A Solo Traveller's Guide to Istanbul

The stunning Ortaköy Mosque by the Bosphorus is just one thing to see on a solo trip to Istanbul
The stunning Ortaköy Mosque by the Bosphorus is just one thing to see on a solo trip to Istanbul | © Anton Aleksenko / agefotostock / Alamy Stock Photo
Ashley Pope

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.

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.

A Bosphorus ferry ride will make your heart soar

Where to stay in Istanbul as a solo traveller

1. Bomonti

Natural Feature

Large bed, sofa, armchair, and table in caramel-toned room with city views from floor-to-ceiling windows at Hilton Bomonti
Courtesy ofHilton Bomonti / Expedia

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.

2. Beyoglu

Natural Feature

Many people walk up and down Istiklal Caddesi in Beyoglu, with some boarding one of two adjacent trams in the middle
© Ayhan Altun / Alamy Stock Photo

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.

3. Sultanahmet

Architectural Landmark

The imposing Hagia Sophia beneath clear blue skies on a sunny autumn day, with verdant Sultanahmet Park in front of it
© lucky-photographer / Alamy Stock Photo

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.

4. A Bosphorus cruise

Natural Feature

Ferry on the water in front of many waterside buildings in downtown Istanbul, including the tall Galata Tower
© Nikolay Vinokurov / Alamy Stock Photo

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.

5. Spice Bazaar

Market, Turkish

Many people walk, browse and sell in the tall Spice Bazaar (also known as Misir Carsisi or Egyptian Bazaar) in Eminonu
© Ian Dagnall / Alamy Stock Photo
Piles of dried fruit, sacks of every conceivable herb and spice, tins of caviar and bags of nuts – this 17th-century institution overwhelms the senses with its drifting aromas and vendors’ cries, its colourful produce and whirlpools of shoppers. Handily located close to the Eminönü side of the Galata Bridge, this is the place to come for souvenirs and gifts – you’ll find plenty of dime-a-dozen keepsakes, from key rings to T-shirts. Even if you only browse, you’ll come away with vivid memories of a unique spot.

6. Topkapι Palace


Rectangular pool of green water in tree-lined courtyard of Topkapi Palace, one part of which stands in front
© JOHN BRACEGIRDLE / Alamy Stock Photo
Rising unmistakably from its prime position on the city’s Byzantine promontory, the centuries-old former residence of sultans is a magnificent place in which to spend hours. In summer the lawns are made for lazing, and the on-site al fresco restaurant, Konyalι, has matchless views up the Bosphorus. But it’s the priceless artefacts on display that win the day. The Ottomans collected fine Chinese porcelain – still highly photogenic after hundreds of years – and their haul is joined here by captivating relics of the Prophet Muhammad.

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.

Culture Trips 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. 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 places and communities so special.

Our immersive trips, led by Local Insiders, are once-in-a-lifetime experiences and an invitation to travel the world with like-minded explorers. Our Travel Experts are on hand to help you make perfect memories. All our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.?>

All our travel guides are curated by the Culture Trip team working in tandem with local experts. From unique experiences to essential tips on how to make the most of your future travels, we’ve got you covered.

Culture Trip Spring Sale

Save up to $1,656 on our unique small-group trips! Limited spots.

Edit article