Best Hotels, Activities & Restaurants in Istanbul

Advisor - Alex Paulenoff
Curated By

Alex Paulenoff

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  • Türkiye

  • Istanbul

  • Arts & Culture

  • City Travel

  • Couples Travel

  • Digital Nomad Travel

  • International Travel

  • Luxury Travel

  • Local Food

  • Local Culture

  • Sightseeing

building overlooking city and the ocean during daytime
Curator’s statement

Istanbul is a city with a rich history and culture, located at the crossroads of Europe and Asia. It was once the capital of both the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires, and as a result, it has a unique blend of Eastern and Western influences. It is the only city in the world that spans two continents, and its ancient history and culture blend seamlessly into the modern world. Istanbul is known for its stunning architecture, vibrant food scene and bustling bazaars. Here is a guide to help you make the most of your trip to Istanbul.

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Where to stay in Istanbul

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Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul At The Bosphorus

Storied accommodation with a Turkish soul featuring a traditional hammam, tea ceremonies and local cuisine in union with the excellence of the Four Season name.

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The Ritz-Carlton, Istanbul

This gleaming modern tower hotel is in a prime location beside the Bosphorus.

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  • Daily buffet breakfast for two guests per bedroom in restaurant

  • $100 USD equivalent Food & Beverage credit utilized during stay

Shangri La

Sumptuous urban resort on the banks of the Bosphorus, with a must-visit spa and terrace restaurant.

Fora Perks
  • Upgrade at time of booking, subject to availability

  • Daily full breakfast for two guests per bedroom

  • $100 USD Equivalent Hotel credit, to be utilized during stay

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Things to do in Istanbul

fountain with building in the background during daytime

1. Visit the Hagia Sophia: This iconic building is a must-see for any visitor to Istanbul. Originally a Byzantine church, it was later converted into a mosque and is now a museum. It is famous for its incredible architecture and stunning mosaics.

2. Explore the Grand Bazaar: This bustling market is the perfect place to shop for souvenirs and to experience Turkish culture. You can find everything from handmade textiles to Turkish delight. Just be sure you're ready to haggle!

3. Tour Topkapi Palace: This magnificent palace was the primary residence of the Ottoman Sultans for nearly 400 years. The palace complex is home to a number of museums, including the Treasury, the Imperial Harem, and the Sacred Relics Museum. I would budget at least half a day to properly experience Topkapi palace.

4. See the Blue Mosque: This beautiful mosque is named for the intricate blue tiles that adorn its interior. It is a must-see for anyone interested in Islamic art and architecture.

5. Take a Boat Tour along the Bosphorus: The Bosphorus is the strait that separates Europe from Asia, and a boat tour is a great way to see the city from a different perspective. You can see iconic landmarks such as the Hagia Sofia and Galata Tower from the water.

6. Get lost exploring the Old City: The Old City's Sultanahmet neighborhood is home to many of Istanbul's most iconic landmarks and is a great place to wander and discover hidden gems.

7. Tour Dolmabahçe Palace: This palace is the largest in Turkey and was built in the 19th century as the main residence for the Ottoman sultans. The palace is an architectural masterpiece that blends traditional Ottoman and European styles. It is also home to an impressive collection of art, including paintings by European masters, Turkish ceramics and other treasures.

8. Stop to see the Basilica Cistern: This massive underground water storage facility was used to store water for the Byzantine Palace complex during times of drought. It is a spectacular example of Byzantine engineering with 336 marble columns supporting its roof.

9. Visit the Galata Tower: Once the tallest structure in the city, this 675-year-old tower offers panoramic views of the Bosporus, the Golden Horn and many of the city's landmarks.

10. Relax in a Hammam: Turkish hammams are a wonderful way to relax and unwind after a day of sightseeing. They're also a great way to get your day started!

Day Trips from Istanbul

Take a trip to the Princes' Islands: These islands are located in the Sea of Marmara and are a great place to escape the hustle of Istanbul. No fuel-driven vehicles are permitted, and the islands offer a peaceful respite from the sounds of the city. Rent a bicycle on Büyükada and explore the mansions of Nizam, hike up to the Aya Yorgi Church, or take a dip in the Sea of Marmara. Take a short ferry ride and enjoy a day or two of relaxation and exploring!

Places to eat & drink in Istanbul

arrangement of pastries

Turkey is known around the world for its delicious food, and there are plenty of great restaurants in Istanbul to choose from. Don't miss out on those kebabs and baklava!

Here are some top picks:

Mikla: This rooftop restaurant has been on the world's top 50 restaurant list since 2015 and it does not disappoint. If you can only make one stop to try upscale Turkish cuisine go here.

Yeni Lokanta: This bright and colorful restaurant is a mainstay of the Turkish culinary scene. Modern takes on classic Mediterranean dishes pair very well with the menu's Turkish wine offerings.

Sultanahmet Fish House: This unassuming little restaurant specializes in some of the best and freshest seafood dishes in the city.

Deraliye Ottoman Palace Cuisine: This fun restaurant in Sultanahmet boasts over 25 years of experience preparing unique dishes from the Sultan's Imperial cookbook. Eat like a Sultan!

Turkish Coffee: No trip to Turkey would be complete without trying traditional Turkish Coffee. Here are some standout options:

Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi: This classic Turkish coffeehouse has been preparing top-quality coffee for over 150 years. Buy some to take home!

Caferağa Medresesi: This cafe is housed just steps from the Hagia Sophia in a former Madrassa and serves excellent traditional Turkish coffee and tea in a cozy and atmospheric setting.

Sark Kahvesi: Housed inside the Grand Bazaar, this coffeehouse is a great place to catch your breath after a few hours spent haggling!

Need to Know

For more travel tips, check out this guide to Istanbul by Fora Advisor Ellie Zade: History, Architecture and Fine Dining in Istanbul.

Advisor - Alex Paulenoff

Travel Advisor

Alex Paulenoff

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