In Planning, Trips & Tips, Uncategorized on
May 12, 2016

One Day In Istanbul, Not Constantinople

the blue mosque

While on our honeymoon in Greece, we started toying with the idea of skipping Athens to visit Istanbul instead. Neither of us had a huge desire to visit Athens and would much rather spend that time in Istanbul. We wanted to explore mosques, dine on yummy Turkish cuisine, and go somewhere we had never been before. We wanted to go somewhere chaotic and exciting to the senses. However, there was only one caveat to our Turkish dream: we would only have one day in Istanbul. Come again? Yes. One day in Istanbul. We knew we may have been a little over our heads, especially since we had such little time to prepare or didn’t even have an Istanbul travel guide. However, there was no stopping us and before we knew it, we were on a last minute flight to spend one day in Istanbul. We must’ve seemed mad, heading to a foreign country with only a day to explore. Especially to tackle such a huge city like Istanbul. However, we were ready to hit the ground running and explore our way through the city where the East meets with West. mosque istanbul

One Day in Istanbul:

Where to Start

one day in istanbul Flying into Turkey is hands downs the easiest way to enter the country and I highly recommend using the fabulous Turkish Airlines, as it flies into Ataturk International at very reasonable prices. If you’re short on time, fly into Ataturk as it is much closer to the city center versus Gokcen Airport. Once you’ve landed, the quickest way to get around Istanbul is by taxi. We wanted to drop off our bags quickly at our hotel to start site seeing. So we quickly negotiated with our driver for a price of 40 lira (roughly $15 USD) and it took about 20 minutes to get to our hotel in the Sultanahmet District. bospherous sea

Where to Stay in Istanbul

If you’re short on time, I highly recommend a hotel in the Sultanahmet District. Behind the walls, lies the old city, which is close to the “what to see in Istanbul” attractions, such as the Hagia Sofia, Topkapi Palace, The Blue Mosque and Basilica Cistern. Being in this district makes it very easy to cover a lot of ground by foot and and an easy way to get around Istanbul. 

Great Hotel Options in Sultanahmet District include:

Fer Hotel

photo courtesy of Fer Hotel

starting at $100 USD/night

Sirkeci Mansion

photo courtesy of Hotel Sirkeci

starting at $209 USD/night

Hotel Miniature

photo courtesy of Hotel Miniature

starting at $183 USD/night

What to see if you have one day in Istanbul?

The Hagia Sophia

hagia sofia one day in istanbul This beautiful architectural landmark was extremely important to both the Byzantine and Ottoman empires and as well as modern-day Istanbul. Now considered a Mosque, the centuries old civilizations are wonderfully represented inside this well-preserved religious site. It’s gorgeous to say the least and I highly recommend checking it out!

Sultan Ahmed, aka The Blue Mosque

inside the blue mosque the blue mosque This gorgeous Mosque is famous for it’s incredible interior, hosting over 20,000 tiles on it’s ceilings and beautiful stained glass windows, that cast beautiful shadows throughout. It is also famous for having six minarets (commonly, there are only four) surrounding the perimeter. The Mosque is free of charge and has appropriate clothing in case you are not prepared. Highly recommend visiting mid-morning to avoid call to prayer.

Basilica Cistern

basicilia cistern istanbul basilica cistern istanbul The largest of the several hundred cisterns located in Istanbul, the “sunken palace” shouldn’t be missed. You’re taken down 500 feet and the columns and aisles are illuminated by beautiful up lighting, making the site more alluring than thought possible. Trust me, it’s much cooler in person and shouldn’t be missed!

Topkapi Palace

topkapi palace OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA   The now museum and large tourist attraction, was once home to the Ottoman sultans for nearly 400 years of their 600+ year reign. The palace has beautiful manicured gardens, wide swept views of the Bospherus and Istanbul, perfect for spending an hour or so roaming the grounds and admiring relics from the Ottoman empire.

The Grand Bazaar

grand baazar istanbul The bazaar is the largest and oldest covered shopping center in the world, recieving a minimum of 250,000 visitors a day and spanning over 60 streets. It’s EPIC to say the least and a great way to casually spend some time window shopping and if you’re like me, admiring and wanting every lantern in the place. It’s definitely at the top of my list on what to see in Istanbul. FYI: The vendors do not like it when tourists take pictures. Sadly, this was the only picture I got of the bazaar. I was dying to get take pictures of the amazing lantern set up but they get feisty if you even attempt to snap a picture!

Galata Tower 

galata tower istanbul one day in istanbul The tower offers incredible 365 degree views of the city. But beware, the lines can be very long so get there either early in the morning or mid-afternoon (like lunch time). This way, you won’t be wasting time on standing in line.

