What to do in Istanbul in one day

Istanbul is a city bursting with history. It has been the central location for many ancient kingdoms and religions, which left their marks throughout the city. Staying in the beautiful boutique Hotel Miniature will kick off your trip perfectly as you gaze out your window over the city. The Hagia Sophia Museum shows off the architectural influences that occurred from the Byzantine all the way to the Ottoman era. You will watch as ships cruise by in the Bosphorus Strait as you sit enjoying a coffee at the House Café. The Blue Mosque is famously beautiful religious site that you cannot miss. Afterward, head to Seven Hills Rooftop Restaurant to see the amazing view of Istanbul while enjoying a delicious lunch

The Grand Bazaar provides a unique and authentic shopping experience as you wander in and out of the alleyways in the oldest covered market in the world. Çorlulu Ali Paşa Medresesi is an excellent traditional café within the Bazaar and is the perfect place for coffee and people watching. Then head out to the Basilica Cistern and wander the old streets of Istanbul walking past many of the most historic sites. Enjoy the beautiful green space of Gulhane Park before enjoying an amazing dinner at Constantine’s Ark where you will be treated to a food journey through Turkey. The Whirling Dervishes are a must-see and the Hodjapasha Dance Theater offers an incredible environment to enjoy the show. Then head to Araf Bar for drinks and traditional music before ending your Istanbul day trip at the psychedelic nightclub 11:11

09:00 – Stay in a Unique Space with a Wonderful View at the Charming Hotel Miniature

In the heart of the old city of Istanbul, in the Sultanahmet district, is a gorgeous boutique hotel filled with romantic Turkish charm. Hotel Miniature is a perfectly located establishment in a historic renovated building. During Ottoman times, this neighborhood was home to imperial palaces and the houses of many of the Empire’s royal families. The building, while now the beautifully remodeled Hotel Miniature, holds onto all of that antique beauty. This is the perfect place to stay on your Istanbul Day Trip. The friendly staff will greet you when you enter, help you with your bags, and give you a map of the city. This one-of-a-kind Istanbul hotel is not to be missed

The common spaces in Hotel Miniature are lovely and have traditional tiling on the floor, adding to the ambience. The hotel differs a little from its old-fashioned quality with many modern amenities including a spa area. On the roof of the amazing building is a patio. This rooftop terrace space offers you an incredible view of the city. You will get the full panorama of the old Sultanahmet neighborhood of Istanbul. From here you can see the Hagia Sophia rising above the city’s rooftops

The rooms in Hotel Miniature are just as delightful and quaint as the rest of the building. Each space is uniquely decorated and features exposed brick walls that are the original building’s walls. You can expect a wonderful and cozy room with high ceilings and a delicious piece of Turkish Delight waiting for you on the table. The rooms have fantastic views outside their windows, just in case you forget what city you are in. Hotel Miniature is exactly what you would hope from a hotel here in beautiful Istanbul. Get ready for a spectacular day in this stunning city  // Hotel Miniature – Alemdar Mh., Molla Fenari Sk. No:22, Cağaloğlu / Sultanahmet, Istanbul

09:30 – Enter into the Complex History of Istanbul at the Hagia Sophia Museum

Just steps away from your hotel is one of the most famous sites in Istanbul, the Hagia Sophia. This building is very historic and is a living testament to the various kingdoms and religions that dominated the region over the last few centuries. The first structure built on this site was a Byzantine church in 360 AD. The structure you see today is actually the third church built on this site, constructed under the order of Emperor Justinian I in 532 AD. When the Ottomans came to power in the 15th century, the Hagia Sophia was converted from a church into a mosque. Today, it is a remarkable museum with remnants of each time period and religious influence the building has lived through

There are plenty of things to see inside the Hagia Sophia. The impressive Christian mosaics are in the upper gallery and beautifully depict many beautiful religious scenes such as the Virgin Mary holding the young Jesus Christ. There is also the famous “wishing column” that is believed to have the power to heal. Justinian famously leaned his head against it and his headache went away. Place your thumb in the hole and make a wish

