Istanbul houses some famous historical sites – the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Grand Bazaar, and Spice Market. They are stunning, important historical sites to see and experience. However the city also offers a lot of fun things to do which have fewer crowds and so are a bit off the beaten path.
As important since it is to go to culturally significant historical sites (in the end, there’s nothing wrong with being truly a tourist) there is indeed a lot more to every destination than simply the primary tourist bullet points.
Of course, you shouldn’t miss Istanbul’s major sites. But once you’ve done them, there are numerous offbeat what to see and do here. Listed below are my favorites to obtain started and maximize out of your trip:
1. Descend in to the Basilica Cistern
Most travelers walk moreover ancient cavern for days without realizing it. After entering an unassuming doorway you’ll climb down a gloomy group of stairs, ending up within an underground former water reservoir built-in the sixth century. It’s filled up with centuries-old columns and statues and the area is eerily lit in shades of orange. Koi fish swim in the standing water, and you must walk on wooden planks to bypass. You can hear drips echoing, and there are two mysterious statues with the top of Medusa. It sort of feels as though you’re in a scary movie.
Alemdar, Yerebatan Cd. 1/3, +90 212-512-1570 yerebatansarnici.com. Open daily from 9am-5:30pm (except religious holidays). Admission is 20 TRY for foreigners.
2. Explore the Asian Side
Istanbul may be the only city on earth to straddle two continents; it spans from Europe to Asia. The Asian side (also known as the Anatolian side) is separated from the European side by the Bosphorus Strait. You may take a bus over the famous Bosphorus Bridge, or you can ride over on a ferry. The city’s main tourist sites are on the European side, but if you’ve never gone to Asia, it’s fun to cross to help you say you’ve been there. If you’re thinking about shopping, browse the popular markets in Kadiköy.
Other worthy activities include touring the Beylerbeyi Palace, riding up to the most notable of Çamlica Hill for incredible views of the town, and strolling along Bagdat Caddesi to explore the countless restaurants, cafés, and shops.
The ferry will definitely cost 3 TRY for a one-way ticket.
3. Search for a Real Hammam
(Picture not available-everyone was naked inside!) A lot of the swanky hotels in Istanbul have hammams, otherwise referred to as Turkish baths, however they usually aren’t the real thing. They’re designed for Westerners searching for a cushy and modest experience. Real hammams have already been a Turkish tradition for a large number of years, plus they have served as both a location to cleanse also to socialize. Most hammams are separated by gender, and women generally go topless. You transition through a number of different rooms of different temperatures, one being truly a hot steam room much such as a sauna. You can choose to pay an attendant to provide you with an intensive scrub-down – it’s rough but invigorating! Çemberlitai Hamami is a superb option for visitors seeking to give the experience a go; another popular one is Cagaloglu. Both can be found in the Old Town.
Vezirhan Cad. No. 8, +90 552-381-1584, cemberlitashamami.com. Open daily from 6am-12am. Admission starts at 160 TRY per person and rises from there based on what treatments/services you want.
4. Visit the Prince Islands
This chain of nine islands off the coast of Istanbul offers a unique getaway from the crowds. A straightforward day trip through the warm months, the hawaiian islands are just an instant ferry ride from the town. Most travelers go to the four larger islands (Büyükada, the largest & most popular, Burgazada, Heybeliada, and Kinaliada). You can explore historic buildings, eat at tasty cafés, and see beautiful homes as you wander about.
Why is these islands special is that no cars are allowed on the hawaiian islands, making them quite peaceful and quiet and a good break from the noise of the town. You may get around by walking, bicycle, or horse and carriage.
Make an effort to take among the early ferries in your day so you explore the hawaiian islands before our visitors arrive.
The journey by ferry will need around one hour and 30 minutes based on what island you will. Tickets are 5 TRY per person for an individual journey ticket.
5. Have a Ferry
A terrific way to explore this massive city is by boat. You’ll see many boats offering paid tours of the Bosphorus, but if you would like to save money and also have more flexibility, have a regular ferry ride instead. The fare will be cheaper, and you won’t be competing for space with other tourists trying to take photos.
You’ll go by Topkapi Palace, the Bosphorus Bridge, gorgeous mansions, mosques with massive minarets, other castles and palaces, and more. You can hop off, eat some fresh seafood, and return. It’s a budget-friendly way to explore without bumping into other tourists.
Round-trip ferry tickets will definitely cost 25 TRY per person.
