Leisure activities in Istanbul

Leisure activities in Istanbul
Updated 2024-03-02 19:09

Istanbul has a lot to offer visitors, whether you are staying in the city for a short time or for a while. Most expats agree that being bored in Istanbul is an almost impossible scenario. The city packs a lot into its 5,461 km² and is a whirlwind of restaurants and cafes, museums and art galleries, concerts, music festivals – and lots more.

Things to do on weekdays in Istanbul

Istanbul is a city that never sleeps. Moreover, out of all the busy cities in Türkiye, it is the busiest. There are lots of reasons for the city's popularity, and it's a good idea to explore them on less busy weekdays.

Weekends in Istanbul can be wonderful – but they can also be quite nightmarish if you don't like loud music and big crowds. In this way, weekdays may offer a slight respite from the weekend hassle. However, don't expect the city to be calm and quiet: weekdays in the city get very busy, especially towards the end of the week/

Here are a few ideas for making the most of your weekdays in Istanbul:

Café culture and gastropubs

Istanbul's café scene is definitely worth exploring. The city is filled with eye-catching coffee corners, cozy tea gardens and popular chain cafes such as Kahve Dünyası, Viyana Kahvesi, and others.

Good to know:

Viyana Kahvesi, and especially the cafe's branch next to the Galata Tower, is popular for the famous San Sebastian cheesecake. You may have seen photos or videos of the famous dessert on social media with the backdrop of the landmark. A lot of city visitors consider stopping by this small coffee chain a must.

Beyond the popular names, there are lots of small artisanal cafes in Istanbul hidden within the city's busy streets. The best way to discover interesting spots is to take slow, leisurely strolls through the city, paying close attention to welcoming interiors and the smell of Turkish coffee.

Good to know:

Turkish coffee is coffee that is made using a traditional brewing method. Coffee beans are first finely ground to a thin, powdery quality and then simmered in water, often with sugar. Turkish coffee is typically made in a special pot, known as "cezve" or "ibrik." You will often see these in many Turkish homes.

When it gets too late for caffeine, consider exploring the city's gastropubs. These often offer a creative take on local and international cuisine and are a great way to learn about Istanbul through its signature flavors.

Museums and art galleries

A good use of the quieter weekdays in Istanbul is visiting the city's museums and art galleries.

You can get a quick overview of Istanbul's history at the Istanbul Archaeology Museum and contrast it with the creative exhibits of Istanbul Modern. If you are interested in art, you will find contemporary art exhibits in galleries like the Arter and Pera Museum.

Music and concerts

Istanbul is inseparable from its energetic music scene. Even on weekdays, the city fills up with music as the sunset gets closer, and by dusk, you will have lots of choices for audio entertainment, from street concerts to live performances in bars and clubs.

During the daytime, venues like the Zorlu Performance Centre and IKSV Salon are great choices for a pleasant afternoon, hosting a variety of different musical acts, from classical orchestras to modern jazz bands

Historical and cultural tours

There are lots of ways to discover Istanbul's rich history, from joining a standard guided tour to booking a more personalized experience with one of the many private guides who are easily found on social media and expat forums. If you are looking to start with the “basics”, start by visiting the city's iconic landmarks, such as the Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, and Topkapi Palace, without the weekend crowds.

Strolls by the sea

The best way to take in Istanbul's urban landscape is to take a slow stroll along the banks of the Bosphorus. Here, you will see a very laid-back Istanbul, with some people fishing along the waterfront and others enjoying a seafood meal at one of the many seafront restaurants. The best neighborhoods to explore on weekdays in Bosphoroius are Bebek and Ortaköy.

Theater and performances

Check out Istanbul's theater scene, which is rich in plays, dance performances, and cultural shows. It may be best to explore these on the weekdays, as you will have much less competition for tickets and suitable showtimes.

Shopping and markets

Visit local markets and bazaars such as the popular (and super crowded during the weekend) Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar. Though still crowded, weekday bazaars still offer a more relaxed atmosphere and a more comfortable gateway into the hectic world of Istanbul's street shopping.

Nightlife in Istanbul

Weekday nights in Istanbul have a lot to offer. Here are just a few ideas:

Live music bars: Live music bars are a mainstay of Istanbul's nightlife and provide a genuine window into Turkish music culture. Hotspots for live performances are places like Angie bar in Bebek, where you can listen to both traditional and modern Turkish music.

Turkish pop and hip bars: If you are more interested in pop music, neighborhoods around Bebek and Taksim are home to trendy bars and clubs where local pop and rock bands perform. These areas are a great way to experience a “younger Istanbul” or to simply go dancing.

Music festivals: Istanbul hosts lots of music festivals, with the Istanbul Music Festival being the most famous. The event is organized annually by the Istanbul Culture and Art Foundation (IKSV) and showcases lots of different musical genres, from classical to contemporary, featuring both local and international artists.

Indie music scene: Smaller venues like Peyote, Salon, and Zorlu PSM are great options if you are into the indie music scene. Here, you will find lots of emerging local bands and artists and a more intimate listening experience.

Clubs for house and techno: With places like Klein drawing large crowds for their house and techno nights, it's easy to see that Istanbul's club scene is active and growing. These types of clubs are known for famous DJ cameos and an energetic dance scene.

Rooftop bars and lounges: For a more laid-back evening, look into the city's rooftop culture. Rooftop bars and lounges not only offer sweeping views of the city but also a modern selection of flavors (via drinks and appetizers) and sounds (via live music performances and DJs).

Things to do on the weekends in Istanbul

On weekends, Istanbul turns into a buffet of activities. In fact, your biggest challenge here would be making a choice on what to do.

Cinemas and theatres: For a traditional weekend movie experience,head to one of the many movie theaters in Ortaköy, Bebekppi, Bostancı, Çengelköy, and Beylerbeyi that show both Turkish and foreign films.

Dine out: Pair your movie with dinner. Lots of restaurants in Istanbul offer special weekend menus, dinner sets, and you will often be able to pair your meal with a live performance. For quiet dining with a view of the sea, consider exploring Galataport: Here, you will find more high-end dining options, as well as popular chains such as Big Chefs and Nusr-Et Steakhouse. For a busier and livelier ambiance, flavorful street food, and colorful night markets, consider Kadıköy.

Vibrant theater scene: Istanbul has a thriving theater scene, from modern international productions to classic Turkish plays. You can also always catch one of the many weekend live performances in the city in Nişantaşı, Cihangir, and Kadıköy.

Strolling in lively neighborhoods: Areas like Bebek, Nişantaşı, and Kadıköy come alive during the weekends. These areas are great for active strolls, shopping, dining, socializing, and simply soaking up Istanbul.

As you can see, Istanbul offers an exhilarating mix of activities, no matter which day of the week you have free.

Useful links:



Contemporary Istanbul

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