Is it even possible to talk about 24 hours spent in Istanbul? This unique cradle of civilization where modern west and traditional east meet each other abounds in endless beauty and incredible history. The mighty Istanbul is the 5th-largest city in the world and the largest in Europe. As a result of that, it is impossible to even get a proper taste of it in only 24 hours, but if that is all you got for this overwhelming city, we will guide you through these 24 hours to spend them as best as you possibly can! And it’s a guarantee, this is just the beginning, ‘cause you will be back!
08:00 – If your starting point is the center of Istanbul, then we recommend to start your day by strolling the most famous and longest street in Istanbul – İstiklal Caddesi. It is a 1.6 km long pedestrianized street which is packed with millions of people by day and night. There you can find almost anything, from cafés, patisseries, restaurants, pubs, wine houses and clubs to bookshops, cinemas, art galleries and museums. You won’t have much time to explore all the shops but take time to pick from one of the numerous places or stands where you can get a traditional breakfast such as börek with a glass of cold ayran.
09:00 – At the end of İstiklal Caddesi rises one of the most recognizable symbols of Istanbul. The Galata Tower is almost 67 meters tall, medieval, stone tower. There are two elevators that carry the visitors to the 7th floor, and the final two floors must be climbed in order to get to the top for a spectacular and neverending view on this magical city. The tower also includes a café where you can sit and enjoy your morning coffee.
09:30 – It’s time to hit the center of history and tradition and visit the most famous sights in this city. Next to the Galata Tower stretches the Galata Bridge, special for its incredible atmosphere thanks to the numerous fishermen trying their luck and ferries that pass every hour of the day. On the other side of the bridge you will find some of the most notable pieces of architecture. Start with the two greatest architectural wonders – the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. They are situated right next to each other, so you can decide in which order you are going to visit them. The Blue Mosque or Sultan Ahmet Mosque is a masterpiece of Mimar Sinan which still functions as a mosque. It is a huge tourist attraction, so you will be able to visit it respecting the muslim rules inside of it. Hagia Sophia was first a Greek Orthodox Christian basilica, later an imperial mosque, today a museum. After soaking up the impressive, huge space, climb up on the second floor and discover a gallery with a clutch of shimmering gold, figurative mosaics and faintly scratched Viking grafitti.
11:00 – The next stop is Topkapı palace, at the top of the list for every visitor. It is a UNESCO world heritage site built on a huge scale with four courts and a Harem. Each part of the palace presents islamic art, history and holy relics. In the garden you can find interesting coffee and museum shops. Have in mind that lines for certain exhibitions in the palace can be long but at least take a peak of it and buy an authentic souvenir. Fingers crossed you get there when there is less crowd!
12:00 – It’s shopping time! And is there a better place to do that than in the most traditional places in Istanbul – Grand Bazaar (Kapalıçarşı) and Spice Bazaar (Mısır Çarşısı meaning Egyptian Bazaar). Visiting the old bazaars is the essential Istanbul experience, and the variety of things you can buy there is going to enthuse you. Grand Bazaar is one of the world’s largest covered markets housing more than 300 shops offering clothes, accessories, jewelry, souvenirs and much more. Try to take time and focus while in this labyrinth since here it is all about good old bargaining. The same is with the Spice Bazaar which consists of 85 shops selling spices, Turkish delights, sweets, dried fruits, nuts and more. Instead of sticking to the familiar tastes, go for some exotic ones such as sumac or çörek otu. Both markets have spots where you can take a lunch break and enjoy the good traditional kebap.
14:00 – You cannot leave the Golden Horn without seeing one more architectural beauty, the impressive Süleymaniye Mosque. This incredible mosque is the second largest in the city and one of the best-known sights in Istanbul. It is a fascinating masterpiece done by Mimar Sinan, and as in Sultanahmet, you will be able to enter the parts intended for tourists respecting the rules of islamic religion. Also, next to the mosque you can visit the cemetery with a mausoleum of Sultan Süleyman and his wife Hürrem.
15:00 – It’s time to leave Europe and cross the Bosphorus Strait. Although the European side of the city contains numerous sights, one cannot leave Istanbul without checking out the Asian side. Hurry up to Karaköy and catch a ferry to Kadıköy. When you get there, you can start with exploring Kadıköy’s marketplace. Soak up this unique atmosphere, and if you didn’t get enough of shopping by now, explore the shops of this area because you can find anything from clothing, electronics, books, music and more. Also, this place is full of pastry shops, cafés and bookshops where you can relax. Since you don’t have much time, we suggest you simply take a nostalgic tram to Moda. The tram makes a loop which makes it a perfect way to explore the area.
19:00 – We suggest you stay on the Asian side and try some of the best Turkish specialties and enjoy the surroundings of one of the best restaurants in Istanbul. In Kadıköy you can go to 360 Istanbul East, a restaurant with the most spectacular view for sure and a perfect option for fine dining! It is currently closed so have that in mind if you’re planning the trip soon. If you want something fast just to refuel yourself, check Basta Street Food Bar for the best dürüm (grilled meat in a wrap). Besides that, this place offers many other traditional Turkish dishes you will simply adore. If you’re up for something more unusual in Turkish cuisine, head to Çiya Sofrası, famous for its very unusual vegetarian dishes based on garlic, parsley, hot pepper, unripened fruit and pomegranate pulp. For a perfect dessert we suggest you try Baylan Pastanesi, the old school pastry shop that resists all the new trends. Try their Kup Griye, a signature dessert made with vanilla ice cream, almonds, nuts, caramel sauce and chantilly cream. We also have to mention Mado, a place which offers best dondurma and baklavas in town.
20:30 – To experience the best Istanbul nightlife, you will have to go back to the European side. Half of the population seem to descend on the most crowded district in town – Beyôglu. This area offers numerous cafés, rooftop bars, jazz cafés, nightclubs and more. Don’t miss the lively street Nevizade, a guarantee for the best night out. It is a small street parallel to İstiklal Caddesi, behind the famous Flower Passage (Çiçek Pasaji), and it is so popular that its name became a synonym for a nightlife in Istanbul. Round up your day and visit with a good night out while enjoying mezes accompanied by Turkish alcoholic beverages such as rakı.