Istanbul is a must-see city if you are visiting Turkey. From its stunning Bosphorous views to the strong aroma of hundreds of spices at a covered market, the city takes over all your senses. With a population of 15 million, the city can be overwhelming if it’s your first (or tenth) time, and signing up for a tour can help you see the details of the city that you might not otherwise notice. Skip the tour buses gathered around Sultanahmet, and instead reserve a spot on a smaller, more personalized tour, preferably one that includes a lot of walking. Here are the best Istanbul tours that will allow you to get a better sense of this vibrant and complex city.
Istanbul Tourist Attractions
First, you have to decide which sights you want to prioritize for a tour. The following are popular sightseeing destinations around the city.
Aya Sofya-this church-turned mosque-turned-museum should not be missed for its stunning, innovative architectural beauty, and rich historical significance to the city.
Blue Mosque-across the street from the Aya Sofya, this working mosque is another sight that should not be missed with its six minarets reaching high into the sky.
Basilica Cistern-this mysterious subterranean spot that has been made popular through film and literature, was in a past life a spacious water filtration system during Byzantine times that held up to 80,000 cubic meters of water.
Topkapi Palace-set aside at least half a day to see the grand palace, home to many lines of Sultans and their families. The separate Harem, where the Sultan’s wife and children lived is also worth experiencing, and often less crowded since it requires an extra ticket.
Grand Bazaar-wander around one of the oldest and largest covered markets in the world, and get lost in the seemingly endless alleyways filled with ornate rugs, colorful lanterns, gold jewelry and pottery just to name a few things.
Spice Bazaar-for a sensory experience unlike no other, this covered market overwhelms in the best way possible with its sights, smells and sounds. It’s a bit less crowded than the Grand Baazar, but still with the same lively atmosphere.
Galata Tower-for stunning aerial views of the city and the Bosphorus, head to the top of this iconic medieval stone watchtower located in the Galata/Karaköy neighborhood.
Istiklal Avenue-one of the main boulevards in the city, this lively street in the Beyoğlu neighborhood has everything from day time shopping to an active nightlife scene with numerous bars and clubs.
Culinary Backstreets-Two Markets, Two Continents
This all-day food tour gives an in-depth introduction through markets that exist both in the European neighborhood of Karakoy and the Asian side of Kadikoy. The tour will bring you to beloved local family-owned spots within the markets, which includes a traditional breakfast. The day is divided by a ferry-ride on the Bosphorous to the Asian side, where you will get one of the best views of the city. Other treats include strong cups of Turkish coffee, lahmacun (flatbread) and various mezes (small plates). The cost of the tour includes all the food and drink, as well as the ferry fare. There’s no pork served throughout the day, and most stops can be catered to vegetarians. The tours are small, with 2-7 people on average per tour.
This company also offers other tours like Culinary Secrets of the Old City, which explores restaurants that are away from the main tourist crowds, as well as the Culinary Backstreets of the Bazaar Quarter, which takes you to local eateries favored by shopkeepers and merchants.
Tours are $125 per person. Private tours are available for more.
Viator-Best of Istanbul
Take this private tour that offers either 1, 2, or 3-day options, and shows you the city’s main sights that you’d prefer to see including (but not limited to) the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, Basilica Cistern, Topkapi Palace, Grand Baazar, and the Spice Baazar. This is not your typical tourist tour though, and expect to wander off into lesser-known sights and restaurants where you will sample local food. Your guide will pick you up from your hotel bright and early to start the day. An average daily tour is 7 hours long and make sure to wear your most comfortable walking shoes, since you will be exploring mostly on foot.
Other notable Istanbul tours from Viator include a Full-Day Classic Istanbul tour that is a bit cheaper than the private tour above.
Tours begin at $65 for the small-group tour, and $175 for the private.
Booking Guide Turkey-Highlights of Istanbul
This 1 or 2-day private walking tour allows you to find see the main sights of Istanbul, from the famed Hagia Sophia to the lavish Topkapi Palace. If you plan on having a 2-day tour, you will be treated to sights like the Spice Baazar, Dolmabahce Palace, Istiklal Street, Taksim and a Bosphorous cruise on day two. Your 8-hour day will start with a hotel pick-up and end with a drop-off. The guides are incredibly knowledgeable and at the end of the day feel like an old friend that you’ve known for a long time. Transportation, entrance fees, food and drink are not included in the ticket price.
Tour prices begin at $92.49 per person for a 1-day tour.
With Locals -The Best of Istanbul
For a more personal experience, choose one of the locals provided to have a fully customizable half-day tour of the city. Whether you want a local who loves food or is obsessed with architecture, you are guaranteed to see the city through the eyes of someone who calls Istanbul home. Tour popular sights like the Blue Mosque, and explore your way through Karakoy, a trendy neighborhood on the European side. This is a great option for those who want to see Istanbul, but have limited time. Your ticket includes two non-alcoholic drinks, but not transportation fees or admission into sights. The tour is on average 4 hours long.
Other tours within this company that are worth checking out, include Istanbul’s Authentic Flavors, which gives a private tour of ten spots where you can sample local food and drink (pickle juice anyone?).
Tour prices start at $99.51 per person, but goes down in price the more people you have in your group.