10+ Best Alternative Tours in Istanbul: Go Off the Beaten Path With These Unique Tours

The Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, and the Galata Tower will always be waiting for you … so why not enjoy one of these off the beaten path things to do in Istanbul instead?

From creating your own colorful mosaic lamp to learning more about Beyoglu’s fascinating secrets (with a stop for prosecco, no less!), enjoying a leisurely brunch while cruising around the Bosphorus, or visiting a traditional Polish village, there’s plenty of lesser-visited attractions and things to do in Istanbul!

(Psst — these are especially excellent if you’re tired of historical sites and just want to relax and experience the local culture!)

If you’re ready to see Istanbul’s alternative side, these tours will definitely help you do so.  

Best Alternative Tours in Istanbul: A Quick Guide

Best budget-friendly tour: Taksim to Galata With Secret Passages
Most delicious tour: Turkish Breakfast at Home Cooking Class
Most local tour: Turkish Coffee Making and Fortune Telling Workshop

Best Off the Beaten Path Tours in Istanbul

🥂 Art Deco & Prosecco

Rating: 5 ⭐️ | Duration: 4 hours

This is definitely the most luxurious ‘alternative’ tour on our list! 

On this tour, you’ll follow in the footsteps of Agatha Christie and embark on an elegant journey through 19th century Istanbul. The tour begins at the legendary Sirkeci Station (the final stop for the Orient Express) before crossing over the Galata Bridge to the Beyoglu district. The tour includes multiple stops at iconic art nouveau and art deco buildings, charming passages of Beyoglu’s golden age, and a visit to the second-oldest metro line in the world.

Along the way, you’ll sample local wines at a traditional wine lounge, as well as a stop for high tea with live piano music at the most elegant hotel in Istanbul. 

One reviewer put it succinctly: “It has brought us back to the world of luxury, elegance, exclusive dwellings with refined and decorative exteriors and interiors. We highly recommend trying this experience… You’ll really have an enjoyable time and long-lasting memories.” 

☕️ Turkish Coffee Making and Fortune Telling Workshop

Rating: 4.9 ⭐️ | Duration: 2 hours

Making Turkish coffee is an art form in itself (as you’ve probably noticed from drinking all the Türk kahvesi!) and now you can learn the secrets of this ancient ritual with this fun cooking class.

The class consists of two parts: during the first half, you’ll learn some fun tidbits about the history of Turkish coffee and learn how to brew the perfect cup. During the break, you’ll also try two different types of Turkish coffee before moving to the second half of the class: fortune telling!

The art of Turkish fal (coffee fortune telling) is almost as old as the drink itself: after you finish drinking your cup of coffee, it’s time to reveal your future as the instructor teaches you how to interpret the results of your coffee grounds. 

As a bonus, you’ll get to take home a traditional cezve (coffee pot), bag of Turkish coffee, and a cup as your gift! 

🌃 Istanbul Night Tour

Rating: 5 ⭐️ | Duration: 3 hours

If you’ve had one too many cups of Turkish coffee from the previous tour (we don’t blame you), how about using that energy and going on a night tour of Istanbul? 😉 

This is an excellent experience to fill up your evening, especially if you have a guided tour scheduled for the morning or afternoon. You’ll get an overview of the Old Town’s main tourist attractions like the Basilica Cistern, Hagia Sophia, and the landmarks along Sultanahmet — all with the added bonus of an entirely different ambience. 

As the sun sets and the stars emerge, Istanbul transforms into a dazzling city with a completely different atmosphere — and this is the perfect tour to take it all in. 

🔍 Taksim to Galata Secret Passages

Rating: 5 ⭐️ | Duration: 2 hours

Even though Istiklal Avenue is the busiest street in Istanbul (and probably Turkey), it’s also packed with mysterious secrets, fascinating history, and urban legends. 🤫

… And now you can uncover some of those secrets on this tour! Go beyond Istiklal and check out the hidden passages of Beyoglu, visit hidden streets that are full of surprises, and find out more about traditional stores and eateries that only locals know. 

🖍️ Balat & Fener Guided Tour

Rating: 4.9 ⭐️ | Duration: 5 hours

Located just 3 kilometers from the city’s Old Town (Sultanahmet), the districts of Balat and Fener offer an authentic glimpse into the life of a typical Istanbul neighborhood that has barely changed over the last century. 

This neighborhood is known for its multicultural history, and you can still see many of the Greek and Armenian churches, Jewish synagogues, and local mosques existing peacefully just streets away from each other. While tourism has picked up in recent years, most of the neighborhood has retained its old charm — especially when you see kids playing in the street, old antique shops lining the street, and locals chatting with each other in traditional teahouses. 

