What are the best things to see and do in Istanbul?

Answers from Our Experts (1)

Mickey Ashmore

From historical sites and boat tours to dining on world-class cuisine, here are Forbes Travel Guide editors’ five favorite things to do in Istanbul, a city straddling the borders of Europe and Asia that has a population of nearly 20 million people:
1. Visit Old City. You’ll find some of Istanbul’s most-visited attractions in Old City, including the Grand Bazaar, the Blue Mosque and Topkapı Palace (don’t miss the Harem and view from the rear courtyards at the latter). You could easily devote at least half a day to visiting these sites — and more if you’re a serious history buff. Don’t forget to finish your day with a visit to a Turkish bath to refresh, relax and rejuvenate yourself before a night out on the town — Cağaloğlu and Çemberlitaş Hamamı are two good options.
2. A night out in Beyoğlu. Istanbul’s nightlife does not disappoint, particularly in the Beyoğlu district, where you’ll find the city’s best concentration of bars, restaurants and clubs. For a great pre-dinner aperitif, check out Mikla, which has an outdoor terrace with some of the best views in Istanbul. You can also check out the bar scene at Münferit or the rooftop dance floor at NuTeras. During the winter, stroll the Asmalı Mescit area, where you can sample a range of bars and clubs.
3. Eat the local fish. It would be a shame to leave Istanbul without enjoying some of its fresh fish. Go to one of the restaurants along the Bosphorus strait and start with cold meze (shared appetizers), then move to ara sıcak (hot appetizers) like fish köfte or grilled calamari while saving room for a nice piece of levrek (sea bass) or kalkan (turbot).

4. Boat rides on the Bosphorus Strait. You should definitely plan on spending some time on the Bosphorus, especially if you come during the summer. Options on the strait range from a private tour with wine and cheese — you can arrange this through your hotel — to simply catching a ferry from Eminönü, in Europe, to Kadıköy, in Asia. The many tourist-friendly Boğaz Turs that depart from multiple ferry docks throughout the city are another option.
5. Brunch and a Walk from Rumeli to Arnavutköy. Brunch is serious business in Istanbul. Locals like to have it late in the day, and one of their favorite places to enjoy it is in Rumelihisarı, a quiet neighborhood along the upper Bosphorus set beneath the historic Rumeli fortress. After brunch, burn off a few calories by joining the locals on a seaside walk from Rumeli along the Bosphorus, back toward Bebek and onto Arnavutköy.

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