Amazing Free Things to Do in Istanbul

The iconic red tram at Istiklal Street in Istanbul
The iconic red tram at Istiklal Street in Istanbul | Photo by Bakhrom Tursunov on Unsplash
Feride Yalav-Heckeroth

With its multitude of historically significant buildings and museums (with free admission on certain days), there are plenty of activities in Istanbul that don’t require your wallet. Check out our tips for a few freebie days in the big Turkish city.

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Istanbul Modern

Istanbul Museum of Modern Art, Istanbul, Turkey

One of Istanbul’s most important hubs for contemporary art from both local and international artists, Istanbul Modern is an essential experience for art aficionados. It’s also handy to know that admission is free every Thursday, so you can spend a whole day gazing at beautiful art without paying a dime.

The Museum of Painting and Sculpture

One of the first fine art museums in Turkey, the Museum of Painting and Sculpture was founded by Atatürk in 1937, and exhibits the works of 19th and 20th century Turkish artists such as Osman Hamdi Bey and Bedri Rahmi. The museum is free daily between 10am and 4:30pm (except Sunday and Monday).

Pera Museum

A private museum in a beautiful 19th century building that used to house the Bristol Hotel, Pera Museum exhibits Orientalist paintings, Anatolian weights and measures, and Kütahya tiles and ceramics, as well as temporary exhibitions. Some of the previous temporary exhibitions have featured such renowned names as Andy Warhol, Joan Miro, Frida Kahlo, and Pablo Picasso. The museum is free every Friday evening between 6-10pm.

Salt Galata

Azapkapı, SALT Galata, Bankalar Caddesi, Beyoğlu/İstanbul, Turkey

Stunning both for its architecture as well as its library and exhibition spaces, Salt Galata is a cultural institution located in a former Ottoman bank. Inside you’ll find a beautiful research library (free), restaurant, café, bookstore, art gallery (free), and the Ottoman Bank Museum (free). You could easily spend the whole day here.

Art Galleries on İstiklal Street

Art galleries are always free and therefore a great activity for the budget-conscious among us. In Istanbul you’ll find a lot of the city’s best art galleries right on İstiklal street, including the famous Mısır Apartmanı, a beautiful art-nouveau apartment building that has a different art gallery on every floor, including Galeri Zilberman, Galerist, and Galeri Nev. A little bit further down İstiklal, Arter is another great contemporary art gallery whose exhibitions are always worth a look.

A Tour of Balat

Balat, Istanbul, Turkey

One of Istanbul’s most colorful and historic neighborhoods, you can spend a whole day wandering around Balat without spending any money. Gaze at the beautiful Phanar Greek Orthodox College building, light a candle at the Church of St. George, and check out the beautiful St. Stephen Bulgarian Church by the waterside, as well as Balat’s many beautiful houses that used to belong to the city’s bourgeois Greek Orthodox families.

Zeyrek Mosque

Quite an off-the-beaten-path sight, the Zeyrek Mosque is a beautiful pale rose-colored structure that used to be the Monastery of the Pantocrator, composed of two former Eastern Orthodox churches and a chapel. The second largest remaining religious edifice built by the Byzantines after Hagia Sophia, Zeyrek was converted into a mosque after the fall of Constantinople.

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