Few cities can match Istanbul for its historical and cultural content. This vast city was home to the Ottoman sultans, whose empire lasted many centuries. Before them, it was the capital of the Byzantines, who left many reminders of their time in what was then Constantinople. While the original city was fairly compact, Istanbul now spreads many miles in all directions from the original settlement, sitting astride the boundary between Europe and Asia.
Several of Istanbul’s main landmarks close from 4 pm to 7 pm, including Topkapi Palace, the Basilica Cistern, the Grand Bazaar and Dolmabahce Palace. However, there’s lots to do in Istanbul at night, including visiting museums. Turkish cuisine is famous worldwide and dinner in Istanbul can take many forms. The nightlife in Istanbul, in general, is exciting, and food plays an important role. Here are some things to do in Istanbul at night to keep you occupied however long you stay in this wonderful city.
- Istanbul At Night
- Top Night Tours
- 20 Things To Do In Istanbul At Night
- 1- Cruise The Bosphorus
- 2- Marvel At The Blue Mosque
- 3- Enjoy Hagia Sophia
- 4- Go On A Pub Crawl
- 5- Join Locals In Street Food And Meze
- 6- Find An Evening With A Theme
- 7- Marvel At The Whirling Dervishes
- 8- Relax In A Hammam
- 9- Watch The Fishermen On The Bosphorus
- 10- Climb Galata Tower
- 11- Enjoy The Museum of Modern Art
- 12- Take In Taksim Square
- 13- Wander Through Kadikoy
- 14- Visit A Club
- 15- Eat Dinner With A View
- 16- Shop At The Night Markets
- 17- Go To A Soccer Match
- 18- Eat Fish On The Shores of the Bosphorus
- 19- Visit The Pera Museum
- 20- Enjoy A Basketball Game
Istanbul At Night
Top Night Tours
- Go On A Bosphorus Cruise – Explore the city and enjoy the views while cruising around the Bosphorus.
- Mevlevi Sema and the Whirling Dervishes Show – Be amazed at the skill of the whirling dervishes and enjoy the Mevlevi Sema ceremony.
- Explore the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia – Discover the secrets of these two iconic landmarks on a small group tour with an expert guide.
20 Things To Do In Istanbul At Night
1- Cruise The Bosphorus
Istanbul’s skyline is famous, appearing on many screens and in travel publications.
Viewed at night from the Bosphorus, it provides a magnificent setting for enjoying dinner and entertainment.
It makes sense to book in advance, such is the popularity of this activity.
Whatever you choose to do by day, a three-course dinner on the Bosphorus is a great way to relax at night.
The entertainment features the best of what Turkey has to offer, while you can expect to be collected from your hotel and returned at the end of the night.
2- Marvel At The Blue Mosque
The Blue Mosque is one of the famous landmarks of Istanbul. You will find it in Sultanahmet Square, the heart of the Ottoman city.
It is a functioning mosque where admission is available to visitors outside the prayer times from early morning to night.
Entry to the mosque is free, although donations are welcome, and a guide is a good idea to make the most of your visit.
Leave your shoes at the door. Once inside, you’ll see why it’s called the Blue Mosque, with different shades of blue mosaics throughout.
Its official name is Sultan Ahmet Mosque, an early 17th Century construction during the rule of Ahmed I and his last resting place.
It has a capacity of 10,000 at prayer time. Learn more about the mosque by joining a small group tour here.
3- Enjoy Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia is a short walk from the Blue Mosque and is a true architectural masterpiece, with a dome that required complex calculations to ensure its stability.
Initially, in the 6th century, it was a Christian church before its conversion to a mosque when the Ottomans took what was then Constantinople in the middle of the 15th century.
It remained a mosque until the formation of the Turkish republic, a few years after the end of World War I.
Ataturk decided it would be a museum and remained so until 2020, when the Turkish government deemed it should revert to being a functioning mosque.
Entry is free to all mosques, although a guided tour will help you get the most from a visit.
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4- Go On A Pub Crawl
As the city is vast, it can get confusing in Istanbul at night and one way to ensure you enjoy your time there is to take a tour.
A pub crawl with the help of a local guide is a great way to learn more about the city’s delights while enjoying popular drinks, such as raki.
Raki is the national favourite, an aniseed-flavoured spirit that locals drink with water. It’s colourless until you add water, and then it becomes milky.