The Hagia Sophia is a fascinating site because of its combination of Christian and Muslim influences. in addition to the glittering mosaics, which are Christian, there are also beautiful minarets ascending toward the sky and singing out the call to prayer. The domes are massive and detailed with many colors, and the whole temple fills with sunlight that streams in through the windows and archways at the top. Walking through the Hagia Sophia is an amazing experience that you cannot miss  // Hagia Sophia Museum – Sultanahmet Mh., Ayasofya Meydanı, Fatih, Istanbul

10:30 – People Watch on the Outskirts of a Traditional Bazaar as You Sip Coffee at the House Café

When deciding on a café in Istanbul that meets all your mid-morning café needs, it is best to choose one with an atmosphere that is just as good as the coffee. The House Café on the edge of the old Arasta Bazaar provides exactly this. This café is a favorite among Istanbul locals and for good reason. With lots of seating, gorgeous spaces for people watching and incredible coffee, it’s a great place to stop for a rest while touring Istanbul

The House Café plays soft jazz music for you to listen to while looking out over the marketplace. The staff is friendly and happy to help you decide what to order. There are plenty of freshly made desserts and pastries if you want something sweet. There are several different types of cheesecakes, tarts, and traditional Turkish puddings. They also have a variety of espresso based coffee choices as well as traditional Turkish coffee. There are also plenty of tea options, lemonades, juices, and handcrafted sodas. Choose something refreshing to enjoy as you take in the atmosphere

The café has a beautiful wooden open-air patio surrounded by greenery. There are large wooden tables to sit at with flowers and plants adding to the very natural ambience of The House Cafe. Look out across the market as locals come and go with their goods. The call to prayer echoes from nearby mosques adding to the ambience. Enjoy the sounds of this busy day in Istanbul as you sip on your coffee and chat with your friends. It’s a beautiful space to spend part of the morning on your Istanbul Day Trip  // House Cafe – Istinye Park Shopping Mall, 510, Istanbul

11:00 – Walk In the Intricate Beauty of The Blue Mosque

Another quintessential Istanbul location is the famed holy site known as The Blue Mosque. The actual name of the mosque is Sultan Ahmed Mosque as it was built during his rule. It was built in the early part of the 17th century as a way to reassert the power of the Ottoman Empire. This beautiful mosque is now an icon of the city and favorite spot among visitors to Istanbul. Its six tall looming minarets can be seen from many places around the city. The Blue Mosque is truly magnificent. Do not miss out on the opportunity to see this stunning holy site

The Blue Mosque is known as this because of the blue tiles covering the walls inside the structure. The tiles feature flowers and trees as well as abstract patterns, which are all beautiful and unique. The windows are stained glass, though no the original, and offer a colorful ambience to the interior of the building. There are also magnificent chandeliers providing a glowing light to the space. The interior has many different details decorating the walls and ceilings so take your time observing all the beauty

This mosque is unique for many reasons, but especially because of its six minarets. Most mosques only have one or two, so the six minarets on The Blue Mosque indicate a certain level of power and holiness. There are also the beautiful cascading domes, which make up the roof, and a wonderful courtyard where you can take in the sheer size and beauty of the mosque. It is an amazing structure that will leave you filled with wonder and awe  // The Blue Mosque – At Meydanı No:7, 34122 Fatih, Istanbul

12:30 – Take in a Gorgeous View and Incredible Lunch at Seven Hills Rooftop Restaurant

For lunch, you cannot go wrong with a restaurant with a view, so head over to Seven Hills for a wonderful meal on top of the Seven Hills Hotel in the old city of Istanbul is this lovely eatery. Walk through the beautiful Hotel lobby and take the elevator to the top. As you walk out onto the roof you will be stunned by the panoramic view of the city. With amazing food, service and atmosphere, Seven Hills Rooftop Restaurant is the perfect place for lunch on your Istanbul day trip

