What to do in Istanbul if you're there for only one day

Duration: 24 hours
Location: Istanbul
Population: 15 million

Ahh, the majestic Istanbul, a city so great it occupies 2 continents. You finally decided to go to Turkey but, because of your short vacation/budget/family obligations/cheap husband/lazy girlfriend, you only get 24 hours in Istanbul.

One day?!?! That’s like, 24 hours! It is not enough time to see everything I want to see. This is why we created this suggested itinerary, in case you get only 24 hours in this enchanting city and want to make most of it. Keep on reading and you will see what to do, where to eat and other interesting bits about Istanbul (well, at least the short version). We will list more than you can actually visit in one day, this way you can choose which places to visit and which to skip.

Istanbul is a melting pot. Asian and European culture, Christian and Muslim, old and new, you will see a bit of everything.

Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and Basilica Cistern

First stops or 3 must-see buildings are Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and Basilica Cistern. The good thing for your short stay in Istanbul is that these 3 buildings are pretty close to one another, they are all on the same block so they are perfect to see in your 24 hours in Istanbul. Turkish architects were working in your favor. The neighborhood where the buildings are is called Sultanhamet and if you want to have photos with little or no people there, make sure to be really early at the location. And I mean early, like sunrise early. But, even if you decide to sleep in (don’t, you only have 24 hours in Istanbul), the buildings are stunning and you will definitely enjoy visiting them.

Additionally, make sure to have appropriate clothing, you need to cover your shoulders and legs as well as your head. However, there are coverings there to borrow free of charge. Entrance to the Blue Mosque is free, tickets to the Basilica Cistern can be purchased at the entrance for ~ 6 € and tickets to Hagia Sophia can be purchased at the entrance for ~ 12,50 €.

Turkish Baths ( a.k.a hammams)

The baths are also one of Turkish specialties, they date back to the Victorian era and were built next to mosques. It was also a place where Turkish women would go for a gossip session. What makes Turkish baths unique is that they do not have pools or baths in them. 

One of the top hammams in Istanbul is Kilic Ali Pasa Hamami, it is very luxurious and locals also go here, so you can expect the real experience of hammam. To visit this hammam you will need to book in advance and the price is 44 €. The cheaper option would be Aga Hamami with the price of 22 € per person for the traditional package. Also, this is a hammam to visit if you are traveling as a couple. Many bathhouses are completely separated by gender, but this hammam has a central room where you can hang out in together as a couple.

Cruise the Bosporus

We highly recommend taking this boat ride. How often can you be on a boat and look on the one side and see Asia, then look to the other side and see Europe?? There are many companies offering boat rides on Bosporus with prices ranging from 20 to 55 € or more. A cheaper version would be taking the government ferry for around 3,50 € and taking a tour for 2 hours – this fits perfectly to your schedule if you  only have 24 hours in Istanbul. The ferry leaves at 14:30 and you can buy tickets in an office by the bridge.

The Bazaar

One of Istanbul’s specialties – bazaars. And this specialty is so huge that if you spent more than 24 hours in Istanbul exploring just Bazaar, you would still miss something. Nevertheless, take a walk around Spice Bazaar and breathe in all the scents. For souvenirs, visit Grand and Little Bazaar. The main area of the Grand Bazaar boasts a total of 64 streets and 22 entrances so prepare to get lost and embrace this as a part of the authentic experience. Chatting and bargaining with the sellers is what makes the Grand Bazaar experience special. If you happen to be here somewhere around lunch time, we recommend eating at the Bazaar as well, or at least having a cup of coffee.

Just steps from the Bazaar there is a restaurant called Aslan which specializes in Turkish home cooking (address: Vezirhan Caddesi No. 70, Çemberlitaş). A classic among Grand Bazaar restaurants is Havuzlu and it offers homemade meals, extensive vegetarian options, grilled meats and kebabs (address: Gani Çelebi Sokak No. 3, Grand Bazaar). And if you are not hungry, at least have some Turkish coffee at Şark Kahvesi (address: Yağlıkçılar Caddesi No.134, Grand Bazaar).

If you are looking for a cheaper option, visit the farmer’s market in the Tarlabasi Pazari neighborhood. It is less touristy and has unbeatable prices.

Catch the sunset

Istanbul has magical sunsets so this should be a must while you are there. Seagulls flying in the sky are what makes these sunsets so picturesque. An amazing spot to catch the sunset with the views of the 3 mosques is the Galata Bridge. If you decide to be wowed at the bridge, look up online when the sunset will be and head to the bridge a bit earlier to find yourself a spot and relax.

Food and drinks

Food in Turkey is incredible, spicy and tasty. While you are there, try street food, eat something you usually don’t, try new spices and don’t forget to try Turkish tea and coffee. On top of already mentioned 3 places near and at Bazzar, here are some other options for food and drinks in Istanbul. And this is the hard part to fit in only 24 hours in Istanbul since there is so much food to try.

Sampling is encouraged, so while you are walking through Bazaars try different things. Don’t miss baklava – a swet traditional Turkish dessert that you simply must try.  Another traditional food for Istanbul would be fish sandwiches by the Galata Bridge, but be careful. Traditional fish sandwiches should be made over coals but because of the mass tourism restaurants are no longer making them this way. So, when lookin for fish sandwich, make sure to see if they are making it the right way, over coal. Apparently, there is one man with a little stand in Kadiköy neighborhood who makes the sandwiches in the traditional way. Another tip is to avoid restaurants right next to tourist attractions, this way you save money and get quality food.

Things to try

  • Menemen (breakfast food made of eggs, tomato, green peppers, and spices)
  • Doner kebab
  • Iskender kebab (as doner kebab, but unwrapped and served with rice)
  • Pida (pizza hybrid)
  • Kofte (a version of meatballs)
  • Manti (ravioli covered in yogurt)
  • Borek (baked filled pastries made of a thin flaky dough)
  • Midye Dolmas (street food, mussels stuffed with herbed rice, pine nuts, and currants)
  • Künefe (crisp cheese-filled dessert made with shredded kadayıf dough soaked in sweet syrup and topped with clotted cream)
  • Baklava (sweet dessert with walnuts)
  • Halka Tatlısı ( street dessert, fried dessert dipped in sweet syrup)
  • Dondurma (Turkish ice-cream, chewier in texture and more resistant to melting)
  • Turkish coffee and tea

Transportation around city

We definitely recommend using the metro for transportation. It is cheap and fast and taxi drivers are known for ripping off tourists (as in many big cities). You will need to buy Istanbulkart card which cost 1,60 € and you can use the same Istanbulkart for more than one person. Another way to avoid taxies but still go with car is taking an Uber. It is way cheaper than taxis off the street. Water taxis are expensive though so be careful to avoid them! Use ferries to go from European side to Asian side and vice versa.

Whatever you visit during your short stay in Istanbul, you will definitely have an amazing time. Soak in the culture and stunning architecture. Safe travels and keyfini çıkarın! (enjoy)

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