Tours in Istanbul occur both on the water and on land. Most people who are in the city for any length of time will enjoy Bosphorus river cruises, admiring the sights along the narrow strait that divides Europe from Asia and connects the Mediterranean and Black Seas, and taking some of the prettiest Istanbul pictures available. These Istanbul tours can be narrated day cruises, sometimes including lunch, or evening dinner cruises that savor the graceful minarets and imposing domes of mosques and opulent palaces gloriously illuminated. Even the large cruise ships anchored in the harbor offer shore excursions that include a cruise.
Istanbul Old City tours concentrate on the area around Sultanahmet Square where many of the greatest of the city’s monuments and attractions are located. These tours in Istanbul might begin at the landmark Galata Kulesi (Tower), site of the beautiful Topkapi Palace, once the primary residences of the Ottoman sultans and filled with incredible treasures. From here it is a short distance to the Hagia Sophia, once the largest church in the world and now one of the world’s greatest museums, and the magnificent Blue Mosque, with its six slender minarets and blue Iznik tile interior. Some tours of the Old City will cross the Bosphorus to the Asia side of the city for a visit to the lovely Dolmabahce Palace.
Following lunch at a local restaurant, tours might feature a stroll through the Hippodrome, site of ancient chariot races and political demonstrations. Finally, Istanbul Grand Bazaar tours generally wrap up a day of sightseeing through the rich history of the city.
You might think guided Istanbul Grand Bazaar tours are not necessary; it’s just a big shopping mall, after all. But it is a city in and of itself, with thousands of shops, and dozens of narrow streets and alleys making up a huge labyrinth that can be downright dizzying to the senses. It is easy to get lost, and many of the unique sights, exotic aromas, and colorful customs beg for explanation. Bargaining is the norm here, which can be intimidating to Western tourists, and Istanbul Grand Bazaar tours come with a knowledgeable guide ready to step in and help you negotiate for handcrafts and determine the values of that Turkish carpet.
Some tours in Istanbul cater to special interests, and you can book a tour concentrating on the city’s rich Jewish heritage, visiting important synagogues and the narrow streets of the Balat Jewish Quarter. All of this sightseeing is often capped off with Istanbul tours that sample some of the city’s celebrated and chic nightlife. These generally feature a visit to a popular restaurant for dining on delicious Turkish cuisine. The feast is almost always accompanied or followed by traditional music and dancing featuring the traditions of Anatolian and Turkish folklore—yes, there is usually belly dancing.
There are even Istanbul tours that are day trips out of the city. One very popular tour is a day excursion to the fabulous ruins of Ephesus, and will include round-trip flight to the Izmir airport, lunch in a local restaurant, and guided tour of the incredible archeological site. These are “mini” vacation packages that include you ground transportation, hotel/ship transfers, and all entrance fees.