6. Explore Jewish History
While Turkey is predominantly a Muslim country, it includes a surprisingly long Jewish history. There are Jewish heritage tours you may take, or you can explore the stops by yourself. Jews have lived in Turkey for a large number of years, however the population really grew through the Ottoman Empire in the 1400s. Growth increased in 1492 when Spain expelled its Jews and the Ottoman Empire welcomed them because they were stereotyped as having good business skills and wealth.
Istanbul’s Galata and Balat quarters are steeped in Jewish history and you could find historic synagogues in both regions of town. Istanbul also offers a Jewish museum (The Museum of Turkish Jews) that does an excellent job of illustrating the contributions and struggles of Jews in Turkey.
Bereketzade Mahallesi, +90 212-292-6333, muze500.com. Open Sunday-Thursday from 10am-5pm and Fridays from 10am-1pm (closed Saturdays). Admission is free, though donations are encouraged. Passport (or other official ID) must enter.
7. Watch the Fishermen on Galata Bridge
Each day, dozens, if not hundreds, of local men form a row along the very best degree of the Galata Bridge and fish over the edge. It’s an unbelievable sight. They spend hours hoping to catch fresh seafood, plus some of these will sell it for you while they’re still out there fishing. A lot of the men don’t even make a catch; they appear to enjoy just standing there hanging their pole over the water.
There’s also a fish market at the bottom of the bridge, and the countless booths of fresh-caught fish are fun to check out (though it is also a bit gross).
8. Start to see the Obelisk of Theodosius
This Egyptian obelisk was carved around 1500 BCE near Luxor before it had been pillaged by the Romans and moved to Alexandria. Shortly after, it had been moved to Constantinople (now Istanbul) where it has remained since. There are well-preserved hieroglyphs on all sides which depict Tutmoses III’s victory throughout a battle on the Euphrates River.
The obelisk is normally surrounded by locals relaxing and chatting, and there tend to be buskers performing here aswell. It’s a good spot to relax and people-watch while appreciating this incredible historical relic.
9. Snap an image with Tombili
You know you Tombili is – you merely don’t realize it. Tombili was a street cat from Istanbul who went viral in a meme that showed the cat lounging on the stairs just like a person would take a seat on a bench (the meme was called “chill cat” if you would like to look it up).
When Tombili died in 2016, the neighborhood mayor had a statue commissioned and it now sits where Tombili’s famous photo was taken. Thieves immediately stole the statue but, after an enormous public outcry, it had been returned.
10. Visit Miniaturk
Miniaturk is a miniature park situated in Istanbul – and it’s among the largest miniature parks on the globe. In all honesty, I didn’t even understand what miniature parks were before encountering this place. In a nutshell, the park is filled with small replicas of famous sights and attractions, designed to a 1/25 scale. There are over 100 models in the park like the Obelisk of Theodosius, the Mostar Bridge, and the Hagia Eirene Church. The park spans almost 15 acres and there are audio guides available around the park in order to listen and find out about every individual attraction.
Örnektepe, +90 212-222-2882, miniaturk.com.tr. Open daily from 9am-6pm. Admission is 15 TRY.
Istanbul is an extremely large and crowded city and it could definitely be intimidating to go to. But it’s also home for some fascinating history and a great deal of unique sights and attractions – a lot of which don’t get the attention they deserve.
With the addition of many of these less-visited attractions into your itinerary you’ll manage to have a more unique and authentic experience while still having the capacity to see all of the wonderful sights that produce Istanbul the eclectic, beautiful city that it’s.
Book Your Visit to Istanbul: Logistical Guidelines
Book Your Flight Look for a cheap flight through the use of Skyscanner or Momondo. They are my two favorite se’s because they search websites and airlines around the world which means you always know no stone is left unturned.
Book Your Accommodation For the best budget accommodation, use Booking.com because they consistently return the least expensive rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels. You can book your hostel with Hostelworld because they have the most comprehensive inventory. Among the best places in which to stay Istanbul are:
- Cheers Hostel – This hostel is consistently rated among the best in the united states. It’s safe, clean, and has free Wi-Fi and free breakfast.
- Sultans Inn – This hostel is in an excellent location, it’s clean, and the staff are friendly and helpful.
- Agora Hostel and Guesthouse – This relaxed hostel includes a great free breakfast, free Wi-Fi, and a soothing tooftop terrace where one can ingest the views of the town.
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Photo credit: 4 – NKCPhoto, 8 – Erik Cleves Kristense