This Ultimate one day in Istanbul Itinerary provides all the detailed information you need to get the best out of only 24 hours in Turkey’s most known and vibrant city. It also gives you an inside about the beauty of travelling across different cities and countries as well as a sample of many cultures and ways of life. It literally opens your mind to ideas and beliefs you would never have thought possible.
When I began 24 hour exploration of cities, it was not a very popular practice. However, the tour technique has gained some traction in my day and I hope I have made my contribution to it.
Visiting a big city in one day can really be draining- and a little unrealistic when it is just an idea on paper. Especially when you are faced with the prospect of visiting a big city like Istanbul! I can say with confidence that it is a realistically achievable task, and the completion of the task brings with it an oh-so-glorious satisfaction.
In this continuing series of one day visits (You can read about my experiences in Paris, London, Madrid, Stockholm and Amsterdam) we look at the Ultimate one day in Istanbul Itinerary, focusing on one of Europe’s largest cities by population.
What Istanbul is all about
If there is one thing that Istanbul boasts, it is diversity. From people to religions and cultures, you will find the perfect mix in Istanbul. It is not one of those cities where you pick a general trait at first glance. There is a little of everything in every pocket. The cosmopolitan nature stems from years of existence and a strategic location between starkly different parts of the world. It is for example, the link between Europe and Asia and also a waterway between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean.
So, then, the one word I’d use to describe Istanbul is ‘diverse.’ They say variety is the spice of life; I say Istanbul is the traveller’s spice. A long standing interaction between cultures has resulted in a great hybrid that is unlikely to be seen elsewhere, which is basically the the reason why I have written this Ultimate one day in Istanbul Itinerary, because I wanted to give you some guidance through the “urban jungle of Istanbul”.
That the many cultures have been able to survive amidst great influence, of course, means that their owners were a steadfast people. One characteristic you will notice about the people of Istanbul is that they are firm to a fault. So much so that you could mistake it for arrogance or rudeness.
But they are friendly people nonetheless. You will get an explanation or direction with readiness from pretty much every person you choose to consult on the street.
Ultimate one day in Istanbul Itinerary – General information
Istanbul is the largest city in Turkey. It is the country’s historic, cultural and economic centre. This is one of the few transcontinental cities in the world. It lies across the Bosphorous Strait, which means it is technically a city in both Europe and Asia. When following the Ultimate one day in Istanbul Itinerary, you get the rare chance to travel between two continents! It is however officially recognised as a European city. The Black Sea and the Marmara Sea lie on either side of the city.
The city serves as the administrative nerve of the metropolitan municipality by the same name, with around 15 million people living within its boundaries (not counting the a couple millions under the radar). This is the largest city population in the entire European continent. The most active commercial divisions of the city lie on the European side, as does over two thirds of its population.
May-September are the most popular visiting months as the city’s weather is relatively warm during this time. Most national and international festivals in the city happen during these months too.
Additional General Information
As an urban centre, Istanbul has been in existence for many centuries, having first been involved in commercial activities some centuries BC.
Istanbul has grown steadily over the years, albeit with some periods of destruction along the way. Today, it is a heavily developed urban centre with modern facilities and infrastructure networks. The intercontinental connection is a strategic location that has played a huge role in its growth. Here lies the famous Silk Road, and established railroad and the only waterway between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea.
With all these blessings, Istanbul had little chance but to grow sporadically.
Istanbul is popular with visitors from across the globe, who come all the way to witness its highly rated festivals in the areas of film music, the arts and commercial exhibitions. Approximately 12.5 million visitors come into the city every year, a figure that ranks it among the top five most visited destinations in the world- I bet you wouldn’t have picked Istanbul if you were to make this guess!
Most people visiting the city are interested in its historical centre, which is home to attractions like the Hagia Sophia, Hagia Irene, The Sarayburnu, the Topkapi Palace, the Zeyrek Mosque and the Walls of Constantinople. These are great places from which some are included in the Ultimate one day in Istanbul Itinerary.