Fun cultural things to do…

turkish tea With only a day in Istanbul, we wanted to cram in as much Turkish food, tea, hookah and shopping that we could. Luckily, amazing food and drinks are plentiful and at your disposal! 

Smoke hookah

Even if you’re not a fan of smoking the shisha, it’s fun to go to a hookah bar to try it, mingle amongst the locals, and try some fabulous Turkish tea. The hookah here was hands down the best shisha I have ever tried and the tea is incredible. We got a mint shisha and apple tea and it was amazing together.

Eat traditional Turkish food

Being a huge foodie, I always love learning about different cultures through food. So it’s no surprise that I was beyond excited to try Turkish cuisine in Istanbul. My recommendations include: lamb kebabs, any kebab for that matter, load up on rice pilav, dolma (yummy bay leaves wrapped in rice, mouth watering noms, and any sweets you can get your hands on. Don’t forget to try Turkish coffee and yummy teas. We ate at the fabulous Bella Mira restaurant, which is conveniently next to all the major landmarks. Sadly, I didn’t take any pictures of the food. I ate it before I had the chance too…

Grab a drink at a rooftop bar

Grabbing a drink at a rooftop bar, overlooking the Bosphorus with views of the many Mosques throughout Istanbul makes for an incredible experience. Highly recommend going near dusk to enjoy the sunset and to rest your feet a little from hitting the pavement from all your site seeing. cocktails in istanbul

Important things to know about Istanbul

bosphorus strait instanbul There is always a little extra to know to better prepare you for your trip by someone who’s been there. So I am more than happy to share with what I learned during my short, but amazing, time in Istanbul!

What currency does Turkey use?

The local currency is the lira and the math on it is very easy, it is usually triple what that of what a US dollar is, making it a very economical travel destination. If that is confusing (because I’m sure how I worded it doesn’t make sense, sorry!), I’ll break it down: if something is 45 Turkish Lira, then it is 15 USD. Most museum entry fees are around 20 Lira, meaning $7 USD.

Do Americans need a visa to visit Turkey?

Yes. American citizens do need a visa to pass immigrations to enter the country of Turkey. However, you are able to access a Turkish visa right before you go through customs. It is so easy, painless and quick which makes it even more fabulous if you’re like me and decided on a whim to go there. Visa costs are around $30 USD and they accept US dollars, euro or lira.

Is Turkey safe to visit?

It is always important to consider your own personal safety when traveling somewhere new. Check the US Embassy Website, for up to date information on Istanbul tourism, safety levels, and info on civil unrest. To better protect yourselves, follow basic safety rules when traveling abroad. From my own experience, I felt safe while I was there despite the civil unrest in the country. During the day, it seemed like every other destination I had been too: you can tell there were scammers and pick-pocketer’s, so use your street smarts to not find yourself in a tricky situation. At night time, we were back to our hotel by 10:30-11:00 and it became a little seedier. So if you do plan to be out late hitting some bars or dining late, be aware of your surroundings and take lit pathways home. 

What should I wear in Turkey?

Dress conservatively because Turkey is predominantly an Islamic country. However, I noticed that the women here were a little more modern and progressive in their fashion sense as opposed to other Islamic countries.  Regardless, it’s smart to dress on the conservative side, so pack pants, long skirts, & longer shirts or sweaters (to cover elbows). You can always look cute and modern, even if your dressed conservatively. I didn’t have much of a conservative wardrobe considering I was coming from Greece, but I did my best to cover up with a shawl that I purchased outside of the Blue Mosque. So I highly suggest bringing bring an extra shawl or scarf for extra coverage when you deem necessary.  one day in istanbul

What to pack for Istanbul

In conclusion:

Is one day in Istanbul enough time? 

If you have the only option of one day in Istanbul, then yes, take the chance. Even though we only had 24 hours,  I felt that we covered a lot of ground, experienced a lot of the local culture, and stuffed our faces with glorious Turkish food. Of course, I would’ve loved more time to enjoy the spice market and did a Bosphorus Cruise, but hey, that’s life. I didn’t know when I would make it back and wasn’t going to miss my chance! Ideally, I think the ideal amount of time in Istanbul would three full days to really experience everything and see things at a slower pace than we did. mosque

Take away tips for one day in Istanbul:

  • Fly into Ataturk. It’s closer to the city center than Gokcen Airport.
  • Stay in a hotel in/or near the Sultanahmet District to be close to everything.
  • Visas are easy to attain once you get off the plane and are located in customs. They can be purchased with lira, euros, or USD. 
  • Eat all the food you can stomach and drink all the Turkish coffee and tea that you can!

