48 Hours in Istanbul, Turkey – Top Things to Do and See

(Last Updated On: March 29, 2018)

Istanbul is a city where long-term expats and locals are always discovering new things to do. So with 48 hours in Istanbul, you’ll have to be picky about what you choose to include in your itinerary and be satisfied with what you do get to see.

A Guest Post by Jub of Tiki Touring Kiwi

The following Istanbul itinerary will let you:

– Visit the must-see attractions
– Experience some of the unique attractions
– See both the European and Asian sides

Istanbul Sightseeing – Day 1

Free Walking Tour

History and architecture are two draw cards of Istanbul and for a basic understanding of both, you can’t go past a free walking tour.

There are several available (search for ‘free walking tour Istanbul’) and choose the earliest one. This will help you learn:
where things are
some of the backstory on the city
Insider tips from your guide (ask for food and drink spots)

After the free walking tour, you’ll be ready to explore on your own.

Istanbul Shopping – The Grand Bazaar & Spice Bazaar

The Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar are the first and second largest covered markets in Istanbul. Whether you like markets or not, they’re worth a walk through. Considering construction finished centuries ago, they’re in great condition. As you browse the various streets don’t be shy accepting samples of Turkish delight.

Things to do in Istanbul - Turkish Delight

You’ll find people selling everything from sweets, carpets, jewelry, souvenirs, sun-dried tomatoes, and more.

Also Read: Shopping Streets in Mumbai for a Splendid Experience!

Besiktas Museum & Stadium Tour

If you’re not into sports, don’t worry, you can learn lots about the history of Istanbul at the museum. Besiktas is one of the big three football clubs in Istanbul, and the new football stadium has won plaudits from critics worldwide.

Things to do in Istanbul - Besiktas Stadium

Also Read: A Tour of the Vodafone Park Stadium

It’s also interesting to note the city put strict limits on the construction of the stadium. From the outside, you’ll notice it fits in with the surrounding environment.

If you’re a sports fan there are plenty of basketball and football games (the two most popular sports) in Istanbul during the season. And there are even three football museums in the city!

Also Read: The Most Popular Sports in Turkey

Side note: Besiktas is my favorite neighborhood to get lost in.

Ortakoy Mosque & The Bosphorus Bridge

When I shared a photo of the Ortakoy Mosque on Instagram Stories, I had more feedback than usual. It’s definitely smaller than many mosques in the city, but I have to agree with the feedback, it’s gorgeous (especially at sunset).

Things to do in Istanbul - Bosphorous

Take a walk around the pier square where the Mosque is and you’ll get a good view of the Bosphorus Bridge while you’re there. If you’d like to walk across the bridge, you’re out of luck, pedestrians are banned.

Istanbul Sightseeing – Day 2

Hagia Sophia

I put this on day two as you’ll want to get here as early as possible. The line can get long during the day and with just 48 hours in Istanbul, we can’t spare any!

Things to do in Istanbul - Hagia Sophia

The Hagia Sophia doesn’t need much of an introduction as one of the most recognizable museums in the world. If you’re in Istanbul, definitely visit as a hostel owner mentioned there are talks about reinstating the building as a mosque.

Blue Mosque

I’m always surprised at how the Blue Mosque (a.k.a. Sultan Ahmed Mosque) runs in such an orderly fashion as it’s both a tourist site and an active mosque.

Things to do in Istanbul - Blue Mosque

You can’t ignore its beauty even with the blue tiles on the inside fading.

Eat A Durum From Ali Untas Durum

Cig Kofte is vegan (stay with me meat eaters)! When you read about the dish on the internet it’s described as a raw meatball dish. Turns out it’s made of Bulgar wheat, with spices added. At 4 TL for a durum, Ali Untas Durum is not only a great deal but you get a show as well.

Cig Kofte Durum

Things to do in Istanbul - Cig Kofte Durum

Search ‘Ali Untas Durum’ on YouTube for a sneak peek (some videos have millions of views) of the show. Even as a non-Turkish speaker I found this a hilariously random experience. Just do as the locals do, embrace, and enjoy.

The Walk From Galata Tower To Taksim Square

Galata Tower, at less than 70 meters tall, isn’t the tallest building ever but the medieval tower does offer awesome views from the observation deck.

Things to do in Istanbul - Galata Tower

View from the Galata Bridge

Things to do in Istanbul - Galata Bridge

After the tower walks a couple hundred meters up the hill to Istiklal Street. It is one of the popular pedestrian streets in Istanbul leading you straight to Taksim Square. Along the way you’ll find:

– Restaurants
– Department stores
– Buskers
– Street food
– Turkish delights shops and even
– Bookstores.

You’ll find people hanging out here 24/7.

Things to do in Istanbul - Taksim Square

Taksim Square is one of the more populated areas of Istanbul catering to locals and tourists. The Monument of the Republic is the focal point and after escaping from the populated Istiklal Street you’ll appreciate exploring the side streets.

Also Read: Reasons why Israel is high on our bucket list!

Cross The River To Asian Istanbul

Many don’t even consider crossing the Bosphorus River to the Asian side of Istanbul as there is so much to see on the European side.

This is a mistake, even if it’s a short visit, make the effort.

The public ferries are frequent and easy to catch. While they function as public transport for locals, you can get some great city views out on the water. The views give you an idea how big the city is.

Things to do in Istanbul - Istanbul Cats

I found an easy route was from Eminonu to Kadikoy. Arriving in Kadikoy take a walk along the waterfront and pat all the cats. The locals have even built some of the homes out of polystyrene boxes and kept in place with bricks!

How To Get Around Istanbul

If you choose to walk everywhere on this itinerary you’ll definitely know you’ve been playing tourist as the city is hilly.

If you’d prefer public transport (a good idea for two days in Istanbul) the public infrastructure is great. Buy an IstanbulKart when you arrive and this will let you ride on the metro, trams, and ferries.

Uber exists in Istanbul but is careful when you choose to take one. The locals aren’t shy about their thoughts on the Istanbul traffic situation (especially around Taksim).

Best Time to Visit Istanbul

You would want to avoid the winter months (December to February) when it snows with chances of rains. Spring (March, April) and Fall (September, October) are the best months to visit Istanbul when the temperatures are moderate. While summer is hot and the peak season, fall sees a drop in hotel rates and the touristy crowd.

Have you been to Istanbul? What has been your favorite spot or attraction? Do share with us in comments.

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