Before attampting the Ultimate one day in Istanbul Itinerary I want to give you a little bit of historical information, because it’s always good to have some insider knowledge about the place that you actually want to explore.
Istanbul had an urban settlement as early as the 6th Century BC. The people living here got involved in trade activities across the continents of Asia and Europe, and were heavily involved in the exchange of cultures between the two areas. The early settlement was affected by the Neolithic revolution and the rise in water levels from the sea.
The earliest people in the area were Greek settlers who established a dwelling area in the Bosphorous area of the city’s European end. They set up a booming economy in the form of an acropolis built next to the Golden Horn. The first settlers were for a while overpowered and dominated by Persians who had trade interests. They took back the city in the Greco-Persian war.
As the city grows
The Greeks later merged with the Romans and the area became part of the Roman Empire. A breakaway from the merger caused the city to go to ruins years later, and the building had to begin afresh.
The city was conquered by the Ottoman Turks in the 14th century. Mehmed II took over as the ruler and came up with a policy of accommodating Muslims, Christians and Jews. That co-existence reverberates to date and can be felt during the Ultimate one day in Istanbul Itinerary. Mehmed’s rule was threatened by a plague and was later toppled by the Young Turks Revolution in the early 20th Century. This led to the formation of the Turkish Republic and the change of capital from Istanbul to the present day Ankara.
Istanbul rose again from the ashes in the 1950s, when an industrial growth attracted a new breed of immigrants and led to the expansion of the industrial and residential areas.
How to get to Istanbul
In order to experience the Ultimate one day in Istanbul Itinerary you obviously have to get to the point of interest first. The city is accessible by water and air from most parts of the world and also by land from other parts of Europe. The different forms of transport are linked in complex network from their ends such that movement from, say, a ferry to a metro is almost seamless.
The best way to arrive for a stay of one day in Istanbul, however, is by air. The city has two very efficient airports handling international flights. The Istanbul Atatürk is the city’s largest airport located 24km from the city. It handles upwards of 60 million passengers annually, the third-largest number in Europe. Sabiha Gökçen International airport is located 45 km away from the city centre and has become increasingly popular in recent year as it is less busy and also handles low-cost flights.
Both airports have a direct and effective land connection to the city.
A big and pretty important part of this Ultimate one day in Istanbul Itinerary post is the question of where to stay. Istanbul has for long been a transit trade centre, hence the accommodation industry has always been booming here. There are pretty much all forms of accommodation available – hotels, hostels and Airbnb- available, all at very fair prices.
How to get around in Istanbul
The public transport network is the most effective and cost friendly mode of getting around the city. It is a complex network that includes buses, trams, metro lines, funiculars and ferries. These are fast, comfortable and well maintained. Even better, they have an integrated fare system so you won’t have to keep paying at every stop during the Ultimate one day in Istanbul Itinerary.
The weather is an important fact on how good the Ultimate one day in Istanbul Itinerary will be working for you. The city is located not just between continents, but also in a zone of climate transition. It has a mix of Mediterranean, subtropical and oceanic climate, with microclimates in different areas of its large metropolitan. For visiting purposes, it is easier to just mention that the weather is not extreme in any sense and will favour people of all origins.
The food variety in this city is just as diverse as its population- obviously. As part of the Ultimate one day in Istanbul Itinerary, you should make a point of sampling as many delicacies as possible. These include menemens (omelette) Mezes (cold starters), Tandis, Kebaps, Lufers, Mantis and Kunefe.
Don’t fret; these are just Turkish names for dishes you’ve probably seen or eaten elsewhere 😉
The diversity in Istanbul has brought with it a considerable issue in security. It is much easier for people with ill motives to hide among the huge, multi-characteristic population. While incidents are not likely to happen to tourists, the situation has led to some rigorous screening systems that you may have to cope with in the Ultimate one day in Istanbul Itinerary.
Not most comfortable, but very necessary.
