I just got back from a 4 day trip to Istanbul, and while I’m still overcome by awe and love for this beautiful city, I wanted to share all about it. From the cultural quirks to the Geographic cliques, here’s a travel diary with top things to do in Istanbul. If you’re looking for more on my travel stories and escapades, do follow me on instagram.com/aditiparashar.
So, let’s dive in to discover Istanbul.
Turkey’s capital and a true meeting point of east & west, Istanbul is a transcontinental city in Eurasia. Formerly known as Byzantium, Constantinople, and New Rome, Istanbul is the largest city in Europe one of the world’s most populous cities. The melting pot of cultures that this city is evident by every nook and corner. And why wouldn’t it be, a city that has been standing since 660CE!
The best time to visit Istanbul is from March to May and between September and November. That’s when crowds at the city’s attractions are manageable, room rates are average and daytime temperatures generally sit in the 20s and 30s. I did go at the end of November when it was a bit colder but doable nonetheless. If you’re a beach lover, Summer is obviously the best choice.
What I Wore?
Mood: The overall mood for Istanbul was that of any city. However, I tried to wear more neutral colors to be able to highlight the colorful streets more than myself. It was also fairly cold in Istanbul during my visit in late November, so layering was the key to survive. I think summer in the city can be quite colorful, too.
Outfit Day 1: I wore a skater skirt and crop T-shirt and layered it with a grey plaid jacket from the new premium line on my partner site shein.com.
Click here to get this jacket and a lot more. Use code ‘9ADITI’ for additional 15% off
Outfit Day 2: Day two was sunny and remarkable. So, I wore a Plain Chiffon Ruffle Dress from my partner site Shein. Honestly, it is one of the best shopping decisions I’ve made in a while. The dress is so classy, chic, & good looking that I was giving full head-turner vibes!
Click here to get this dress and a lot more. Use code ‘9ADITI’ for additional 15% off
I layered it with a black biker jacket that I also got from the same site. Another high-quality piece that kept me warm and functional.
Click here to get this jacket and a lot more. Use code ‘9ADITI’ for additional 15% off
Outfit Day 3: My last day in the city started a bit colder and rainy than the others. So, I wore a jumper over a skirt and layered it with a faux leather black and grey coat from the premium line of Shein. I think this coat is not only trendy for all occasions, but it is also highly functional and classy.
Click here to get this coat and a lot more. Use code ‘9ADITI’ for additional 15% off
For this outfit, I chose to add a black headband with a gold chain on it to add some edge to the neutral outfit.
Things to do in Istanbul
1. Hagia Sofya (+Hamam)
This former Greek Orthodox Christian patriarchal cathedral, later an Ottoman imperial mosque & now a museum was built in AD 360. Boasting off the marvelous Byzantine architecture of the Middle Ages, it is particularly famous for its massive dome.
The Turkish landmark is located in the heart of the old town, right across the Blue Mosque and has a Hamam on the property, too!
2. Sultanahmet Mosque (Blue Mosque)
After the Peace of Zsitvatorok and the crushing loss in the 1603–18 war with Persia, Sultan Ahmet I decided to build a large mosque in Istanbul to reassert Ottoman power. This mosque came to be known as the Sultanahmet Mosque or the Blue Mosque after the extensive blue tile work inside the building.
Its Külliye contains Ahmet’s tomb, a madrasah, and a hospice. Hand-painted blue tiles adorn the mosque’s interior walls, and at night the mosque is bathed in blue as lights frame the mosque’s five main domes, six minarets, and eight secondary domes.
3. Cistern Basilica
The Cistern Basilica – Yerebatan Sarnici in Turkish, is one of Istanbul’s flagship monuments. Huge underground cistern, its Turkish name meaning “the cistern buried underground”, it is located in the Sultanahmet district near Hagia Sophia.
This cistern was built by Emperor Constantine in the 4th century before being enlarged by the Emperor Justinian in 532, is reminiscent of the interior of a church with its gigantic hall. A remarkable remnant of the Byzantine era, the basilica cistern is one of the key cultural visits of the city of Istanbul, especially the sculpture: the jellyfish head.
