Heading to Istanbul and want the perfect 2 day itinerary? Then you’ve come to the right place! Istanbul is an incredible city: it is the only city in the world to straddle two continents, and it is also overflowing with history! But Istanbul is also very busy, so sightseeing and getting nice pictures without the crowds can be a challenge. UNLESS you plan your itinerary carefully that is! Luckily I did exactly that, and so I managed to avoid crowds even during Bayram (the celebration after Ramadan also known as Eid), which is the busiest time of the year in Istanbul!!
2 DAY ITINERARY OF ISTANBUL
I have put together my 2 day itinerary for you below. Feel free to follow it literally, or adapt it to your time schedule and pick and choose the places you want to visit. Also feel free to swap the days around as certain tourist places are closed on different days sometimes. I have included information on this below.
The itineraries are planned in a logical manner to involve as little walking and travelling as possible. Google maps locations of each place are also included! Both mornings I was out by 7am – feel free to start later if you wish, just be prepared for crowds!
Seven Hills restaurant
Gülhane Sur Café
Kasa Lokanta rooftop lounge
Evening in Karaköy
Both days will be spent in the European part of Istanbul as this is where the majority of the sights are.
Day 1 will be spent in The Old City, whereas day 2 will be spent exploring the surrounding areas of Karaköy, Balat and up towards Ortaköy.
Whilst the two places in the square that we will visit don’t open until 08.30-9am (The Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia), this square is already crowded by then. So if you want to get good pictures of the exteriors of both buildings, you’ll need to get here an hour or so before opening time to get your pictures. Plus, it’s nice to be here when the square is pretty empty! I actually arrived at 7.30am, walked around, took some pictures and then sat and had some breakfast until opening time.
You can take some really lovely pictures at Sultanahmet Square. The Blue Mosque lies at one end of the square and Hagia Sophia lies at the other end. You can take pictures of the fountain or the food stalls, with either The Blue Mosque or Hagia Sophia in the background.
Click here for the Google maps location of Sultan Ahmet Square.
The Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Camii)
Although it’s proper name is Sultan Ahmet Camii in Turkish, most people know it as The Blue Mosque because of the blue tiles in it’s interior. It is Istanbul’s most famous landmark and an important symbol of Istanbul, so it’s only right we start outside here! The Blue Mosque was built in the Ottoman Empire and actually caused an uproar when it was completed in 1616 as it was built with 6 minarets, unlike the usual 4. This gives it a very unique appearance and makes it instantly recognisable all over the city! It is a magnificent building and is still used as a place of worship. Visitors can however enter through a separate entrance to admire it.
Remember to wear a long skirt/dress/trousers and wear something that covers your shoulders. Females also need to cover their heads, so pack a headscarf in your bag. They will loan you one for free though so don’t worry if you forget!
Important opening times info:
The mosque opens at 08.30am and closes one hour before sunset. However it also closes for an hour or so during prayer times throughout the day. The opening times are roughly:
Opening Times / Closing Times every day (except Friday)
Remember Friday is the holy day in Islam, so if you are here on a Friday, The Blue Mosque won’t be open to visitors until 14.30. Worshippers can still enter however. Entrance to The Blue Mosque is free.
To maximise your time and avoid big crowds, get here for opening time at 08.30. Once you are finished, head to Hagia Sophia opposite, which opens at 9am.
Click here for the Google maps location of The Blue Mosque.
Now, whilst we’ve all heard of The Blue Mosque, it seems not as many people have heard of Hagia Sophia – the building that lies opposite it and was built well over 1,000 years before The Blue Mosque was constructed! How impressive to think this building is almost 1,500 years old!!
Not only that, but Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya in Turkish, meaning the “Holy Wisdom”) is considered one of the world’s most greatest monuments, as well as the most important Byzantine structure ever built!! The Hagia Sophia was built in what was then Constantinople (now known as modern-day Istanbul) from the years 532-537. It served as a Cathedral for more than a whole millennium, after which it was converted into a mosque when the Ottomans invaded Constantinople in 1453 (this is when the minarets were added). It served as a mosque for almost 500 years, and in 1935 to was turned into a museum.
Hagia Sophia is such an impressive and surreal place to visit: it was a very humbling experience that almost moved me to tears – definitely one of my favourite spots to visit in Istanbul. You can see the elements of Christianity and Islam intertwined – mosaics of Jesus and Mary next to large placards bearing the names of Allah and Mohammed, written in Arabic.