Turkey is a business city indeed, but generally not to expensive. Calculate with the following expenses for the Ultimate one day in Istanbul Itinerary:
- Transportation: 10 €
- Food: 30 €
- Accommodation: 40 €
- Sightseeing: 100 €
Quick fact: Did you know that Istanbul is also referred to as Constantinople or Byzantium, its early names during Roman and Greek occupation respectively?
Ultimate one day in Istanbul Itinerary – Highlights
The first big highlight from the Ultimate one day in Istanbul Itinerary has to be the building whose name means ‘Holy Wisdom’. It was built as a Greek Orthodox Christian Church in 537 AD, making it one of the oldest buildings in existence. It was later converted into a Roman Catholic cathedral and an imperial mosque. In ages when conquerors chose to destroy significant items of the conquered; that different possessors chose to retain the Hagia Sophia says a lot about its magnificence.
In 1935, it was converted into a museum, which it is to date. The building is a sight to behold for its design, size and decorations, as well as the exhibitions and rich history contained in it.
The second huge point from the Ultimate one day in Istanbul Itinerary is the Topkapi Palace. This 15th century construction served as the administrative seat of the Ottoman Sultans. It was a grand construction area with courtyards for processions and a famed imperial gate. Today, it is a telling museum that speaks much of Turkey’s history and the opulence of the Ottomans, which can be seen in the treasures on display.
This is an underground roman water source located close to the Hagia Sophia. There are hundreds of cisterns in Istanbul, but this is by far the largest. It sits on 9800 sq. ft. and has 336 marble columns for support.
The construction is in Greek and Byzantine architecture, which were both known for their grand styles. It’s just a highly unique sight, which is why it just has to be on the Ultimate one day in Istanbul Itinerary.
Sultan Ahmed Mosque
The fourth attraction from the Ultimate one day in Istanbul Itinerary is an early 17th century mosque that today stands as a popular tourist site while at the same functioning as a Muslim prayer house. It is also known as the Sultan Ahmet or the blue Mosque in reference to the colour of its tiles. Ahmed I, the ruler during its construction, was laid to rest in a tomb in the mosque.
It is next to the Hagia Sophia, but it is grand in its own sense with five major domes, eight secondary ones and six minarets.
If there ever was one item that truly defined the word grand, it is the Grand Bazaar. This closed market which ranks among the biggest and oldest covered sales places in the world comprises 4,000 shops within 61 covered streets, which is why it can’t be missed in the Ultimate one day in Istanbul Itinerary.
To top that, up to 400,000 potential buyers visit the market every day, totalling to around 90 million a year! Yes, whoa!
In modern terms, it is a massive shopping mall. But, even as it remains standing since the 15th century, it is as fine as any modern day trade centre.
Did you know? As of December 2017, Istanbul was the most populous European city with around 15 million residents. That is two million more than Moscow, seven million more than London and 12 million more than both Berlin and Madrid.
Another really cool place from the Ultimate one day in Istanbul Itinerary is a different covered market in the city. It is a 17th century construction that never quite gets the recognition it deserves because of standing close to the Grand Bazaar. It is often referred to as the Egyptian Bazaar, bet known for tastes in spices, textiles and food.
This is a stylish walkway built in the 18-19th Century by Jewish Abraham Kamondo as a shortcut for his children to get to school. They are a picturesque point of the city and also a passage to the Galata Tower.
The last highlight from this Ultimate one day in Istanbul Itinerary is the Galata Tower. This 5th Century tower has been built as prison. It only makes sense that such an opulent people would attract enemies and consequently have prisoners, right. And, of course, have a grand prison for them!
The 67-meter tall 14th century tower has been restored and today forms a great viewpoint for the city with a restaurant at the top.
Interesting fact: Istanbul is regarded as the connection between the East and the West. Contrary to popular belief, Istanbul is not the capital of Turkey. The capital is the much smaller city of Ankara, which has a population of around five million people.
Want to know more about another great city? Read here
What could also interest you:
- Ultimate packing list – What’s in my Backpack?
- The best Travel Gear to explore the world
- What to pack for a short camping trip
- Best Travel Backpack – How to choose the right one?