Navigating the streets of Istanbul is like walking through an open-air museum, with centuries of intersecting history unfolding before your eyes. Its streets are chaotic, its structures spellbinding and its people impossibly charming.
Because many of Istanbul’s iconic sites are clustered together, 48 hours gives you just enough time to marvel at its architecture, enjoy the street food and explore the city’s best hidden secrets. Here is your 48-hour guide to Istanbul…
- Blue Mosque: Begin exploring at the Sultan Ahmet Mosque, popularly known as the Blue Mosque for its dazzling dome lined with 20,000 handmade İznik tiles. This active mosque closes to non worshippers for about a half hour during the five daily prayers, so plan your visit accordingly.
- Hagia Sophia: Just across from the Blue Mosque is another enormous architectural marvel, Hagia Sophia. More than 1,400 years old, the cathedral turned-mosque-turned-museum is adorned with priceless mosaics and will instantly overwhelm you with its sheer size.
- Turkish hammam: Just outside the Hagia Sophia is the 16th century Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Hamam. As one of the oldest bathhouses in Istanbul, it’s great spot to experience traditional hammam rituals in a luxurious atmosphere.
- Topkapi Palace Museum: Nearby you’ll find the opulent former residence of the Ottoman sultans. The grounds at Topkapi Palace are vast and give you a glimpse of what life was like at the royal court for centuries.
- Istiklal Avenue: The street is the busiest in Istanbul and runs through the Taksim neighborhood of the Beyoglu district. Hop on the signature vintage red trams to explore an endless range of cafes, restaurants, shops and nightlife spots. Don’t leave without trying the elastic Turkish ice cream from a tease-worthy street vendor.
- Dine on kebabs: Head to Azerbaijani restaurant Zeferan at Ajwa Hotel Sultanahmet for some of the best kebabs in town. The menu features several different culinary influences, and dining here comes with panoramic views overlooking the Sea of Marmara and the Old Town.
- Grand Bazaar: No trip to Istanbul is complete without a pilgrimage to one of the world’s largest and oldest covered bazaars. Snake your way through the narrow streets for bargain-hunting at over 4,000 shops selling everything from handmade crafts to rugs and jewellery. Make time to visit the nearby Spice Bazaar, also known the Egyptian Bazaar, for exotic spices, Turkish delight and coffee.
- Basilica Cistern: Also known as the Sunken Palace, head to Istanbul’s Basilica Cistern to experience a haunting underground world filled with ancient Roman columns, including the famed heads of Medusa. While it may not sound appealing at first glance, it’s guaranteed to be a highlight of your trip.
- Galata Tower: Walk across the Galata Bridge at sunset and climb the iconic Galata Tower for the best views of the silhouetted skyline. The area is always bustling locals and it’s a great spot to soak up the local atmosphere with cheap seafood options and street food vendors at every turn.
- Bosphorus Ferry Ride: Make the crossing from Europe to Asia on a 20-minute ferry ride on the Bosphorus where you’ll see landmarks like Dolmabahçe Palace and beautiful wooden seaside mansions along the way.
Check out our video exploring Istanbul‘s mosques, palaces and street food for more inspiration!