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Planning Your Trip

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A thoroughly modern city rooted in rich history, Istanbul is home to a plethora of exciting things to do and stunning sights to see. Here’s what to bring to experience both the old and the new in this worldly destination.

Partial Sea View
Partial Sea View
Planning Your Trip
What To Pack

In winter, temperatures can get chilly, so consider a warmer layer or two to ward off any chill as you enjoy an evening stroll.

Business Travel

Set on the Bosphorus Strait, Istanbul straddles the line of Europe and Asia, making it a busy destination for global business. If work brings you to town, here’s what to pack to feel right at home in this diverse city.

  • Istanbul residents tend to be fashion-conscious while erring on the side of conservative. A classic black shift dress that hits below the knee is a smart choice for ladies, while men should bring at least one dark-colored suit for more formal meetings.

  • Stylish dress is the norm in Istanbul, so depending on your line of work, you can swap in avant-garde pieces, like a statement necklace or vintage bow tie.

  • If your meetings will have you traveling across the city, opt for a comfortable walking shoe that can hold up on the ancient cobblestone streets.
Exploring the City

Perhaps the best way to experience Istanbul is by spending your day wandering from museums to historical sites. Bring along a few essentials to make the most of your time.

  • The Old City’s mosques are some of the city’s finest attractions. Have a scarf handy to use as a head-covering when visiting religious sites.

  • Taxis and public transportation are plentiful, but Istanbul is a city best experienced on foot. Pack a comfortable pair of walking shoes for meandering the streets.

  • Keep a bundle of small bills on hand for shopping, gratuities and cab rides. Vendors and drivers rarely carry much change.
Evening Chic

After days spent exploring the ancient side of the city, unwind at some of the decidedly modern restaurants, bars and nightclubs. Fit in with the local stylish set by stashing a few must-haves in your suitcase.

  • While sensible shoes are a smart choice for daytime exploring, reach for fancier footwear when heading out on the town — heels for ladies and wingtips for men.

  • It’s customary to dress up a bit for a night on the town in Istanbul, so skip the worn-in jeans and T-shirts in favor of dresses and slacks.

  • Istanbul’s summer weather is warm, but temperatures can drop as the sun fades. Don’t forget a light jacket or wrap to keep you comfortable. Winter is downright chilly, so pack something a bit heavier for bundling up.
Outdoor space with steps leading up to two square whirlpools and a glass fence looking out over the water
Outdoor space with steps leading up to two square whirlpools and a glass fence looking out over the water
Planning Your Trip
What To Reserve

While you’ll likely want to keep much of your time in Istanbul unscheduled and devoted to exploring city streets, there are a few things to add to your itinerary before you go. Make the most of your time in this magical city with these activities.

For elegant dining paired with stunning views, be sure to book a table at Atelier Real Food at The Ritz-Carlton, Istanbul. Chefs in an open kitchen prepare French rotisserie chicken, lamb, rib-eye steaks and other dishes with farm-to-table ingredients that can be enjoyed alongside an excellent view of the glistening Bosphorus. For a modern take on traditional Turkish fare, head to 360 Istanbul, where you’ll enjoy a variety of meze plates from the penthouse of a 19th-century apartment building. Don’t miss the rigatoni with four varieties of mushrooms, the lamb and pistachio dumplings, or the slow-roasted duck with cherries.

There are so many incredible sights to see and museums to explore in Istanbul, you’d be well-served to ask the concierge to arrange for a guided tour of the city. You’ll explore the giant buttresses, massive dome and stunning mosaics of the iconic Hagia Sophia; catch a ferry over to Chora Church, which dates back to the 11th century and is covered in kaleidoscope mosaics and frescoes; and wander through the ruins of an ancient arena at Hippodrome Square.

For a lively night out, head to the Beyoglu district, where revelers can find everything from hip rooftop bars and bustling indie clubs to basement jazz cafés and lively rock bars. For a more mellow evening, reserve a table at Leb-i-Derya, a sophisticated rooftop bar that serves up craft cocktails, great music and spectacular nighttime views of the Bosphorus River.

Istanbul is brimming with fun activities for all ages, making it a surprisingly family-friendly destination. Immerse the little ones in history and culture with trips to Topkapi Palace (now a museum), the Blue Mosque, and the underground Basilica Cistern, which dates back to 532. For a more kid-centric activity, secure tickets to SEA Life, where more than 10,000 fish are on display, along with sharks and stingrays. Other kid-friendly options include the Rahmi Koc Museum, which is dedicated to the history of transport, industry and communications; the Toy Museum, which is just as much fun as the name implies; and Miniaturk, a vast park full of miniatures.

