Formerly known as Constantinople, Istanbul, Turkey is right on the Bosphorus Strait and is part of both Europe and Asia. This amazing city is very populated with more than 15 million residents, making it the most populated city in Europe. Nobody likes to spend a ton of money when they travel so it is good to know that there are many free things to do in Istanbul.
From the Grand Bazaar to the Blue Mosque, you will find all sorts of free things to do in Istanbul. In Taksim Square, enjoy live music, historic buildings, and ancient churches as well as shops and eateries. Taksim Square is the hub of the city center with old-world charm from its cobblestone streets to its iconic trams.
Just because you are a tourist, does not mean you should just visit the tourist attractions. The locals know the best places to shop, eat, and play. The Quincentennial Foundation Museum is a cultural institution located was established to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Sephardim's arrival in the Ottoman Empire.
Istanbul is the only city in Turkey to have more than 3,000 mosques, most on the European side. Of course, the Blue Mosque is the most notable but others are worth a visit too. The Kariye Mosque from the 6th century and Zeyrek Mosque from the 12th century are two located along the Golden Horn where you can see beautiful art and Middle East culture. The Zeyrek Mosque is another spot you will see Byzantine architecture.
On the Asian side of the city, the Istanbul Museum of Graphic Arts (IMOGA) offers free admission all the time. With more than 1,200 pieces in dozens of exhibition spaces, studios, and a library on six floors, you can spend all day here. Wherever you wander, you cannot bring your luggage or large bags, so leave your belongings at one of the Istanbul luggage storage sites first. Don't be weighed down while you explore this terrific city!
Located near Kasimpasa Stadium across the Golden Horn from the Suleymaniye Mosque, the Pera Museum holds a vast array of ceramics, paintings, and rotating shows of modern masters in an ornate hotel from the 1800s. It is a private museum in what used to be the Bristol Hotel. Here you can see many Orientalist paintings, vintage furniture, and temporary exhibitions from famous artists.
Some of the most popular include Pablo Picasso, Joan Miro, Andy Warhol, Osman Hamdi Bey, and Jean-Baptiste van Mour. Another collection includes more than 10,000 Anatolian weights and measures dating back to prehistory. Temporary exhibitions have included such renowned names as Rembrandt, Goya, and Chagal and boast free admission Friday from six to 10 in the evening.
Also known as Sultan Ahmed Mosque, the Blue Mosque is one of the most beautiful buildings you will ever see. You do not even have to go inside to see the beauty of this place. It is stunning, to say the least. This mosque complex was constructed in 1616 and is thought to be the resting place of Sultan Ahmet.
It may be a tourist attraction but it is also still a functioning mosque where many locals participate in their daily prayer service. The mosque got its name from the blue tiles inside and the blue lights outside with five domes, six minarets, and eight smaller domes. With more than 20,000 handcrafted tiles in 50 different tulip designs, the result is breathtaking.
Officially known as the Church of Hagia Sophia or Holy Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque, this religious building was designed in 537 AD by the Greek Anthemius of Tralles and Isidore of Miletus. Within walking distance of the Blue Mosque and the Topkapi Palace Museum, this byzantine museum is absolutely free.
One of the main reasons the Hagia Sophia is so popular is due to the mosaics. The first ones were done under the power of Justin I from 565 to 578 AD. Although a lot was damaged over the years, it has been restored many times as well. The Lustration Urns are also important and were carved from solid marble in the 2nd century.
Elgiz Museum of Contemporary Art
It's a wonderful thing that many Istanbul museums are low cost or free. Art can be found all over the city with several fine art museums, art galleries, a modern art museum, and the Elgiz Museum of Contemporary Art. This art gallery is one of the best, so being able to get in free is a real treat. Not only does the museum feature Turkish art but it also has a variety of international artists.
Some of the most influential and memorable artists from previous temporary exhibitions include Andy Warhol, Princess Fahrelnissa Zeid, Cindy Sherman, and Bedri Baykam. With more than 22,000 square feet of space, the museum also boasts project rooms, an archive room, and a conference room for lectures.
