Istanbul is one of the most vibrant cities in the world

Grounded in tradition, decorated in culture but completely up to speed with latest trends, it’s amazing how wonderfully multi faceted the Turkish city of Istanbul is. If you only have a day to spend in this fabulous and vibrant metropolis, then make the most of your time with our handy 24-hour guide.


Sultanahmet from BosphorusThe beautiful Sultanahmet area from the Bosphorus
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If time is limited, rise up nice and early and head to the Sultanahmet area of the city. This is where the Big Three of Istanbul are located: Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. Hear the call of prayers and watch the minarets and domes of the monuments bathed in an amber morning haze. There’s a tiny park in between the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque and vendors are just starting to set up their stalls. Be the first customer to buy a cup of tea and enjoy the stunning view before the multitudinous crowds start to chime in.


Turkish breakfast is a delight. It’s fresh, healthy and a great way to start the day.  The typical Turkish breakfast consists of bread, fresh tomatoes, black and green cured olives and delicious feta, which is sometimes served with black pepper and chilli on the side to add more flavour. Other popular breakfast dishes are sucuk (pepperoni) and menemen (scrambled eggs cooked with green peppers, onions, tomatoes and spices).

For a leisurely summer breakfast, head to the Garden Restaurant which is a part of the Blue House Hotel in Sultanahmet and has beautiful views of the famous Blue Mosque. If it’s too warm or not warm enough, they also have indoor seating.


Entrance to Imperial Council Chambers of Topkapi PalaceThe grand Entrance to the Imperial Council Chambers of Topkapi Palace
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Post breakfast, it is a good idea to head to Topkapi Palace, the most time consuming monument of the lot. You could easily fritter more than half a day away here, such is its beauty and historical importance, with the Topkapi having been the imperial home of the Ottoman emperors for four centuries. Along with being a testament to centuries of opulence, the palace also houses Prophet Mohammed’s belongings such as his sword and his cloak.

After soaking in Topkapi make the short walk over to the remarkable Hagia Sophia. The Sophia’s architecture is as fascinating as its history: it originally operated as a church, then a mosque and now it is a museum. Right across from it is the Blue Mosque, closed to visitors during prayer times, but if you’ve made it there at the right time, then you must take a look inside.


All of this walking and soaking up of culture is bound to make even the most resilient of travellers famished. Why not go off the kebab and baklava track for lunch and try some kuru fasulye (Anatolian style haricot beans cooked in tomato gravy) instead. Several restaurants in the Sultanhamet area serve up pots of this simple delicacy, some in fancy platters with great views and some in humble bowls in back alleys.

For those in search of the best kuru fasulye in town, head to the area across Sulemanye Mosque (take the tram from Sultanahmet stop to Beyazit and then walk for a short distance). Here, restaurants like Ali Baba Lokantasi have a proud reputation of dishing out scrumptious kuru fasulye to famished university students, locals and travellers alike since the 1930’s.

If you don't want to venture away from the Sultanhamet area (and for ones with more carnivorous preferences) head to Yesil Ev (Green House) restaurant: a quiet haven in the middle of the bustling Sultanahmet area. The restaurant is situated in the garden of the Yesil Ev hotel which serves as a pretty green backdrop and is located only a stone’s throw away from the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. The delightful setting in a little shaded garden around a marble fountain is only surpassed by the food. On cooler days travellers can still enjoy a meal in the midst of nature by asking to be seated in the picturesque greenhouse.


The opulent Dolmabahce PalaceThe opulent Dolmabahce Palace
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Approaching late afternoon hop on the tram and get off at Eminonu where you’ll also find the Spice Bazaar. Less crowded and less overwhelming than the Grand Bazaar, this is a great pit stop to pick up souvenirs. Be warned: it will be incredibly tempting to sit down and have a cup of tea with the friendly, welcoming and persuasive shop owners. From Eminonu, you can take a quick ferry trip across to the “Asian side” of the city. Ferries leave frequently in the summer months, almost hourly up until 6pm. Whoever knew you could go from Europe to Asia and back in as little as 90 minutes? There are several ferries and tours that leave from Eminonu and those looking for longer trips can find a variety of options to cater to their tastes.

Another alternative is to head to the Dolmabahce Palace (tram stop: Kabatas) post lunch, in the Besiktas area right on the Bosphorus shore. If an overdose of splendour and grandeur is what you seek, then this is where you will find it. The palace has 285 rooms, 43 salons and a massive 4,000kg (4.5 ton) Bohemian glass chandelier. The main ballroom of the palace is still used to entertain dignitaries from around the world, and the palace also features the deathbed of the founder of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

After a jaunt through Dolmabahce walk to the nearby Istanbul Museum of Modern Art (or take the tram from Kabatas and get off at Tophane). The museum’s main aim is to inspire and support the creation of modern art in Turkey and that’s why Turkish artists are given a priority. This makes it a good spot to visit if you’re curious about contemporary Turkish art culture. That said, the exhibitions are constantly changing and do often include the works of foreign artists from across the globe.


Dining on BosphorusDining on the banks of the Bosphorus is a joy
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Come evening, and if you’re on your way back on the ferry or in the Istanbul Modern, you’re not too far away from the fabulous Hamdi restaurant in Eminonu. The restaurant may boast three stories but it’s still safest to reserve a table in advance on the top floor to avoid disappointment. The tables by the windows have great views of the Galata Bridge and the Bosphorus. Arrays of mezzes are bought out before you and you can point and pick what you’d like to eat. The kebabs on the main course menu are wonderfully succulent and do not disappoint, and neither do the desserts. We recommend the patlican kebab (kebab with aubergine) and the künefe (Angels hair pastry with a soft cheese filling). Post dinner, head to Istanbul’s most fashionable street: Istiklal Caddesi (metro/funicular stop: Taksim Square).

Those who want some quiet relaxing time after a long and busy day can head to one of the several cafes offering traditional nargileh (sheesha) in a variety of flavours, along with indulging in a game of backgammon like the locals. Those who have some energy to spare can head to an array of clubs that stay open till the early hours of the morning, depending on the day of the week. Also, near the south-western end of Istiklal Caddesi is the Tunel funicular stop, which is the second-oldest subterranean urban rail line after London.  If hunger pangs strike late at night, grab what locals call Istanbul’s best burger from the 24 hour Kizilkayalar. What better note to end a great symphony of a day on than a deliciously moist street side burger doled out hot and fresh?

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