Atölye Restaurant
Atölye Restaurant
Planning Your Trip

Istanbul is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and as Turkey’s largest city, has seen many kingdoms rise and fall throughout its rich and storied history. Colorful mosques still stand centuries later in all of their glory. Old boats zig-zag through the glistening Bosphorus. And countless cultural sites, such as the iconic Hagia Sophia, are ripe for exploring. Browse for antiques and smell a host of fragrant spices at local markets. Sample Turkish coffee and dine on extravagant breakfast spreads by day. At night, enjoy fresh seafood dinners by the water. When you need to recharge, take a rest in your waterfront accommodations or experience the traditional Turkish hammam at The Ritz-Carlton, Istanbul.

  • Excite Your Senses at the Spice Market.

    Originally built in the 17th century, this marketplace from the Ottoman era still serves thousands a day. Sample sweet Turkish Delight, purchase honey and dried fruits, and take in the fragrance of a rainbow’s worth of colorful, exotic spices at the many stalls.

  • Visit the World-Famous Hagia Sophia.

    With its giant buttresses, epic dome and towering minarets, the city’s most iconic landmark has a complicated history: It was first a Greek Orthodox basilica, then an imperial mosque and now a museum. The upper gallery includes stunning mosaics that are not to be missed.

  • Have an Authentic Turkish Lunch.

    Near the Hagia Sophia, the friendly owners of Hünkar restaurant serve a variety of local classics, including stuffed grape leaves, grilled cheeses and many types of kebab. Don’t miss the grilled shish kebab and stuffed eggplant.

  • Shop for Antiques at the Grand Bazaar.

    The city’s largest market has over 4,000 vendors across 61 streets. Shopping among them is a bit chaotic in an exciting way. Browse bright traditional fabrics, copper pots and lanterns. Peek into alleyways, where artisans are hard at work. Sip tea at the various stalls.

  • Have an Elegant Dinner With a View.

    At Atelier Real Food at The Ritz-Carlton, Istanbul, an open kitchen prepares French rotisserie chicken and lamb, rib-eye steaks and other dishes with farm-to-table ingredients that can be enjoyed with an excellent view of the glistening Bosphorus.

  • Visit a Medieval Church With Character.

    Catch the Golden Horn ferry to see one of Istanbul’s most gorgeous sites, the Chora Church, constructed in the 11th century. The Byzantine church is covered in kaleidoscopic mosaics and frescoes that depict the lives of Christ and the Virgin Mary.

  • Visit a World-Class Modern Art Museum.

    Opened in 2004, the Istanbul Modern Museum contains two floors of contemporary works by Turkish artists like Nuri Iyem, who paints surreal portraits, and non-Turkish artists like Italy’s Monica Bonvicini, who investigates the relationship between gender and space.

  • Sweat Out Your Toxins in an Authentic Hammam.

    The unforgettable spa at The Ritz-Carlton, Istanbul features a traditional hammam that is modeled after a 16th-century bath. Bathe in the separate men’s and women’s facilities or book a full-body massage in the Couple’s Hammam Suite.

  • Take a Pre-Dinner Stroll.

    With popular sights like the Dolmabahçe Palace and Hürrem Sultan Hamam just 5 minutes away from the hotel, there’s a lot to explore in the area surrounding The Ritz-Carlton, Istanbul. Soak in the city’s culture as you work up an appetite.

  • Have a Turkish Dinner With a Penthouse View.

    Overlooking the exciting Beyoglu neighborhood, 360 Istanbul serves modern Turkish meze plates from the penthouse of a 19th-century apartment building. Don’t miss the rigatoni with four varieties of mushrooms, the lamb and pistachio dumplings, or the slow-roasted duck with cherries.

  • Have a Lavish Turkish Breakfast.

    One of the city’s most charming cafés, Lokma serves an extensive spread of eggs, olives, tomatoes and cheese over traditional coals in a quaint, rustic setting with views of the water. Make sure to try the sahanda sucuklu yumurta (fried eggs with beef sausage).

  • Visit the Ruins of an Ancient Arena.

    For over 1,000 years during the Byzantine era, emperors spent days at the Hippodrome Square watching chariot races. Parades and other celebratory events were held in the center, which was a major sporting and social venue.

  • Admire the Gorgeous Blue Mosque.

    Built in the early 17th century, the stunning Sultan Ahmed Mosque, better known as “the Blue Mosque,” features five breathtaking cascading domes and six slim minarets. The inside is covered in many hand-painted blue tiles, hence the nickname.

  • Experience Delectable Turkish Coffee.

    Turks first began preparing coffee in cezve, long-handled copper pots, in the 16th century. The grounds are brewed at a low boil with sugar for a rich, slightly sweet flavor. Try an authentic cup at the popular Mehmet Efendi, which has been in business since 1871.

  • Sip Inventive Cocktails Alfresco.

    At the sophisticated Bleu Lounge at The Ritz-Carlton, Istanbul, you can enjoy an exclusive selection of malt whiskeys, Cognacs and creative cocktails. Do as the locals and enjoy the view of the Bosphorus with a shisha.

  • Experience a Lavish Turkish Breakfast.

