An international hub and touristic destination, the lively city of Istanbul is one of Turkey’s most well known cities. This unique city is lies in both Europe and Asia while being separated by the Bosphorous strait. While roaming around the city, you will notice both European and Asian influences in architecture and food. With only 48 hours, it is possible to see all the main sights in Istanbul!
Start your day early in order to see all the main sights (recommended 8:00AM). Begin your day of exploring in Old Town, I would recommend grabbing breakfast at 7 Hills Restaurant for an incredible view of both the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia.
Right across from the Blue Mosque is Hagia Sophia, which once was a mosque and is now a museum. Entrance to the mosque is 100 TL (~$21CAD). As there are typically long waits, I would suggest booking tickets online in advance, this way you have the option to skip the line. The Hagia Sophia is stunning and the detail in the rooms and pillars is jaw dropping. This is worth the wait and a must see while in Istanbul. If you are walking around on your own without a tour guide, this will only take you ~30 minutes.
The Blue Mosque a functioning mosque that allows tourists to enter and view the interior. If you forgot to bring a scarf, no worries as once entering there are free scarfs that are offered. Entry to the blue mosque is free but keep in mind that there are locals that are there for daily worship and to be respectful.
Once you exit the Blue Mosque, to your right will be the Arasta Bazaar. This bazaar is the smaller scale of the Grand Bazaar and you will find that the store owners are more relaxed, offer fair prices to start off and won’t try to call you back if you say no.
Basilica Cistern/Topkapi Palace
We did not include this in our itinerary as the weather was not playing in our favour and instead we decided to do some shopping instead. However, if you have time, the Basilica is walking distance from the Blue Mosque. The Topkapi Palace is a little further of a walk but from photos/reviews, looks to be worth the trip.
Not far from the Arasta Bazaar is the Grand Bazaar. This market is one of the oldest and largest in the world – who else is excited to shop?! Will you get lost? very likely as this indoor market is a maze! Will you find everything you want? most definitely. A couple must buy items consist of:
- Rug – if you are in the market for a Turkish rug, now is the chance! Be sure to bargain as the initial price will be very high.
- Lamp – you can’t miss the Turkish lamps, these beautifully glass crafted globes are a souvenir you won’t regret. We saw a couple lamps that were being sold for 60TL outside of the Bazaar, inside the Bazaar we purchased a standing lamp for 100TL.
- Gold – whether you’re looking to purchase gold bricks or gold jewelry, Turkey is known for its affordable 24K gold.
- Turkish Tea Sets – you won’t be able to escape tea time in Turkey and you will most likely fall in love with the adorable Turkish cups. I purchased a beautiful gold set for 150TL (~$30CAD). Inside the Spice Bazaar we purchased another set for 100TL.
- Magnets – Evil eye’s will be found everywhere as keychains and magnets. These make great souvenirs as a reminder of your trip to Turkey.
Taksim Square/Istiklal Street
End the night by exploring Taksim Square, grab a bite to eat at one of the local restaurants or kebab/donair stands! You will find yourself walking down Istiklal street which has late night shopping and a variety of places to eat.
After seeing nearly all the main sights on day 1, get ready for more walking as day 2 involves more sight seeing! Start your day at Galata Tower for some breakfast and coffee.
The great Galata Tower can be seen from a distance as it sit upon a hill. To go up the tower costs 35TL (~$8CAD) and offers a spectacular view of the city. The area around Galata is picturesque, full of coffee shops, cafes and full of incredible baked goods/coffee.
Make your way to Suleymaniye Mosque, in my opinion the most beautiful most in Istanbul. You will be wow’d from the view of the city outside of the mosque, to the court yard with an incredible view of the mosque up close. A little out of the way, but I promise you this mosque is well worth the trip even if you only get to see the courtyard!
Not too far of a walk from the Suleymaniye mosque is the Spice Bazaar. Easy to navigate and full of treats, the only thing you need to worry about is finding room for dinner after eating all those sweets! One of the exits from the Spice Bazaar takes you directly to Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi, the oldest coffee company in Istanbul and most popular to purchase from.
Balat is located in the old Jewish quarter of Istanbul. The colourful streets of Balat are full of installation pieces, coffee shops and beautiful artwork on the side of buildings. Nearby up the hill in Fener is the Red Castle, a functioning Greek high school. This beautiful red brick building will simply catch your eye and worth the short trek up the hill to see.
The most instafamous photo of Balat is the colourful houses situated upon a hill. These houses are easily found when exploring the area on Kiremit street.