Istanbul is a large town and thus requires a well-planned How to spend 24 hours in Istanbul itinerary if you have to sample all its great offerings within a day. The Turkish city (not capital) has one of the largest populations in Europe. It is also expansive in size and some of the places you need to see during the How to spend 24 hours in Istanbul itinerary are quite dispersed.
Don’t fret though. You can ride on the experience of those who have been to this city of diversity before you- people who are kind enough to share the experiences with other travellers in a bid to make their trips better. I had a lot to learn from those who came to Istanbul before me. It is thus a moral obligation to share my experiences with you. I believe it is one way of making the travellers’ community better.
Two techniques underline my one-day visits to most cities. They have been helpful even in the small cities I paid homage to, but these tricks were especially handy during my 24 hours in Istanbul.
One, I like to treat every city as a visitor. But that’s obvious because you’re visiting, some say. It is not obvious. Oftentimes, visitors to a new city get under the wing of a local and entrust them to lead the exploration. The local will only be interested in showing you the places they like or frequent. As such, they may not take you to some parts that form the greatest part of the city. In London, for example, a local is unlikely to take you to the Big Ben- and you surely don’t want to miss that.
Instead, I propose that you do an extensive research about a city before visiting. Even if you have a resident friend taking you around, you can ask them to take you to specific spots when you are well read.
Two, I always like to make my visits as linear as possible. It would make little sense spending a huge chunk of the How to spend 24 hours in Istanbul itinerary just moving back and forth. During your research, ensure you check out how the places you want to visit appear on the map and come up with a route.
Or simply follow an itinerary like this one, which is made with such considerations in mind.
Istanbul lies at the point where Asia gives way to Europe- or Europe gives way to Asia, whichever way you like it. As such, you may guess it gives you a taste of each continent. I personally refer to it as the city of diversity. You will find people of different religions and cultures co-existing in Istanbul. The residents here are pretty hard bargainers but mean no harm really.
Even before settling for the How to spend 24 hours in Istanbul itinerary, you may want to arrange your visit to fall between the months of May and September. In this period, the weather is most friendly for visitors from any part of the world. Also, some of the best events that depict the city in its full glory happen during this window.
When we talk about Istanbul’s diversity, it extends to even its transport network. As a big fan of by-air arrival when you have just a day to spend in a particular city, I am especially impressed by the services offered by the services offered in this area.
You can fly to Istanbul directly from over 110 destinations in the world! Astounding, I know. This makes it easy to get into the city without the interruption of connecting flights. You get here fresh and ready for the How to spend 24 hours in Istanbul schedule.
Turkish Airlines is the most popular carrier here. It is a world famous airline but excels even more at home. The carrier offers flight services of all categories and costs so you just need to see where your budget fits. It serves both of Istanbul’s main Airports- the Istanbul Atatürk and the Sabiha Gökçen International Airport.
The Ataturk is the bigger and busier of the two airports- third busiest in Europe- and handles most passengers. It is located 24 kilometres from the nerve of Istanbul. You might want to avoid the Ataturk and use the Sabina Gocken though; the latter handles most low-cost flights and has a lower passenger volume, which makes it less of a hassle to get through. This one is 45 kilometres outside town and was specifically built to take pressure off the Ataturk.
Customs and clearance procedures are pretty thorough at both airports, but this is only necessary given Istanbul’s past experiences with terror.
Both airports have an efficient and comfortable road access to the city centre. There are trams and metros moving both ways throughout the day, so this should not be a problem. I always encourage an early evening arrival so you can have a good night’s rest and be pumped for the day long experience ahead though.
Getting started for the day
Be up early. Istanbul wakes up early and, no matter where you are, getting up on time helps you start out your day in a relaxed manner and the same spreads over to the rest of your day.
It doesn’t have to be 4 am early though. If you are up by six, you can start out without a huff. You get adequate time to make all necessary preparations. Having a list of the things you will need is advisable, although mostly it is nothing more than just the correct dressing and your camera.
Speaking of the camera, you should make sure it is charged fully during the night so you won’t miss a nice shot during the How to spend 24 hours in Istanbul itinerary, just because of a dead battery. Having a backup power source is also a great idea. If you are the kind that does not encourage charging things overnight, then you may need to be up a little earlier to get that done. Heading out with less than full charge may mean you have to delay in some places as you change your battery.
Check out the day’s weather projection and be sure to dress appropriately.
How to spend 24 hours in Istanbul – Morning
7 am – 8 am
Get packed early in the morning with an energy-oozing Turkish breakfast. You’ll definitely eed it for the How to spend 24 hours in Istanbul itinerary, because you’ll have to walk quite a lot. But not to much, don’t worry ;).
There are numerous breakfast places open early in the city centre. The Marbella Terrace is a personal favourite given its wide range of Turkish servings and vegan-friendliness. The Van Kahvaltı Evi and the Velvet Café in Galata are also nice picks.
A full serving will include anything from bread, cheese, cream olives, eggs and tomatoes. Kahvalti is the Turkish word for breakfast. You can enjoy watching the city come to life by picking a veranda table in these or any other hoe-in-the-wall eateries that open early.
8 am – 9 am
Take the morning hour to get around the city centre as the city embarks on its day. You will be pleased to notice the jovial nature of the early diners in the open restaurants. Take shots of the city’s modern buildings that house its businesses and keep them for comparison with the ancient constructions you see later.
