Complete Istanbul Guide for 2024: Where to stay, What to do & Hidden Gems!

istanbul travel guide

Introduction to this Istanbul Travel Guide

Welcome to the capital of Turkey, Istanbul, a city where the ancient meets the modern, creating a vibrant tapestry of culture, history, and culinary delights.

Did you know this interesting fact about Istanbul? It is the only city in the world spanning two continents! The iconic Bosporus Strait divides the city, offering a unique blend of European and Asian influences.

In this Istanbul guide, we’ll explore the various facets of Istanbul, from its efficient transportation systems and diverse accommodations to its world-renowned tourist attractions and hidden gems known only to the locals.

Whether you’re a history enthusiast, a foodie seeking culinary adventures, or an explorer in search of off-the-beaten-path experiences, Istanbul has something special to offer.

Let’s dig deeper into this Istanbul guide and answer all your questions!

Want to fly to Istanbul but you only have a limited budget? Check out WayAway, the ultimate flight comparison tool below or download the iOS app or android app here.

How to get around Istanbul?

The first question we want to addres in this Istanbul guide is how to navigate through the vibrant streets of the city. Istanbul offers a diverse array of transportation options to make exploration more convenient.

From historic trams to modern ferries traversing the majestic Bosporus, here’s an in-depth guide to getting around Istanbul:

Buses

There are 400 bus lines in Istanbul, the majority work until midnight every day. Except for Sultanahmet (accessible by tram), buses go all over the city. Destinations and major stops are written in yellow on the sides of the buses.

Trams

On the European side, there are two lines in service, the T1 line from Kabataş allows easy access to Sultanahmet and the T4 line that goes North – West of the city. It runs from 6 am to 11 pm. 

They look like trams out of an old movie, two lines are in service: the first on the European side (NT) which runs down the Istiklal Street from Taksim Square to Tünel, and the second (T3) is on the Asian side from the pier and it goes from Kadıköy to the Moda neighborhood.

Metro

The metro is open from 6:15 to midnight. There are currently two lines on the European side which are not connected yet. There is also a line on the Asian shore (M4) but it is not of great interest to you because it is not connected to Sabiha Gökçen Airport yet.

If you want to travel seaminglessly across Turkey and not only Istanbul, consider using Busbud to book your transportation. Whether it’s trains, or buses, these platforms offer convenient options to ensure you reach your destinations comfortably and on time.

Tips for Using Ferries and Boats on the Bosporus

What we really wanted to include in this Istanbul guide is a boat ride. This is a quintessential Istanbul experience along the iconic Bosporus Strait. Here are essential tips for your boat ride:

Ferry Options: Like the metro, Metrobus, and certain bus lines, ferries are in service 24 hours a day during the weekend (Friday evening to Sunday morning; from midnight to 6:40 am for the last boat before morning hours). The following pier lines are affected by this measure: Kadıköy-Karaköy-Beşiktaş, and Beşiktas-Üsküdar. 

Timing and Tickets: You can use your Istanbul Kart to access the boats or buy your ticket at the pier, for a price varying between 5 TL and 9 TL depending on the route you wish to take. The ticket costs the double of the day price for overnight trips. Purchase tickets in advance to secure your spot, especially during peak seasons.

Landmarks Along the Bosporus: Explore landmarks like the Maiden’s Tower and the Dolmabahçe Palace from the water for a unique perspective.

istanbul guide
istanbul guide

How to Best Travel from the Airport (Sulthanahmet) to the City

Another questions to anwer in this Istanbul guide is how to get from the airport to the city real quick. Here are some ways how to travel seamlessly to your hotel after your arrival:

Shuttle Services: Numerous shuttle services operate between the airport and various city locations. Research options that best suit your needs regarding cost and convenience.
Taxis: Taxis are readily available at the airport. Make sure to confirm fares beforehand and opt for official airport taxis for a reliable service.
Public Transport: You can either choose between Bus for 3.60$ or subway for 0.90$.

