Istanbul straddles the line between Europe and Asia, allowing for these two different continents cultures to meld together. It’s a magical city with beauty and history abounding throughout. Get lost in the Grand Bazaar, sip turkish coffee by the sea, or explore the magnificent landmarks. 2 Days in Istanbul will take you in and impress you.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed when planning a trip to Istanbul, due to its large size. We were lucky to get a truly authentic experience because we were staying with a friend on the Asian side of Istanbul. We had an incredible time learning about the history and admiring the beauty of this city. I hope you find this itinerary helpful for your quick trip!
Table of Contents
2 Days in Istanbul Itinerary
Day 1 in Istanbul: The Sultanahmet
Ferry on the Bosphorus Strait
We started our first day taking the ferry across the Bosphorus strait to reach the Sultanahmet or Old Istanbul. Along the way you will see magnificent views, the Prince’s Islands and the Maiden Tower. If you aren’t staying on the Asian side, then you should consider taking the ferry the opposite direction!
The ride itself takes about 25 minutes from Kadikoy to Eminou. You can buy a ticket for about 4-6 Turkish Liras, which is less than a dollar! That’s a great price for a scenic ride through the Bosphorus Strait. Once you get to the other side, you can begin to explore the historical sites.
What started as a Catholic church was taken over by the Ottoman turks and turned into a mosque and now it serves as a museum for visitors. Here you can stare up into the gorgeous blue dome, admire breathtaking mosaics, and get stunning views of the Blue Mosque from the windows.
As you walk through the museum, you will get a feel for the amazing history in the city. There is no fee to enter, but make sure to dress conservatively and act respectful within the building.
When many people think of Istanbul they think of this gorgeous mosque that sits in the middle of the Sultanahmet. Walk 5 minutes from the Hagia Sophia to get to this building, but beware as it gets very crowded. Visitors are not allowed in during the multiple prayer times during the day, so you will want to look them up before you go.
When we got to the Blue Mosque the line wrapped completely around the courtyard. They have a strict dress code to enter, so girls must cover their shoulders, knees and hair, while males must wear wraps around their legs. Luckily, if you are not wearing the proper clothing, you can borrow some from a stand right outside of the Blue Mosque.
After you have explored these two historic buildings it’s time to go underground. The Basilica Cistern is one of the only remaining Byzantine cisterns and it’s only a 5-7 minute walk from the Blue Mosque. The fee to enter is 30 Turkish Lira or around 2 US dollars.
Walking through the cistern is similar to walking through a cave, except instead of stalagmites hanging down there are beautiful columns that line the tunnels. Do not forget to see the mysterious Medusa carvings at the end of the cistern.
Venture 6 minutes by foot to Topkapi Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is a must see for any tourist in Istanbul. It’s really a historical wonder and is amazing to see in person. In order to get in, you’ll have to pay a fee of 200 Turkish Lira, which is around $14.
The palace was constructed by the Ottomans in the 1400s and there are beautiful mosaics throughout the building. When you get to the back of the palace you can get extraordinary views over the Bosphorus Strait.
Dinner by the Bosphorus
Once you’ve had a long day of touring and walking around town it’s time to relax. There are plenty of nice restaurants that sit along the Bosphorus. Enjoy a delicious Turkish meal as you look out at the city and water beyond. Make sure to dress nicely, because many of these restaurants have dress codes!
Best Restaurants on the European Side of the Bosphorus:
- Tugra Restaurant
- Banyan Restaurant
- Azure the Bosphorous
Day 2: Shopping, Eating, Drinking
No trip to Turkey is complete without indulging in a Turkish Breakfast. Turkish breakfast spreads include mouthwatering entrees, fresh mezzes, warm pastries, sweet fruits, and soothing teas. There are plenty of places where you can find an authentic breakfast in the city. You will be amazed by the quality and amount of food. Sit there for a couple hours, savor your food, and soak it all in!
Best Turkish Breakfast in Istanbul:
- MSA’nin Restorani
- Emirgan Sütiş
- Namlı Gurme
You can’t leave Istanbul without shopping at the Grand Bazaar. This is one of the largest markets in the world with over 3,000 stalls and stores in the structure. This maze of stores can be overwhelming and you might get lost as you walk through the various rows of shops.
We bought plenty of things including art pieces, hats, and silk scarves. You can’t leave here without purchasing a beautiful souvenir to take home. Make sure to pack extra cash with you, because some places will not accept credit card!
Continue your shopping journey by walking 600 meters (20 minutes) or taking a car for 3 minutes to the Spice Bazaar. After the Grand Bazaar, this is one of the largest and most famous Bazaars in the city.
The Spice Bazaar will overwhelm your senses with colorful displays and aromatic smells throughout. Here, you’ll find hundreds of spices, but also dried fruits, nuts, and honeys. Some stalls will allow to taste some of the merchandise before you buy, which is so fun! Purchase local spices, Turkish delights, or fresh baklava. You will love this stop!
Sunset Ride on the Bosphorus
End your time in Istanbul by traveling over the Bosphorus sea and watch the colors turn from blue to pink. Choose to hop on a ferry and just cross over the strait to get dinner on the other side or take a sunset cruise.
Relax with a drink as the breeze cools you down. You can think about your last two days and the wonderful time you had in this captivating city! There are hundreds of boat tours to choose from, so you can find one that suits your fancy.
If you have more time in Istanbul then there are plenty of other things to see including Galata Tower, Taksim Square, and the Istanbul Archaeological Museum. I truly believe that Istanbul is one of the most beautiful and wonderful cities in the world. I hope you visit and find this itinerary helpful!
Let me know in the comments if this Istanbul itinerary was helpful!
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