Istanbul is one of the most unique cities on the planet – a place that spills across two continents riven by a mighty strait, the Bosphorus. Seagulls fill the skies, hawkers ply old streets, the historic bazaars are redolent of spices, tea and coffee, and the prayer calls of muezzins affirm that this land has a powerful religious spirit – not just Islamic, but Christian and Jewish, too. You’ll be overwhelmed every time you visit, leaving with a love for a magic metropolis that will stay in your memories.
What’s the vibe in Istanbul for solo travellers?
Despite any preconceptions you may have derived from the news, Istanbul is as welcoming and safe as any big city for visitors. It’s vast and frenetic, affordable and utterly absorbing. Ultimately, an ingrained tradition of hospitality shines through – solo travellers needn’t feel alone.
Destinations Unlocked:Let our travel expert Stefano help you find your perfect Culture trip
Looking for an expert's perspective?Uncover my top 3 recommended places from each continent on the map.
1. GuatemalaAn express adventure for those with limited time off. Prepare yourself incredible experiences. You will hike a volcano, visit mayan temples and witness a ceremony and take in beautiful colonial Antigua.
2. BelizeA quick trip not too far away for those seeking a relaxing mini break. You will have plenty of free time to relax but also some awesome activities to experience the rainforest and the caribbean sea.
3. MexicoAn exciting mini trip exploring the lesser known colonial towns of central Mexico. This is hte perfect trip for someone with limited time off and still wants to turn on explorer mode and do something different.
1. EcuadorA remarkable 8 days adventure through the Andes and the Amazon rainforest. The best choice for adventure seekers wishing to visit the 2 most iconic areas of South America, in only 1 week and no flights.
2. PeruAn alternative itinerary to classic Peru, from Cusco to Arequipa. This itinerary is great combination of highlights Cusco and Machu Picchu with the lesser known Arequipa and Colca Canyon.
1. ItalyThe ultimate Italian experience from the vibrant streets of Naples to the breathtaking sceneries of the Amalfi Coast followed by Matera and down to Puglia with its golden beaches, intense flavours and fascinating destinations.
2. ScotlandEmbark on this great adventure starting from London all the way to Scotland with a true Scottish experience made of breathtaking sceneries, whisky tasting and ..lots of fun! Ideal for train lovers and explorers.
3. PortugalA wonderful train journey around Portugal, from the romantic city of Porto to the Douro Valley, to the beautiful Aveiro all the way to Lisbon and Sintra. The perfect trip to train, culinary and culture lovers.
1. South KoreaDiscover incredible temples, mountains and modern cities on this 10 day adventure. This trip is perfect for those seeking immersion in the cuisine, culture and natural wonders of South Korea.
2. ThailandFrom Bankgok to Angkor Wat to Ho Chi Minh City and everything in between - adventure through the heart of South-East Asia. Taste the delights, see history brought to life and unwind on a Mekong River cruise.
3. Sri LankaA fantastic adventure that showcases Sri Lanka's fantastic landscapes, wildlife and flavours. With 3 epic rail journeys, 3 UNESCO heritage sites and time to relax, this trip has loads to offer at a great price
1. MoroccoAn epic journey across Morocco: from Casablanca to Marrakech, through the blue city of Chefchaouen to the wonders of the desert and deep to the High Atlas Mountains - this trip has it all! Ideal for true explorers!
2. EgyptFrom Cairo to Aswan, this trip brings the land of the pharaohs to life. You'll visit the Pyramids, Valley of the Kings and Luxor Temple and cruise down the Nile in style. This is the perfect way to explore Egypt.
An Istanbul trip overview
Since it’s so big – easily larger than London – you need a long weekend or more to do the city total justice. Exploring the major sights of Sultanahmet could take you three days alone. Then there are the shores of the Bosphorus to enjoy on a ferry cruise and the bars and cafes of Beyoglu, the historic European area, for idling away evenings. Elsewhere, Kadιköy and Üsküdar are among the numerous atmospheric neighbourhoods on the Asian side of Istanbul that are ready to explore.
Where to stay in Istanbul as a solo traveller
This thrumming, central district gets its name from the Swiss brothers who established a brewery here in the late 19th century, when Istanbul was known as Constantinople. The buildings of the area have been reworked into a complex full of hip places to eat and drink. It’s social – perfect for solo travellers, and comparable to New York’s Meatpacking District. Highlights include the funky supper-club-style dining haunt Kilimanjaro and the Hilton Bomonti – a smart and modern place to base yourself.