    Naga Putrika serves six traditional sermpe kahvalti (breakfast choices) including regional egg dishes, cheeses, vegetables, meats and local honey. Don’t miss the sucuk, which is Turkish style sausage.

  • View Preserved Artifacts From a Distant Time.

    Along with a crash course on the history of Istanbul, the Archaeological Museum offers a chance to view the tombs of old leaders and works of art from the Anatolian, Mesopotamian and Egyptian cultures. Follow it up with a trip to Istanbul’s dinosaur museum, Jurassic Land, and keep the ancient history lesson going.

  • Explore the Colorful Balat Neighborhood.

    A favorite of photographers, the trendy area of Balat contains a number of charming red, blue and green buildings and winding streets that are perfect for an afternoon stroll.

  • Enjoy a Delicious, Kid-Friendly Tradition.

    At the Forno Balat, the house specialty is lahmacun, a thin, crispy baked dough similar to a pizza crust that is topped with ground meat and spices. (They serve pizzas, too.)

  • Visit the Stunning Hagia Sofia.

    Perhaps the most visited site in the city, the Hagia Sophia, a former mosque and Greek Orthodox basilica that is now a museum, is best visited at 9 a.m., when its doors open.

  • Have an Adventure Underground.

    The largest of a few cisterns beneath Istanbul, the Basilica Cistern was built in 532 under the west end of the magnificent Hagia Sophia. Walk through the towering columns past Medusa sculptures.

  • Indulge in Some Turkish Treats.

    A famous candy store near the Hagia Sophia, Haci Bekir is said to have been the first shop that sold Turkish delight. Sample different kinds of the confection, along with hard candies from the region.

  • Dine on Freshly Caught Seafood.

    While Istanbul has a multitude of grilled meat options, Eleos Fish Restaurant capitalizes on the coastal city’s bounty of fresh seafood. Enjoy calamari with a view of the city from their patio.

  • Cruise Along the Beautiful Bosphorus.

    Ask the concierge to arrange a boat tour of the Bosphorus to get a closer look at Istanbul’s stunning architecture and bridges.

  • Enjoy a Classic Turkish Lunch.

    The popular Baskose in the Nisantasi district serves exceptional Turkish doner kebab — meat that is seasoned and cooked on a rotating rotisserie.

  • Take a Selfie With Leonardo DiCaprio.

    Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum is home to more than 50 wax figures, ranging from international stars like Madonna to Turkish celebrities like Adile Nasit. Guests are encouraged to touch and hug the figurines on display, making for a fun, interactive outing.

  • View Fascinating Underwater Creatures.

    One of Europe’s largest and most impressive aquariums, SEA Life displays more than 10,000 fish from 1,000 species in its tanks, along with sharks and stingrays.

  • See an Iconic Landmark at the Perfect Time.

    With its gold dome and six minarets, the Blue Mosque has a spectacular interior with a multitude of blue tiles that, at night, are lit by a soft blue light.

  • Explore a Historical Neighborhood.

    The heart of the city, Eminonu contains the Golden Horn, a port that was filled with tradesmen and sailors during the Ottoman period. Today it is a busy docking point for ferries.

  • Introduce Your Kids to New Flavors.

    The Spice Bazaar, which sells innumerable fragrant spices, is a great destination for sampling Turkish products, like Turkish delight, local honeys and dried fruits.

  • A Toy Story.

    The Istanbul Toy Museum is a delight for kids and adults alike. Housed in a beautiful five-story baroque villa, the museum’s collection includes more than 4,000 unique toys, 1,000 of which have been collected from antique dealers and auctions around the world.

  • Walk Around the Grounds of a Palace.

    Once the headquarters of sultans, the 15th-century Topkapi Palace is now a museum. After a tour, take a break in Gülhane Park, which was once the palace’s gardens.

  • Little Italy.

    Cecconi Italian restaurant serves crowd-pleasing Italian fare in an elegant setting near The Ritz-Carlton, Istanbul. Enjoy a family-style feast of pizza, pasta and fresh salads.

  • Plan a Morning of Arts and Crafts.

    The Istanbul Modern, a stellar contemporary art museum, host workshops for creative young minds of all ages through its Art en Famille program. Check their website for workshop themes.

  • Explore the Exciting Krakoy Neighborhood.

    Heralded by many as the most exciting corner of Istanbul, the multicultural Krakoy is full of charming cafés, diverse buildings and tiny churches.

  • Have an Afternoon Treat.

    Wildly popular with locals, Dondurmino Gelato sources high-quality milk from Jersey cows for their extensive gelato selection. Don’t overlook the delicious pistachio and basil-lavender flavors.

  • Dine on a Farm-to-Table Feast.

    Watch the chefs at Atelier Real Food at The Ritz-Carlton, Istanbul prepare grilled fish, lamb and steaks from their open kitchen. Get a Turkish desserts plate to introduce your kids to a variety of local sweets.