Istanbul, formerly known as Byzantium and later Constantinople, is one of the world's greatest cities. Spanning across two continents (Europe and Asia), Istanbul has been situated at a crossroad of civilizations for thousands of years. As such, today it is rich in cultural influences, impactful history, and majestic beauty. And with so much to see and things to do in Istanbul, you may wonder: which are the more unique experiences and unmissable activities in Istanbul?
The Best Thing to Do in Istanbul: Cookistan's Turkish Cooking Class
One of the easiest ways to explore the local culture is through food. And what better way to culturally immerse yourself (while eating delicious Turkish food) than at a cooking class? Cookistan is owned by two Turkish women and run out of their gorgeously decorated home. The class begins by taking a small tour of their local neighborhood while going to different and unique markets to gather special ingredients. Students will also get to meet the vendors and go behind the scenes, from seeing how the local neighborhood women cook bread in a brick oven to tasting delicious Turkish delicacies fresh out of the oven and so much more!
One of the Best Activities: Istanbul Rooftops & Terraces
Some of Istanbul's most iconic images take place on a rooftop or terrace overlooking the city's most quintessential details such as the Blue Mosque or the Bosphorus River. Although some of the rooftops have been closed down (such as the "secret rooftop" floating around social media), there are still many others to consider visiting. If not for the epic photo opportunity, then to simply sit down with a book or some friends and enjoy the views over tea and snacks.
Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts
This museum is located smack dab in the middle of the Historic Center (Sultanahmet), making it an easy addition to your bucket list. Formerly a palace, it has been converted to a museum under the rule of the Ottoman Empire in the 20th century. Here you can learn more about Islamic Art, the history and cross-cultural influences of modern-day Turkey, and admire Islamic calligraphy, tiles, rugs, and various unique artifacts.
Hagia Sofia (Ayasofya)
Hagia Sofia is one of those tourist attractions that you know will be crowded with lines, but is worth it because of its unique historical significance. Formerly a Greek Christian cathedral turned Ottoman mosque, this architectural marvel is now a museum that showcases the evolution of two of the most influential religions in Turkey today. You can see peelings of Christian figures in one hall and Arabic calligraphy in another. It's one of the best ways to witness hundreds of years of ancient Constantinople's history. If you can go with a guide to better contextualize your experience here.
Best Istanbul Experience: Hamman (Turkish Bath) Experience at Kilic Ali Pasa
Feel special in this 16th century Turkish Hamam, located in the gorgeous neighborhood of Karakoy. This luxurious treatment is comprised of a hot marble steam room, massage, body scrub, and relaxing with Turkish tea. By the time you leave, you will feel squeaky clean, relaxed, and nurtured from head to toe!
Blue Mosque: Long Lines & Under Construction - Skip
You can admire the Blue Mosque from top floor windows and rooftops, by walking past it, or by gazing at it on the horizon from one of the many ferries leaving Istanbul. But is it worth to go actually go inside the Blue Mosque? I don't think so. While it's free, you will be losing a lot of your precious time waiting on a very long line that wraps around the entrance under the hot sun. Moreover, at this time the Blue Mosque is under construction. So when we went inside we couldn't see the full details of the structure as they were blocked off by scaffolding.