As Hagia Sophia is such an important and historical place, it is a very popular tourist destination and so you definitely won’t have the place to yourself! I suggest you go first thing, take all your pictures first before it gets too busy, then walk around and feel the atmosphere of the place. Also remember you can go upstairs to walk on the balcony and look down into the interior for some more great views. I was in there for over an hour, but was glad I took my pictures at the beginning when it was a bit quieter, as it got very busy very quickly!
Important opening times info:
Hagia Sophia opens 9am-7pm in the summer (9-5pm in winter), but last entrance is 1 hour before closing! Also Hagia Sophia is closed on Mondays so bear this in mind if your trip falls on a Monday, so you can visit on another day! The queues are always massive to get in, so best to get there at 9am or just before, so you can be one of the first in. You can actually buy fast track tickets from many vendors around the building beforehand. It doesn’t cost any extra, and I actually do recommend this as you get in a lot faster than people in the regular queue.
Entrance is 60 Turkish Lira (roughly £8). No tripods are allowed: you go through an x-ray machine when you enter, so even if it’s hidden in your bag they will see it. They will keep it safe for you and you can collect it as you exit.
Click here for the Google maps location of Hagia Sophia.
Seven Hills Restaurant
By now you’ll probably need a break from crowds and want to sit down for a bit and have a bite to eat or an early lunch right?! Head to the nearby Seven Hills restaurant just behind Sultanahmet Square and go straight up the lift to the rooftop. My favourite way to see a city is always from rooftops! There’s just something so peaceful about watching a city from above!
Now talk about lunch with a view here at Seven Hills Restaurant! I thought in such a prime location that the rooftop restaurant would be super expensive but it was such surprisingly good value for money and the food was great! The restaurant has perfect views of Hagia Sophia (pictured behind me) and The Blue Mosque, in the direction I am looking towards. If you’re looking for a great lunch spot in Istanbul, or even just nice views over which to enjoy a drink, definitely head here. It is open from 7.30am for breakfast, until 11pm at night every day so you can always come back later to enjoy the view in the evening too!
Click here for the Google maps location of Seven Hills restaurant.
Gülhane Sur Café
After your early lunch, head to this gorgeous chilled out cafe for a tea or coffee that is not far from Hagia Sophia. It’s on one of the back streets near Topkapi Palace, so it is away from the main tourist crowd (by the way, definitely visit Topkapi Palace if you have time – I so wanted to go here but I just couldn’t fit it in!).
Both the inside and the outside (located a few metres down the hill) are cute, but personally I preferred to sit inside underneath all the lamps (definitely more Instagrammable haha). They have shisha here and are open til late, plus the owner is super friendly and has really good English. It’s a really good place to just chill and absorb the Istanbul vibe. Plus, the prices are good and it’s not just regular black tea they serve: they have a variety of medicinal and holistic teas, so I was sold!
Click here for the Google maps location of Gülhane Sur Café.
If you want to see the famous lamp shops then definitely head to The Grand Bazaar. Heck, even if you don’t want to see them, head here anyway as it’s a super lively and happening place that sells some of the best souvenirs to buy from Turkey! The Grand Bazaar is a 15 minute walk from Sultanahmet Square and is one of the world’s oldest shopping malls! With over 4000 shops and 60 streets inside, it is a complete labyrinth and very easy to get lost! It can also be quite overwhelming and intense here – just be prepared for vendors calling at you to buy everything! If you want to buy anything, remember to haggle: say half the price of what they offer, then agree somewhere in the middle.
Now, I had heard so many people look for these kind of lamp shops in The Grand Bazaar but are unable to find the stalls so leave without actually seeing any. So I came equipped with a picture of one of the lamp stalls, and when the locals were approaching me, I would show them the picture and ask them if they knew where the lamp shop was. A couple of them directed me off the Main Street onto one of the side streets to the lamp shop, and when I reached it I saw there were signs up that said no photos were allowed.
Taking photos of the lamp stores:
I kindly asked the owner if I could take a picture if I bought a lamp and he agreed, but he said he never usually lets people take pictures any more as it annoys his customers (luckily for me there were no customers there at the time). I quickly got my picture and then bought a small lamp as a thankyou gesture.
The owner also told me that many of these lamp shops have actually closed down now as too many people were taking pictures and not enough people were actually buying lamps. So if you want to get a picture here, PLEASE buy something from them too and ask them super kindly if you are allowed to take a photo!
Important opening times info:
All shops inside The Grand Bazaar are open from 8.30am-7pm. It is closed on Sundays and public holidays!
Click here for the Google maps location of The Grand Bazaar.
