Things to do in Istanbul in 24 hours

Things to do in Istanbul in 24 hours

On a flight back to the United States on Turkish Airways, I had a 24 hour layover in Istanbul and I decided to take advantage of this layover to explore the best of Istanbul in a very short timeframe and get my first impressions of the city that bridges both Europe and Asia culture, history and even street food and cuisine from the region. Here are my favorite things to do in Istanbul in 24 hours and hopefully if you have a short layover like this, you can also take advantage of seeing the best of the city in a such time frame.

Things to do in Istanbul in 24 hours

 

Highlight to visiting Istanbul in 24 Hours

 

 

Golden Horn Hotel location Things to do in Istanbul in 24 hours

 

Check in to my Istanbul hotel

When you travel with Turkish airways and have a layover, any flight longer than 6 hours allows you to stay in any of their designated hotels. Fortunately I requested to stay as close to the city center as possible and was booked for a night stay at the Hilton Hotel located in the Golden Horn section of the city. Even though this area of Istanbul is a little out of the city center, you can easily catch a cab, ferry or even a mini bus to take you to the historic district of the city.

 

Ferry service Things to do in Istanbul in 24 hours

 

Ferry to the historic districts of Istanbul

One of the best ways to arrive and see Istanbul especially the main monuments and landmarks to the city is by water. When I checked into the hotel, I made sure to get a map and find out where the closest hotel ferry dock is and had some money taken out of the ATM. Fortunately my hotel was already close to the water and a nice walk to the nearest ferry dock – a ferry ride is only 4 Lira per ride (about $1 dollar) and a bargain for a wonderful ride through the Golden Horn into the historic district.

 

Ferry and water views to Istanbul and the historic district of Istanbul

 

Coming up to the historic district of Istanbul

There’s nothing liking seeing many of the beautiful monuments, mosques and other historic sites of Istanbul from the water – you really get a sense of place that the city is at the crossroads of both Asia and Europe and traveling by water bridges those different districts of the city. So if you are visiting the city, get to a ferry, water taxi or cruises and enjoy those views around the capital from a water vantage point.

 

 

Mosques and historic monuments of central Istanbul

 

Fishing along the banks of Karakoy facing historic Istanbul

 

Fishing in Kadikoy area of Istanbul along the waterfront

Exploring Karakoy and Galata district of Istanbul

The district of Karakoy on the other side of historic Istanbul is a very popular area along the waterfront filled with shops, cafes and other trendy bars and hangout spots. Passing through the area, I passed through some wonderful shops selling all sorts of delicious and exotic treats and other delicacies and even some street vendors selling fish sandwiches and fresh corn on the cob.

 

Street vendor in the Karakoy district of Istanbul

Enjoying some street food and grilled corn at Karakoy

 

 

 

Delicacies, eateries and shopping in Karakoy, in Istanbul

 

Spices, delicacies and other exotic treats found in Karakoy

 

Spices and other delicacies at Karakoy Istanbul

 

Galata Neighborhood

 

Walking the streets to the Galata district and Istiklal

Facing uphill to the Galata Tower

After walking the waterfront and alleys around Karakoy, it’s a short walk uphill to the Galata neighborhood which has the impressive and intact Galata tower sitting in a prominent area facing the entire region. A medieval stone tower, the Galata Tower is a nine story tower built during the Genoese occupation in 1348  and was the tallest structure of its day.  you can now climb to the top, enjoy a meal in the restaurant or just enjoy a magnificent view of the Bosphorus and city below. The Galata neighborhood likes in the European side of Istanbul with trendy shops and cafes, cool bars and fun places for the younger generation to hang out and enjoy the European influences, lifestyle and current trends that predominate this area.

 

 

The Galata tower in Istanbul

Crossing the Galata bridge and restaurants under the bridge

Spanning across the Golden Horn of Istanbul, the Galata bridge connects the European side to the historic district of Istanbul. It is a highly trafficked area with a constant fishing happening on the bridge while diners eat fresh and expensive seafood dishes with amazing water views to both the historic district and the European site of Istanbul.

 

Crossing the Galata bridge in central Istanbul

Walking across the Galata bridge over the Bosphorus

 

 

Fishing on the Galata bridge in Istanbul

 

Popular fishing venue on the Galata bridge

 

Popular fishing venue on the Galata bridge

Eminonu and the Grand Bazaar

After crossing through the Galata bridge you enter the Eminonu waterfront area of the historic district of Istanbul. To get to the other side of the main thoroughfare you enter through a small tunnel that goes underneath leads to the various areas of the Grand Bazaar markets including the spice market, jewelry market, clothing/domestics market and a more touristy market filled with trinkets, carpet sellers and other souvenir stands. The markets are fascinating to explore, chaotic and confusing all at once – I enjoyed trying some food samples and souvenir shopping and hopefully headed out into the right direction of the historic center at Sultanhamet.