Welcome to the European heart of Istanbul, centring on the long street Istiklal Caddesi, which runs from the atmospheric old Tünel funicular up to Taksim Square. The main reasons to base yourself here are the tightly packed, narrow streets and alleyways that run back both sides from Istiklal. They’re speckled with fin-de-siècle apartments as well as classic meyhaneler (low-lit taverns, including the celebrated Yakup 2) that serve lashings of high-octane rakι spirit and huge trays of mezeler (shared starters). Also expect funky bars and bistro-style haunts that welcome solo travellers.
If you want proximity to the bold attractions of Istanbul – Topkapι Palace, the Blue Mosque and the ancient, huge-domed Hagia Sophia – then stay in the city’s traditional, pious quarter, Sultanahmet. Here, old timber-fronted homes line the steep streets, and food vendors wander by with carts, offering things to eat and drink such as boza – a non-alcoholic pick-me-up of fermented millet that is popular in winter. You’ll be able to walk to the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar, and across the Galata Bridge, which spans the Golden Horn waterway. From there, catch the Tünel funicular up to bohemian Beyoglu for nocturnal fun.
For more ideas, check out our list of top places to stay in Istanbul.
What to do in Istanbul as a solo traveller
Part modern metropolis and part ancient city – a former Greek, Roman and Ottoman capital – Istanbul has plenty to appeal to all kinds of travellers. But there are certain highlights that you absolutely must fit in.
If the weather’s bright and sunny, nothing beats a municipal ferry ride from the jetty in tourist-loved Eminönü. The water churns as you depart and tea-sellers do the rounds, offering piping-hot glasses of çay and snacks. The route you want is the tour to the village of Anadolu Kavagι, at the northern extremity of the strait. En route you’ll pass splendid 19th-century timber merchant houses, as well as mansions and mosques amid inky-dark cypress trees. Disembarking at Anadolu Kavagι, take a table at a fish restaurant, order a bottle of Turkish wine and relax into the afternoon, until the return ferry beckons.
Visit the palace when you join Culture Trip’s 12-day small-group adventure From Istanbul to Antalya: the Ultimate Turkey Itinerary.
Eating and drinking in Istanbul
From the humblest workers restaurants doing karides güveç (cheesy prawn casserole) to fashionable rooftop spots with spectacular city views, Istanbul is a feast for visitors. Given its location beside the waters of the Bosphorus and close to the Black Sea, fish restaurants are everywhere. Sitting out on a summer terrace in the waterside quarters of Arnavutköy, Üsküdar or Kuzguncuk while eating grilled levrek (sea bass) or kalkan (turbot) is a favoured pastime – particularly with a squeeze of lemon juice and a glass of potent aniseed-flavoured rakı, which turns milky when water is added. Expect, too, grillhouses doing meatballs (köfte) and döner kebab. And look out for esnaf lokantasι (tradesman restaurants), which do delicious lentil soup and imam bayιldι (‘the priest fainted’): fried aubergine packed with onions, garlic and tangy tomato. For more on eating and drinking in Istanbul, read our restaurant selections.
How to stay safe in Istanbul as a solo traveller
You’d be hard-pushed to find a more hospitable, friendly nation than Turkey. Kindness is in its DNA. In Istanbul, just take the usual precautions you would in any city: use busy, well-lit streets at night, don’t accept drinks from strangers and avoid political discussions.
How to get around Istanbul as a solo traveller
The city is vast and sprawling, with a one-line tram service that’s handy for visits to the Blue Mosque, Topkapι Palace and the Hagia Sophia (it stops more or less outside). It’s also a novelty to ride the historic 19th-century Tünel tube line from near the Golden Horn creek up to the bar- and restaurant-lined Beyoglu district. Taxis are plentiful and cheap, as you might expect. And the best transport of all? The ferries that pinball back and forth between the Asian and European shores – sitting on deck with a glass of tea is simply heavenly.
Cultural conventions in Istanbul
Istanbul is a modern, international city, but age-old Muslim customs are observed – if you’re visiting during the holy period of Ramadan, be respectful of people observing the tradition and don’t eat or drink in public. Also don’t try to visit mosques during prayer times if you’re non-Muslim, as entry will not be permitted.
Fancy exploring Istanbul – and Turkey – as part of a small group of like-minded travellers? Sign up for Culture Trip’s 12-day adventure, From Istanbul to Antalya: the Ultimate Turkey Itinerary. You’ll experience highlights including the markets of Istanbul, a hot-air balloon ride over the volcanic landscapes of Cappadocia, and swimming in the blue waters off the coast of Antalya.
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.