How to Spend 1 Day in Istanbul
So vast that it spans two continents, Istanbul is the meeting point of East and West, and every bit as diverse and cosmopolitan as you would imagine. With just one day to visit Turkey’s cultural capital, it’s best to stick to the highlights—of which there are many. Here are our suggestions for a memorable 24 hours in Istanbul.
Morning: Explore UNESCO-Listed Sights
Whether you choose to go at it alone on a hop-on hop-off bus, join a group walking tour, or hire a private guide, your sightseeing tour of Istanbul must begin in Sultanahmet. Istanbul’s historic center is full of UNESCO World Heritage–protected, must-see monuments. Step inside the magnificent Blue Mosque, so-called for the dazzling blue Iznik tiles that adorn its interiors. Walk through the ancient Hippodrome of Constantinople and its towering obelisk on the way to the stunning Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya), then tour Topkapi Palace, the lavish former residence of the Ottoman sultans. Prebooking skip-the-line tickets is a good idea to save time.
Afternoon: Practice Your Haggling Skills
Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar is world famous and with more than 4,000 stores, you could easily spend the entire afternoon browsing. Head there in time to enjoy lunch from one of the street food vendors—a classic Turkish kebab or dolma (stuffed eggplant) are top picks—before putting your haggling skills to the test. Continue to the nearby Egyptian Spice Bazaar, where stalls are heaped with a rainbow of dried fruits, spices, and lokum (Turkish Delight) in every flavor imaginable. Then cross the Galata Bridge and climb to the top of the Galata Tower for stunning sunset views along the Golden Horn.
Night: Take a Cross-Continental Cruise
Istanbul is even more magical by night, and an evening sightseeing cruise along the Bosphorus affords a prime view as you glide between the city’s European and Asian shores. Opt for a dinner cruise and feast on a 3-course meal of Turkish cuisine with traditional belly dancing entertainment as you float along the water. Along the way, spot landmarks including the Dolmabahce Palace and Ciragan Palace on the European shore, and Beylerbeyi Palace, Maiden’s Palace, and Anadolu Fortress on the Asian side.