Things To Do in Istanbul in 2 Days
Most of Istanbul’s tourist attractions are on the European side. It is easy to get from A to B by using public transport and the best part; Istanbul is very affordable! But before you start your trip, make sure to have a Visa for Turkey.
Day 1 – Undiscovered Istanbul
1. Galata Tower
Good morning in Istanbul! Head out to the Galata Tower, a medieval stone tower built on a hill, overlooking the entire city. The tower opens at 9 AM and tickets cost 25 Turkish Lira (TL) (4 USD) to visit the top. Trendy cafes surround the Galata Tower so you can easily get your breakfast and coffee there.
2. Colorful Balat – Unique Thing to do in Istanbul
Balat is one of the oldest districts and the best-hidden gems of Istanbul. Colorful, quiet sloping streets with old beautiful wooden houses. This hipster area is seeing a huge change as renovated buildings with cute cafes and restaurants are opening their doors — Balat is one of our favorite things to do in Istanbul.
Surprisingly enough this area is still so quiet, especially in the morning. So from the Galata Tower, walk down the hill towards the ferry point Haliç Hattı to catch the boat to Fener, which is only one stop.
3. Suleymaniye Mosque
Take a 7-min public bus ride from Fener towards our next stop: The Süleymaniye Mosque. This former, largest mosque of Istanbul is built on top of one city’s seven hills and can be seen from pretty much anywhere. Its beautiful architecture remains somewhat unnoticed as the majority of the visitors only visit the Blue Mosque.
4. Egyptian Spice Bazaar
A short 10-minute walk to the river through the lively streets of Istanbul brings you to the Egyptian Spice Bazaar. A large bazaar of shops selling spices, nuts, oils, sweets, jewelry, and dried fruits. During religious and public holidays, the bazaar is closed.
Tip: On your way to the Spice Bazaar, visit the Rustem Pasha Mosque. During our visit, it wasn’t accessible due to construction, but we’ve heard great stories about it.
5. Secret Rooftop in Istanbul
Right before sunset, climb up the rooftop of Kubbe Istanbul. Harun, a friendly and welcoming man, is the owner of the well-decorated rooftop. Formally Kubbe was a top thing to do in Istanbul to watch the sunset from but it recently changed into a photography location with an entrance fee of 100 TL. (~ 18 USD) You can also enjoy a great free view from the rooftop next to the location. Or join a walking tour.
Getting to the rooftop is a bit of a search. The easiest way is to walk to Pak Pide Pizza Salonu. Once there, follow the road uphill and take the first left. It’s a bit of a shady back street, but there is an actual stair leading up to the rooftop. If you can’t find it, ask the locals for ‘Kubbe’ which means ‘Dome’.
Don’t like heights? There is a brand-new park with a walking path along the river offering a beautiful sunset view of Istanbul. We stumbled upon it by accident, and we couldn’t figure out the name. So here is the exact location.
Day 2 – Highlights of Istanbul
6. Blue Mosque
The Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque) is Istanbul’s most famous landmark. The breathtaking blue interior of the mosque is what brought its nickname: Blue Mosque. Start your morning at 08:30 AM to avoid the tour groups and prayer times. Covers are available for free, and there is no entrance fee.
7. Hagia Sophia
From the Blue Mosque, we already see our next stop; Hagia Sophia. This UNESCO museum belongs to the world’s greatest archaeological achievements. Famous for its grandness and incredible interior.
Hagia Sophia is open from 9 AM to 7 PM and is closed on Mondays. Tickets cost 60 TL (11 USD). Don’t buy any skip-the-line tickets on the street. Order your tickets online as the Hagia Sophia is the most popular to do in Istanbul.
8. Topkapi Palace
Topkapi, an enormous former palace (now a museum) for sultans and their families. It hosts four large courtyards with gardens, smaller buildings, a view over the river and a stunning harem (where the female family members lived).
The beautifully decorated Topkapi Palace Harem has 300 rooms, 9 Turkish Baths, 2 Mosques, and even a hospital. The harem is located in the second courtyard on the left side.
The entrance fee to Topkapi Palace is 60 TL (11 USD) and a separate ticket to visit the harem 35 TL (6 USD).
9. Colored Houses (Yerebatan Street)
Time for lunch! It’s a 4-min walk from Topkapi to Yerebatan Street, with houses painted in the most vibrant colors. Different from Balat, this street is busy and filled with hotels and restaurants. Search for Kybele Hotel & Restaurant and have a good lunch is a wildly decorated environment.
10. Grand Bazaar
A visit to the Grand Bazaar must be on your list of things to do in Istanbul. The Grand Bazaar is a large indoor shopping area with lots of traditional products like lanterns, rugs, jewelry and so much more. It is easy and fun to get lost here but be sure to follow the signs.
If you are planning to buy something, get ready for a long and intense bargain. The bazaar is open from 9 AM to 8 PM and closed every Sunday.
11. Umbrella Street Istanbul
Karaköy, a charming neighborhood filled with places to eat, have a coffee and enjoy the great atmosphere. The streets are filled with art, and one of those arty spots is the umbrella street of Istanbul. During the weekends and midday, this area is quite famous for a couple of photos and a drink. This is the exact location of the umbrella street.
The tram T1 is the easiest way to visit Karaköy because it stops right on the outside of the small neighborhood.
Are you planning to stay for longer than two days? Add Dolmabahce Palace, Ortaköy Mosque, Beylerbeyi Palace and Prince Islands to your things to do in Istanbul. Unfortunately, due to bad weather, we did not have the option to visit these locations.
How to get around Istanbul
Istanbul offers many ways of getting around by public transport. The metro, bus, and tram run throughout the entire city. Ferries are also a quick and fun way to get from on side to the other. All transportations are convenient and affordable.
Istanbul Welcome Card
Ten public transport rides, skip the line at the Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace with the super priced Istanbul Welcome Card! Get a great discount ordering your card via this link.
Another option is the Istanbul Kart, which can be used in all forms of public transportation and recharged when you’re out of credit. It is highly recommended getting one and charge it with credit. Even if you’re a couple, you only need to get one Istanbul Kart because you can check-in multiple times with one card. Buy the card at the airport (outside at the bus area) or in Istanbul city.
Istanbul Airport to City
Please note the following information is for the new Istanbul airport (İstanbul Havalimanı).
From the Istanbul Airport to the city center or vice-versa is easy by 40-minute airport transit bus, which runs every ± 20 minutes. Important is to know that you can show the name of your destination. The people at the airport can tell which bus you should take. Expect to pay between 15 and 25 TL (2.5 – 4 USD) depending on your destination.
Favorite restaurants & cafes in Istanbul
Dogaciyiz Gourmet ♥️♥️♥️
Pizzeria Pera ♥️♥️
Muse cafe & botanical ♥️♥️
Babel Cafe ♥️♥️
Where to stay in Istanbul
Airbnb in Istanbul is also a convenient option. Use this link to get 35 USD off your booking.
How much does Istanbul cost?
- Hotel: 30 – 60 USD / night
- Food: 10 – 30 USD / day
- Entrance fee: 5 – 15 USD / day
- Transport: 4 – 8 USD / day
- Simcard: 10 USD / 20GB
- Water: 0.50 USD / 1.5L
Best time to visit Istanbul
March to May and September to November are the best times to visit Istanbul. During both Spring and Autumn, it is less busy, and the weather is comfortable.
Every Spring the International Tulip Festival is organized, the city is decorated with countless colors. Tulips in The Netherlands are originally brought from Turkey.
To enter Turkey, you will need to have a visa. An e-visa is easily arranged online in one day and costs about 22 USD per standard tourist visa.