Home » What to do in Istanbul in One Day: Best Things to Do & Places to See

What to do in Istanbul in One Day: Best Things to Do & Places to See

Istanbul is one of the most interesting and mesmerising cities in the world. Straddling continents and dating back thousands of years, Istanbul has been at the forefront of world history. Originally known as Byzantium, and then later as Constantinople, the city was finally given the name Istanbul in the early 20th century.

Istanbul is a beautiful city located on the banks of the Bosphorus River with one half located in Asia, and the other half in Europe. A city like no other, it offers some of the world’s most unique architecture, culture, art and food, and the atmosphere in Istanbul is an eclectic mix of cultures, religions, backgrounds and languages.

Because of its unique geographical location and its fantastic national flag carrier – Turkish Airlines, Istanbul often ends up being a stopover location between flights. Or some tourists, such as myself, try to see most of the country in a two-week itinerary, and find themselves with only 24 hours in Istanbul, or less.

But don’t worry, one day in Istanbul may not be that long, but you can see a surprising amount of popular attractions and tourist sites in Istanbul in that time.

Visiting Istanbul in one day- Essential things to know

How to get to Istanbul city centre from the airport

For all three major Istanbul airports, Ataturk International, Sabiha Gokcen International and Istanbul International airport, generally the easiest and quickest way is by airport bus or taxi. But be warned, although the distances on the map do not look too far, the traffic can be really bad. It’s important to ensure also that when heading to your departing flight out of Turkey, make sure to have the correct airport. There are many options for transfers and connections to the airports – one idea is to GetYourGuide’s transfers which I’ve popped below:

What time of year is best to visit Istanbul?

Istanbul is a unique city with year-round appeal. Summer season (June to September) swells the crowds and the air temperature rises significantly. The very best time to visit Istanbul is the Spring and Autumn months of April, May and October.

Even winter is a great time to visit Istanbul, even though it is cold, it can be magically snowy too.

Getting around Istanbul

Istanbul is absolutely huge. Walking this city in a day wouldn’t be possible, however you can walk between several of the major sites. Public transport is very comprehensive and the tram system is particularly straight forward.

However, if you only have one day in Istanbul, then one idea could be to jump on a day tour. With 24 hours or less in Istanbul, it would not be ideal to get lost or disorientated with so many top attractions to see!

walking around Istanbul
Wandering the streets of Istanbul

GetYourGuide has some amazing tours that are perfect for one day in Istanbul here:

Where to stay in Istanbul

If you’re fortunate enough to be able to spend one night in Istanbul too, you’ll have thousands of incredible hotels to pick from in this city. There’s really no shortage and so many options to cover every taste and budget.

I stayed at the excellent Intercontinental Istanbul located very conveniently next to Taksim Square. It offered the most impressive breakfast and had a lovely pool to enjoy after a long day of sightseeing in the city. You can check rates for this hotel here.

Some of the other best luxury hotels in Istanbul include:

If you’re looking for somewhere as more of a comfortable base, these are some of the best value money hotels in Istanbul:

where to stay in Istanbul
The excellent breakfast at the Intercontinental
where to stay in Istanbul
Poolside at the Intercontinental
where to stay in Istanbul
Skyline view from the Intercontinental

Best things to do in Istanbul in one day

If you have one day in Istanbul, there are a few must see attractions that cannot be missed. These include the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the Grand Bazaar, Topkapi Sarayi Palace and the Bosphorus River. Fortunately, these are all located in the old part of Istanbul and with a good map, can all be seen on foot. Amongst the top things to do in Istanbul, trying some of the typical Turkish cuisine in some of the best cafes and restaurants in the city is essential and I’ve included a few foodie suggestions below.

So read on my top experiences not to be missed during a visit to Istanbul:

The Hagia Sofia

Unmissable on any trip to Istanbul, this Byzantine structure was once a Greek Orthodox Christian Cathedral, before becoming a Ottoman Imperial Mosque and now finally a museum. At more than 1,400 years old, the Hagia Sophia has to be one of the most impressive museums in the world. Intricately designed and with a mix of religions and cultures having influenced its structural elements, it’s a completely unique place to visit.

best things to do in Istanbul
Hagia Sophia

The Blue Mosque, also known as the Sultanahmet Mosque

Located in the historic Sultanahmet area, this spectacular mosque is surrounded by beautiful gardens. A sight to behold, The Blue Mosque is one of the most recognisable structures in Istanbul, with its minarets piercing the skyline from afar. The Mosque isn’t actually blue, but its huge domed ceiling inside is adorned with thousands of beautiful blue ornate tiles. Unlike many mosques, tourists are welcome to come inside and you would be expected to cover up to do so.

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The Blue Mosque
best things to do in Istanbulbest things to do in Istanbul
The beautiful gardens
top things to do in Istanbul
Beautiful Istanbul in bloom

The Galata Tower

Just off one of the city’s main streets (Istiklal Caddesi), this Romanesque Tower offers fabulous views across the city. Located in the buzzing Karaköy area, it’s surrounded by great cafes and bars and is a must see during a one day visit to Istanbul.

