Istanbul is beautiful in spring.
When looking at the list of things to do in Istanbul, get ready for thousands of suggestions. To complete them all, would take months if not years. No matter what time of year it is, the city never stops, but we like touring and getting around during Spring or Autumn. The weather is warm and sunny but not too hot making it ideal for sightseeing. Long days and pleasant evenings show Istanbul at its best. With the climate in Spring offering a perfect temperature to meander around at a leisurely pace, the city offers fantastic and fun days out for visitors and locals alike.
Independent travellers can explore on foot, from the Blue Mosque, the underground Basilica Cistern, a unique subterranean aqueducts system to vibrant markets. Later take a tram up to the Roman-era Valens Aqueduct and over Galata Bridge and watch the anglers at work. Lastly, visit the Topkapi Palace and watch the evening ferries on the Bosphorus. For something a bit more upbeat, there is plenty of entertainment at Karakoy, Galata and Beyoglu.
Additionally, without the blistering sunshine, a great way to see all of Istanbul is by bike. Istanbul offers several cycling tours such as 'Istanbul on a bike' which goes past the Sultanahmet neighbourhood's highlights, including the Grand Bazaar. Cycle along the Golden Horn waterfront or meander through Kadikoy and there is something on offer for all levels. For those after a more challenging ride, book a 45-kilometre loop along both Istanbul's European and Asian Bosphorus shores. This three-hour tour takes in picturesque Ortakoy and the Bosphorus Bridge, meaning you will explore much of Istanbul while getting a great work out. But in the meantime, let us look at other places to go and see.
Exciting Things to Do in Istanbul - Turkey
1: Beautiful Parks
As the city heats up, people start to visit parks to get a break from the hustle and bustle. Springtime is when tulips bloom, and the most radiant displays stand out. Trees and plants from around the world appear at Yildiz in Besiktas also boasting of panoramic Bosphorus views. To have a rest and a bite to eat, visit two old pavilions, Cadir and Malta. Gulhane in Eminonu is among the most famous and well-visited touristic parks in Istanbul. It has gardens, pools and recreation areas and once belonged to the Topkapi Palace outer garden. In Istanbul's heart, Macka, also known as Demokrasi Park, is located near Nisantasi, one of Istanbul's most affluent district. This is a great place to go jogging or for a scenic walk, and there is a good café for a post-workout coffee.
2: Food Walking-Tour
Going to the food markets in Istanbul is always a treat, but we recommend signing up for a leisurely food walking tour. Guides take you to market stalls resembling works of art in a riot of colour, and introduce you to Turkish street food that extends far beyond the average kebab. They also show you where the local Turks eat, not the tourist spots. Try the spice bazaar to take home souvenirs, or delve into the world of traditional culinary delights and beverages like Baklava, Turkish coffee, Turkish tea, or the well-known delight. They will also take you to the other side known as Kadikoy to explore Istanbul's famous fish market, where you can grab a balik (fish) sandwich. Many foreigners sign up for the tours and become addicted to Turkish tastes and flavours.
3: The Tulip Festival
The annual International Istanbul Tulip Festival takes place in April. Millions of tulips bloom in Istanbul's parks, avenues, and all over the city where any open ground is available. Contrary to popular belief, tulips originally grew wild on the Asian steppes, and then the commercial cultivation happened during Ottoman rule. During the 16th century, they were brought to Holland and became widely popular. To best enjoy the tulip explosion, take a trip to one of Istanbul's famous parks such as Gulhane near the Topkapi Palace, Yildiz behind the Dolmabahce Palace or the gorgeous Emirgan, up the Bosphorus.
4: The Princes Islands
On a particularly glorious sunny day and for a few hours of peace, take a short ferry ride to the Princes' Islands to find sandy coves and calm waters. Popular with the locals, the nine small islands have mostly gone unnoticed by tourists. Catch a ferry from Kabatas and take the scenic 90-minute ride to an island like Buyukada, which is the largest and boasts superb fish restaurants and ice-cream parlour. Also, hire a bike to explore the island because traffic is banned on all islands, which is particularly popular with families with young children.
5: Explore Taksim and Beyoglu
Heading to the new city part, we arrive at Taksim square, and the beginning of Cosmopolitan Istiklal Avenue, Turkey's longest and busiest street. As the lively centre of nightlife, cafes, pubs, and shopping, this pedestrian centre also holds a goldmine of landmarks to explore. Visit Saint Anthony of Padua Church, Flower Passage, and the Whirling Dervish Museum. For refreshments, stroll a short distance to French street, a great place to end the day. The back street neighbourhoods also throw up hidden surprises like cute antique stores, and the Museum of Innocence, owned by Orhan Pamuk, one of Turkey's most famous authors.
6: Sultanahmet District
From the new part, make your way past Galata Tower, across the Golden Horn and to the Sultanahmet district. Known as the old city part, this is where the famous UNESCO World Heritage sights stand including the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia, the hippodrome, and Archaeology Museum. Its importance as the Byzantine empire and Ottoman sultans' former ruling capital cannot be matched. This is probably the most touristy place in Turkey, hosting millions of visitors every year. Find out more about the Sultanahmet district.
7: The Bosphorus Strait
Any traveller will love exploring the Bosphorus, both by ferry trips and one foot. Known as the city's heart, it separates the Europe and Asia continents, and brims with suburbs, ruins, bazaars, palaces, Turkish baths, monuments, museums, old mosques and much more. Alternatively, some tour companies also sell guided Bosphorus tours and although more costly, including food and entertainment. Read about fun things and places to go on the Bosphorus here.
8: The Eminonu District
If choosing from the list of things to do in Istanbul overwhelms you, it would be wise to limit your activities to a particular district. One of the best for anyone visiting Istanbul is Eminonu, holding delights like the Sirkeci station, a famous stopping point on the Orient express. In this article about Eminonu, we list 12 activities that are the perfect introduction to how the locals live.