Turkey’s most popular city break destination has everything you could want from a holiday – great food, gorgeous architecture, and a huge souvenir market. Because Istanbul sits right on the border of Europe and Asia, you’re guaranteed a unique mix of cultural sights too.
If you’ve only got 48 hours in the city, you’ll need to plan your Istanbul itinerary well to make you don’t miss out on anything. Follow our tips below on how to do all your Istanbul sightseeing in just 2 days…
To maximize your time in the city and travel easily between the main sights, book a hop-on, hop-off bus tour. You’ll get all the facts and information you need about each landmark on route, and you’ll have the option to stop at as many sights that take your fancy.
When it comes to Istanbul’s main sights and attractions, the ones you can’t miss are the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, and the Topkapi Palace. Start your tour on Sultanahmet Square where you’ll see all three. Explore the Hagia Sophia church-turned-museum and walk the spiral steps up to the vast dome to see the beautiful Byzantine mosaics up close. And, pay a visit to the Topkapi Palace to see the alleged Moses’ staff and loads of Ottoman Empire exhibits like clothing and weaponry.
After ticking off the square, you’ll be whisked across Galeta Bridge and taken to Istanbul’s other palaces and museums. The Istanbul Modern Art Museum and the Great Palace Mosaics Museum are perfect for art lovers. The Archaeology Museum is the place to be for history buffs. And, the decadent golf leaf and marble Dolmabahçe Palace is where you’ll get an insight into Ottoman Empire history.
Don’t forget to stop for a spot of Turkish mezze to refuel in between all that sightseeing. Head to Meze by Lemon Tree and take your pick from the platters on offer, with seafood and vegetables being the most popular option. If you have a sweet tooth and want to taste some of the city’s best baklava, make Karakoy Gulluoglu or Saray your port of call.
Istanbul City Tour – Red Route
End your perfect first day in Istanbul by enjoying amazing nighttime views of the city with a cocktail or two. Head to 360 Istanbul in Beyoglu, set in the penthouse of a 19th century apartment building, and see all of Istanbul’s best sights from up above.
Istanbul City Tour – Red Route, Stop: Hard Rock Cafe
You’ve ticked off Istanbul’s best bits, now it’s time to go bargain hunting at the Grand Bazaar. You could spend all day at the 500-year-old maze of markets soaking up the buzzing atmosphere and hunting for great deals on carpets, jewellery, ceramics and leather. There are 5,000 shops to browse, 60 restaurants where you can try homemade Turkish treats, and 18 fountains to spot among the clustered streets. It’s not just for tourists either, locals do their shopping here too, so you’ll know you’re getting a real cultural experience.
If you’ve got time to spare after all that shopping, take to the water and explore Istanbul from a different perspective. Hop on a cruise over the Bosphorus river and you’ll get a gorgeous view of all the main sights from the water. There are loads of boat trip options for you to choose from, including short circle cruises for those who are pressed for time but still want to get the river sightseeing experience.
Spend your final evening strolling around the Golden Horn harbour and watching the fisherman catching their mackerel. And then make your way to the Galata Tower for dinner where you’ll be treated to traditional dishes, belly dancing shows and Turkish entertainment.
Ready to pack Istanbul’s best sights into 48 hours? Follow our whistle-stop itinerary and you’ll see all the major sights and landmarks, taste the best Turkish food, and learn all about the city’s history and culture. And if you've got more time in this diverse city, click here for more itinerary inspiration.