Tours Middle East Destinations Istanbul

Istanbul - Best Tours & Trips 2019

Straddling the Bosphorous Strait, Istanbul has long been a bridge between Europe and Asia. It was once a strategic spot on the Silk Road, and its multicultural history is evidenced in its food, textiles, and architecture you can explore on your tour. Istanbul was once the most populated city in the Western Hemisphere, its population peaking at close to half a million people, but its main streets and back alleys are still teeming with artists, entrepreneurs, and intellectuals.
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Trip Type Trip Type Classic Tour Groups are between 25-60 people, typically ~30-40. Usually there will be many opportunities to split off and enjoy meals and excursions in smaller groups. This is the most economical way to travel, saving up to 40% versus booking the same itinerary yourself.
Small Group Guided Experiences Small groups are usually defined as between 10 and 24 travelers, often less. If you're the kind of person who enjoys more intimate experiences and personal service this is a good choice. All else being equal you will pay a premium for this style vs a larger group tour.
River Cruise These vessels are smaller than most ocean cruisers, limiting which amenties are available. Passenger counts can vary. One of the biggest advantages of a river cruise is the ability to dock at smaller ports and local villages.
Small Ocean Cruise Small ship cruises usually have a max passenger count of 500. The primary purpose of these trips is to spend time off the vessel in local ports (e.g. Mediterranean) or experiencing nature (e.g Galapagos or Antarctica). Cabins can vary from budget to luxury.
Private Tour Private tours give you the undivided attention of a guide, and often involve special access to sites and unique experiences not available to larger groups. This is a great option for families, couples, and small friend groups. Expect to pay a bit more for the extra service.
Independent Package A travel company plans your itinerary and arranges all the logistics including lodging, local activities, and transportantion. You have the flexibility of a solo trip while still getting the convience and time savings of expert planning. Get 90% of the benefits of a tour, without a guide.
Vacation / Holiday Package Similar to a self guided tour, this usually involves a home base, such as a hotel or resort, with packaged activities and day tours as a part of the stay.
Large Ocean Cruise This is the "floating city" experience, with multiple ways to enjoy your vacation aboard the ship as much as on land. Ships are multiple floors, provide several activities, culinary, and shopping options. They often make fewer stops and have less time available for shore excursions.

Tour Styles

Lodging Level Lodging Level Camping Typically involves most nights sleeping in tents (sometimes permanent tented sites) or in rustic cabins and lodges.
Basic - 2 star You'll stay in no-frills, but clean and comfortable, hotels or guesthouses. A 'Basic' trip might also involve a few nights of camping.
Value - 3 star Mid-range budget with accommodations ranging from comfortable lodges, guesthouses, and homestays to three star hotels.
Premium - 4 star 3 to 4 star western hotel equivalents. While not all lodging will be 'luxury' they will be quite comfortable by western standards.
Luxury - 5 star The highest level of comfort and service. All accomodations are in four or five star hotels, boutique lodges or high-end homestays.

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Physical Level Physical Level Very Easy Minimal walking - motor vehicles available for all major parts of trip.
Easy Normal generally flat walking in urban or suburban environments.
Moderate Walking or physical activity half to most of day - no carrying equipment.
Strenuous All or most of day hiking or biking, hills included.
Extreme Very challenging all day hiking and backpacking carrying significant equipment.

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Solo Friendly Solo Friendly Good for Singles Trips that specifically cater to travelers looking to meet other singles.
No Single Supplement Trips where single supplement is usually not required for solo travelers.

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Top Istanbul Experiences and Attractions

Top Istanbul Experiences

Cruising the Bosphorous at sunset

Wandering the harem of the magnificent Topkapi Palace

Smoking nargile and sipping Turkish coffee in a cafe

Bargaining over carpets and meerschaum pipes in the Grand Bazaar

Listening to the call to prayer echo over the Old City

Shopping on trendy Istiklal Street

Being bathed and pampered in the Turkish bath, or hammam

Sampling the sweets at the Spice Market

Watching the Sufi Whirling Dervishes perform their sacred sema ceremony

Enjoying an ice cream cone on a peaceful stroll through the Princes Islands

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Istanbul Trip Reviews

82 Istanbul Tour Reviews - Summary 98% Recommend

4.7 out of 5
Excellent 61
Great 18
Average 2
Disappointing 1
Terrible 0
Value
4.7
Guide
4.7
Activities
4.7
Lodging
4.7
Transportation
4.7
Meals
4.7

Tour Reviews Write a Review

Fantastic tour – loved it!

