Istanbul Less than 48 Hours
Istanbul Less than 48 Hours – Although Istanbul looks serene from afar, the internal atmosphere is wonderfully chaotic. Discover the bustling streets and busy bazaar stalls that have characterized the city for hundreds of years. Drivers will jockey for position; shopkeepers will barter in an avalanche of chatter; and you’ll be struggling to digest all of the sights, sounds and smells. Speaking of smells … during your exploration, taste the distinctly Turkish treats off the streets, including döner, Istanbul‘s version of fast food. And when the sun goes down, you’ll see that Istanbul sheds some of its conservative façade to reveal a thriving nightlife. At the intersection of civilizations and continents for centuries, Istanbul surprises visitors with its fast pace, its ancient history and its present culture.
Istanbul Interactive Map
You can find all itinerary items and sights with the following map.
How to Get to Istanbul
The easiest way to get to Istanbul is by plane of course. Turkish Airlines and many other world airlines have regular daily flights to Istanbul. There are also local airliners that run charter flights to Istanbul especially during holiday season such as summer months or Easter and New Year’s period. Some of the direct flying times are: Newyork – Istanbul 10:20 hours, London – Istanbul 3:45, Milan – Istanbul 2:45, Hong Kong – Istanbul 11:50, Moscow – Istanbul 3:05, and so on.
Let’s Start Our Challenge
Morning : Start early with a hearty breakfast at Van Kahvaltı Evi in Cihangir. A traditional Turkish spread includes a selection of salty white cheeses, hard-boiled eggs, muhammara (an addictive red pepper-and-walnut spread), bal-kaymak (delicious clotted cream with honey), and a basket of warm bread that the waiters will keep refilling despite your protests. Consider it fuel for the sightseeing to come. See other breakfast locations at the specific Turkish Breakfast article. First stop: Topkapı Palace, a.k.a. the Seraglio, a 15th-century Ottoman palace and municipal complex that served as the heart of the empire for 380 years. Royal gardens, peeling frescoes, and tiled mosaics are breathtaking in their beauty, but the zenith of any visit is a wander through the sultan’s harem, once home to hundreds of concubines and their eunuch guards.
If you’re intrigued by castle drama—The Real Housewives of Constantinople, joked one friend—then rent an English-language audio guide at the entrance.
Come late afternoon, carve out some time to explore two adjacent neighborhoods: Karaköy and Galata. The former is a historic harbor district dotted with small galleries, cute coffeehouses, gritty street art, and hip boutiques. Hit up Bey Karaköy for Everlane-style minimalist menswear and cool-girl concept shop Mae Zae for handmade ceramics and funky wood and leather jewelry. The next neighborhood over is Galata, a Genoese colony back in the Byzantine and Ottoman eras. Twisting cobblestone streets give this quarter a charming European air, but avoid the overpriced restaurants clustered around the famed Galata Tower. Instead, head to Salt Galata, an Ottoman bank turned multi-use space: Under one architecturally pleasing roof you’ll find a tightly edited bookstore (Robinson Crusoe 389), communal café, and research library stuffed with books about art, graphic design, and Turkish culture. The shopping continues along design-forward Serdar-ı Ekrem street; look for kilim throw pillows and olive-wood serving trays at housewares shop Çiçek Işleri, and shearling-trimmed denim jackets and rose-tinted sunglasses at Baston Vintage.
Late: With even an ounce of energy remaining, close out the night with a bucket of lemony, rice-stuffed mussels from the wildly popular Midyelerin Efendisi in Beşiktaş and a drink at the atmospheric Nardis Jazz Club in Cihangir. The latter books a mix of local and international acts, like a quintet led by Ankara-born jazz vocalist and Fulbright scholar Ece Göksu.
