Lying between Europe and Asia, Istanbul is a popular destination among tourists who want to experience both the historical, cultural and modern sides of Turkey. While traveling to Istanbul is undeniably expensive, budget travelers can also enjoy this megapolis city since it has a lot to offer for free. So here are some of the best free things to do in Istanbul but before that, let’s get to know this amazing city that houses some of the world’s best tourist attractions.
Facts about Istanbul.
- Istanbul lies on 2 continents. Though Istanbul may not be the capital city of Turkey, it is the most famous and touristic city in Turkey. It is the only city in the world lying on 2 continent; Europe and Asia across the Bosphorus Strait making Istanbul one the most fascinating cities in the world.
- While Ankara is Turkey’s capital, Istanbul is the biggest commercial and historical city. With a population of approximately 15 million people, Istanbul is the biggest city in Europe and the 4th largest in the world.
- Istanbul became the world’s 5th most popular tourist destination having been named European capital of culture in 2010 and now partially a UNESCO world heritage centre. You can also read my previous post to get to know all the facts about Turkey.
Not sure about what Istanbul offers? This post about what to expect in Istanbul will guide you.
There are so many places to visit in Istanbul but that doesn’t mean that if you are traveling on a budget, you will lack what to do. So here the free things to do in Istanbul without even touching your bank account.
Free things to do in Istanbul
1. Visit the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque)
The Sultan Ahmed Mosque is commonly known as the Blue Mosque because of its hand-painted blue tiles that embellish in the interior of the Mosque. The Blue Mosque which was constructed between 1609 and 1616 still function as a Mosque as well as a tourist attraction. The architecture of the Blue Mosque is a wonder that offers a visual thrill like no other.
The mosque is always open to tourists except during prayer hours making it one of the free places to visit in Istanbul. Although it is free to enter the Blue Mosque, there is always a man standing outside collecting donations if you feel generous.
The only thing you must do before you enter the Mosque is to cover your head, shoulders, and legs if you are a woman. If you don’t have any, the Mosque provides scarfs.
2.Stroll around Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia is a former Orthodox Christian cathedral which was made an Ottoman Mosque in the fourteen hundreds and now a museum since 1935.
Its great architectural beauty is definitely something to admire. It is one of the most impressive sights in Istanbul as it was named a UNESCO world heritage site. Hagia Sophia is just located 5 minutes away from the Blue Mosque.
Though you need to pay to enter this amazing place, strolling around Hagia Sofia is absolutely free as you get to take in all the architectural beauty and also take some Instagram worthy photos.
3. Relax at the Sultanahmet park
The Sultanahmet park is a beautiful green park in between the blue mosque and Hagia Sophia. The park has a large fountain in the middle and benches to sit on and relax as you admire the two most famous places in Istanbul.
The Sultanahmet park is an amazing place for picnicking or even relaxation after a busy day of sightseeing in Istanbul. The park even gets better at night when the dancing fountain in the center of the park lights up creating colorful and amazing views for revelers. So if you’re also looking for things to do in Istanbul at night, then watching the colorful dancing fountain at Sultanahmet Park is one of them.
4. View the Bosphorus bridge.
The Bosphorus Bridge is the famous bridge that connects the European side of Turkey to the Asian side. Enjoy the impressive structure that connects 2 continents by hanging on only 3 poles.
You can admire the bridge from below by taking a ship cruise from Europe to Asia side or you can just take a public bus using the bridge as you enjoy the views.
And if you are visiting Turkey in November, you might get an opportunity of crossing the bridge on foot by participating in a yearly marathon so you can tell your friends how you walked from Asia to Europe. Visit the Istanbul marathon website to see how you can participate in this marathon.
5. Visit and explore the Grand Bazaar.
One of the top free things to do in Istanbul is visiting the grand bazaar. It is the biggest and oldest covered market in the world with over 4000 shops and attracting over 300,000 people daily. The bazaar was named the number one most visited tourist attraction in 2014 with over 91 million visitors annually.
The shops deal in different items from clothes, cosmetics, bags, Turkish delight, optics – you name it. You will find everything you need from the grand bazaar and it is absolutely free to enter and do some window shopping. You can as well buy souvenirs from there. The grand bazaar not only has shops but also restaurants, saloons, atm machines – It is like another city of its own.
5. Visit Taksim square.
Taksim Square which is located on the European side of Istanbul is definitely one of the free attractions in Istanbul. The square is a major touristic and leisure center which is regarded as the heart of the modern side of Istanbul with a number of restaurants, hotels, travel agencies and pubs.
It is also the location of the Independence monument which commemorates the formation of the Republic of Turkey. However, some locals say that there is nothing special here, but if you are a tourist, visiting the Taksim square is one of the things to do in Istanbul for free.
