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

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.

  • On September 5, 2012
    Mickey Ashmore answered the question: Mickey Ashmore

    What are the best things to do with kids in Istanbul?

    Istanbul is a city with something for everyone, including kids. If you’re visiting with youngsters in tow, be sure to include our Forbes Travel Guide editors’ picks for the best things to do with kids in Istanbul on your itinerary:
     
    1. Ride the nostalgic Istiklal Caddesi Tram. Running from Taksim Square along the pedestrianized Istiklal Avenue to Tünel Square, the Nostalgic Tram is as much about transportation as it is about celebrating the past. The conductor leads the tram car through the sea of people on Istiklal, giving you and the kids an adventurous break from exploring the city by foot.
     
    2. Boats and islands. Kids will love seeing Istanbul from a boat on the Bosphorus strait, and there is no better destination than Büyükada, the largest and most popular of the nine Princes’ Islands. At Büyükada you’ll find everything from horse-drawn carriage rides to bicycle rentals and tours of the island’s perimeter.
     
    3. Basilica Cisterns. Albeit a bit dark and spooky, a visit to Basilica Cisterns in the Old City will be a memorable one, especially for kids. Built in the 6th century during the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I, the Cisterns are one of Istanbul’s most well-preserved ancient sites. Don’t miss the head of Medusa, which is tucked away in the back.
     
    4. Brunch in Rumeli and a visit to Bebek Park. Even the pickiest eaters will enjoy a classic Turkish brunch, which includes everything from eggs and cheese to spicy sausage and savory crepes. Enjoy a brunch in Rumeli, where the kids will love looking at the large tanker ships, public boats and maybe even a submarine passing through the Bosphorus. After brunch, join the locals and stroll along the Bosphorus back down to Bebek.
     
    5. Istanbul Aquarium. Kids and parents alike will enjoy following the aquarium’s geographically planned route that leads you through 16 different themes and one rainforest. It’s the largest thematic aquarium in the world, so there’s no chance you’ll be disappointed with its number and diverse variety of sea creatures.
  • On September 5, 2012
    Mickey Ashmore answered the question: Mickey Ashmore

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

    From historical sites and boat tours to dining on world-class cuisine, here are five of our 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.