4. Topkapi palace
While it is not the most popular thing to do in Istanbul, Topkapi Palace is one of the most significant landmarks in the city. In the 15th century, it served as the main residence and administrative headquarters of the Ottoman sultans.
Construction began in 1459, ordered by Mehmed the Conqueror, six years after the conquest of Constantinople. Topkapı was originally called the “New Palace” (Yeni Saray or Saray-ı Cedîd-i Âmire) to distinguish it from the Old Palace in Beyazıt Square. It was given the name Topkapı, meaning Cannon Gate, in the 19th century. The complex was expanded over the centuries, with major renovations after the 1509 earthquake and 1665 fire.
After the 17th century, Topkapı gradually lost its importance. The sultans of that period preferred to spend more time in their new palaces along the Bosphorus. In 1856, Sultan Abdulmejid I decided to move the court to the newly built Dolmabahçe Palace. Topkapı retained some of its functions including the imperial treasury, library, and mint.
It stands as a museum today.
5. Galata Tower
Housed in a beautiful landmark from the mid 14th century and erected to defend Constantinople, Galata Tower has a great restaurant, nightclub, and gorgeous deck view of the Old City and beyond. Go towards sunset for a drink to start your night off with style and inspiration.
6. Bosphorus/ the Strait of Istanbul Ferry Trip
The Bosporus or Bosphorus is a narrow, natural strait and an internationally significant waterway located in northwestern Turkey. Forming part of the continental boundary between Europe and Asia, it divides Turkey by separating Anatolia from Thrace. It is the world’s narrowest strait used for international navigation, the Bosphorus connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara, and, by extension via the Dardanelles, the Aegean and Mediterranean seas.
You can take a ferry from the pier in the old city and see the spectacle of it’s beauty all the way to the connecting Bosphorus Bridge.
7. Shopping & Night Life:
Grand Bazaar, old city
One can simply not go to Istanbul and not revel in the glory of the city’s grand bazaar. One of the best things to do in Istanbul, the grand bazaar is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, with 61 covered streets and over 4,000 shops. Here you’ll find anything and everything you can think of from spices, Turkish glasswork lamps, Turkish cotton wear to jewelry and close copies of luxury goods, too!
The prices, on top, are what sweeten the deal. It’ll truly make you a shopaholic even if you’re not.
Taksim square had beautiful skylines, bars, clubs, restaurants, shopping streets, and dancing streets. Pulsing life into the city in the late night and early morning hours, we saw tourists and locals hazy & jovial alike.
It was one of the best introductions to this city and all the different colors it has.
If you’re visiting the city in summer, one of the rather fun things to do in Istanbul is the beach. However, be cautious that not all beaches in Istanbul are free for public access. The top two as recommended by the locals are BURC Beach & Solar Beach.
9. What not to miss:
Istanbul is a melting pot of cultures and beauty. I created a list after my discussion from the locals of things that you should definitely not miss out on. Honestly, these will easily become the highlight of your trip.
Drink Turkish tea, Coffee Salep & Boza:
All of these are two hot drinks, very popular in Turkey, that were already consumed during the Ottoman Empire. Pretty much a staple you’ll find anywhere.
See the city’s Skyline:
Istanbul has an exceptional city skyline and if you’re not already seeing it from your hotel, do climb the Galata Tower or one of the terrace restaurants in Taksim Square to enjoy it.
Enjoy the Huqqa:
Turkish Huqqa is quite famous and celebrated. You don’t have to be a smoker to enjoy one but it really makes for a cultural experience in itself. Top it up with a dessert to make the most out of the experience.
That’s all about my favorite things to do in Istanbul. This doesn’t cover everything but does cover most things you can do in a short time. That’s also why I’m already planning for a second trip to Istanbul. So, if you have any suggestions or picks, do leave them in the comments below.
Don’t forget to get my outfit and a lot more from my partner site Shein using code ‘ 9ADITI’ for an additional 15% off!
You can follow more of style diaries on my Instagram, too! (instagram.com/aditiparashar)
For more of my travel in style adventures, keep following ERTSY. Till then, keep experimenting & stay stylish!