9 am – 11 am
Start out at the Holy Wisdom Church just as it opens up. It’s a great attraction and an appropriate start for the How to spend 24 hours in Istanbul itinerary. The 537 AD Greek Orthodox Christian Church with a Byzantine design is one of the oldest buildings standing in the whole world and has an equally long story to tell.
It survived religious revolutions and has been converted to a Roman Catholic headquarter and also an imperial mosque during its time. The current building was the third and most advanced design of Holy Wisdom churches to be built on the site. It converted from religious purposes into a historical centre in 1935.
Starting out here gives you an opportunity to view most of the Hagia Sophia’s offerings uninterrupted as big crowds start trooping in at around 11.
Make the Topkapi Palace the next point on the How to spend 24 hours in Istanbul schedule. The current museum has its fair share of longevity, having been built in the 15th Century. Ottoman Sultans used it as an administrative nerve. It is a really grand area that has numerous courtyards extending from its imperial gate. These were used for processions organised by and for the Sultans.
There are Ottoman treasures on display, which show the opulence that came to Istanbul mainly as a benefit of its strategic trade location between the two continents and across the Mediterranean and Black Seas.
12:30 pm – 1 pm
Keep marvelling at the early advancements of the Turkish city by visiting the largest of many water sources in the city, which is why I had to make the Basilica Cistern a point of the How to spend 24 hours in Istanbul itinerary. This grand underground water source used to supply water to the palace and the Church and assumes the same Byzantine architecture as the Hagia Sophia.
It has an area of 9800 sq. ft. and is reinforced by 336 vertical marble columns. You will be mesmerized by the skill that appears to have gone into its construction even that long ago.
How to spend 24 hours in Istanbul – Lunch
1 pm – 2 pm
By 1 pm you should be ready to do some stacking up again. Always make lunch light so it doesn’t slow the afternoon part of your 24 hours in Istanbul itinerary. The Old Ottoman opens at 12 pm so everything should be fresh just an hour in. The Fuego Café and the Olive Restaurant are also great lunch places.
You can pick from a menu that includes kebabs and salads. All are kids-friendly restaurants.
2 pm – 3 pm
The still functional prayer house has been in existence since the 17th century. Many visitors consider a visit here as part of pilgrimage. It is the blue-tiled floor that is the source of its popular name- the Blue Mosque. A Must See of the How to spend 24 hours in Istanbul schedule.
The remains of Ahmed I were buried in a tomb within the mosque.
The building, which is preserved as a mosque has six minarets and 13 domes making it a pretty big piece of architecture.
3 pm – 5 pm
Immerse yourself into this old time shopping mall as the afternoon winds down. You may actually want to do some antique shopping from any of the 4,000 shops within the covered market place. It extends over a whopping 61 streets and comfortably swallows and spits out in the region of 400,000 market goers a day. A huge portion of these market goers come from the city’s 15 million population although many visitors coming to Istanbul just come to behold its magnificence. And yes, even with that number, you cannot call the Grand Bazaar a congested place. A bit crowded, yes, but not congested.
The Grand Bazaar has its story extending back to the 15th century but can still hold its own to many modern markets and another site to behold during the How to spend 24 hours in Istanbul itinerary.
5 pm – 6 pm
The Spice Bazaar came two centuries after the Grand Bazaar. It’s a pretty cool sight of the city, so I had to mention it in this How to spend 24 hours in Istanbul guide. It must have been pretty hard to steal any limelight from the pioneer, but the Spice did cut its niche by dedicating itself to two arms of household goods- food and textiles.
Here, you will find some of the best spices in the world, some of which you never knew existed. The traders are more than willing to explain to you how they work and give you samples. Be sure to grab some textiles too, at least as antiques for a Turkish memory.
6 pm – 6:30 pm
The Kamondo Stairs are next on the How to spend 24 hours in Istanbul itinerary. Jewish philanthropist Abraham Kamondo built the stairs so his children could get an easy passage to school- whoa! But they are not just your ordinary stairs. The flight is a city-wide renowned feature that makes a picturesque area. They also allow ascension onto the Galata Tower.
6:30 pm – 7:30 pm
Enjoy the last parts of your daytime adventure with a view of the city from this 5th century prison. From here, you can analyse how the How to spend 24 hours in Istanbul itinerary is going so far. At the top of the 67-meter ancient piece of architecture is a restaurant where you may decide to have an early dinner if you so please.
7:30 pm – 8:30 pm
The Turks love their football to a fault, and are known to express themselves notoriously about it. No surprise I mention one of many stadiums in the How to spend 24 hours in Istanbul itinerary, because you just can’t visit this city without seeing one of the football temples. You can wind down your evening by paying a visit to The Turk Telecom, Galatasary’s home ground. Galatasaray is the embodiment of Turkey’s love for football. A burner reading ‘Welcome to Hell’ gives opponents of just the kind of competitive atmosphere they are in for.
How to spend 24 hours in Istanbul – Afternoon
8:30 pm – 10 pm
If you had not already dined at the Galata Tower, you can have your last meal of the night at the Olive, The Erhan or the Byzantion Bistro. There are other numerous places that are open until late, but these are among the most popular.
10 pm – Open End
How does Istanbul look by night? Just as diverse! But this is an element I like to always leave to a traveller’s wild imagination and let you discover for yourself. On you go, complete your 24 hours in Istanbul in a wild style!
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