Need a stress-free ride to or from the airport? Choose KiwiTaxi for a comfortable and reliable airport transfer. No more waiting in long lines or navigating public transport with luggage! Use the tool down below to check for your next transfer.

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Egyptian Bazaar
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Rüstem Paşa Camii

Where to stay in Istanbul?

As you embark on your journey through Istanbul, finding the right accommodation is key to a comfortable and enjoyable stay. Istanbul offers a diverse range of options to suit every budget and preference. Let’s explore the various neighborhoods and specific hotel recommendations:

Various Neighborhoods and Their Characteristics

Istanbul is a city of neighborhoods, each with its own unique charm and character. Consider the following areas for your stay:

Sultanahmet: The historic heart of Istanbul, home to iconic landmarks like the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. Ideal for history enthusiasts.

Beyoglu: A lively district known for its vibrant nightlife, art galleries, and shopping streets like Istiklal Avenue.

Fatih: Blending history with local life, Fatih offers a more authentic experience. Explore narrow streets, markets, and local eateries.

Balat: is a historic district of Istanbul, enchants visitors with its narrow, colorful streets adorned with vibrant houses, historic synagogues, and antique shops, offering a nostalgic journey through the city’s multicultural past.

Accommodation Recommendations

When it comes to finding the perfect stay, Booking.com and Agoda have got you covered! Explore a variety of accommodations, from cozy guesthouses to luxurious hotels, making your journey even more comfortable.

Low-Budget
The Laila Hotel (Fatih) – Nestled in the heart of the city, The Laila Hotel offers budget-friendly accommodation without compromising on comfort. Experience the charm of Fatih without breaking the bank.

Mid-Budget
Kaya Royal Hotel (Fatih) – Enjoy a blend of modern amenities and Turkish hospitality at Kaya Royal Hotel. Located in Kumkapi, it provides easy access to both historical sites and local experiences.
The Local (Fatih) – Immerse yourself in the local atmosphere at The Local. This boutique hotel in Fatih offers a personalized touch and a comfortable stay for mid-budget travelers.

High-Budget
Crowne Plaza Istanbul Old City (Fatih) – Indulge in luxury at the Crowne Plaza Istanbul, Old City. With sophisticated amenities and a central location, it’s an excellent choice for those seeking a high-budget experience in Fatih.

With these accommodation recommendations and tips in mind, you’re ready to settle into the heart of Istanbul.

Still looking for an affordable accomodation in Istanbul? Check out Agoda by clicking on the link or using the tool below.

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Mosaic lamps
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Tea set

What to do in Istanbul?

Istanbul, with its rich history and cultural tapestry, is adorned with iconic landmarks that tell tales of centuries past. As you venture into the city with this Istanbul guide, here are some must-visit tourist attractions that promise to captivate your senses:

Hagia Sophia (Old Town Istanbul) – An architectural marvel, the Hagia Sophia stands as a testament to Istanbul’s diverse heritage. Originally a Byzantine cathedral, later an Ottoman mosque, and now a museum, it showcases stunning mosaics and a dome that has inspired awe for over a millennium.

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Hagia Sophia
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corn on the cob

Topkapi Palace (Old Town Istanbul) – Delve into the opulence of the Ottoman Empire at the Topkapi Palace. Wander through intricately designed courtyards, explore imperial chambers, and marvel at a treasury housing priceless artifacts, including the famous Topkapi Dagger.

Blue Mosque (Old Town Istanbul) – The Blue Mosque, officially known as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, enchants with its six minarets and a striking blue interior. Embrace the tranquility of its courtyards and witness the interplay of light on the exquisite Iznik tiles.

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Blue Mosque
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Blue Mosque by night

Grand Bazaar (Old Town Istanbul) – Immerse yourself in the vibrant tapestry of the Grand Bazaar, one of the world’s oldest and largest covered markets. Roam through labyrinthine alleys filled with treasures—from spices and textiles to jewelry and carpets, this bustling bazaar is a shopper’s paradise.

