24 hours in Istanbul

On a cloudy, winterly Wednesday afternoon in December, I had another idead of doing something spontaneous. My travel obsessions had seized me again and I looked for flights heading South. Knowing that my time would be very limited due to a work meeting on Sunday afternoon, the extent of choices was rather small. After evualating the opportunities Skyscanner showed me, the decision was made. On Friday we took off around 13:00 and headed to the Turkish mega city on the Bosphorus.

Well, ahead of all there is one sure thing to state: Istanbul is always a good idea, even for 24 hours. Alphonse de Lamartine said, “If one had but a single glance to give the world, one should gaze on Istanbul.” With this statement he could not be more right. This city unites continents, nations and cultures for centuries and even during recent times it is definetly worth a visit. With it‘s strategic location on the Bosphorus peninsula between the Balkans and Anatolia, the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, Istanbul has been associated with major political, religious and artistic events for more than 2,000 years. It‘s masterpieces include the ancient Hippodrome of Constantine, the 6th-century Hagia Sophia and the 16th-century Süleymaniye Mosque.

What to do in 24 hours?

Since Turkish Airlines has a huge route network with many connections via Istanbul, this section might also be interesting for transit travellers who have a layover of more than 8 hours. So what can you do in Istanbul, if your time is very limited? Here is what we’ve done.

  • We started our visit with a quick stroll to maybe one oft he most iconic places of Turkey’s capital – the Sultan Ahmet square. Standing in the middle of this very green and inspiring place you can observe the Haga Sophia on the one side and the Blue Mosque right on the other. The sheer size of these two buildings leaves you speechless and with architectonical beauty added, which is witness of the different eras of rulership in Istanbul, you’ll have an unforgettable impression oft he city right in the first few hours of your trip. The Haga Sophia was orginally built as a Church in the 6th century, later used as a Mosque and now transformed to a museum. Simply spectecular. The Blue Mosque still functions as a mosque until today and was founded in the beginning of the 17th century. Five impressive domes, six minarettes and eight minor domes adorning the building. There is room for around 10,000 people in the Mosque. (Let me assure you that, during religious festivities, this capacity is used. But even regular prayers are transmitted through speakers located on top of the mosque’s towers so you can hear the muezzin’s words from several blocks away. That is an amazing experience, especially if you are not that familiar with the culture and religion.)
Haga Sophia
The Haga Sophia
  • Grand Bazar: Later we went to the Grand Bazar, one of the largest and oldest covered street markets in the world. Up to 400,000 daily visitors are pushing themselves through the 61 streets flanked by more than 4,000 shops. Often the Grand Bazar of Istanbul is regared as the first shopping mall of the world and it is definetly worth a visit. Please do not accept the intial prices of the merchants – always bargain. That is considered as a kind of a sport, so don’t disappoint your opponents and show respect this very own idiosyncrasy of the culture.
Grand Bazaar
  • If you manage to find the time, take a glance at the Bosphorus, preferably by night. Take a moment and inhale the iconic atmosphere of this Black and Marmara Sea connecting artery of invaluable meaning for the city’s prosperity and wealth over the centuries. Apart from the fact that those few hundred meters of water divide Asia and Europe it is simply a wonderful view over the city and shipping. Also we heard about amazing spots to eat and party there, but didn‘t have the chance to check them out, due to the limited time of our stay.


  • Food: For dinner and lunch on the next day, we had some local delicacies in the historic part of the city. If you are a meat-eater you will have a blast trying out all the different types of lamb and beef. Don’t hesitate to let the service person advice you. Just find yourself a place, which does not look too tourist-loaded. Sometimes it is better to go for lunch without being able to read the menu! 😉
Kebap, Istanbul
The food itself is worth the trip!
  • Nightlife: Nightlife is great in Istanbul and Turkish people love to party. We went out together with a group of Kiwis and Spanish, what initially already is a powder keg in all it’s positive meanings. It was more than a blast. Along the way of our party trip, we also met many very nice young Turkish people who enjoyed celebrating as much as we did and were happy to recommend us some party spots. (Warning: Turkish people are, without a doubt, very hospitable, friendly and helpful. But to be fair and to follow our credo to help our readers with having a great travel experience we want ro pass on the warning we were given at our hostel. This especially goes out to travel groups with only male participants: don’t let yourself be wooed to some bar by over-hospitable young lads, who claim that they are too not from Istanbul and have a reservation for a table with girls. Such an adventure can cost you a big lot of money and spoil your trip experience.) Anyways, if you want to go out, it is recomendable to leave the “most” historic part of the city and head over to the Taksim district. There are many barst o find, wheather it‘s with live music, or a great rooftop club/bar with awesome contemporary music and excellent vibes. It was so good, that I cannot remeber the name though. But just ask the locals – they will know where to go to.
Kebap, Istanbul
The food itself is worth the trip!
  • Stay: Currently Hotels and Hostels are really cheap due to the drop in tourism. It‘s not a hard deal to find a 4 star hotel for less than 60 € per room in winter. However, we stayed at a hostel called Cheers Hostel. (Click here to book it.) Staff is super friendly and you definetly have to check out their roof top bar with a superb view of the Hag Sophia.
Istanbul Cheers Hostel
Cheers Hostel Istanbul

This little program should keep you busy for 24 hours in Istanbul. We all know, there is a lot more to discover, but I personally see my 24 hours trip only as an appetizer. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me and subscribe! 🙂


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