For a stunning view of Istanbul, head to Kubbe rooftop. It costs 50 Turkish lira (almost £7) to relax up here and enjoy unlimited Turkish tea, fresh cherry juice, Turkish delights and fresh cherries! I had the whole place to myself for the majority of the time as it is not so busy in the day, but during sunset it gets very busy!
The most lovely lady works here and I spent an hour or so just chatting with her and playing with the kittens (she told me the kittens will be given away in the next few weeks so there’s no guarantee they’ll still be there when you visit!). The owners also take amazing drone videos of you here if you wish (as Turkey Drone Regulations make it quite difficult for foreigners to use their own drones in Turkey) for a good price.
The mosque infront of you is The New Mosque in Eminönü and across the water on the left is Karaköy. On the far distance in the right is the Asian side of Istanbul.
To get the seagulls to come, they throw some food and the seagulls come and grab it quickly. Don’t worry though, the seagulls aren’t there all the time!
How to find Kubbe:
Kubbe is quite easy to find, just type it into your Google maps and it will take you in the right direction. It’s always good to have a picture of it on your phone for reference in case you need to as someone local for directions, you can just show them the picture. When you come to the street Pasa Camii Sokagi , you’ll see a pizza place “Pak Side Pizza Salonu” (see the picture below). Turn left and then you’ll see some stairs leading up to what appears to be nothing (see the picture below). Head up here to find Kubbe rooftop!
Click here for the Google maps location of Kubbe.
Head back to Sultanahmet Square in the evening if you have enough energy (sadly I didn’t as I had come straight from a night flight into seeing Istanbul, so I crashed early that night!) as I have heard it is absolutely beautiful seeing The Blue Mosque lit up at night! You can even head back to Seven Hills, or try a new rooftop such as Blue Hotel or Sultan’s Pub for your evening meal.
The impressive Galata Tower can be seen standing high above the skyline from almost everywhere in the city. It has had many uses since it was built in 1348: it was first used for defence reasons and was then later used as a prison. However, it is probably more well known for when in the 17th Century, Hezarfen Ahmet Celebi flew from the top of The Galata Tower across the Bosphorus to the Asian side of Istanbul with wings attached to his arms!
I headed to The Galata Tower at around 7am to get some pictures – the medieval stone tower is one of Istanbul’s main attractions, so it gets very busy here during the day. There were already a few people here when I arrived at 7am would you believe! Mostly local men just hanging around (I have no idea what exactly they were doing), and a few tourists like myself. The name of this street where I took my picture is “Büyük Hendek Caddesi”, remember it as there are many streets coming off The Galata Tower! If you wait until later to get your pictures, you will have to compete with traffic and pedestrians, so much better to come here early if you want a picture like the one below!
Important opening times info:
The tower is open from 9am until 8pm. Make sure to be in the queue by 9am if you want to go to the top of the tower. The queue gets pretty big pretty fast! I however chose to go up the tower in the evening: yes the queues were big, but I really wanted to get to the Dolmabahçe Palace for opening at 9am on my last day in Istanbul, so I took my photos outside The Galata Tower early in the morning, and then came back in the evening to go up the tower, as I was staying just a short walk from the tower.
There is an elevator that goes almost to the top, luckily you don’t have to climb stairs all the way! There is a restaurant and cafe at the top, as well as a panorama balcony where you can enjoy the beautiful view.
Click here for the Google maps location of The Galata Tower.
Kamondo Merdivenleri (Camondo Stairs)
Probably Istanbul’s cutest and most quirky stairway! The Camondo stairway is a beautiful unique stairway located a couple minutes walk from The Galata Tower, in Istanbul’s Karaköy district.
The elegant stairway was built by the Camondo family in the 1800’s so that their children could take a shortcut to school. The stairway was built in a curved manner so that if one of the children slipped and fell, they wouldn’t fall all the way down – the curves would break their fall.
The stairs can get quite busy in the day as a hang out for young people. So if you want a nice picture, best to head here early (when you’re on your way to The Galata Tower). I only discovered this stairway by chance when I was on my way towards the Galata Tower, so make sure to take this route to get to the tower! These stairs are just off Bankalar Caddesi road – between The House Hotel and SALT Galata (an art gallery). Click here to read about why you should stay in The House Hotel on your trip to Istanbul!
Click here for the Google maps location of Camondo Stairway.
The Umbrella Street in Istanbul is just a 10 minute walk from the Camondo Stairs. It is located on on Hoca Tahsin Street in Karaköy. During the day it is full of people at it’s artsy restaurants and cool cafes – there is a really cool vibe here! You can come here early in the morning to take some pictures when there is nobody here and the cafes are shut. I didn’t think people would appreciate my ballet jetés whilst they are sipping on their coffees so I came early! You can then head back in the afternoon to unwind at one of the cafes here or on the surrounding streets.