Thanks again for stopping by! I always appreciate the fact that I’m not writing for a party of one (myself…) If you’re not already, follow along on social media for all the fun and subscribe for more tips!



one day in istanbul Istanbul-2 Istanbul one day in istanbul one day in istanbul


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  • Aubrey

    Beautiful pictures.

    xxx. The Coastal Confidence

    • Hi Aubrey,

      Thank you!! I really appreciate that!

  • This looks SO fun! I’m definitely bookmarking this for future world travels!

    Chow Down USA

    • Hi Chelsea,

      It was really fun! Sometimes you gotta just go for the fun quick trips! Hope it helps on future trips!! XO

  • I too only had one day to visit Istanbul and it is definitely not enough time, but so worth it! I totally fell in love. Props for fitting so much in while you were there. I would’ve rather cut my time in Athens and added to Istanbul when I went, good call!

  • Ankita Miharia

    Love all the pictures and tips. This place looks like so much fun. Would love to visit sometime 🙂

  • Janine Good

    I thoroughly enjoyed Istanbul when I was there! The Blue Mosque was very interesting and cultural, and I loved the spice market. Turkish food is also quite delectable! The grand bazaar threw me for a loop, but the city as a whole was fascinating.

  • Cat

    what a great guide! You have certainly accomplished a lot in one day!!

  • TravelBlond

    Chloe, you always make very helpful city guides! I was surprised to find out about the visa for US Citizens! I thought the entire Europe is visa free zone. Thank you! #FlyAwayFriday

  • Young And Undecided

    Woah! Is it crazy that I’ve never actually seen what Istanbul looks like? So beautiful! love the spontaneity #flyawayfriday

  • Turkey is on my (long) list of places I want to visit. However, there is a bit of political unrest there. More so than what we know about since the government doesn’t allow a lot of information to get out. Just look at the attempted political coup that happened in September. Also, many people I know have had the dreaded ‘SSSS’ on their boarding passes for months after they have visited (which makes for a more intensive security screening at airports).

    Hopefully things will settle down there in the near future.

  • Hagia Sofia is beautiful! I’d like to visit Istanbul some time in my lifetime but considering how long my travel wish list is, I think we’ll wait and see if things every calm down over there. Or at least until my husband and I can go without the kids. #flyawayfriday

  • Love C and D

    Wow you sure crammed a lot into just one day! I would love to visit Istanbul, specifically to see Hagia Sofia and the Sunken Palace but would probably need about a week as we like to do things slowly. Like you, I love sampling local food and apple tea and kebabs sound delicious. Amazing photos btw. Thanks for sharing.

  • I would certainly be tempted to spend the whole day sampling food and shopping – it looks delicious and fun! One day is definitely better than nothing, glad that you were able to see at least that much!

  • Tracy McConnachie Collins

    I always take the opportunity to go somewhere new however short the time is – you did loads in Istanbul in a day. I flew to Australia from the UK once for a 6 day holiday! Took 2 days to get there and back but it was worth every second in the air (and i HATE flying)
    Istanbul is somewhere I would love to visit even for a day! And the food?! Wow yummmmmmy 🙂 #flyawayfriday

  • Ok is it weird that the first thing I want to say is that I LOVE YOUR DRESS in the Topkapi photo?! Haha! It’s so classy but cute!!!! Of course I love your guide and other photos too 🙂 xo

  • Wow! That was quite a day. I think you saw a lot (and a lot of beautiful places). I have heard the “main” sights are located close to each other. Is that true? I like your advice of eating as much as possible ;0) #FlyAwayFriday

  • You guys were so ambitious but I’m glad you were able to pull it off! That’s incredible. I’d love to visit Turkey one day – Ephesus, Cappadocia, Pamukkale, Istanbul – it’s high up on my bucket list! Will definitely bookmark this for our future trip 🙂

  • Alex

    Loved loved loved this! Ever since seeing the sunken palace in a film we have talked about Istanbul! We WILL get there one day! #flyawayfriday

  • Editor-in-Style Good

    I thoroughly enjoyed Istanbul when I was there! I do agree with your suggestions! I thought the blue mosque was stunning and Turkish coffee a truly yummy and cultural experience. The hotel miniature looks fab! #flyawayfriday

  • When someone asks me if it’s worth visiting a place for just 24 hours, I always say hell yes! Even if you don’t cover much, there is still a lot one can do in a day. And if you end up linking it you always know that you want to go back. Next time when someone asks, I’ll just point them towards this article! Thanks for sharing!

  • David Johnston

    Choosing between Athens and Istanbul is tough in my opinion as they both have plenty to offer. You’ve highlighted some great spots in Istanbul and your photos are wonderful. Rooftop bar is a great recommendation, the views over the rooftops is just magical. Would love to return to Istanbul. #FlyAwayFriday

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