6. Visit the Ortakoy Mosque
Constructed between 1854 and 1856, the Ortakoy mosque is located in one of the most important areas of the Bosphorus – just before the Bosphorus bridge.
Its history and picturesque nature have made it a popular attraction among tourists. The highlight of visiting the Ortakoy mosque is the ceiling which is in a dome shape, covered in pink mosaics and a number of beautiful chandeliers hanging from above.
The mosque is alway open to tourists from 9 am to 6 pm except during prayer hours and it is absolutely free to enter but if you feel generous, you can make a donation.
7. Visit Suleymaniye mosque
Built on the third hill of historical Istanbul in the district of Suleymaniye, Suleymaniye is the second-largest mosque in Istanbul.
The mosque is an architectural marvel from the outside but also equally impressive in the inside with its main dome 53 meters (174 feet) high and a diameter of 26.5 meters (86.9) feet. The highlight of visiting the Suleymaniye mosque aside from the architectural wonder is the big chandelier hanging from the ceiling of the middle dorm.
The mosque is absolutely free to enter but you can also give a donation if you want to.
8. Get a glimpse of the Maiden’s Tower
The maiden’s tower is a spectacular historical site on a small island on the southern side of Bosphorus in Istanbul. The myths that surround the construction and location of the tower are intriguing and interesting to listen too.
Some legends say that it was constructed on a directive of an emperor who received a prophecy from an oracle that his beloved daughter would be bitten by a poisonous snake on her 18th birthday. The princess was taken to the tower and was only visited by her father.
But unfortunately on her 18th birthday when her father visited with a basket of fruits, a snake which had been hiding in the basket bit her and she died. There are many other stories surrounding the maiden’s tower which you can read from here.
If you feel compelled to enter this tower, it costs 20 TL. The tower has a restaurant on the first floor and a cafe at the top which gives amazing views of Istanbul. The maiden tower has also featured in many famous movies like the Hitman, James Bond’s The world is not Enough and many others.
9. Take a self-guided tour through the city of Istanbul.
Istanbul is an amazing city to walk around but I guarantee you won’t be able to see the entire city in one day. You will need more days to explore this big historical and cultural city. This is one of the free things to do in Istanbul and the best way to see all the hidden gems of this amazing city.
10. Visit Yildiz Park.
Located in the heart of Istanbul in the district of Besiktas is this beautiful park, one of the largest in Istanbul.
Breakaway from the busy and ever on the go city to relax, enjoy the greenery, watch couples hold hands and newlyweds take pictures. You can take a mat to enjoy a picnic or watch the kids play in the park. The locals love it especially over the weekends, so you can choose to go in the mid-morning hours to get the best spot.
A visit to the Yildiz park will give you a view of the Bosphorus bridge. There are also great restaurants in the park if you want to eat something. So if you are looking for free places to visit in Istanbul, the Yildiz park should be on your list.
11. Join a free walking tour in Istanbul
Istanbul has a number of free walking tours where Turkish locals show tourists their city as they tell them more about the city and its history, give them recommendations of the hidden gems and the best places to eat.
Since the tours are free, in some cases you just need to show up at the starting point of the tour but a few of them require initial booking as they take on a limited number of people.
The commonest free walking tour starts at the Sultanahmet park (which is between Hagia Sophia and the blue mosque) every day and it goes for 2 and a half hours. You can also check out this website for more free walking tours. Though the tours are free, you can always tip the tour guides at the end of the day.
12. Visit Pera Museum
Pera Museum is one of the leading private art museums in Istanbul. It is located in Beyoglu district in close proximity to the Taksim square.
The museum has a number of art collections from Oriental painting collection, Kutahya tiles and ceramic collection to Anatolian Weights and measures collection.
Even though the entrance to the museum is not free every day, it offers free entrance to everyone on Friday from 6 pm to 10 pm. So if you’re wondering what you can do in Istanbul for free, then visiting the Pera museum on Friday should be one of them.
13. Enjoy street music.
Street music is very common in Istanbul, especially on Istiklal street. Many artists showcase their talent free of charge on a daily basis.
The music ranges from traditional Turkish folk song to instrumental. You just need to stop and enjoy the music or even dance to it. You can always tip the musicians but it’s not a must.
There you have it, friends, those are some of the free things to do in Istanbul. And with all those options, I guarantee that you will definitely enjoy your stay in Istanbul without breaking the bank.
Read more: Travelling to Newyork? read this great post about the free things to do in Newyork by Nonstop family travel blog.
If you enjoyed this, you will also enjoy these:
- The ultimate guide to visiting Turkey
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- The ultimate guide to traveling to Egypt
Below are some of the Istanbul tours you can check out.
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