Split between two continents, Istanbul is among the most unique cities in the world and features a melting pot of cultures. The destination was founded over 2,500 years ago and showcases its ancient history through a jaw-dropping display of attractions and landmarks.
There are a multitude of sightseeing tours in Istanbul to choose between, whether you’re a history buff, shopaholic or an art enthusiast, meaning there’s bound to be an excursion to suit you.
The Bosphorus is a 30-kilometer-long strait that passes through Istanbul, connecting the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara. The waterway is a significant landmark in the city as it connects the European and Asian halves of Istanbul, and historically played a major role in international trading.
More than just a simple boat cruise, Bosphorus tours in Istanbul enable you to step back more than 2,500 years in time as you pass myriad ancient attractions that line its banks, including the Beylerbeyi Palace, where Sultan Abdulhamid II was held prisoner until his death in 1918, and the 15th-century Rumelian Fortress. Many Bosphorus cruises include a tour of the Golden Horn, named after the reflection of the late afternoon sun.
The obvious way to see the “City of the World’s Desire” is through a walking tour in Istanbul. You’ll join a group of like-minded individuals and wander through its contrasting districts learning about the city’s history, which stems back to the 7th century B.C.
Alternatively, budget-conscious travelers can participate in a free walking tour in Istanbul, which has no upfront cost. Instead, you’ll simply tip your guide at the end of your excursion based on how much you enjoyed the experience.
The Grand Bazaar is one of Istanbul’s most popular sites, attracting up to 400,000 visitors per day. Originally constructed in the 15th century, it is now one of the largest covered markets in the world and spans more than 60 streets in the city center.
With over 4,000 shops in the Grand Bazaar, visitors can purchase a wealth of items, from jewelry to ceramic, carpets and food.
The city of Istanbul is split into two halves — the European side and the Anatolian side, often referred to as the Asian side. While the European side is especially popular with tourists, the Asian corner is quieter, and as such, many find a more authentic experience waiting for them on this side of the Bosphorus.
Attractions you may see on an Asian side tour of Istanbul include the historic neighborhood of Kanlıca and you’ll have the opportunity to sample local delicacies. You can choose to immerse yourself in city life through a walking tour or experience this corner of Istanbul from the deck of a luxury yacht if you prefer.
Istanbul served as the capital of the Byzantine Empire under its former name of Constantinople. As such, there is no place on earth littered with as many architectural jewels related to this era as Turkey’s capital.
Byzantine tours in Istanbul lead you on a journey through the city’s churches and monasteries to admire the spectacular frescoes and mosaics that were representative of this time period, including those located at Islamic worship sites, such as Zeyrek Mosque, and Eastern Orthodox constructs like Vlaherna Meryem Ana Church.
The neighborhood of Sultanahmet forms the heart of Istanbul and is home to some of the city’s oldest, and most popular, landmarks. Visitors to this district will be able to explore the Blue Mosque — a 17th-century opulent temple built in a classic Ottoman style with six minarets that still operates today — or the 6th-century Hagia Sophia.
Travelers who want to save their energy for sightseeing should consider purchasing tickets for a hop-on hop-off bus tour in Istanbul. These passes allow you to cruise around the city, viewing its major sites from afar with an entertaining commentary in your ears.
When you see an attraction that piques your interest, you’ll simply ring the bell and depart the vehicle to take a closer look. Once you’ve finished exploring, you’ll return to the bus stop and await another bus to continue your excursion, making this a flexible option for those who enjoy a relaxed approach to their vacation.
These sightseeing buses cover 11 stops along their route including the vibrant Egyptian spice bazaar, Dolmabahçe Palace and the historic Taksim Square.
Another way to explore Istanbul’s winding streets without breaking a sweat is through a segway excursion. These vehicles are easy to control, suitable for beginners and offer a fun and memorable way to tour the city.
Through a segway tour in Istanbul, you’ll cover more ground than you would on a guided walk over the course of just a few short hours and have the opportunity to choose between daytime or evening experiences.
Originally named after its dense pine forests, Çamlıca Hill is now a popular tourist attraction on the Asian side of Istanbul. This hill provides sweeping views across Istanbul’s lofty minarets and winding Bosphorus Strait, and is a tranquil spot to unwind from the buzz of the inner city.