5.0
  • Value 5.0
  • Guide 5.0
  • Activities 5.0
  • Lodging 5.0
  • Transportation 5.0
  • Meals 5.0

So much fun with friends. Awesome service and guide :)

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Operator Travel Talk

Highlights of Turkey

5.0
  • Value 5.0
  • Guide 5.0
  • Activities 5.0
  • Lodging 5.0
  • Transportation 5.0
  • Meals 5.0

An excellent introduction to this large and fascinating country. The itinerary allowed us to get a real flavour of the history, archaeology and topography. The sites and ordering of the stop-overs were excellently chosen.
Having been steeped in ancient history from an early age I was amazed to find myself in Troy and to realise that it was a very small small acropolis but with great influence both geographically and historically.

I have been on many Exodus trips and generally have admired the leaders. This time though, Tolga excelled all my previous experience. Knowledgeable and caring about his country and caring of his guests ---and a gastronome who led us to all the best eateries [all Exodus clients seem ready for the next meal].

Do take the trip. One tip is that in terms of cash, it is better to put money into your back account at home and to use the many ATM's available everywhere. There are far more ATM's [and they are open all hours of course] than there are exchange outlets.

Exodus are so reliable-- trustworthy in all circumstances. On this trip we had to be diverted because of unrest in Ankara and it happened calmly, seamlessly and very satisfactorily.

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Operator Exodus Travels

Our Best Turkey Tour!

5.0
  • Value 5.0
  • Guide 5.0
  • Activities 5.0
  • Lodging 5.0
  • Transportation 5.0
  • Meals 5.0

We enjoyed the 8 days we had in Turkey. This tour company had Ms Yesim organize our hotels, domestic flights, transfers and tours. Everything was fixed up so nicely for us. Lunch was included most days and breakfast in hotels they booked. I would just suggest the Basilica Cistern be included in Istanbul tour because it was certainly worth the short visit. The days are not packed with too many sights so you have time to relax. Ms Yesim replied so quickly and even let us know when flight is delayed. Highly recommend!

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Operator Ada Vegas Travel

The trip was an excellent balance of visiting sites and experiencing local culture. Accommodations were centrally located to explore the cities with very good facilities and comfort level.

5.0
  • Value 5.0
  • Guide 5.0
  • Activities 5.0
  • Lodging 5.0
  • Transportation 5.0
  • Meals 5.0

We have travelled for over 35 years to various places in the world with several different tour companies. Our experience with G Adventures was excellent and met all our expectations from what had been described in the trip itinerary. The accommodations were all very good for the grade level of this trip. The organization and running of the trip was efficient and trouble free. The trip was what we had hoped for and met our expectations.

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Operator G Adventures

"Classics of Turkey" tour was Awesome! There is so much history to see and experience in the country.

5.0
  • Value 5.0
  • Guide 5.0
  • Activities 5.0
  • Lodging 5.0
  • Transportation 5.0
  • Meals 5.0

Dear Tordes, "Classics of Turkey" tour was Awesome! There is so much history to see and experience in the country. The landscape is very beautiful. Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Islamic civilizations all left their distinct imprint on Turkey. Yet at the same time it is a very modern country.It is located at the historic junction of Europe and Asia.  Our tour guide Aydin was very experienced, knowledgeable and friendly. We travelled on a new very comfortable tour bus which had plenty of seats to spread out as we had 27 people and almost 50 seats.  The hotels and food was excellent with breakfast and most dinners included both usually all you can eat buffets with huge selection of dishes to chose from. We got lucky with the weather as it did not rain or snow on the trip. Istanbul 45F, Ankara, Cappadocia 22F with 3 inches of snow on the ground but sunny, Kusadasi on the Aegean sea coast 55F,(our hotel was located right on the water front, Nice!) The good thing of touring over Christmas break was low travel season for Turkey and we had most tour sights all to our self. Our tour guide often was commenting how during the High season when six cruise ships come in, sometimes 300! tour buses a day visit popular sights such as Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace or Ephesus and one can hardly move around. On the news TV there were constantly reports of some opposition protests and corruption trials but local people were very friendly to us and appreciative for us visiting their country and we felt very safe anywhere we went. The US dollar hit record high while we were there, it was good for us when shopping for souvenirs. My wife and I and our two teenagers had a wonderful time in Turkey. Overall, this Tour was a lot of Fun and a Great value for the money! Thanks

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Operator Indus Travels

The best of Turkey

4.0
  • Value 4.0
  • Guide 4.0
  • Activities 4.0
  • Lodging 4.0
  • Transportation 4.0
  • Meals 4.0

A diverse trip, packed with lots of places to see over 2 weeks, yet it didn't feel too rushed and we had more free time than I have had on other similar holidays.
Too many to mention but Capadoccia, Ephesus and the underground city at Derinkuyu were all highlights. Istanbul is fascinating, with plenty to see and do and the hotel in Cunda was especially nice, with dinner on a private jetty.

