Istanbul in 2 Days
If you can just spend a weekend in Istanbul, you will be able able to see some of this enormous city’s major sights and experience the sensory overload that is this magnificent city. Istanbul is the only major city that is situated on two continents, Europe and Asia. Formerly known as Byzantium and Constantinople, it is the perfect example of a crossroad city. Istanbul is incredible. It’s one of the most awe-inspiring cities I have been to thus far. Home to breathtaking architecture, delicious food, and some of the warmest, most genuinely hospitable people I have ever met on my travels. The skyline is dominated by church spires and minarets and there is a great mix of tradition and innovation as this is where east and west merge.The western half of the city is situated in Europe while the eastern half is located in Asia. The Asian side is largely residential so you’ll find most of the city’s major attractions clustered within two districts on the European side – Sultanahmet and Beyoğlu. First-time visitors to the city will be spending much of their time in those two districts.
HOW TO APPLY FOR AN E-VISA TO TURKEY
Applying for an e-visa to Turkey is easy. Everything is done online and you can have your visa in minutes. You can find details on how to apply here.
How many days to stay
Istanbul is a fascinating city with lots to see and do. You should allow yourself four full days. It’ll be a bit rushed but four days will give you enough time to see the major sights. I spent 3 nights in Istanbul . Here’s a 2 day itinerary to help you plan your trip.
• Basilica Cistern
• Ayasofya (Hagia Sophia)
• At Meydani (Sultanahmet Square)
• Ibrahim Pasa Palace (Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum)
• Sultanahmet (Blue Mosque)
• Grand Bazaar
• Egyptian Spice Bazaar
• Bosphorus Cruise
Getting to and from Istanbul
By air, there are two airports in the city and one is quite far out. Istanbul International Airport (IST), on the European side of the city and Sabiha Gökçen International Airport on the Asian side of the city. The Bosphorus strait separates the two and traffic can be tough. The quickest way to get between both is taking a Taxi. It roughly costs 200-220 Lira, The other cheaper but longer option is taking an airport shuttle from airport to Taksim and then changing there for another Shuttle to your other airport.
WHERE TO STAY IN ISTANBUL
Based on what we learned from our trip, there are two ideal places to stay in Istanbul for first-time visitors — Sultanahmet and Beyoğlu.
The Sultanahmet area is where most of the major tourist sites are located. If you’re visiting Istanbul to appreciate its historic sites, then there’s no better place to stay than Sultanahmet.
You can check these sites to search for hotels in the Sultanahmet area: AirBnB | Booking.com | Agoda.
If you want a more contemporary side to Istanbul whilst still having easy access to the Sultanahmet area, then Beyoğlu around Taksim Square may be the better choice. It’s home to the popular shopping street of Istiklal Caddesi (Independence Avenue) as well as a number of trendy bars and clubs. It’s just a funicular and tram ride away to Sultanahmet making it ideal for first-time visitors as well. You can check these sites to search for hotels around Taksim Square: AirBnB | Booking.com | Agoda.
If you’re new to AirBnB, then you can get free travel credit when you sign up via this link.
Things to do
Ayasofya: The most iconic site in Istanbul and once considered the greatest church in Christendom.
Sultanahmet: One of the most striking mosques in Istanbul.
Basilica Cistern: The largest surviving Byzantine cistern in Istanbul.
At Meydani: The former location of the Hippodrome of Constantinople.
Ibrahim Pasa Palace: Museum featuring an impressive collection of calligraphy and rugs.
Topkapi Palace: The court of the Ottoman Empire from the 15th to the 19th centuries.
Istanbul Archaeology Museums: Museum of the Ancient Orient, Tiled Pavilion, Archaeological Museum.
Shop like a Sultan at the Grand and Egyptian Spice Bazaars
The Grand and Egyptian Spice Bazaars are Istanbul’s most popular bazaars. One of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world with over 3,000 shops, you can buy all sorts of things at the Grand Bazaar like leather goods, jewelry, carpets, clothing, furniture, ceramics, and souvenirs.
Considerably smaller than the Grand Bazaar, the Spice Bazaar is home to around a hundred shops selling dried fruits, nuts, spices, tea, Turkish Delight, and other goodies. Both are walking distance from Sultanahmet Square.
Take a Cruise on the Bosphorus with Şehir Hatları
Going on a scenic all-day cruise of the Bosphorus is one of Istanbul’s greatest pleasures according to many. Istanbul’s ferry companies offer three Bosphorus Cruises — Full, Short, and Moonlight (Evening). The Short Cruise takes you on a two-hour loop while the Full and Moonlight Cruises last for six hours and take you all the way to Anadolu Kavağı, which is the last dock before the Black Sea. It’s a charming seaside town where you can have amazing seafood by the water.
How to get around Istanbul
The Istanbul public transportation system is diverse. It’s comprised of metro lines, trams, funiculars, cable cars, ferries, and buses. Unlike city rail systems where you pay the total fare at the start regardless of how many transfers you need to make to get to your destination, each ride and transfer on the Istanbul system costs 5TL. So if it takes three rides to get to your destination, then the total fare will be 15TL (5TL x 3). At first, I thought 5TL a ride was cheap, but it can get pretty expensive if you’re paying 10-15TL per one-way trip. If you plan on taking the public transportation system often, then the Istanbulkart as would be a good investment. If you like visiting places on your own without a guide, then I think it’s definitely worth it to take a BigBus Tour.
What are the Costs of Travel in Turkey?
Turkish Lira is the national currency but Euros and US Dollars are widely accepted as well. However, you should only pay for things in Euro or USD when prices are quoted in Euro or USD. Otherwise, you could be losing money in the conversion.
Assuming you’ll be sharing a hotel room with one other person and doing everything in this guide, then a budget of around 180-200TL per day should be plenty. This takes into account your hotel room, the 3-day Istanbul Museum Pass, other entrance fees, transportation, meals, pocket wifi rental, and some light shopping.
Important Days Attractions are CLOSED
Ayasofya — Monday
Istanbul Archaeology Museums — Monday
Dolmabahce Palace — Monday and Thursday
Topkapi Palace — Tuesday
Chora Church — Wednesday
Grand Bazaar — Sunday