The waiter will seat you at an elegant table looking out over Istanbul and will be happy to help you with the menu. They have delicious Turkish food, specializing in locally caught fish. Try the sea bass or the shrimp, which each come served on a bed of grilled or raw fresh vegetables. They also have incredible grilled meat kebabs if you are not in the mood for fish. Order some Turkish beer or wine to go with your meal. Everything at Seven Hills Rooftop Restaurant is fresh and delicious, so get ready for an amazing meal

From where you sit enjoying your lunch, you can see all of the old city of Istanbul. Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque stand out over the rooftops and the Bosphorus strait is filled with boats cruising through the water. You will not be able to take your eyes away from the sheer charm of the city. It’s the perfect atmosphere for a delicious lunch. Follow up your main course with the traditional Turkish dessert, Baklava. Indulge in the sticky sweetness while you take in the view. Istanbul looks lovely from here and the fantastic food and drinks help too  // Seven Hills Restaurant – Tevfikhane Sokak No:8 Sultanahmet, 34122, Istanbul

14:00 – Shop in the Traditional Way at the Colorful and renowned Grand Bazaar

If you really want to enter into the history and the culture of Istanbul then you absolutely need to head to the Grand Bazaar. This 15th-century market is the oldest covered market in the world. It is also one of the largest containing more than 60 covered streets and over 3,000 shops. People come from all over the world to experience the history and magic of this incredible market. Get reading to wind through the antique streets in search of a bargain on some wonderful Turkish goods to take home to remember your Istanbul day trip

There is so much to see in the Grand Bazaar. The whole market is filled with color and noise as people negotiate prices on beautiful traditional items. There is lots of jewelry for sale including rings made from various stones and necklaces designed to ward off the evil eye. Carpets and other handmade textiles are another favorite product. These lovely woven rugs are made from silk or wool and hand dyed in beautiful colors. There are also many ceramics with incredible designs painted on them and traditional colored lanterns hang from the ceiling and are available to purchase. The Grand Bazaar has a plethora of amazing items for you to buy or simply admire

As you wander through the Grand Bazaar you will feel as if you have stepped back in time. The merchants are friendly but drive a hard bargain so make sure you come ready to negotiate prices. Enjoy the experience of the marketplace. It is something that you will never forget. The Grand Bazaar here in Istanbul is a wonderland of tradition and history. Let yourself get lost in the magic of the stone streets and glittering shops  // Grand Bazaar – Beyazıt Mh., İstanbul

16:00 – Have a truly Authentic Coffee Experience at Çorlulu Ali Paşa Medresesi Café

Another iconic Istanbul space that is radiating with history and tradition is the Corlulu Ali Pasa Medresesi Café. This beautiful spot is tucked away within the Grand Bazaar where locals and tourists alike stop by to smoke hookah and drink tea. The space that houses the café is 300 years old and still maintains all its antique Turkish charm. This is the perfect place to duck out of the bustle of the market and sit and enjoy some tea or coffee

Once inside the Corlulu Ali Pasa Medresesi, you will notice many local people sitting on cushions and smoking traditional water pipes. Everyone here is relaxed and unrushed, so sit back and join them. Try some of the strong Turkish coffee or one of the traditional teas. This is a great place to try something you never have before. Really enter into the culture of old Istanbul. Sahlep is a favorite warm drink made with milk and cinnamon. This café is a great place to soak up the culture

While you sip your drink enjoy the ambience of this café. Spoons tinkle in the traditional tea glasses and water bubbles in the hookah pipes. There are gorgeous lamps hanging from the ceiling. The tabletops have beautiful colored tiles. Leafy green trees shade the outdoor courtyard. The whole space is beautiful and interesting. Sit and people watch as you enjoy this authentic experience at the café Corlulu Ali Pasa Medresesi  // Corlulu Ali Pasa Medresesi – Mollafenari, 34120 Fatih, Istanbul