Fatih Develi was knowledgeable, calm and professional and went out of his way to arrange different things for us to see on the way, including a wine tasting, which everyone really enjoyed. He is passionate about his country and knows so much about its history and culture, there wasn't a question he couldn't answer - and we put him to the test!! We couldn't have asked for a better guide and our driver Mustafa was great too, always with a ready smile and there were some long drives.

Spend extra time in Istanbul at the end of the holiday if you can, as there is so much to see there - a boat trip is definitely worth doing. Pack a good mix of clothes - in early September, it was hotter than expected, so take some things to layer up. A spare battery for your camera is also a good idea, one I wish I had had when my camera died while at Ephesus!

Consider a change of hotel in Istanbul - all the hotels were good, but the Istanbul choice was probably everyone's least favourite. It would also be nice to go to more authentic Turkish restaurants in the evening, but depending on where you are, this is not always possible.

Read more
Operator Exodus Travels

Istanbul Tours and Travel Guide

Istanbul Attractions & Landmarks Guide

Straddling the Bosphorous Strait, Istanbul has long been a bridge between Europe and Asia. It was once a strategic spot on the Silk Road, and its multicultural history is evidenced in its food, textiles, and architecture to explore on your tour. Istanbul was once the most populated city in the Western Hemisphere, its population peaking at close to half a million people, but its main streets and back alleys are still teeming with artists, entrepreneurs, and intellectuals.

Colonized by the Greeks, then falling to the Romans, Istanbul was known as Byzantium until 330 when it was renamed Constantinople and made the new capital of the Roman Empire. When Muslims invaded in 1453, Constantinople became the capital of the Ottoman Empire. Suleiman the Magnificent reigned over the Ottoman Empire from 1520 to 1566 and ushered in a time of great artistic and architectural achievements. He commissioned the famous architect Mimar Sinan to design many of the iconic buildings that are visited today.

When you first arrive, your senses are bombarded with ancient Ottoman sites, exotic smells of slow roasting kebab skewers, and the sounds of people and cars energetically buzzing about. Istanbul was once the most populated city in the Western Hemisphere, its population peaking at close to half a million people. Today its main streets and back alleys are still teeming with artists, entrepreneurs, and intellectuals.

Sultanahmet

Plunge right into all the action at the historic core of Istanbul, Sultanahmet. Here you will find the some of the most well-known attractions, like Hagia Sofia, the Blue Mosque, and the Basilica Cistern. Marvel in front of the 15th century Blue Mosque that iconically marks the Istanbul skyline with its blue domes and piercing minarets. The exteriors are impressive, but the interior of the building is equally, if not more jaw-dropping. A halo of soft lights ring the main prayer room, while stained glass windows let in the sun’s rays at the top. The light illuminates the ceiling, each arch and niche covered by intricately designed individual tiles. It’s absolutely dizzying.

Next, cross over to the nearby Hagia Sofia. Once a Byzantine church, and converted into a mosque, it is now a museum. Constructed in 537, it stood as the largest cathedral in the world for almost a thousand years. With such a rich history, this perfect example of Byzantine architecture houses Islamic and Christian motifs side by side.

Close by to the Hagia Sofia is the Basilica Cistern. Situated underneath the old city, this 6th century cistern is the largest of several that are hidden beneath Istanbul’s modern cityscape. Make your way down the steps into the darkness as the air becomes cool. Once inside, you can stroll a boardwalk among hundreds of ancient columns coming up out of the water, each one lit softly at its base. Water dripping slowly from the ceiling echoes mysteriously throughout the quiet waterway.

Sultan’s Palaces and Old City Walls

Adjacent to the Hagia Sofia and Blue Mosque is the Istanbul Archaeological Museum and Topkapi Palace. Step into the ancient world before it was Istanbul, or even Constantinople. The collection includes artifacts from the ancient Sumerians, Assyrians, Hittites, Greeks, and Romans.

Take a self-guided tour through the spectacular architecture of the 15th century architect, Sinan. This magnificent Ottoman palace is awash with golden Arabic script, expertly painted tiles, and brightly stained glass. Every room is covered floor to ceiling with elaborate tiles painted with traditional Ottoman motifs like stylized tulips and leaves, geometric designs, and stars.

