How to Spend 24 Hours in Istanbul Without Missing Anything
If you’re like me, you think that the most meaningful experiences in life are usually the smallest or what we call fleeting moments. It’s true, these little things often become big things and this is always the case when I travel someplace new in the world.
But why am I telling you this?
For many digital nomads, it’s hard to find time away from the laptop or work and even a quick stopover can do wonders for the soul. In other words, 24 hours in Istanbul should be enough to liven up even the darkest soul and reinvigorate the mind before you continue your travels.
Now, that’s not to say you’re miserable or unhappy in any way but rather to point out that you should not pass up an opportunity to explore Istanbul.
You see, Istanbul is the kind of place that hits you smack dab in the face. Iconic mosques shimmer in the sun, exotic aromas fill the alleys, bustling crowds hurry through the Grand Bazaar and the Turkish coffee is unlike any other in the world! Whether you spend a couple of hours at Hagia Sofia or take a cruise along the famous Bosporus, the attractions are legendary and the food, locals and vibrant atmosphere around the city are every bit as interesting.
Well, if you happen to be passing through Istanbul any time soon, this is the absolute perfect city in which to find these meaningful moments and even 24 hours is enough to get a taste for what the city is all about.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the main attractions and travel tips for exploring the city:
Travel Itinerary for 24 Hours in Istanbul
Breakfast at Mangerie
For a quick insight into some local traditional food, make an early stop at Mangerie where you can find a typical Turkish breakfast at reasonable prices. It might be a little flash or trendy for Istanbul but the location and food make this a great place to start the day. It’s also overlooking the Bosporus but more on that in a moment….
In case you might not know, breakfast is hugely important to Turkish people who like to practice a long, drawn-out process where they feast upon eggs, olives, cheese, and baked items.
Take a Cruise on the Bosphorus
Did you know that you can visit two continents here in the space of a few minutes? It’s true, the Bosporus is a narrow strait of water that divides Europe and Asia. With this in mind, the cruise travels to both the north and south shores which are located on separate continents. However, it’s also just a nice way to gain some perspective in terms of the location of Istanbul and how it has played such a pivotal role in trade throughout the centuries.
Also, taking a Bosporus scenic cruise is a great way to relax and digest your breakfast!
Head Straight for Hagia Sophia
Once you get off the cruise, drop everything and head straight for Hagia Sophia.
For many visitors, Hagia Sophia is the most impressive sight and attraction in Istanbul. Although this was initially built as a church, the structure was transformed into a mosque by Sultan Mehmed and it was almost 500 years later when the mosque became a museum.
Anyway, this spectacular building is now home to endless examples of ancient calligraphy, colorful tiles and interesting mosaics that make this a truly remarkable encounter.
Visit the Grand Bazaar and Enjoy Some Lunch
As previously mentioned, eating is almost a sacred act in Istanbul and to truly enjoy the food, it’s best to keep things local. I know that some local families invite visitors to enjoy lunch at their homes for a small fee but with so little time, I think that a restaurant in the Grand Bazaar makes more sense.
As a rule, try starting with a small dish like pita bread with hummus or salad before moving on to something more substantial. At the same time, I recommend holding off on the amazing kebabs and pizza until later as you will be on your feet in the afternoon.
But why will you be on your feet?
Well, exploring the Grand Bazaar was a bit overwhelming with over 4,000 shops, it was captivating to see. Featuring thousands of stalls and more crafts than you can imagine, this famous areas consists of sixty shopping streets. As you may know, this was also a famous trading area in the 15th century and the jewelry, fabrics, crafts, art and more truly make this a colorful and memorable encounter.
Grab Turkish Coffee and Visit the Hippodrome
Okay, it’s time to sample some Turkish coffee and visit some more attractions in Istanbul. Just so you know, there are endless places to try Turkish coffee and rather than pick one out, I think this is a great way to go exploring. In other words, just turn the corner, look straight ahead and pick the next random coffee shop that looks fun or quirky.
Afterward, both the Hippodrome and Basilica Cistern are both located within easy reach of the Grand Bazaar each other, so I suggest walking between them. In fact, I suggest walking as much as you can in Istanbul as it’s not so often that digital nomads get time to walk around!
You may have walked over the Hippodrome prior to actually realizing it was there at all. In case you might be asking yourself, this was the location for the famous chariot races in ancient times. You can now find three statues that mark the spot, and they at least make for a fun photo opportunity.
Obelisk of Thutmose III – originally erected for King Thutmose III of Egypt but transferred to Constantipole where the emperor Theodosius I ordered it to be re-erected in the Hippodrome.
Serpent Column – It was built to commemorate the Greeks who fought and defeated the Persian Empire at the Battle of Plataea.
Constantine Obelisk – the date is unknown for the construction but it was named after Constantine VII. At the time of construction, it was decorated with bronze plaques and displayed the victories of Basil I, Constantine’s grandfather.
Located next to Sultanahmet Square, this underground cavern was where the water used to be stored for the palace and nearby buildings. It’s a very enchanting experience and you can see the notorious “medusa heads” here along with some interesting architecture. Such an amazing display of architecture. The Basicila is just another way to show how and why the Romans ruled for so long and covered so much land.
SultanAhmet aka “Blue Mosque”
The Sultan Ahmed Mosque has five main domes, six minarets, and eight secondary domes. The design is the culmination of two centuries of Ottoman mosque development. It incorporates some Byzantine Christian elements of the neighboring Hagia Sophia with traditional Islamic architecture and is considered to be the last great mosque of the classical period. Don’t forget this is a sacred space and dress accordingly. They do provide clothes in case you don’t but it’s better to have your own, I unfortunately forgot.
I was able to visit all these sites with a tour I found on Viator.com for $30. They offer full day tours, but I wanted some time to explore on my own. After visiting both of the above, take a trip back to your hotel to fresh up and get ready for dinner….and possibly a night out!
Some Last Minute Travel Tips for Istanbul
If you have more than 24 hours, check out the Topkapi Palace Museum and Galatea Tower which has some of the most amazing views of the city.
Don’t …Forget to Keep it Local
Take a wander down Istiklal Avenue where the locals spend their time shopping, wasting out and enjoying the local entertainment.
Consider a Turkish Bath
Also known as a “hamam”, Turkish Bath’s include a body massage and a steam bath. It’s not for everyone and you need to strip right down for the occasion but it might be worth considering!
How to Get Around Istanbul
Istanbul is super busy but the tram is cheap and fast. If you get stuck, download Uber but otherwise, walking is safe (before 9pm) and the best way to see the city.
Where to Stay in Istanbul
You have many options of where to stay in Istanbul but try to stay close to Sultanahmet as this is quite central and close to the main attractions.
And that’s it – how to spend 24 hours in Istanbul without missing anything. I wish you a safe trip and if you need any more information on visiting Istanbul, please let me know in the comments