Galata Tower (Beyoğlu)- Offering panoramic views of the city, the Galata Tower is a medieval stone tower that has stood tall since the 14th century.

Basilica Cistern (Old Town Istanbul) – Discover the mysterious underground world of the Basilica Cistern, an ancient water reservoir featuring impressive columns and atmospheric lighting.

As you explore these enchanting sites, you’ll witness the layers of history that have shaped Istanbul into the dynamic metropolis it is today.

Need a stress-free ride to or from the airport? Choose KiwiTaxi for a comfortable and reliable airport transfer. No more waiting in long lines or navigating public transport with luggage! Use the tool down below to check for your next transfer.

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Karaköy
istanbul guide
rainy Karaköy

Hidden Gems of Istanbul

This Istanbul guide would not be complete without sharing some hidden gems with you!

While Istanbul’s iconic landmarks draw crowds, the true magic lies in discovering the hidden gems of Istanbul and its local secrets. Here are insider tips to elevate your Istanbul experience:

Lesser known places – Explore beyond the tourist hotspots and discover hidden gems like the Kariye Museum (Chora Church), adorned with stunning mosaics, and the Little Hagia Sophia (Faith), a charming gem with a rich history and fewer crowds.

Secret Viewpoints – Escape the ordinary with secret viewpoints like the Pierre Loti Hill, offering a mesmerizing panorama of the Golden Horn, and the Çamlıca Hill, where you can witness Istanbul’s skyline in all its glory.

Local Markets and Areas for Authentic Experiences – Step into the local scene by exploring authentic markets like the Kadıköy Market, known for its diverse offerings, and neighborhoods like Karaköy and Balat, where vibrant street art and historic charm converge.

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Karaköy
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Hotel in Karaköy

Cultural Events and Festivals – Check local calendars for cultural events and festivals such as the Istanbul Biennial or the Tulip Festival. These events offer unique insights into Istanbul’s contemporary art scene and its rich cultural heritage.

Insider Tips from Locals – Connect with locals for personalized suggestions. Whether it’s a family-run restaurant in Cihangir, a cozy tea house in Bebek, or a hidden courtyard in Kuzguncuk, locals can guide you to the heart of authentic Istanbul.

With these insider tips, you’re poised to uncover the city’s soul, away from the typical tourist trail. For a more organized exploration, consider curated activities with GetYourGuide, ensuring you make the most of your time in this captivating city.

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colorful Balat
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Café in Balat

Unique Activities around Istanbul

Enhance your Istanbul adventure with curated activities and tours that offer unique perspectives on the city’s culture, history, and culinary delights. GetYourGuide provides a platform for memorable experiences, ensuring you make the most of your time in Istanbul.

For a broader selection of tours and activities beyond the ones highlighted here, explore platforms such as Viator or GetYourGuide to tailor your adventure to your preferences and interests.

Bosphorus Cruise: Sail through the iconic Bosporus Strait on a guided cruise. Admire the city’s skyline, historic landmarks, and the seamless blend of Europe and Asia.

Historical Walking Tour: Immerse yourself in Istanbul’s rich history with a guided walking tour through Sultanahmet. Explore the Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, and Topkapi Palace with insightful commentary.

Culinary Walking Tour: Embark on a gastronomic journey through Istanbul’s diverse neighborhoods. Sample traditional Turkish dishes, street food, and sweets, gaining insights into the city’s culinary heritage.

Whirling Dervishes Show: Witness the mesmerizing Whirling Dervishes performance, a mystical Sufi dance that transcends the boundaries of the earthly realm.

Private Bazaar Shopping Experience: Navigate the Grand Bazaar with a local guide, uncovering hidden gems and bargaining for unique treasures. Gain insight into the art of haggling and the market’s rich history.

istanbul guide
istanbul guide

Hot Air Balloon Ride in Cappadocia (Day Trip): Take a day trip from Istanbul to Cappadocia for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Soar above the surreal landscapes in a hot air balloon, marveling at fairy-tale chimneys and rock formations.

