10 Free Things To Do In Istanbul (Save That Money For Drinks!)
Playing a pivotal role in connecting the East to the West, the city of Istanbul is a treasure trove of history, culture, art, and more. From the towering minarets of the mosques to the bylanes of the local bazaar, it is a beautiful confluence of European imperialism and Asian heritage – which is why thousands of tourists flock here each year.
Also known as the city of seven hills, Istanbul has something for both those seeking luxury and the ones on a budget. If you are part of the latter, this city has so much more than just affordable accommodation to offer to you. You can actually get the real taste of Turkey for free!
Read on to know more about Istanbul’s finest (and free) attractions.
Turkey has been ruled by almost everyone, from the Romans to the Greeks and finally the Ottomans, with each leaving their mark in the city. Take a walk down history lane by visiting the various monuments and museums that offer free entry.
1. Blue (Sultanahmet) Mosque
More than five centuries old, the Sultanahmet Camii, or the Blue Mosque, is a local place of worship. For travellers, it makes for a thrilling experience to walk into a page right out of history. With over 20,000 handmade ceramic tiles and 200 stained glass windows, the Blue Mosque is a veritable visual treat.
2. Suleymaniye Mosque
The Suleymaniye Camii mosque, built in 1557, affords breathtaking views of the Golden Horn and Bosphorus. Located near the popular Grand Bazaar, it is simple and serene, adorned with peculiar colours and fine calligraphy.
3. Zeyrek Camii
Originally a monastery, Zeyrek Mosque is located in the Fatih district and overlooks the serene waterways of the Golden Horn. Inside the structure are three buildings – two churches converted to mosques and an abandoned chapel.
From contemporary art to a look into the spiritual evolution of Istanbul, this place is a real attraction for those who enjoy new and vintage pieces of art. Here are a few museums that are free and a must-visit for tourists. Tip: These museums can be hard to find in the city, so it is best to find out the location beforehand on a map or ask a local for directions.
4. Quincentennial Foundation Museum of Turkish Jews (Zülfaris Synagogue)
Turkey has a hint of Jewish culture too, and glimpses of this can be seen at the Zülfaris Synagogue, which is now converted into a museum. Learn about the life of Sephardi Jews, their Ladino language and Jewish art here. This is well hidden from the popular tourist eye, so it would be a good find in the city.
5. Dogançay Museum
The country’s first modern art museum, Dogançay is set in a century-old building and houses works of a few of the most popular artists in Turkey, the father-son duo Adil and Burhan Dogançay. Along with a display of myriad colours and spellbinding canvases, the museum looks like a contemporary version of a Turkish tea house, which is worth a look.
6. Elgiz Museum of Contemporary Art
Formerly known as Proje4L, this museum was founded more than a decade ago to promote contemporary art in the city. It houses a few classics by Gilbert & George, Cindy Sherman and Barbara Kruger, as well as regularly hosts young up-and-coming artists and local curators. Situated in one of the city’s high-rises, it even has an open-air terrace for experimental, mixed-medium art pieces.
Live like the locals do and take in the gorgeous sights, unique sounds, scrumptious tastes and mesmerising smells of the markets absolutely free. And if you want to take a piece of Turkey back home, there are plenty of affordable deals and products at these venues
7. Grand Bazaar
One of the largest, oldest and most popular markets in the city, shopping at the Grand Bazaar seems like you’ve entered 19th century Turkey with all its colours and fragrances. From affordable pashmina fabrics to striking lamps, antiques and more, this market has more than 40,000 shops and 66 streets. Be careful of your belongings and check out the map before you enter, though, as it can be overwhelming to find your way out.
8. Bomonti Flea Market
While most tourist attractions are shut on a Sunday, the Bomonti flea market, a favourite with the locals, remains open. Find almost everything, from vintage cameras to timepieces, vinyl and more, here. You can even sample some delicious local sweets for free.
Besides these, you can also visit Misir Carsi and Kapali Carsi to get a glimpse at some rare finds of the city. Don’t forget to bargain at all of these places.
9. Yildiz Park
In the heart of Istanbul lies the beautiful Yildiz Park, a green retreat that’s ideal for couples and families. From tiny cafes to large play area and majestic trees, the park is huge and offers a much-needed break from the frenetic pace of the city. We suggest you arrive early during the day to get a good spot, as it is a local favourite.
10. Fener & Balat Neighbourhoods
For an adventurous couple or a group of friends, the Fener and Balat walk is a must. This neighbourhood is off-the-beaten-path and gives an insight into the contemporary lives of Istanbulites living in a city rich with history. The old-style houses all feature a myriad colours and interesting architecture.
Here, you will also find bakeries, cafes and fruit vendors, along with second-hand shops to find some hidden gems.
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