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 from 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 350 Turkish Lira (14.13 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, 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-minute 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 the top thing to do in Istanbul to watch the sunset, but it recently changed into a photography location with an entrance fee of 100 TL. (~ 7 USD) You can also enjoy a great free view from the rooftop next to the location.
Important note: Kubbe Istanbul is temporarily closed. Check out Nova Şantiye Cafe instead!
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.
Hagia Sophia is open every day except Mondays from 10 AM to 10 PM and is free to visit. Just like in the Blue Mosque, dress accordingly with a cover and long pants. Visiting the Hagia Sophia is the most popular thing to do in Istanbul.
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 500 TL (20.20 USD), and a combined ticket with the Harem rooms is 650 TL (26.29 USD).
9. Colored Houses (Yerebatan Street)
Time for lunch! It’s a 4-minute 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 in 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 is 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 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 Visit Istanbul
Istanbul has a large airport that serves major destinations all around the world.
From the Istanbul Airport to the city center or vice-versa is easy by 40-minute airport transit bus, which runs every ± 20 minutes. It’s important to know that you can show the name of your destination. The people at the airport can tell you which bus you should take. Expect to pay between 15 and 25 TL (1 – 1.7 USD), depending on your destination.
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 one side to the other. All transportation is 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 by 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 to get 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 the bus area) or in Istanbul city.
Best Restaurants & Cafes in Istanbul
Turkish food is absolutely delicious, and Istanbul is one of the best places to sample all the nation’s favorite dishes! Here are some of our favorites, sorted by yummy rating:
- Dogaciyiz Gourmet ♥️♥️♥️
- Pizzeria Pera ♥️♥️
- Journey ♥️♥️♥️♥️
- Muse cafe & botanical ♥️♥️
- Babel Cafe ♥️♥️
Where to Stay
Hotels and hostels in Istanbul are available throughout the entire city. If you want to stay close to the majority of historical sites, we recommend staying in the area of Sultanahmet.
Alternatively, for nightlife and the majority of luxury hotels, choose the suburb of Taksim, which has great transport connections by metro, cable car, and funicular.
How much does Istanbul cost?
As Istanbul straddles both Europe and Asia, it can feel more affordable than other European city trips. You can find fantastic budget accommodations still in the city, as well as incredibly flavorsome street food that will cost you next to nothing!
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, Istanbul sees the International Tulip Festival, where the city becomes full of countless colors.
Did you know? Tulips in The Netherlands are originally brought from Turkey!
Do I Need a Visa for Turkey?
To enter Turkey, you will need a visa. An e-visa is easily arranged online within a day, and the price starts at 51 USD per standard tourist visa. Please note that the price may go up depending on your citizenship.