17:00 – Descend into the Depths of the Basilica Cistern

One of the most hauntingly beautiful sites in Istanbul is the Basilica Cistern. This massive underground water reservoir is known as the “Sunken Palace”. It lies beneath the streets of Istanbul and dates back to the 6th century when the Byzantine Emperor Justinian was in power. This incredible space is mysterious and magnificent with elaborate architecture expanding deep into the depths. The glowing cavern is a unique space of mystery and excitement. Get ready for a truly amazing and mystical experience beneath the city in the Basilica Cistern

The Basilica Cistern is well known for its many beautiful columns; there are over 300. A 52-step staircase descends down into the depths and opens up into a glowing cavern filled with these ancient marble columns and arches carved in various styles. The cistern has the capacity to hold 100,000 tons of water, though now it is used as a spot for visitors to explore the ancient history of the city. Water still covers much of the ground and warm orange light reflects from it creating a magical ambience. Enjoy the moment down here in the depths

There are two famous columns that are carved Medusa heads from the Roman period. These large green upside down head offer an eerie contrast to the warmth glow of the rest of the cistern. There are many rumors surrounding the two Medusa heads, as no one knows exactly how they got there or where they came from. Explore the bottom of the city of Istanbul as you wander beneath the archways and gaze out over the water into the dark shadows that lay beyond. The Basilica Cistern is truly a one-of-a-kind experience that will leave you in a state of wonder  // Basilica Cistern – Alemdar Mh., Yerebatan Cd. 1/3, 34410 Fatih, Istanbul

18:30 – Wander Through the Historic Areas of Istanbul and the Beautiful Nature of Gulhane Park

There is no better way to spend an afternoon in Istanbul than walking through the historic streets and beautiful green spaces that the city has to offer. Walk through the preserved historic sites within the old city and along the walkways in Gulhane Park for a wonderful excursion. Historic Areas of Istanbul is the name for a cluster of several UNESCO World Heritage Sites within the old part of the city. These areas include the Archeological Park, the Suleymaniye quarter, the Zeyrek settlement, and the remains of the former Blachernae Palace

These various areas feature many beautiful mosques with towering minarets and gorgeous domes. There are also old walls to walk alongside and original cobblestone streets beneath your feet. The Zeyrek Mosque is worth seeing as it is one of the rare and well-preserved Byzantine structures within the city. See the famous old Turkish baths and beautiful palaces as you walk through these old neighborhoods. You will feel as though you have gone back in time. Istanbul has so much to see, so just wander through the old quarter and discover the beauty and history for yourself

Also, within the old city is the fabulous Gulhane Park. Once the garden of Topkapi Palace, it is now a public park where anyone can come and enjoy the nature. There are plenty of tree-lined walkways to take a stroll on. There are also gardens overflowing with tulips, roses and pansies. An ancient column known as the Goths Column is situated within the park and dates pack to Roman times. Enjoy the green space and the view of the Bosphorus that Gulhane Park offers. This is a relaxing spot to sit and reflect on everything you have seen so far on your Istanbul day trip  // Historic Areas of Istanbul – Cankurtaran Mh., 34122 Fatih, Istanbul

19:30 – Go on a Culinary Journey Through Turkey at Constantine’s Ark Restaurant

For an authentic and delicious dining experience, head to Constantine’s Ark in the heart of Istanbul’s old city. This restaurant specializes in traditional food from around the region that promises a culinary travel experience taking you throughout the old Ottoman Empire. The friendly staff will welcome you with smiles and seat you at one of the cozy tables. This is favorite restaurant among locals because of its authenticity. Constantine’s Ark offers you a warm atmosphere and delicious food. You will have a great time at one of the friendliest restaurants in Istanbul