Break for lunch at a nearby café, and treat yourself like a sultan. Kick your shoes off and idle away the afternoon on a pile of pillows, puffing on a nargile (water pipe). If you need a kick, order a strong, silty Turkish coffee; for the less adventurous, stick to the tried and true Turkish Black tea and sugar. Listen as the traditional Turkish melodies from an old bağlama player waft through the café.

During the evening, head to Galata Dervish Monastery to witness the spiritual Sema ceremony. Sufis, commonly known as “Whirling Dervishes,” subscribe to a more mystical side of the Islamic faith, a sect that is known to express their ecstatic love for God through ethereal music, dance, and poetry. The Sema is a 7-century old ritual where worshippers spin in a kind of trance state and is meant to represent the spiritual journey, revolving in harmony with all things.

Treasures of the Grand Bazaar

On the other side of Old Town, you can spend hours getting lost in the infamous Grand Bazaar. As soon as you step through this nondescript entryway, you find yourself in a labyrinth of colorful wares and energetic salesmen. With hundreds of silk scarves stacked to the ceiling, hand painted ceramics, vintage jewelry, hanging glass lanterns, and stunning carpets, it is an Orientalist's dream. The sheer size of this marketplace is overwhelming. With its many twists and turns of alleyways, you could easily spend hours browsing through the selections, while you are treated to the standard complimentary apple tea and chatted up by a shopkeeper.

Meander through the side alleys around the Grand Bazaar and make your way to towards the Eminonu district and the Bosphorous Strait. Duck into the arches that house the Spice Market and your nose will be greeted by scents of exotic spices, tea, and fresh sweets. Be sure to try the lokum, or Turkish Delight which comes in so many flavors, from mint, to rolled in rose petals, or sprinkled with saffron.

When you’ve had your fill of baklava and lokum, take a rest at any of the beautiful mosques in the area. New Mosque (Yeni Cami), Rustem Pasa Mosque, and the Mosque of Soleyman the Magnificient all make for quiet and peaceful refuges from the busyness of the markets.

Traditional Turkish Baths

After your jaunt to the islands, return to city to continue with your day of total relaxation. For an unforgettable experience, try the traditional hammam, or Turkish bath. There are many throughout the city, a number of which cater to tourists. You will be assigned a small changing room where you can stow your belongings and get changed into a peştemal, or Turkish towel. Your attendant will lead you through a couple of antechambers, where you can feel the temperature and humidity rise significantly. Lounge lazily on the warm marble alcove, steam rising all around you, as the dying sunlight filters in through star shaped windows cut out of the domed ceilings. When you are nice and relaxed, your attendant will take you to a smaller room to massage, scrub, and bathe you in sumptuous olive oil and rose oil soaps.

Beyoğlu and the European Side

Experience the more modern side of Istanbul. From the shoreline of Eminönü, walk across Galata bridge which spans the glittering Bosphorous Strait, through the crowds of fishermen hanging their poles from its edges. Now you’re in the European side of Istanbul, Karakoy and Beyoğlu. Wander the alleyways of textile shops and homey cafes until you reach Galata Tower. From the top, you are rewarded with 360-degree views of stunning Istanbul.

The hip and modern Istiklal Street and Taxim Square are also close by. Istiklal Caddesi is a spacious pedestrian boulevard lined with department stores, boutiques, and cafes. At the end of this long thoroughfare, you will reach Taxim Square, an area very popular with college students for its lively nightlife scene. Stop for lunch in any one of the great restaurants or cafes in the Beyoğlu area. Feast on an array of traditional Turkish foods like manti (beef dumplings that resemble ravioli), börek (a savory flaky pastry), döner kebab, or gözleme (thin pancake stuffed with meat and onion). Wash it all down with ayran, a tart yogurt drink that pairs perfectly with heavily spiced meats.

Princes Islands

Escape the hectic city for the day by taking a cool ferry ride to the Prince’s Islands. Motorized vehicles are banned, so you can leisurely bike, stroll, or take a charming horse-drawn carriage to take you on a tour down quiet tree-lined boulevards and wooden Victorian-Era mansions. Enjoy the soft sea breeze and fresh seafood at one of the many cafes along the shores.

Closing Thoughts

If you have time on your trip, do not pass up a Bosphorous Cruise at sunset. Nothing is more romantic than cruising by Istanbul’s brilliant skyline bathed in golden light, the wind blowing your hair back, and the sense of one more adventure on the horizon.

Top Istanbul Travel Companies

All Istanbul tours, river cruises, expedition cruises, and adventure trips. Find the best guided trips and expert planned vacation and holiday packages. Average rating of 4.7 for all Istanbul trips.

145 trips from 45 tour companies with 82 reviews

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