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.
Also read: Turkey Route Guide – 2 weeks
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) (1.70 USD) to visit the top. Trendy cafes surround the Galata Tower, so you can easily get your breakfast and coffee there. Tip: Save on expenses in Istanbul with the Welcome Card.
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.
Get to know everything about Balat, 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-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.
Discover Istanbul through food: Taste of two continents food tour
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. Or join a walking tour.
Important note: Kubbe Istanbul is premaritally 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.
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 (4.5 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.
Best of Istanbul? Join the popular Istanbul tour.
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 (4.5 USD), and a separate ticket to visit the harem 35 TL (2.4 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 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.
Alternatively, join a tour with a knowledgable local guide who will take you to all the best stalls in the Grand Bazaar. Find out the tour availability here.
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.
Also read: Hot Air Balloons in Cappadocia, Turkey
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 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.
Getting 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 one side to the other. All transportations are convenient and affordable.
Renting a car in Turkey is another good option. We recommend renting a car at a local car company through Sunny Cars. When booking through them, all insurances are included. Book your rental car here.
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.
Favorite restaurants & cafes in Istanbul
Dogaciyiz Gourmet ♥️♥️♥️
Pizzeria Pera ♥️♥️
Muse cafe & botanical ♥️♥️
Babel Cafe ♥️♥️
Where to stay in Istanbul
Hotels and hostels in Istanbul are available throughout the entire city. We’ve collected our favorite hotels below.
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 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.
When you purchase something through our links we earn a small fee. However, you still pay the same. Win-win!
- Find Hotels via Booking.com
- Find a Rental Car via Sunny Cars
- Find Cheap Flights via Skyscanner
- Get a Travel Insurance via Heymondo
- Book Tours & Attractions via Viator
- Book a Bus/Train/Transfer via 12Go
Looking for more travel information? Plan a chat with us for personalised travel advice or get an answer from the Salt in our Hair Travel Community on Facebook.
Thank you so much for the detailed itinerary!! I visit Istanbul in a week and your blog just made everything so much easier. God bless you and happy travels :))