 

Grand bazaar and the spice market in Istanbul

 

Fresh fish for sale at the Eminonu produce market

 

Grand bazaar and the fish market in Istanbul

 

The touristy Grand Bazaar market areas

 

Grand Bazaar shopping arcades in Istanbul

 

 

Enjoying mint tea at the Grand Bazaar

 

 

Grand Bazaar shopping arcades in Istanbul

 

Exploring the historic district at Sultanhamet

The entire historic district of Istanbul is a Unesco World Heritage Site created in 1985. Most of the historic treasures and mosques are centered at the Sultanhamet Archaeological Park along with other important areas around the district.

 

The Blue Mosque at Sultanhamet Istanbul

The Blue Mosque courtyard in Sultanhamet

The Blue Mosque juts out of the central park area of Sultanhamet like an exotic jewel with blue tiles that bear the description and was built from 1609 to 1616. This mosque is also a complex to include an education center, tomb and a hospice. The public is allowed to enter the interior halls with proper clothing and there is a carpeted section towards the middle area that is only allowed for followers of Islam.

 

 

The Blue Mosque at Sultanhamet Istanbul

 

Grand interior hall of the Blue Mosque

With no imagery of god or prophets, the interior of the mosque is decorated with graphic motifs and design that have an organic influence and repetitive patterns that create a very soothing and contemplative effect on the entire building. Beautiful stained glass windows allow color light into the cavernous halls and adds to the spiritual energy of the place.

Tip – for details on visiting the Blue Mosque and restrictions check out this website for more details and information.

 

 

The Blue Mosque interior hall at Sultanhamet Istanbul

 

The fountains and garden fronting the Hagia Sofia and Blue Mosque

 

 

Fountains fronting the Blue Mosque in Sultanhamet, Istanbul

 

Gardens fronting the Blue Mosque

Within the center of Sultanhamet square are fountains and gardens separating the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia and is a wonderful place to rest and enjoy all the historic monuments in the area including the Hippodrome, Topkapi Palace, Sultanhamet hammam (spa/sauna)  and the Basilica Cistern just beyond the square.

 

Gardens fronting the Blue Mosque in Sultanhamet, Istanbul

 

 

Views of the Hagia Sofia

When Istanbul was originally ruled as Constantinople, the Hagia Sofia was the main catholic cathedral in the city which was originally the main mosque of the city. After the Blue Mosque was complete, the Hagia Sofia was left intact as a church and mosque and later converted into a living museum for all to enjoy. This site is fascinating because it incorporates architecture, design and religious iconography of both Byzantine and Ottoman rule throughout the interior and exterior façade over various transitions and it is a wonderful display of how the beauty of the site and features are retained for all visitors to marvel and enjoy this unique monument.

Tip – It is definitely worth a tour of the museum and to explore the entire building, check out the upper terraces of the church looking down into the main halls and visit the smaller chapels.

 

 

Hagia Sofia in Sultanhamet in Istanbul

 

 

 

 

Having a fish sandwich at Eminonu on the waterfront

 

Street vendor selling fish sandwiches at Eminonu, Istanbul

 

Hanging out along the waterfront in Eminonu

After a long day exploring the many historic and fun attractions around the European and historic district of Istanbul, it’s nice to enjoy the rest of the afternoon trying a local fish sandwich from a street vendor and taking it to the dock areas of Eminonu and just watching the ferries and water views along the busy port area. I loved to finally relax and just watching the throngs of people leaving and boarding on the different ferries going to different parts of the Bosphorus is so captivating while munching on a freshly grilled fish sandwich.

 

 

Along the Eminonu In Instanbul

 

After regaining some strength to walk again, I head back across the Galata Bridge towards Karakoy to check out more shops and places to scout for an evening meal before I catch the last ferry back up the Golden Horn back to my hotel. It has been a very busy and active day and transportation is so easy when you just have to rely on the ferry service and walking around the main neighborhoods in the historic district and European side of Istanbul. More than enough time to see the best parts of the city in less than 24 hours wouldn’t you say?

There’s definitely more things to do in Istanbul in 24 hours, but these were the highlights to visiting the most popular attractions and neighborhoods around this amazing city.

