See and Do in Istanbul

Istanbul is a living, breathing museum. As a fascinating and historic city, Istanbul offers much to see and do for new arrivals, and expats will have a great time finding their way around, soaking up the culture and learning more about their new home.

Although there is an uncountable number of interesting sites all over Istanbul, the sites listed here are some of the most famous. 

Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Camii)

Turkey’s most iconic mosque, the Blue Mosque, is one of the most distinguishable features of Istanbul’s skyline and is one of the finest examples of Ottoman architecture. The Blue Mosque is still in use today.

Topkapı Palace Museum

Boasting spectacular views over the Bosphorus River and the Golden Horn, Topkapı Palace Museum was the seat of the Ottoman Empire for almost 400 years and home to nearly 3,000 people. Take a tour of the apartments, harem terraces and the royal bedchamber, all of which provide a glimpse into Istanbul’s fascinating past and the opulence of the sultans of the Ottoman Empire.

Hagia Sophia

Famed for its incredible size and Byzantine architecture, the Hagia Sophia is one of Istanbul’s most prominent attractions. In the 6th century, it was commissioned as a cathedral and was one of Christianity’s most important churches for over 900 years before it was conquered in the 15th century by Mehmet II and turned into a mosque. Since 1935 the building has functioned as a museum. 

Grand Bazaar (Kapalıçarşı)

Expats will love discovering the oldest and largest covered bazaar in the world when they come to Kapalıçarşı. Visitors can wind their way around the 65 streets, brimming with more than 4,000 shops, teahouses, hamams (Turkish baths), storehouses, mosques and fountains.

Turkish and Islamic Art Museum

The Turkish and Islamic Art Museum is housed in what used to be the 16th-century palace of the Grand Vizier, Ibrahim Pasha, and features 40,000 examples of Selçuk, Mamluk and Ottoman Turkish art, as well as one of the richest and oldest collections of prayer rugs, carpets and kilims in the world.

Sunken Palace (Basilica Cistern)

Built around 532 AD by Constantinople the Great, the Sunken Palace is a subterranean cavern which is held up by 336 columns and even features in the James Bond film From Russia with Love. Featuring art and intricate designs on the columns themselves, approximately two million visitors a year flock to cross the walkways of the cavern.

Galata Tower

Providing the best 360-degree panoramic view across the old town of Istanbul, the Galata Tower was originally erected in the 14th century as a bastion for the walls of the Galata colony. Nowadays, expats are sure to enjoy visiting the restaurant nestled at the foot of the tower. 

Dolmabahçe Palace

The Dolmabahçe Palace was the last residence of the Sultans of the Ottoman Empire and is, accordingly, one of the most glamorous palaces in the world. It has been converted into a museum and now locals and tourists alike can wander through and admire the sultans of past.

Shireen Our Expat Expert

Shireen Mistry has recently returned to Bombay after living in Istanbul for 5 years. Her time in Istanbul (2003-2008) was spent exploring and getting to know the city intimately. She has also travelled around Turkey and finds the country a beautiful and fascinating place, and the people gentle and friendly. She particularly enjoyed discovering boutique hotels in various regions of Turkey, as she believes that a charming hotel set in beautiful surroundings enhances the whole travel experience of discovering a new place. Shireen made it a point to learn the Turkish language, so as to fully be able to immerse herself in the country. From 2006-2008, Shireen was Co-Chairwoman of the International Women of Istanbul, a highly regarded and well established voluntary organisation that served as a social group for foreign women in Istanbul, as well as a volunteer group for several local women's and children's charities. Amongst some of the activities of the IWI, were the organisation of several orientation tours around various parts of Istanbul for newcomers and also several cultural and cooking programmes. Being a part of this organisation has enabled Shireen to gain a deeper insight into Istanbul, and Turkish life in general, so much so that she now considers Turkey her second home.