Travel Guides

Istanbul in a Day: The Ultimate Travel Guide to Must-See Attractions

Since the name was still Constantinople and Byzantium, Istanbul has been famous worldwide as one favorite travel destination. If long time ago people come to Istanbul to trade, now they come to this capital city of Turkey to have some vacation. Here is a mini guide for people who want to come to Istanbul.

How not to get lost in Turkey’s largest city? Where should I go first? What are the best things to do and to see in Istanbul? We have prepared a ready-made route for tourists. We gathered all travelers’ favorite places in one place. All these sights of Istanbul can be viewed in one day. Or stretch the pleasure for 2-3 days. Here you will find useful tips and must-see attractions.

Travel Itinerary

Best Istanbul Tours: Discover the City’s Hidden Gems

It is suggested that you take at least one sightseeing tour; you will definitely find tours in your language, as well as English and many others. Guidebooks do not provide the information that a good guide tells you. We are sharing with you a link to a good tour with a free transfer from your hotel and lunch included, save it for the future.

Explorer’s Guide to Istanbul’s Wonders

Twilight over Istanbul with the Blue Mosque, illuminated walkway, and visitors.
Evening descends on Istanbul, showcasing the majestic Blue Mosque.

If history and urban legends do not interest you, and you simply aim to explore Istanbul’s beautiful places, consider these must-visit attractions for your one-day itinerary in Istanbul.

Girls, take a handkerchief for a walk. This is necessary for visiting mosques. In some places they give out shawls for free, but in Hagia Sophia, you must pay 20 lira for a disposable cape.It’s wiser to have one of your own.

Good Morning, Istanbul: Kick-Start Your Adventure

The custom of the Turks is they have breakfast with heavy meals, not just a loaf of bread with milk or sandwich with coffee. Go fill your belly with local taste like sheep’s milk cheese, cucumbers and simit (bread) plus tomatoes. Hop on the commuter and go to Eminonu where the ferries are. The docks are filled with fishing boats, too, if you want to hop on one of them. Enjoy the views over the salty water with seagulls flying above it and screeching all the time.
Get on a Turol ferry to wander. A one hour and a half cruise is more than enough I guess. You can have the chance to visit Kadikou that is famous for the fresh products of the market. After that, if you are feeling hungry just go to Ciya Sofrasi, a popular restaurant that serves Turks specialties. It’s the best place for lunch.

Gülhane Park: Istanbul’s Historic Gardens

Vibrant tulips in Gülhane Park, with sunlit paths and trees.
Spring in Istanbul: Tulips bloom in Gülhane Park.

After the breakfast you can start a walk in Istanbul in the famous Gulhane Park. It is located in the city center. Every year in April, Istanbul hosts the International Tulip Festival. Most of the flowers are planted in Gulhane Park. Already in May, roses bloom here. The park is beautiful at any time of the year. Look up carefully: green parrots and great white cranes live in Gulhane park.

Topkapi Palace Museum: A Journey Through Ottoman Splendor

It is convenient to go directly from Gulhane to Topkapi Palace. The entrance is located in the famous gate, which you could see in the screensaver of the TV series “Magnificent Century”. Until the 19th century, Topkapi was the main palace of the Ottoman Empire. Now it has been turned into a museum. This is one of the largest museums in the world by area and one of the must-see attractions in Istanbul. The palace is surrounded by four courtyards. Part of the territory can be viewed free of charge. As part of a day trip around Istanbul, this will be enough.

Must-See Sites in Afternoon: Guide to Perfect Spots

As morning gives way to the afternoon, prepare to immerse yourself in the historic heart of Istanbul, where ancient splendors await.

Sultanahmet Square: Istanbul’s Premier Historical Site

On the main square of Istanbul, you can see several important sights at once:

Hagia Sophia: Istanbul’s Iconic Masterpiece

Until 2020, Hagia Sophia operated as a museum. Now it has been restored to the status of a functioning mosque, so it can be viewed from the inside for free. The St. Sophia is a symbol of the “golden age” of Byzantium and a man-made wonder of the world.

Hurrem Sultan Hammam: A Dip into Ottoman Luxury

Fans of the Magnificent Century series will definitely like it. Sultan Suleiman’s beloved wife financed the construction of the hammam. Only those ordering a SPA program may enter (the price in 2021 was about 200 euros, but the hammam remained closed during my trip due to restrictions in Turkey).