 

Checking out eateries in the Kadakoy neighbhorhood of Istanbul

Checking out eateries in the Karakoy neighborhood of Istanbul

 

Checking out eateries in the Kadakoy neighbhorhood of Istanbul

 

Where to stay in Istanbul

If you do have a short stay or layover in Instanbul, it makes sense to really be somewhere close to the historic districts of the city, close to the metro or ferry service. Here are some suggestions of places that are historic inns to popular international brands located in various districts of the city.

Sultanhamet district hotels – Here’s a comparison and review of hotels within the old district of Istanbul

Karakoy district hotels – A comprehensive list and review of hotels in the European side of Istanbul

Newer city center/Taksim area – A comprehensive list and review of hotels in the European side closer to the Taksim and New city area.

Golden Horn district hotels – Hotel reviews and prices in the Golden Horn area of Istanbul

 

View of Sultanhamet district along the Boshporus

 

 

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What to do in Istanbul in 24 hours

 

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14 Responses to Things to do in Istanbul in 24 hours

  1. Jenna June 27, 2017 at 7:28 pm #

    Istanbul has always been one of the top cities I’ve wanted to visit–I’m not sure why we haven’t made it there yet! I think we need to change that soon 🙂 All of this looks like a lot of fun and definitely a lot of great things to pack in 24 hours! I would love to visit the Grand Bazaar, Blue Mosque, take the ferry and just wander around the streets. Great photos and looks like a wonderful time!

  2. Mike Cotton June 27, 2017 at 6:29 am #

    I’d love to visit Istanbul and take in a football match there. The crowds seem so passionate and dynamic. The free tours by Turkish Airways mentioned by Rhonda, is such a great idea. Great PR for the airline.

  3. Shruti Prabhu June 27, 2017 at 3:26 am #

    I love posts with 24 hours in.. They really can highlight the most important things to see in a city. Istanbul looks so pretty. Love the architecture of the Blue Mosque. Such intricate details. My husband visited Istanbul 6 years ago and is still raving about it. I hope I get a chance to visit soon. If the sights were not enough, the food simply looks to die for! As a foodie, I have to ask; what was your favourite dish?

  4. Darlene | PSW June 26, 2017 at 9:50 pm #

    Thanks for this post! Currently planning a 3days trip to Istanbul and from your post i can see that there’s definitely a lot to do. Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque is high up on my list.

  5. Michelle June 26, 2017 at 8:37 pm #

    I’m amazed at how much you were able to see in only 24 hours! I studied the Hagia Sophia in college, and would love to see it in real life! These are great tips, and I will keep them in mind if I’m ever lucky enough to visit.

  6. Megan Jerrard June 25, 2017 at 3:37 pm #

    We loved Istanbul – we spent 5 days here and couldn’t get enough of the city. I love your photos, took me right back there – such an exotic and truly unique place. You got a lot out of your day – Galata bridge was one of my favorite spots because it was so real and authentic, watching the fisherman throw their lines 🙂

  7. Marcus and Mel June 25, 2017 at 5:26 am #

    We have yet to visit Istanbul, it looks a really interesting place with its rich history and meeting of cultures. You managed to do a lot on your layover.

  8. Rahul Khurana June 25, 2017 at 5:22 am #

    This is a comprehensive information on Istanbul. There is so much to explore there. Loved the market with the arched ceiling above, it tells so much about the traditional architecture of the city. The mosque also looks stunning especially the interiors. 🙂

  9. Barb June 24, 2017 at 8:38 pm #

    I love this post! I cant believe you saw so much only in 24 hours. These photos are so beautiful too! This is a great introduction to Istanbul for anyone, who wants to pay a short visit.

    • Noel June 24, 2017 at 9:12 pm #

      It is a gorgeous city especially from the water, but you can see a lot just walking around

  10. Tanvi Nadkarni June 23, 2017 at 9:11 pm #

    Istanbul is literally the best city I have ever been to!

    • Noel June 24, 2017 at 7:53 am #

      It really is a fun and beautiful city to explore

  11. Rhonda Albom June 22, 2017 at 10:29 am #

    Istanbul is a fantastic city. I only visited it as a cruise port but maximized my time there by hiring a driver. You got to see so much more. I heard that Turkish Airways gives free tours to passengers with layovers longer than 6 hours.

    • Noel June 22, 2017 at 10:31 am #

      Yes Turkish Airways gives you the option of hotel lodging or taking the free tours, I opted for the lodging and did a self tour on my own which worked out better from this experience.

I look forward to hearing from you and continuing our discussion with any comment you would like to add