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The Galata Tower
must see attractions Istanbul
Pretty streets of Istanbul

The Galata Bridge and the Bosphorus

A bridge where time can really stand still and where local fisherman wait for their catch. Connecting both sides of the city over the Bosphorus, a slow walk along the Galata Bridge offers phenomenal views in every direction. If you can afford a time, definitely jump onboard a river cruise which departs from the Eminönü docks, just by the Galata Bridge.

using public transport in Turkey as a solo female traveller
Enjoying the view over the Bosphorus river in Istanbul
must see attractions Istanbul
The Bosphorus

The Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar

The Grand Bazaar is absolutely mammoth, housing more than 4,000 stalls and shops. It is one of the biggest indoor covered markets in the world, so be wary of your route and try not to get too disorientated inside! Thousands of locals and visitors descend on the Grand Bazaar every day, meaning a wonderful opportunity to experience daily life in Istanbul. Whatever you could possibly want, you could probably buy here – just be prepared to haggle your price! Nearby is the Spice Bazaar, another huge market absolutely worth a visit.

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Exploring the Grand Bazaar

Sample the local cuisine

The city has no shortage of great places to grab a bite to eat and try a Turkish coffeee. One of my favourite cafes I came across during my time in Istanbul was the Latife Cafe near the Galata Tower.

local cuisine in Istanbul
Enjoying a Turkish coffee
Istanbul in one day
Loved this cafe in Istanbul

 Explore the boutique stores on Istiklal Caddesi

This main street stretching from near Taksim Square down to the river at Karaköy is an excellent place to do some shopping in Istanbul. Its international counterparts would be Oxford Street or Fifth Ave, but fortunately, you can find a lot more locally produced products here. I fell in love with the fabrics and interiors shops and couldn’t stop buying the beautifully presented blankets and soaps!

This is the heart of Istanbul’s shopping, cafe culture and bar scene, so it’s enviable you’ll end up on this street. It’s also quite steep!

Shopping in Istanbul in one day
Wandering the shops
Shopping in Istanbul in one day
Some of the local products to buy in Istanbul
Exploring Istanbul in one day
Cats of Istanbul
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Some of the streets in Istanbul are steep!

Get friendly with the resident cat population

This is probably isn’t essential if you only have one day in Istanbul, but it’s fun to know there are cats everywhere across the city! They’re pretty friendly too, so if you want to make some feline friends, it won’t be hard!

Getting around istanbul
Getting around istanbul

Have you been to Istanbul? I would love to return for longer, and if you’re planning to visit for more than one day, then this 5-day Istanbul itinerary might be just what you’re looking for.

I did find I managed to visit a surprising number of the top attractions in Istanbul in one day. I really loved meeting all the friendly cats around the city too! Hopefully this blog post will prove useful if you’re planning your time in Istanbul, whether that’s during a layover or a one day visit within a longer itinerary.

If you’re considering a longer trip, you might find my two-week Turkey itinerary here useful, as well as my guides to Bodrum,  PamukkaleEphesus, sailing the famous Turquoise Coast and Cappadocia here.

Wanna see more? Check my Instagram here, my Facebook here or my Twitter here!

Disclaimer: This visit to Istanbul, Turkey was entirely paid for by myself and there was no involvement from the tourism board or any hotel. This is an independent guide.

exploring Istanbul on foot
Wandering around pretty Istanbul

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  1. December 13, 2017 / 6:58 pm

    I absolutely love Istanbul, it’s one of my favourite cities in the world! A few years back I was backpacking from southern Turkey through Eastern Europe and was offered a waitressing job at a little café just beside the Blue Mosque. I spent about five weeks exploring every nook and cranny of the city and fell more in love every day. I absolutely recommend a longer stay if you’re able to pass through again! Thanks for reminding me of such a magical place 🙂

    • claire_stokes@msn.com
      December 18, 2017 / 2:03 pm

      Ah that’s so nice to hear! You must have got a real feel for the city having spent that long there! I will definitely try and return for longer 🙂 x

  2. December 13, 2017 / 7:28 pm

    I have visited Istanbul a few years ago and I also loved it! I have enjoyed most of the places you are talking about here – The Blue Mosque is the one I was the most impressed with. Looks like you didn’t have the time to explore the Grand Bazaar? P.S.: Love your pictures!

    • claire_stokes@msn.com
      December 18, 2017 / 2:02 pm

      Unfortunately no I didn’t! It was actually closed, what a shame!! But I didn’t want to lie about having been or anything!
      Thank you though, it is just a beautiful city! x

  3. December 14, 2017 / 10:34 am

    Istanbul looks so beautiful with your photos! I didn’t know cats were a big thing there, lol. Also will have to keep in mind your hotel stay, very nice hotel 🙂

    • claire_stokes@msn.com
      December 18, 2017 / 2:01 pm

      Nor did I! Very cute though and nice to see them in a big city 🙂

  4. Exploring Curiously
    December 14, 2017 / 11:21 pm

    Great tips! I love the history of Istanbul.

    • claire_stokes@msn.com
      December 18, 2017 / 1:57 pm

      Thanks, have you been?

  5. December 15, 2017 / 1:17 am

    Such a beautiful city! Your photos make me want to visit ASAP!! Thanks for the info 🙂

    • claire_stokes@msn.com
      December 18, 2017 / 2:01 pm

      Thank you! x

  6. December 15, 2017 / 2:16 pm

    Istanbul is such a pretty and colorful city. I will love walking through those cobbled stone streets and clicking endless pictures. Great cafes will make the trip more memorable.

    • claire_stokes@msn.com
      December 18, 2017 / 2:01 pm

      I agree! Can’t wait to return and find more 🙂

  7. Bianca
    February 14, 2019 / 11:43 am

    Hi! I’m super interested in the linen… do you remember what prices were like?

    • claire_stokes@msn.com
      February 19, 2019 / 8:51 am

      Hi Bianca! I bought a bundle of linens (tea towel and large towel sized) decoratively tied with rope and an evil eye, for about £5 🙂 You can haggle on the prices though!

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