Turkish Bath Experience: Indulge in the luxury of a traditional Turkish bath. Relax in a historic hammam, where skilled attendants provide a rejuvenating experience combining steam, scrubbing, and massage.

Before diving into Istanbul’s culinary scene, plan your activities to maximize your time and ensure a well-rounded exploration of this captivating city.

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Bazaar by night
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Istanbul by night

What and Where to Eat in Istanbul?

Istanbul’s culinary scene is a delectable journey through flavors that reflect the city’s rich history and diverse influences. From traditional Turkish delights to street food treasures, here’s an Istanbul food guide to tantalize your taste buds:

Restaurant Recommendations

  1. Ciya Sofrası (Kadıköy): Experience a culinary adventure with a diverse menu featuring Anatolian dishes. Ciya Sofrası is renowned for its commitment to preserving and showcasing traditional Turkish recipes.
  2. Divella Bistro Restaurant (Fatih): Down-to-earth restaurant with a dining terrace, offering fish and seafood dishes, meat from the wood-fired grill as well as veggie and vegan dishes and desserts.
  3. By Kinyas Restaurant (Fatih): By Kinyas offers a fine dining experience with a panoramic view from their rooftop terrace of the city. The menu has breakfast, lunch and dinner options, also suitable for veggies.

Dishes You Must Try

  1. Kebabs: Indulge in succulent kebabs, a Turkish culinary classic. Whether it’s Adana kebap, İskender, or döner, each bite is a savory delight.
  2. Mezes: Sample a variety of mezes (appetizers) like hummus, muhammara, and baba ganoush. Pair them with freshly baked Turkish bread for a flavorful start to your meal.
  3. Manti: Try the Turkish version of dumplings – manti. These small, flavorful parcels are typically filled with spiced meat, but vegetarian options are also available, often filled with spinach or potatoes.
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Potato Pide – our favorite dish
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Turkish meal platter
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Veggie Options and Street Food Delights

  1. Vegetarian Kebabs: Many kebab joints offer delicious vegetarian options, such as grilled vegetable kebabs or falafel wraps.
  2. Kumpir: This street food consists of a baked potato that is mashed, mixed with various toppings like cheese, butter, and vegetables, resulting in a flavorful and hearty snack.
  3. Simit: Grab a simit, a sesame-covered bread ring resembling a bagel. Often sold by street vendors, it’s a quick and satisfying snack.

For seamless travel planning, consider using Trip.com, a comprehensive website offering flight, train, and hotel bookings all in one place. Trip.com simplifies your journey by providing a one-stop solution for various travel needs.

istanbul guide
me and my Kumpir
istanbul guide
delicious street food – Kumpir

Example 3-Day Itinerary for Istanbul

Now that we covered all essential questions of this Istanbul guide, I wanted to share our itinerary with you and give you an example, how to spend 3 days in this amazing city:

Day 1: Historical Sultanahmet

  • Breakfast at Ciya Sofrası (Kadıköy): Start your day with a diverse Anatolian breakfast at Ciya Sofrası.
  • Hagia Sophia: Explore the iconic Hagia Sophia, marveling at its history and architectural grandeur.
  • Blue Mosque: Visit the Blue Mosque, absorbing the serene atmosphere and intricate tilework.
  • Lunch at a Local Meze Place: Indulge in a meze-filled lunch at a nearby local eatery.
  • Topkapi Palace: Immerse yourself in Ottoman history at Topkapi Palace, exploring its opulent chambers and gardens.
  • Dinner at Asitane Restaurant (Edirnekapı): Savor Ottoman-inspired dishes at Asitane for a unique culinary experience.

Day 2: Lively Beyoğlu

  • Breakfast at a Local Bakery: Grab a simit or indulge in a Turkish pastry at a local bakery.
  • Galata Tower: Head to Galata Tower for panoramic views of the city.
  • Istiklal Avenue: Wander through Istiklal Avenue, exploring shops, galleries, and cafes.
  • Lunch at Mikla (Beyoğlu): Enjoy a fine dining experience at Mikla, sampling modern Turkish cuisine.
  • Taksim Square: Experience the vibrant energy of Taksim Square.
  • Dinner in Karaköy: Explore Karaköy’s culinary scene for dinner, trying street food or dining in a local restaurant.