The menu at Constantine’s Ark features many items from various regions around Turkey. The cheese plate is a great way to start your tour through the Turkish countryside as each cheese comes from a different area of Turkey. For the main course, you have many incredible options such as various grilled meat kebabs, traditional eggplant-based dishes and various fresh seafood options caught from the Black and Aegean Seas nearby. The meals here at Constantine’s Ark engage all of the far reaches of Turkey bringing them right to your table

The restaurant is decorated to reflect the history of old Constantinople (the former name of the city that is now Istanbul). There are beautiful photographs of sea vessels framed on the wall. Gorgeous Armenian lamps hang down from the ceiling illuminating the room in warm light. Sip on wine from Turkish-grown grapes and enjoy the ambience of this classic Turkish restaurant. The dessert is good too so order something sweet like Chocolate Volcano Soufflé or go more traditional with Baklava or Figs and nuts. You will leave feeling full and satisfied from your culinary tour of Turkey  // Constantine’s Ark – Hoca Paşa, İbni Kemal Cd. No:13, 34110 Fatih

21:00 – Be Mesmerized by the Whirling Dervishes at the Hodjapasha Dance Theater

You can’t go to Istanbul and not see some of Turkey’s most famous dances and performances. At the Hodjapasha Dance Theater, there are many different traditional dance shows to see including Turkish folk dance, belly dance and the world renowned Whirling Dervishes. Prepare to be mesmerized. The presentation of the Whirling Dervishes comes from a Persian Sufi practice originating in the 13th century. This incredible performance is the religious order’s offering of remembrance of God. It is a fascinating display of traditional culture and spirituality. The Hodjapasha Dance Theater offers an exciting evening of incredible shows

The Hodjapasha Theater itself is an amazing piece of culture and history. This theater was formerly a hammam, or Turkish bath. This space is hundreds of years old, but it has recently been restored as a performance space for traditional Turkish music and dance. The gorgeous domed space makes it a perfect environment to enjoy a show. The hammam offers great acoustics and an antique ambience that all add to the experience. Get ready for an amazing night of tradition and culture

The Whirling Dervish performance begins with musicians playing traditional music. As the Dervishes enter they chant the Persian prayers and begin whirling. Their long Dervish robes billow around them as the spin. It truly is a mesmerizing thing to witness. The Hodjapasha Dance Theater also hosts Turkish folk dance and belly dance performances if you are interested. The theater is a center of excitement and history. Any of the performances you see will pay tribute to the rich culture of Turkey. It is guaranteed to be an authentic and unforgettable experience  // Hodjapasha Theater – Hoca Paşa, Hocapaşa Hamamı Sk. No:3, 34110, Istanbul

22:30 – Sway to Rhythm of Music at the Top Floor Araf Bar

For a great place to hangout and have some drinks with your friends, Araf Bar is the spot. This bar is a local favorite with incredible live music and a good selection of on tap beer to sip on throughout the night. The bar is up several flights of stairs in a building on the student side of Istanbul known as Beyoglu. Araf bar is on the top floor of a traditional building and it has large windows that look out over the old dilapidated mansions in the neighborhood. Young hipsters love this hidden spot. It is the perfect place to hang out and listen to some great music

Depending on the night of the week there are many different kinds of music playing in Araf bar. DJs play various genres like reggae, soul, or rock and roll. However, the bar is most famous for its live music. They have an in-house Gypsy band playing authentic traditional music. They feature various Gypsy musical artists all offering incredible laid back performance for you to listen to as you hang out by the windows checking out the view. This one of a kind bar is the perfect place to chill out with your friends. Get caught up in the sounds of the music as sway to the rhythms

The dim lighting and small cozy space of Araf Bar make it feel like a real neighborhood pub and it is. Lots of locals come here to enjoy some drinks in this low-maintenance environment. There are lots of beer options very reasonably priced so head up to the bar and ask the friendly bartender what is on draft. Everyone at Araf Bar feels like an old friend. The views from this rooftop spot are great, the music is amazing and the people are eccentric and wonderfully welcoming. Enjoy the whole experience of a chill night out in Istanbul  // Araf Bar – İstiklal Cd. No:32, Beyoğlu, Istanbul

