A magical mixture of East and West, Turkey’s capital has rich cultural experiences waiting around every corner. Visit for a couple of days and you’ll barely scratch the surface… But hey, 48 hours in Istanbul is still an unforgettable experience.
Think: discovering Ottoman mosques, Byzantine landmarks and atmospheric bazaars by day; chilling at rooftop bars and cool jazz clubs after dark.
48 Hours In Istanbul
Dive in at the Deep End at Sultanahmet Square!
Once you’ve squared away your quarters at the central Magnaura Palace Hotel, make the ten-minute walk down to the beating heart of Istanbul’s historic old-town, Sultanahmet Square. Originally built by Constantine the Great to honour Istanbul’s declaration as the capital of the Roman Empire, this 4th century hippodrome is a glorious yet busy place to get acclimatised to Istanbul’s hectic and historic vibe.
It’s also a great place to snap top-notch pics of standout sights like the Egyptian Obelisk, Serpentine Column, Column of Costantine Porphyrgenitus and the German Fountain with either The Blue Mosque or Hagia Sophia (both of which are very close by) in the background.
Be Awed by the Sublime Hagia Sophia
Though Istanbul is packed with many impressive buildings, none are more stunning than the breathtaking Hagia Sophia. Completed in AD 537, this architectural marvel has been used as both a cathedral and a mosque during its 1,400 year life-span. Today it’s a museum. Stand beneath its 55m-high dome though, and see if you don’t feel something akin to a religious experience! Be sure to check out the Viking graffiti etched on the balustrade of the south gallery before you leave.
Fall in Love With the Dreamy Blue Mosque
A hop, skip and jump away from the Hagia Sophia is the breathtaking Blue Mosque. This dreamy 402-year-old mosque gets its name from the gorgeous blue Iznik tiles that cover its walls. As an active place of worship, it’s closed to non-Islamic worshippers during each of the five daily calls-to-prayer, so do yourself a favour and avoid visiting if you’ve just heard the ezan chanted from the minarets.
Feast on Kebabs, Coffee and Views
At the end of a busy day, treat yourself to that most Turkish of foods, the kebab. They’re available everywhere. The tasty dish be enjoyed on the go or as a sit-down evening meal accompanied by meze and spicy dips. When your tummy’s full, swing by the Arcadia Blue Hotel on Imran Ökten Cad and pitch up at its fab rooftop bar. Looking out over the city toward the Sea of Marmara and across to Asia in the distance is, like the coffee served up here, very sweet indeed…
Visit the Seat of Ottoman Power at the Grand Topkapi Palace
An early start is a smart move when visiting the Topkapi Palace. With so much to see, it’s a fair bet you’ll be here for a good long while. As the centre of the entire Ottoman Empire, this complex of buildings, courtyards and pavilions is fascinating place to have a good old nose around. Having treasures like the Topkapi Dagger and a strand of the Prophet Mohammed’s hair on-site only adds to the magic. Be sure to soak up the fab views across the Bosphorus from the cafe when you’re done.
Haggle Like a Pro at the Grand Bazaar
Yep, it’s time to get yourself over to the Fatih district and work on your haggling skills at the world’s largest covered market. Blessed with an electric atmosphere and some 4,400 shops, the cavernous 15th century Grand Bazaar is a unique place to indulge in a spot of retail therapy. The handmade carpets and kilims for which Turkey is so famed are perhaps the most sought after items. Although, Turkish silver, high quality ceramics, and decorations made of copper and bronze are highly prized too.
As for if you end up buying nothing? It doesn’t matter! The sensation of having your senses so resolutely assaulted by perfumed spices, colours and noises is reason enough to visit. Don’t forget to have a sweet coffee or two..
Take a Boat Trip Across the Bosphorus to Galata
A relaxing boat trip is a fine way to wind down. Ferries across the water to the Asian side of Istanbul are two-a-penny, although the ones that get up close to the landmark Galata Bridge offer some of the best photo opps.
When you reach the district of Galata on the other side, check out the expansive views of the Bosphorus from the 14th-century Galata Tower. Then, take a casual wander to soak up the neighbourhood‘s lively vibe. Swing by the cool Nardis Jazz Club on Galata Kulesi Sokak to finish your evening off in style.