Morning: While not as ornate as the Blue Mosque, Süleymaniye Mosque is just as impressive—and noticeably less touristy. It’s the second-largest imperial mosque in the city, built atop the third hill of Old Istanbul in the 16th century, by the great Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan at the behest of Suleiman the Magnificent. On a clear day, the views from the courtyard are unbeatable. Don’t miss the cemetery, either, where the carvings atop each tombstone indicate that person’s station in life (a fez headdress was reserved for government officials, a turban for someone of the religious order, an anchor for a seaman, and so on). For a late breakfast or early lunch, meander over to Mimar Sinan, one of several nearby restaurants specializing in kuru fasülye, white beans stewed in olive oil and tomato sauce and served with rice pilaf. It’s Turkey’s unofficial national dish, and especially popular with lira-pinching students.
Afternoon : Now on to the world-famous Grand Bazaar, one of the oldest and largest covered markets on earth. Twenty-two gates usher you into a labyrinth of 4,500 stores; you’ll definitely get lost, and that’s okay—it’s how you stumble upon happy mistakes like hammered-copper serving trays, hand-tooled leather bags, and glittering zultanite rings. Or you can go in with a game plan, knocking out a list of covetable souvenirs from established shops like Dervis (good for pastel-striped peştemals), Soy Türkiye (for professional-grade copper cookware), Iznik Art (for çini, a traditional Turkish pottery in bold turquoise and red tulip motifs), and Yazzma (ikat central). If it’s a hand-knotted silk rug you’re after, venture out of the bazaar and over to Orient Handmade Carpets, a spectacular showroom run by a fifth-generation Anatolian family. Here, more than 14,000 carpets are spread across 27 rooms. Be prepared to invest, as this level of quality does not come cheap.
One more market to go, and that’s Mısır Çarşısı, a.k.a. the Egyptian Bazaar or Spice Market. It’s a wonderful place to photograph centuries-old architecture, rows of Turkish delight vendors, and pyramids of fragrant spices. Pick up potent vials of amber and rose oil at 72-year-old perfumery Istanbuli; and don’t forget to buy a bag of freshly ground Turkish coffee from Kurukahveci Mehmetv Efendi, one of the oldest coffee shops in Istanbul.
Late Afternoon: If you’re not totally wiped out, it’s worth a spin through the antiques district of Çukurcuma in Beyoglu. Here you’ll find quality dealers like A La Turca, although one of the most curious stores is The Works Objects of Desire (tagline: “For the slightly deranged collector seeking identifiable memories”). The cluttered bric-a-brac shop provides artifacts for the conceptual vignettes displayed in the nearby Museum of Innocence, based on the namesake novel by Nobel Prize–winning Turkish author Orhan Pamuk (who also happened to live in the house before it was converted into a museum). Fans of the book, as well as of Joseph Cornell–esque assemblages, will appreciate both the store and the museum. Don’t be surprised if you walk away with a 70-year-old dental mold or vintage police badge from the former.
Late: Dinner at Çukurcuma Köftecisi, a mom-and-pop meatball shop with just six tables and enough tempting cold meze dishes that you may forget to leave room for the köfte.
Morning: If you do just one walking tour in Istanbul, design it around your stomach. You’ll sample menemen (lightly set eggs scrambled with salty feta, tomato, chilis, and a bucket of olive oil) at Çakmak Kahvaltı Salonu; tavuk göğsü (savory milk pudding made with chicken skin) at Murat Muhallebicisi; pickled everything at Üsküdarlı Ünal Turşuları, and a real grandma’s made-from-scratch manti (tiny dumplings served in a pool of chili butter) at the family-run Hatice Anne Ev Yemekleri.
There are opportunities to buy chestnut honey, fresh figs as big as a toddler’s fist, and boxes of rainbow-colored Turkish delight. You’ll eat yourself silly, but you’ll also tour churches and mosques, swing through a seafood market where the stands are manned by bearded fishermen in galoshes, visit a cat-mobbed cemetery where whirling dervishes are buried, and meet Istanbul’s last great umbrella repairman (he’s a hoot!). The tour lasts anywhere from six to nine hours, depending on your group’s endurance level, and covers well over a dozen eateries. (If he’s available, ask for Benoit to be your guide; you won’t be disappointed.) The day out is a feast for the eyes and stomach, and you’ll be positively stuffed by nightfall. It’s the most satisfying way to end an all-too-short adventure in one of the world’s most fascinating and diverse cities.