Visitors can sit on its perfectly manicured lawns and admire the Bosphorus Bridge, built in the 1970s, or step inside an Ottoman-style tea house to indulge in local refreshments. Çamlıca Hill tours in Istanbul offer a variety of different options, including river cruises and lunch experiences, and include a host of other remarkable sites.
Those who wish to pack as much punch into their sightseeing experience as possible should consider participating in an Istiklak Street tour in Istanbul.
This area is home to world-class shopping located within historic 19th-century buildings, as well as a number of art museums, perfectly showcasing the city’s creative side.
While the neighborhood is popular among partygoers and night owls as the entertainment hub of Istanbul, tourists can wander along its 1.4-kilometer stretch to experience its impressive monuments.
One way to spice up a sightseeing tour is by participating in a scavenger game in Istanbul. These excursions typically operate through a smartphone app, providing you with clues, riddles and puzzles related to each site, which you’ll need to solve in order to unlock your next destination.
Solo travelers and couples will enjoy being challenged and entertained in this way as they learn new facts about the city through the game, while large groups can feel their competitive streak come alive as they go head to head with each other in this ideal teambuilding activity.
While Islamic history is front and center of most city tours in Istanbul, the destination is home to a Jewish population of around 20,000 individuals.
The roots of Judaism in this city date back to the 15th century although the community grew significantly throughout the following 200 years after Jews were expelled from other countries for their beliefs.
Jewish heritage tours in Istanbul transport you through the Beyoğlu district, stopping to visit culturally significant sights, including the Ashkenazi Synagogue.
Alternatively, take a Galata tour in Istanbul and visit the fascinating Quincentennial Foundation Museum of Turkish Jews, which contains clothing, photographs, and articles documenting the presence of the Jewish population in Istanbul over the centuries.
On the European side of Istanbul, you’ll stumble upon the Ortaköy District. This neighborhood, located next to the Bosphorus Bridge, was once a quaint fishing village and still retains some of its original charm today.
You can select an Ortaköy District tour in Istanbul that takes place at the area’s main mosque where you’ll pose as your vacation is captured in a series of breathtaking photos.
Alternatively meander leisurely through the district, stopping to visit a chocolate factory where artworks and to-scale models of city landmarks are expertly created using the sweet treat, as well as local boutiques.
Creative souls can select a street art tour in Istanbul and get busy with a can of spray paint. You’ll be paired up with a couple of local graffiti masterminds who will teach you about the city’s culture and its artistic scene, as well as tips, and tricks related to spray painting.
With these artists at your side, you’ll create a unique piece using the techniques you’ve learned, leaving your imprint on the city. You’ll return from vacation having gained a new skill and made international friends at the same time.
The Istanbul Tourist Pass is the city’s main sightseeing card, enabling visitors to discover its history and culture through more than 100 tours, and attractions. This type of city pass allows you to have complete control over your itinerary, simply waking up each day to see where the wind takes you.
You’ll also skip the queues at each landmark, allowing you to see more of the city during your trip, with passes ranging in duration from 1 day to 10 days.
The attractions covered by the Istanbul Tourist Pass include the Çamlıca Tower Observation Deck, from which you can gain panoramic views over the bustling metropolis, as well as the 14th-century Galata Tower and Ortaköy Mosque.
An alternative to the Istanbul Tourist Pass, the Welcome Card offers entrance to several of the city’s most visited landmarks, complete with a guided tour.
With this pass, you can discover Topkapı Palace, one of the largest remaining palaces on earth, covering 70,000 square meters, as well as Hagia Sophia, which has served as both a church and mosque, and today houses a museum featuring ancient mosaics and carvings.
By purchasing a Welcome Card in Istanbul, you’ll also benefit from access to an audio-guided cruise along the Bosphorus, during which you can gain a unique view of the city, as well as 10 public transportation rides, helping you to achieve a seamless vacation.
Another option for history buffs is to purchase an Istanbul Museum Pass, which is valid for 5 days and includes Hagia Sophia, the Topkapı Palace, Basilica Cistern, Hagia Irene, and the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum.