastronomy, the Seven Hills Restaurant seamlessly weaves together Istanbul’s captivating beauty and culinary prowess, leaving visitors with a truly unforgettable experience.

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Kim looking out to the Blue Mosque at Seven Hills Restaurant in Istanbul Turkey shot by The Nomadic People
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