Museum of Painting and Sculpture
In Tophane Park in the Dolmabahce Palace, the Museum of Painting and Sculpture was one of the first fine art museums in Turkey. Founded in 1937 by Ataturk, the exhibits include both 19th and 20th-century like Bedri Rahmi and Osman Bey. You can get free admission every day except Sunday and Monday before 4:30 PM.
Inside, you will find almost 7,000 pieces including ceramics, scriptures, paintings, drawings, and almost 700 sculptures. Suleyman Seyyid, Osman Hamdi, and Hoca Ali Rıza are just a few of the Turkish artists as well as Western artists like Picasso, Matisse, and Pierre Bonnard. There are even pieces from the Ancient Orient.
Istanbul Modern Art Museum
Just south of the Museum of Painting and Sculpture, this is one of the most important contemporary art hubs with both local and international artists. It is free on Thursdays so why not spend the day checking out the culture? The cinema makes this museum unique, showing programs on the history of cinema.
Art aficionados love the Istanbul Modern Art Museum for its rotating temporary exhibitions of famous artists as well as the permanent collection. The pieces are exemplary with works by Sener Ozmen, Omer Uluc, Nurullah Berk, and Hoca Ali Riza. The library is also an important spot to visit with a collection of more than 11,500 books.
Ottoman Bank Museum
For more free attractions, check out the cultural institution located inside the former Ottoman Bank where you can find an array of different workshops, galleries, and artwork. In the basement of SALT Galata, this is where to go to learn about the Ottoman Period and how it has merged with modern westernization.
Not only can you find out about the history of the bank but you will see details on the building itself and charts that detail the fall of the period. The beautiful research library, art gallery, and Ottoman Bank Museum are all free so you could spend the entire day here checking out the exhibition spaces.
Grand Bazaar/Spice Bazaar
If you have never tried Turkish Delights, take the time to visit the Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar. It is free to visit and you can often get samples for free as well. We cannot guarantee that you will not be tempted to spend some money though because there are so many amazing items on display.
Bring the kids to see the best of Istanbul. With more than 4,000 different shops and vendors spread out over 61 streets, this place was listed as the number one most visited attraction in 2014 with more than 91.2 million visitors. And since it is all together, the Turkish rugs can be found right alongside the Turkish tea so you will not have to walk too far.
Try a free walking tour while you are in Istanbul. Most of these are conducted by locals who want to show off their city and the beautiful neighborhoods of Istanbul. The tours vary depending on what kind of sites you want to visit. For example, if you want to see the ancient ruins, art galleries, or some of the city parks, you can find free tours featuring each of these.
The thing about free tours though, means that you may just get to see the outside of many of the famous attractions but it is still worth it. Others take you to places with free admission so you can get the full treatment. Although these are free, it is nice to offer a tip to your guide anyway.
You do not have to pay a penny to visit the Galata Bridge and it is one of the best spots in Istanbul to see the skyline with so many ancient mosques or watch the sun go down. Spanning across the Golden Horn, this is also a place where you can find locals enjoying a beer while they try to catch "the big one" from the waters below.
You can cross the bridge by vehicle, tram, bike, or on foot, and it even has vendors serving street food or selling handmade wares. It is the perfect place for a walk on a sunny weekend afternoon or to get a good view of the Maiden's Tower and the Galata Tower.
With its stately old trees, Emirgan Park (Emirgan Korusu) is especially stunning during the Istanbul Tulip Festival in April, when millions of bulbs planted around the city bloom in vibrant colors and styles. The park has playgrounds, picnic areas, a walking and running track, and several cafes that used to be Ottoman mansions.
Along the banks of the Bosphorus Strait, Emirgan Park has over 115 acres of rare trees like the Babylon Willow, Japanese Cedar, and the Turkish Pine. Rent a private pavilion for the day and enjoy all the park has to offer. The Yellow Pavilion dates back to 1871 and used to be a hunting lodge.
Things to Do in Istanbul
No matter where you end up spending your time in Istanbul, Turkey, you will not be disappointed. Just take a look around and you can find gorgeous old architectural buildings, mosques, and religious sites. There are a plethora of lovely parks, gardens, and eateries to enjoy as well. From the beautiful art in the art gallery to the Sweet Little House Museum, Istanbul has a lot to offer.