Turkish wine is becoming increasingly drinkable, and local lager beer is served draught or bottled.
Enjoy a night visiting a few different places through the evening and revisit your favourites later during your holiday.
5- Join Locals In Street Food And Meze
Turkish cuisine rates highly, and a great introduction to the informality of its food is to take a walk with local experts.
Turkish mezes are rich, varied, often vegetarian-based, and full of flavour.
You can expect everything to be fresh, made earlier in the day.
Forget the processed food found in modern supermarkets, mezes are made from vegetables grown locally and straight from the producers.
Turkey is rich in herbs and spices, hot and sweet peppers and yoghurt are popular ingredients.
Street food includes sweet and savoury pancakes, often with lamb or chicken.
Yes, it is nice to sit down to dinner in a quality restaurant, but just as good an experience is this walking tour, eating what the locals eat every day, sometimes going to and from work.
6- Find An Evening With A Theme
There is a range of nighttime cruises on the Bosphorus, each offering something different from the other.
Whirling dervishes are all male, yet Turkey is famous for its female dancers.
Romany and Anatolian dance is colourful and spectacular. You can see such dancing at its best, with belly dancing one of the other highlights.
You may be invited to try it for yourself, so don’t be shy. A henna demonstration is likely to be included as well.
When you add to all of this, the incredible surroundings and a delicious dinner make this a great experience.
7- Marvel At The Whirling Dervishes
While Whirling Dervishes originated east of Turkey, in today’s Iran, many people associate them closely with Turkey.
They come from the Sufis, a minority Muslim sect, who have not always been accepted by mainstream Islam.
The skill of the dervishes is a real sight to behold.
You may not see a record-breaking performance because the current record is four hours non-stop, but an evening marvelling at these men rotating at speed without getting dizzy is memorable.
The easiest way to enjoy a night with the dervishes is to book a tour which will arrange your collection and return to your hotel at the end of the show.
8- Relax In A Hammam
You may be able to enjoy a Turkish bath locally at home, but you should book the real thing during your time in Istanbul.
Hammams involve scrubbing, foam bathing and massage while lying on a marble slab in a steamy atmosphere.
You will head back into the night refreshed without any aches and pains.
They date back to Roman times with their introduction to this part of the world via the Byzantines during the 7th century.
Hammams are atmospheric, and the experience usually lasts up to an hour. Find out more here.
9- Watch The Fishermen On The Bosphorus
Locals fish the Bosphorus day and night from its banks and bridges spanning it.
Pedestrians are not allowed on the bridges, but that restriction is regularly ignored.
It’s nice to stroll around the Bosphorus to watch daily activities, perhaps just stopping for tea or coffee along the way.
It’s a great way to digest your dinner.
Anglers are looking for bream, which occupy these waters all year round. However, seasonally, they can catch mackerel, bonito and bluefish.
10- Climb Galata Tower
Galata Tower is a famous landmark in Istanbul that provides excellent views of the city, not surprising because the original was built by the Byzantine emperor, Justinian, as a watchtower.
That original was destroyed during the 4th Crusade, so today’s tower is the rebuilt version, constructed in the 14th century by the Genoese.
A century later, under Ottoman control, the tower was briefly a prison and has performed many different functions over the centuries.
Today, it is a museum and the 360-degree view if you climb to the top is magnificent.
It stands at almost 63 m (200 ft), with the observation deck below the ornamental apex. You’ll see Galata Tower on a private city guided tour.
11- Enjoy The Museum of Modern Art
This Beyoglu Museum focuses on Turkish talent, opening its doors in 2004.
It holds educational courses and well as having a library and cinema.
The exhibition halls hold art, architectural ideas, photography, design and new media.
The museum is in the heart of Istanbul, so a visit is easily combined with other activities by night.
Most museums in Istanbul close earlier and are better to visit during the day. Thursday is the best day for an evening visit. You may like this contemporary art walk tour.
12- Take In Taksim Square
Taksim Square is the vibrant nightlife hub of Istanbul, located on the European side, a steep climb up from the Bosphorus.
It is a district with several pedestrian streets, bars, restaurants and accommodation.
If you take a bus from either of the two passenger airports in Istanbul, the final destination is Taksim Square.