Click here for the Google maps location of Umbrella Street!
Dolmabahçe Palace is one of the most glamorous palaces in the world and was used as final residence of the Ottoman Sultans. It is a truly stunning place and you definitely shouldn’t miss visiting here! Photos sadly are not allowed inside the palace, but it is so so beautiful inside. I was in complete awe at the grandeur!
You can however take pictures in the gardens, so I really recommend you visit them BEFORE you enter the palace! Visit the gates by the Bosphorus first – you’ll see the Bosphorus on your right and a few gates. This one pictured here is the gate opposite the exit of the palace and the most beautiful one, so get your photo here before you visit otherwise you’ll have no chance afterwards!
Walk around the gardens to the other side and you’ll come across the beautiful entrance gate no longer in use. Then head inside and visit the Palace. You have a free audio guide that explains everything and you are free to walk around at your own pace. I was inside for maybe 45 minutes.
To get to Dolmabahçe Palace from Umbrella Street, take the tram from the station Karaköy Istasyonu (by the Galata Bridge on Kemeralti Caddesi) to Kabatas. Then it’s just a couple minutes walk to get to Dolmabahçe Palace! Alternatively it is a 30 minute walk or you can take a taxi.
Important opening times info:
Dolmabahçe Palace is open from 9am-4pm every day except Monday, when it is closed. Entrance is 60 Turkish Lira (roughly £8) for the regular Palace visit. Make sure you get there for opening at 9am, because by 10am the place is absolutely heaving with people. I even advise to get there before 9am, as it actually opened 15 minutes early the day I visited!
Click here for the Google maps location of Dolmabahçe Palace.
After you’ve visited Dolmabahçe Palace, take a short taxi ride or a 30 minute walk to Ortaköy Mosque. Ortaköy Mosque is a stunning mosque that was built in 1856 in the Baroque style. Take some pictures of the mosque at the waterfront before you go in. It gets super busy here for sunset as it is a popular sunset spot, but in the morning it is not so busy.
The mosque opens at 10am even though the website says 9am! You’ll probably get here around 10.30-11 or so if you visited Dolmabahçe Palace before, so it definitely won’t be busy inside. Afterwards, you can stop off for something to eat or drink at the many cafes nearby.
Click here for the Google maps location of Ortaköy Mosque.
Next, take a taxi across The Golden Horn to Balat: one of Istanbul’s oldest neighbourhoods. There are lots of beautiful streets here to stroll around. My favourite though was definitely this street with these beautiful coloured houses! I was so happy this place was full of cats when I arrived! The streets were deserted except for the local cats, who were just strolling around and were pretty friendly too! (I’m a cat person so I was in heaven!).
This street is not too well known by many locals here so if you plan to head there show a picture of these houses to a local taxi driver. Make sure to give him the address too: Usturumca Sokagi No. 2 – next to Kiremit Cd street.
Afterwards, have a walk around and stop by in one of the cute cafes. Enjoy a tea or coffee before you head back to Karaköy.
Click here for the Google maps location of this street in Balat!
Kasa Lokanta rooftop lounge
Another fab rooftop restaurant, this time in Karaköy! Karaköy is Istanbul’s trendiest neighbourhood that lies just across the bridge from The Old City. The area is well known for it’s many unique restaurants, quirky vibe and great nightlife. Kasa Lokanta rooftop lounge is a super trendy bar located above The House Hotel Karaköy – the food is delicious and the view is just wow! It offers unparalleled sea views across to The Old City, with Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace clearly visible.
What’s so amazing about this hotel is that it actually used to be a bank! Personally I love boutique hotels like this that have some history! Click here to read why you should stay in The House Hotel when staying in Istanbul!
As you can see, there is a lot to do and see in Istanbul! However, many people just use Istanbul as a stepping point for other places. Perhaps they just spend a day there before heading to Cappadocia or Pamukkale. But they often end up regretting leaving so soon when they realise how much there is to experience in Istanbul! So if you’re thinking of having a quick stopover in Istanbul, plan at least 2 nights there. Whilst I managed to do a lot in Istanbul during my 2 days there, I still would have loved to spend more time there and explore even more!
To read about which is the best area to stay in Istanbul and which accommodation I recommend during your stay in Istanbul, CLICK HERE.
I hope you enjoyed my 2 day itinerary and Instagrammable route of Istanbul! Let me know in the comments if you’re going to Istanbul soon!
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