When we visited we had 5 days in Istanbul. There are so many things to do, so this was a great amount of time. Enough to see some of the sites, explore a few neighbourhoods, try lot’s of food and become a “regular” at the local borek shop for breakfast.
But, if you only have a day in Istanbul (which I wouldn’t recommend, but sometimes it’s all you get), than this is how I would spend it.
There is way too much to see and do in Istanbul to waste time sleeping. Rise as early as you can. You will never be too far from a simit (a seeded bread/pretzel like snack). As you’re starting early simit will be the perfect way to prepare your stomach for the day. Take your simit and get acquainted with the streets.
Find a local Borek shop for breakfast. One of my favourite Istanbul food discoveries (I have a sweet tooth!). Borek is a layered filo pastry that you can have sweet or savoury (the sweet borek is my favourite). You have to try a Turkish tea to wash it down. Turkish tea is everywhere and tastes pretty good with a cube of sugar. Turkish coffee on the other hand, I would pass on unless you really want to try.
You don’t have anywhere near enough time to see all the sights, but you do have time to see some great ones. Go to Hagia Sophia (a religious building which is historically linked to 3 different religions; Pagan, Christian and Islam) and the Basilica Cistern (one of the largest ancient cisterns lying beneath Istanbul). Luckily, they are across the road from each other. The Blue Mosque is nearby, but I thought Hagia Sophia had much more of an impact.
The Grand Bazaar is on most people’s must do lists of Istanbul. We actually probably enjoyed the surrounds more than the Bazaar itself. Good snack options, atmospheric streets, more of a local feel and cheaper prices.
The Grand bazaar is massive, and there is lot’s of things to see and buy. You could spend many hours there… if that’s what you want. You can buy clothes, food, and souvenirs. If you don’t have as much time, try the Spice Bazaar. It’s smaller, and has mainly spices, food, Turkish delight, but it has a less overwhelming, more authentic feel.
Kebabs For Lunch
After 5 days in Istanbul and too many kebabs, I don’t think I could look at a Kebab the same way ever again. But if you only have one day, you have to try a kebab in Istanbul. They are drier than what we have in Australia, with flavours coming from the meat and spices rather than sauces.
2.30pm – Short Circle Bosphorus Tour
There is a full Bosphorus tour which takes most of the day. It leaves at 10.30am and returns at 4.30pm. You get off at the top of the Bosphorus for a few hours for lunch and exploring time. This is great if you have the time. But, if you’re just in Istanbul for the day, the short circle tour is a great alternative. It leaves at 2.30pm, lasts just 2hrs, and goes a fair way up the Bosphorus without getting off anywhere. You can still see a lot of villages and sights from the boat.
You will get off your Bosphorus tour right at Galata Bridge. So why not go for a stroll over, and see all the locals fishing. Once over the other side, walk up the hill and you will stumble across Galata tower. You can go up to the top for 360 degree views of Istanbul. The streets around here are worth a look. You could have dinner around here, then make your way up to Istiklal Street, or grab a bite to eat in Istiklal.
Istiklal goes from the Galata area all the way up to Taksim Square. It is always full of people, shopping, eating, drinking or just walking. It’s lined with shops, food carts and restaurants. Walk up and down, stop when you feel like it, enjoy a bite to eat in Istiklal or it’s many side streets. And if you’re up for a drink, check out the side streets off Istiklal. Walk to near the Sephora shop, and walk down the side streets on the opposite side of Istiklal… laneways filled with bars and great atmosphere.
Call it a day…
So that’s how to spend a day in Istanbul! Keep in mind this is a hectic itinerary and not for the faint hearted. If you want to slow it down a bit, cut a few things out. And if you are going to be in Istanbul for more than 1 day, don’t attempt all this in the one day, but spread it out over a few.
Have you been to Istanbul? How would you spend a day in Istanbul?
Let us know if you have any questions below…