Likewise, if you are heading back to either airport, the bus starts at Taksim Square, where there is also a metro station.
Trams are a popular means of getting around here, while the many side streets off the square are well worth exploring.
13- Wander Through Kadikoy
While the European side of Istanbul is the more popular, if you cross the Bosphorus, you will enjoy Kadikoy for its nightlife.
You will find lively bars and restaurants and good nighttime shopping.
There are regular ferries going backwards and forwards over the Bosphorus, so heading to Kadikoy is an easy and enjoyable exercise.
While it is a residential neighbourhood, its boutiques, bars and fish market are all places to visit.
14- Visit A Club
Istanbul doesn’t sleep, most bars are open until very late, and if you want a nightclub with live music, there is plenty of choice on the European side of the city.
Most nightclubs in Istanbul do not even open until 10 pm.
You will not find casinos in Istanbul, yet the nightclubs are just as modern and trendy as those in other parts of the world.
Expect to pay higher prices than in an ordinary bar.
15- Eat Dinner With A View
Much of what you can occupy your nights in Istanbul involves food, and the surroundings add to the experience.
While the Bosphorus cruises offer one option, there are rooftop restaurants providing lovely views across the city.
It is on the European side that you will find the best options.
The tourist district of Sultanahmet is a top spot in Istanbul at night as it has rooftop bars, restaurants and cool hotels.
When looking for accommodation, choose a hotel with a rooftop bar, and enjoy a lovely view each night.
16- Shop At The Night Markets
While the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar close at 6 pm, plenty of night markets sell everything imaginable.
The fruit and vegetable markets are especially colourful, while the range of fish in markets like the one in Besiktas will impress you.
Istanbul has an increasing number of modern shopping malls, yet the smaller retailers work long hours in the city’s streets.
You may not want to buy the lovely fruit and vegetables, but what about Turkish delight or one of Turkey’s many desserts such as baklava, ashure or knafeh?
You will need a “sweet tooth” to enjoy more than a small amount because the desserts are delightful.
17- Go To A Soccer Match
Turkey is soccer mad; almost half of its top division comprises teams from the city.
The three most famous are Fenerbahce, a team based on the Asian side of the city, Galatasary and Besiktas, both on the more popular tourist European side.
You need an “identity card” to buy tickets to a game.
If you are just in Istanbul for a couple of days, it isn’t easy to arrange things in time.
However, if you have a week or so, you will not regret making the necessary arrangements.
The atmosphere in a packed stadium is truly electric.
You will not be able to get a ticket for a derby game between two of the three mentioned but otherwise, you can find a space.
The most convenient option for soccer fans staying in the tourist districts is Besiktas, whose stadium is directly across the road from the Dolmabahce Palace.
18- Eat Fish On The Shores of the Bosphorus
If you are not keen on a cruise on the Bosphorus, enjoy this iconic waterway from its shore, eating fish in one of the many restaurants that line it.
Restaurants serve the freshest of fish, salads, olives and newly baked bread.
Turks drink raki, the aniseed-flavoured spirit, with fish, and even if your usual choice might be a chilled white wine, it’s worth giving raki a try.
Even watered down, raki is still strong.
There will be no pressure to eat and leave because the restaurant will not need your table.
So relax and spend time over a unique dining experience.
Hamsi, known as anchovies elsewhere in the world, are seasonal, a simple dish, usually lightly fried in breadcrumbs and eaten with a salad.
19- Visit The Pera Museum
This museum in Beyoglu near Taksim Square is open for visitors in the evening.
It concentrates on 19th-century Oriental Art and opened in 2005 in a historic building that used to be a hotel.
Its location close to the heart of Istanbul’s nightlife makes it an excellent option to enjoy as part of your evening out.
Among other things, you can expect to see lovely tiles and ceramics and plenty of paintings.
It hosts temporary exhibitions from time to time as well as providing educational programmes, concerts and audio-visual events.
20- Enjoy A Basketball Game
Turkey is one of the top basketball competitors in the world. Some of the top club sides belong to the top soccer clubs.
Take Fenerbahce, for example. Its basketball stadium is close to its soccer ground.
With a capacity of 15,000, there is a good chance of visitors getting a ticket for a game, as long as it is not a local derby.
If you are a basketball fan, check online before visiting Istanbul to see if there is a scheduled fixture.
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