The city where cultures and continents collide. Where the modern west meets the traditional east. Whether you visit Istanbul regularly or you’re contemplating heading there this year, here’s our whistle-stop tour of this cosmopolitan city that has an ancient heart. We’ll show you the coolest, oldest and most unforgettable sights Istanbul has to offer.
How To Spend 24 hours in Istanbul
The capital of Turkey has got a lot to offer to visitors, starting from the many marvellous historical, cultural and religious sights and ending with the fantastic restaurants, cafés and bars. Come to Istanbul for a day and you will never want to leave!
Your starting point should undoubtedly be the İstiklal Caddesi. At 1.6km it’s the longest pedestrianised street in Istanbul. It’s the perfect place to stop and enjoy a traditional Turkish breakfast of menemen (Turkish scrambled eggs) whilst watching the hustle and bustle of passers-by.
To fuel your day you’ll want to have a nice mug of traditional Turkish coffee, followed by flatbreads, jams, meats, cheeses and eggs for the perfect Turkish breakfast.
Perhaps one of the most recognisable symbols of Istanbul, the Galata Tower rises over the end of the İstiklal Caddesi. At almost 67 meters tall and built in 1433 it’s an impressive monument for the city that has stood the test of time.
There are two lifts that take visitors to the 7th floor, but the final two floors must be climbed in order to get to the top and enjoy the spectacular views of the city.
Once you’ve got your bearings from the Galata Tower, it’s time for a bit of tradition. Crossing over the Galata bridge you’ll encounter two of the greatest architectural feats of human engineering – the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. The Muslim mosque and the Greek Orthodox Christian basilica perfectly exemplify this truly blended city and are just as wondrous on the inside.
At the top of every visitor’s list is the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Topkapı Palace. Each part of the palace is a feast for the senses, with Islamic art, history and holy relics. Stroll around the gardens and maybe buy a souvenir from the museum shop.
A visit to Istanbul wouldn’t be complete without a visit the Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar. A true labyrinth, the bazaar’s house more than 300 shops and is one of the world’s largest covered markets. Look out for stalls selling Turkish Delights, sweet candies made with chopped dates or pistachios, hazelnuts or walnuts bound together with a gel of starch and sugar.
Both bazaars have places for a spot of lunch – choose one favoured by the locals for an authentic Turkish lunch.
Before leaving the European side of Istanbul, head to the impressive Süleymaniye Mosque. The second-largest in the city and sits resplendently on one of Istanbul’s seven hills.
Board a ferry for the Asian side of Istanbul. Cross the Bosphorus Strait, and you’ll notice the stark difference between east and west. With plenty of traditional pastry shops, cafes and bookshops it’s time to catch your breath and people watch. The tram makes a loop of the city, making it a perfect way to explore the area.
The Asian side is home to some of the best Turkish specialities like fresh fish and grilled meats, kebab and döner, lahmacum and simit. And for dessert, halva, baklava and mozaik pasta tarifi. The 360 Istanbul East restaurant is the perfect place. Not only does it offer traditional dishes, but unrivalled views of the city too. If you prefer somewhere less fancy but equally tasty I recommend Kadi Nimet Balikcilik in Kadıköy.
For the best nightlife, you’ll need to head back to the European side. With plenty of cafés, bars and clubs. Running parallel to İstiklal Caddesi is the famous Flower Passage – famous for its nightclubs. Spend the evening there eating mezes and drinking raki before returning to your hotel for the night – I highly recommend boutique hotel Georges Galata.
With a flight time of around 4 hours 15 minutes, Istanbul is a perfect weekend getaway. Full of spectacular sites and cool cafes, make time to venture east this year.
Disclaimer: this is a collaborative post.