This tour starts near the Spice Market and includes a ferry trip up to Balat, where you’ll enjoy a comprehensive 5-hour walk around the two districts, with multiple stops at the colorful houses, places of worship, and smaller side streets away from the crowds. The tour also includes a cable car trip up to Pierre Loti (a must-see!) and a cup of Turkish tea with a view. 

🚂 Orient Express Walk 

Rating: 4.5 ⭐️ | Duration: 3 hours

If you’re a fan of the glitz and glamor of the legendary Orient Express (or Agatha Christie 😉), then we’re sure you’ll be delighted with this tour. 

You’ll be transported to the bygone sophistication of 19th century Istanbul and enjoy a thematic tour that includes a trip to the charming Old World markets and passages of Beyoglu, traditional churches and mosques, and a relaxing stroll while the guide tells you about Agatha Christie’s trip to Istanbul and how she was inspired to write her famous book Murder on the Orient Express (honestly, it’s a must-read!) 

The tour lasts about 3 hours and also includes a ferry ride across the Golden Horn, as well as a trip on the (second) oldest subway in the world. 

🍳 Turkish Breakfast at Home Cooking Class

Rating: 5 ⭐️ | Duration: 2.5 hours

If you fell in love with Turkey’s legendary breakfast spreads, it’s time to take it to the next level and learn how to make Türk kahvaltı with this masterclass!

The class takes place in a local home in Beşiktaş, a neighborhood known for its famous Breakfast Street with cafes full of — you guessed it — breakfast! The friendly hosts will talk about the typical elements of a Turkish breakfast while putting it together, and show you how to make menemen (one of the main dishes in a typical breakfast). At the end, you’ll eat breakfast together like a true local! 

🛳️ Bosphorus Brunch Cruise

Rating: 4.6 ⭐️ | Duration: 2 hours

There’s no better way to start your day than with a Turkish brunch — and dreams do come true, as this tour includes a 2-hour ferry cruise complete with an unlimited Antakya-style breakfast spread!

The ‘tour’ includes a leisurely cruise up and down the Bosphorus, where you’ll see famous tourist landmarks like Dolmabahce Palace and Beylerbeyi Palace, charming yali waterfront houses, and beautiful views as you pass by. 

Of course, there’s also plenty to talk about on the table: there are more than dozens of dishes included on your table, including olives, a cheese plate from various Turkish regions, dried fruits and nuts, fresh seasonal fruits, hot starters, simit, sucuk, menemen, and unlimited drinks (like coffee, tea, and water). As a bonus, there’s also live jazz music to get your in the mood!

🧿 Turkish Mosaic Lamp Workshop 

Rating: 4.9 ⭐️ | Duration: 3 hours

You’ve seen those colorful mosaic lamps while exploring the winding side streets of the Grand Bazaar — and now it’s time to make your own!

This is the perfect activity if you’re looking to relax and do something creative while still immersing yourself in Turkish culture. As a bonus, you’ll also get to meet fellow travelers and create your own souvenir! 😉 

The workshop lasts about 3 hours and begins with a short presentation about the history and cultural significance of these lamps. From there, you’ll sketch the design you want to create and bring it to life by choosing between 40+ different colored mosaic stones and beads. During the class, you’ll enjoy complimentary Turkish coffee or tea and homemade cookies. After you finish your masterpiece, it’ll be packed in protective wrap and ready to take home. 

🌲 Poland Village Tour

Rating: New Activity | Duration: 7 hours

Did you know that there’s a traditional ethnic village just a short drive away from Istanbul’s bustling city center? And perhaps more surprisingly, it’s actually a Polish village whose history goes back to the 1800s!

This full-day tour takes you to Polonezkoy (also known as Adampol), a village surrounded by lush forests and pine trees where many original buildings still stand. The village makes for a perfect day trip, and there are plenty of restaurants and cafes to relax in. There’s also hiking paths, small farms to visit, and cultural landmarks like the Czestochowa Mother Mary Church, the Polish Cemetery, and Zofia Ryzy museum. 

🕌 Blue Mosque: Art and Symbolism Group Tour

Rating: 4.6 ⭐️ | Duration: 1.5 hours

You’ve most likely already visited Sultanahmet Mosque, but do you know the meaning behind its design? In fact, Sultanahmet Mosque is often called ‘the Blue Mosque’ thanks to the 20,000 blue tiles that adorn its interior — and now you can learn even more through this tour. 

This short and informative group tour takes you behind the scenes of one of Istanbul’s most famous landmarks and goes into the history of its beautiful stained glass, blue tiles (called iznik), and minarets. You’ll discover the secret symbolism behind famous designs, as well as learn more about the architect, the history of the mosque, and other cultural tidbits. 

Pssst — Are you interested in even more off-the-beaten-path things to do in Istanbul?

Check out our other blog posts here:

Photo credits: Respective tour authors (other than Taksim and Balat photos)


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