23:59 – Party at the Eccentric and Cool 11:11 Nightclub

Istanbul’s nightlife is exciting and unique and 11:11 nightclub is a great example of this. It is an interesting space filled with a hip young crowd of locals from around the city. This nightclub is a great place to dance and party the night away. The light and sound system are uniquely created for this space and it offers an experience unlike any other nightclub. The interior design is fascinating and you will feel like you have entered a wonderland of color and vibrancy. This night will be one for the books here at 11:11 nightclub in Istanbul

The club is made up of several different spaces playing different music by international and local DJs. The play popular dance tunes as well as Deep House and Techno. There is a musical experience to fit any of your dance needs, so get ready to move to the beat. The lights match the music, constantly change and bathing the space in color. It is the coolest environment for dancing and partying with your friends. You will love this fascinating new nightclub that is quickly becoming one of the hottest spots in Istanbul

A uniquely lit bar has lots of drink options and perfectly crafted cocktails. Order a drink while you take a break from dancing to people watch. The crowd is well dressed but unpretentious, a rare find as far as European nightclubs go. This is a perfect place to end a fabulous day in the beautiful city of Istanbul. The rich culture of the old city mixes nicely with the young energy found here at 11:11. Istanbul has is all and you have been lucky enough to experience the best parts of the city  // 11:11 – Meşrutiyet Cd., 34330 Beyoğlu, Istanbul

We mapped out your day trip in Istanbul

Each highlight of your day trip is numbered, simply follow the guide

What you should absolutely know about Istanbul

City highlights, food & drinks, expressions, weather, how to get there and how to get around

During your Istanbul day trips, wander down cobbled streets, learning about the city’s eclectic and vibrant past. Explore the rich wonders and exotic smells at the Grand Bazaar and Egyptian Bazaar. Take photos of the many mosques or spend time in Hippodrome, the main square of the ancient city of Constantinople, where chariots races occurred. Learn about Istanbul’s rich history and its ancient artifacts at the Istanbul Archaeology Museums. Pretend to be a sultan at the Topkapi Palace or enjoy indulge juices made in front of you at a street cart. With its warm breezy weather, Istanbul is the perfect place to lose yourself in culture

Stop by the Kariye Museum, one of the world’s top displays of Byzantine art and gaze at the museum’s amazing frescoes and mosaics. Visit the Basilica Cistern, the huge underground chamber where water for the entire city is kept

While in Istanbul, try the smit, a bagel-like bread covered in sesame seeds for breakfast or a snack. Indulge in Turkish coffee, Türk kahvesi, served in espresso sized cups. Künefe, a traditional Arab cheese pastry, makes a great snack too

The Turkish language is phonetic: you say it how you see it. “Merhaba” means “Hello”, “Pardon” means “Excuse me”, and “Çok güzel” is Turkish for “Excellent”. When you meet someone, “Memnun oldum” can be used to say “Pleased to meet you”

Summers are dry and sunny (in the 80s) with little wind. Fall brings cloudy skies, fog, and temperatures in the 60s. Winters are cold, wet, and windy, with temperatures in the 40s. Spring from March to May is sometimes rainy and cloudy

Traveling from the airport to the city center will cost you 40-50 Turkish Liras. Take advantage of Istanbul’s public transportation by traveling by bus. Although more adventurous, the bus is more inexpensive (1.5 TL per stop)

Renting a car in Istanbul can be fairly inexpensive, but Istanbul has way too cars and not enough space. Grabbing a taxi to journey around the city may be easier and Istanbul has a great public transportation system of buses, trams, ferries, and trains

Feeling adventurous? Have a look at these city guides