The Historic Hippodrome

Previously, a hippodrome was located on the site of Sultanahmet. Nowadays, 3 obelisks remind of those times. The Egyptian one was brought from Luxor in 390, and the Snake One was installed in honor of the victories over the Greeks. The obelisk of Constantine was built by order of Emperor Constantine VII in honor of his grandfather Vasily I.

The Palace of Ibrahim Pasha.

The house of the most famous Grand Vizier of the Ottoman Empire looks more like a fortress. He had a lot of enemies.

Blue Mosque of Istanbul: A Masterpiece of Islamic Architecture

It is not as beautiful now as it used to be. The dome is under restoration until 2029, so inside it is almost no different from any other mosque. Despite being less prominent, it remains a worthwhile addition to any one-day Istanbul itinerary as a must-see attraction.

Afternoon is time for the for the follwing the must see atraction in Istanbul in one day.

The Grand Bazaar: Legendary Marketplace

There are almost 4,000 shops in Istanbul’s oldest and main market. It is one of the largest indoor bazaars in the world. There are 66 streets with shops, cafes and workshops. During the Ottoman Empire, the market was the center of the slave trade. Traders also sold girls here, who later became concubines in the sultan’s harem. Today, in the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul, you can buy souvenirs, fake brands and Turkish things and everything in the world. This is a very colorful place – be sure to visit it is one of the must see attractions in Istanbul within one day.

Riches of the Egyptian Bazaar in Istanbul

There are the brightest shops and the most delicious sweets. You will definitely want to photograph the Egyptian bazaar from all angles. Local merchants are always happy to welcome tourists. They are sure to treat their goods and help with the choice. People believe that here one can buy the best lokum (Turkish delights) in Istanbul.

Suleymaniye Mosque: One of the Must Visit Attraction

One of the world’s most beautiful mosques was constructed by the architect Sinan, commissioned by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. It is famous for its perfect acoustics, unusual architecture and building materials, as well as an observation deck in the courtyard.

In addition, the Sultan himself and his beloved wife Hurrem are buried on the territory of the mosque.

Experience the Magic of an Istanbul Evening: Top Attractions

As the day unfolds into evening, get ready to experience the vibrant pulse of Istanbul’s nightlife.

Istiklal Caddesi: The Pulse of Istanbul’s Vibrant Street Life

First of all, jump into the “same” red tram. This is another symbol of Istanbul. Get off at Taksim Square and head back towards the Galata Tower. Listen to the musicians, look at the shop windows, look into one of the courtyards to see the main Catholic church of the city. Feel the rhythm of Istanbul. Istiklal is the busiest and brightest street in the city.

Galata Tower: For Panoramic Views

Go to the Galata Tower. Take a walk through the narrow streets that surround it. Sit in a cafe, pet the seals, buy bags full of souvenirs (here, oddly enough, pleasant prices). Go up to the observation deck. The height of the Galata Tower is 67 meters. There is a wonderful view of Istanbul and the Bosphorus from above. The tower has 6 floors, and there is something interesting on each one.

The price of a ticket to the Galata Tower in 2024 is 650 liras.

Fishing and Feasting on the Galata Bridge in Istanbul

Fishermen chose it as one of the must-see attractions in Istanbul. And with them – cats and seagulls. On the lower level of the bridge there are fish restaurants where they sell dishes from fresh catch. But it is better to eat the “fish shawarma” balik-ekmek somewhere on the embankment, which is one of the must things to do. It is best to stay close to the fish market. 

Take a walk along the embankment next to the Galata Bridge and walk along it yourself – from here you get very atmospheric pictures.

The Bosphorus: Istanbul’s Pathway Between Continents

Near the Galata Bridge, take the ferry and embark on an hour-long cruise to see the main sights of Istanbul from the water. Seasoned tourists are often advised not to spend money on a boat trip and use a regular ferry. For example, go from Eminonu pier to Ortakoy. It’s much cheaper. But I advise you not to spare 25 lire for a ticket and take a full-fledged cruise. In 15 minutes by ferry, you will see almost nothing in one area. But in an hour from the boat you can see Istanbul in detail.

After all color up your evening with the cocktails at Mikla Bar. Then go to Sofyali for dinner. Don’t miss the kebabs here. To spend the night away, got to the water pipe cafes at Tophano for a rest and relaxation atmosphere.