An increasing number of tours offer the chance to explore Istanbul through the lens of history, food, art, or other specialty pursuits. Companies offering general tours and their itineraries change frequently so it's best just to make arrangements through a travel agency or your hotel; the offerings are all pretty similar. If you join a group, a "classic tour" of the Aya Sofya, Blue Mosque, Hippodrome, and Grand Bazaar will cost at least 120 TL for a half day. For a full-day tour that also includes the Topkapı Palace and Süleymaniye Camii, as well as lunch, expect to pay 225 TL and up. Bosphorus tours include a cruise and excursions to sights like Rumeli Hisarı and the Dolmabahçe or Beylerbeyi palaces. Rates for private tours with a guide and driver are higher, and more cost-effective if you have a large party; for two people, expect to pay at least 300 TL per person for a full day, and about a third less per person if you have four or more people. Keep in mind that admission fees and meals are generally not included in private tour rates, so this alternative ends up being considerably more costly.
Artwalk Istanbul. Walking tours of galleries and artists’ studios offer an insider’s look into Istanbul’s booming contemporary art scene. Private walks are also available. From 75 TL per person for group walks. Istanbul. 543/606–1510; www.artwalkistanbul.com.
Context Travel. Private and small group “walking seminars” led by art historians, archaeologists, and other local experts include close looks at Ottoman mosque architecture and the cosmopolitan heritage of the neighborhoods around İstiklal Caddesi. From $215 TL per person. Istanbul. www.contexttravel.com/city/Istanbul.
Culinary Backstreets. Friendly, small-scale (maximum group size seven) walking tours of Istanbul neighborhoods focus on food—and plenty of it—with lots of local culture and atmosphere along the way. Most tours are 370 TL per person. Istanbul. www.culinarybackstreets.com/culinary-walks/istanbul.
Istanbul On Bike. Cycling in chaotic, traffic-clogged Istanbul may seem like a daunting prospect, but these young guides make it fun (and safe). Tours cover classic sightseeing routes as well as the lesser-visited Asian side of Istanbul and Golden Horn waterfront. They also offer rent-a-bike service including helmet, lock, and reflective vest. Tours price vary; available upon request. Istanbul. 553/440–5544; www.istanbulonbike.com.