Day 3: Kadıköy and Culinary Exploration

  • Breakfast at a Local Café in Kadıköy: Embrace the local vibe with breakfast in Kadıköy.
  • Kadıköy Market: Explore the bustling Kadıköy Market, discovering fresh produce, spices, and local specialties.
  • Kebab for Lunch: Try a vegetarian kebab for a satisfying and meat-free option.
  • Moda: Stroll through the trendy Moda neighborhood, known for its cafes and boutiques.
  • Ferry Ride on the Bosporus: Take a leisurely ferry ride on the Bosporus for scenic views.
  • Dinner in Bebek: Head to Bebek for dinner, enjoying the ambiance along the waterfront.
  • Turkish Delights for Dessert: End your evening with Turkish sweets or a cup of traditional Turkish tea.

This itinerary combines historical exploration, culinary delights, and the vibrant energy of Istanbul’s diverse neighborhoods. Feel free to adjust the schedule based on your interests and pace, ensuring a personalized and memorable experience in this captivating city.

Realistic Budget for a 3-Day Trip to Istanbul

The following budget overview of this Istanbul guide includes accommodation, food and drinks, transportation, and activities. Keep in mind that these are general figures, and actual expenses may vary based on individual preferences and circumstances. It’s recommended to research and plan according to your specific needs and travel style.

BudgetLow BudgetMid BudgetHigh Budget
Accomodation30-50$ per night50-70$ per night70-120$ per night
Food & Drinks15-20$ per day (local bakeries & streetfood)20-30$ per meal (mid-class restaurants)50-80$ per meal (restaurants & culinary experiences)
Transportation10-15$ Istanbulkart
10-15$ walking & limited taxi use
10-15$ Istanbulkart
20-30$ occasional taxi rides
50-100$ private transfer & Taxis
Activities20-30$ free or low-cost activities50-70$ guided tours100-150$ guided and exclusive tours
Total95 – 135$150 – 215$270 – 450$
Note: The following budget estimates are per person and are meant to provide a general guideline. Actual expenses may vary based on personal preferences, travel style, and seasonal factors.

Still looking for an affordable place to stay? Hostelworld is your go-to for finding the best hostels around the globe. Whether you’re a solo traveler or exploring with friends, Hostelworld offers a wide selection of welcoming hostels that fit any budget.

Summary of this Istanbul Guide

Your journey through Istanbul has been a captivating exploration of history, culture, and flavors. As we conclude this Istanbul guide, let’s reflect on the key points and highlights that make Istanbul a truly unique destination.

Rich Heritage: Istanbul’s blend of Byzantine and Ottoman history is evident in its iconic landmarks such as Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, and Topkapi Palace.

Diverse Neighborhoods: From the historic charm of Sultanahmet to the vibrant energy of Beyoğlu and the authenticity of Kadıköy, each neighborhood adds a layer to the city’s tapestry.

Culinary Delights: Istanbul’s culinary scene offers a feast for the senses, from traditional kebabs and mezes to the modern twists found in fine dining establishments.

Hidden Gems: Beyond the well-known attractions, the city reveals hidden gems, secret viewpoints, and authentic local experiences waiting to be discovered.

I hope this Istanbul guide was helful and you enjoyed reading it! If you liked it, feel free to share it with other travelers. And do not forget to follow me on my socials to stay updated on our adventurous world trip and get some more travel inspiration!

Make your travels smoother by using eSIM cards. You can get them before your trip, so you’re ready to go as soon as you arrive. With Airalo, plans start at only $5. It’s an easy and cheap way to keep in touch!

I hope to see you again soon on this blog. Do not forget to share this Istanbul guide with your friends and family too 🙂

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