A lot can be fitted into 48 hours in Istanbul. Most attractions in the city centre are a short walk away from each other, therefore it is easy to see a lot in a short amount of time.

The bustle of Istanbul reminds me a lot of central London but with lots of beautiful ottoman buildings. There is so much to see, so this list doesn’t include the mosques as they are in a separate post.

Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia at the sunrises over Istanbul
The outside of Hagia Sophia
Chandeliers inside Hagia Sophia
Chandeliers in Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia has been used as both a mosque and a church throughout its history. It is now a museum, therefore it doesn’t have the usual dress code for places of worship. Women are not required to cover their heads.

Hagia Sophia is always busy and I can understand why because the building is so beautiful. Even when we were there at 09:00 there was already a long line. We decided to go at 18:00 and it was a lot quieter but there were still a lot of people inside.

The best way to go without it being too busy is to wait in line from 08:30. Alternatively go about an hour before closing time. The length of the queue made me worry that it would feel crowded inside but the building is so large that it didn’t feel that busy.

The inside is stunning, filled with amazing artwork and chandeliers. It is also possible to go up a wooden ramp and have a view from the balconies above.

View from the balcony in Hagia Sophia, Istanbul
View from the balcony in Hagia Sophia

Cost: 72 TL (about €11) per adult, children under 8 are free

Basilica Cistern

Basilica Cistern- underground reservoir in Istanbul
Basilica Cistern- underground reservoir in Istanbul

Basilica Cistern is only a 1 minute walk from Hagia Sofia. Hidden beneath the city is this underground reservoir that dates back to the 6th century. We went at 09:00 on Saturday and it was still very busy with a queue even before it opened.

Tripods are not allowed in and bags are searched after paying the entrance fee. The reservoir is down a 52 step staircase. It is a very peaceful and interesting place, with signs explaining the history in both Turkish and English. There are different carvings including a medusas head pillar and the hen’s eye column.

Basilica Cistern was even featured in the James Bond movie: From Russia with love.

Cost: 20 TL (about €9), Children under 8 years old are free

Medusa head pillar inside Basilica Cistern in Istanbul
Medusa head pillar

Topkapi Palace

Topkapi palace
Topkapi palace

Topkapi palace is the largest palace in Istanbul and has even been labelled as a UNESCO world heritage site. Even though we were there about an hour before it closed it was still very busy.

Unfortunately we had walked a lot the day we visited so were quite tired. This along with the fact that navigating the separate buildings is quite difficult meant that we didn’t enjoy it as much as we thought. I’m also sure we ended up missing some things because of time constraints and some building weren’t open.

Cost: Main ticket 72 TL but to visit the Harem and halberdiers with tresses dormitory costs an extra 42 TL.

Main admission is free for children under 8, but for the harem it is free for children under 6.

Grand Bazar

An amazing Lamp shop in the Grand Bazar, Istanbul
Lamp shop in the Grand Bazar

This world famous bazar is huge with so many different items for sale. I brought a scarf to cover my head in the mosques, we also bought two of these beautiful lamps. If you want a photo in one of these shops make sure to ask, they have big signs that say no photos outside. They may want a small tip if you are not buying anything from the shop. Be aware, as with most markets it is very busy so please keep a close eye on your belongings.

Opening hours: 10:00- 18:00 everyday

Colourful houses

Colourful houses in Yerebatan street, Istanbul
Colourful houses in Yerebatan street, Istanbul

We stumbled on this row of brightly coloured houses on the way to the Grand Bazar. This colourful street called Yerebatan street is a close alternative to the famous Balat neighbourhood.

Galata Tower

This 9 story tall tower in the Karaköy quarter of Istanbul is straight from a Disney movie. The best picture is from a side street next to the tower because of the vines framing it.

The top of the tower is a great place for a panoramic view of the city. It also has a restaurant and bar on the upper floor. There are two elevators incase you don’t want to walk up the many stairs.

Street art

Umbrellas on Karakoy street
Umbrellas on Karakoy street

We came across these umbrellas as well as lots of street art on Karakoy Street. I didn’t realise that Istanbul had so many impressive pieces of street art. I wish that I had seen this article before I went: Street art Istanbul

Street art in Istanbul
Street art in Istanbul
Graffiti on Karakoy Street
Graffiti on Karakoy Street

Eat lots of Baklava

Authentic Turkish baklava can’t compare to type that you can buy from a shelf. Growing up I remember going to Green Lanes in London and buying delicious baklava to take home. So when in Istanbul I had as much as possible. We tested out Baklava from a couple of different places and the ones from Karaköy Güllüoğlu were our favourite.


The Tram system was very easy to use and even listed the main tourist attractions that were at each stop. The tram runs from 6am which is useful for getting to the main attractions before they get too busy. It is also best to avoid going on Friday or Saturday for slightly less crowds.

But our favourite mode of transport was to walk. It is so amazing seeing the men lined up fishing on Galata Bridge first thing in the morning.

To travel on public transport you need to purchase an Istanbul card and then load this up with credit. The card itself costs 7 TL and can be purchased at the main tram stops. Since the construction of the Istanbul new airport there is a public bus which runs to and from the airport. This leaves from the city centre, close to the Turizm Polisi station near the Sultanahmet tram station. They do not except cash so you need to pay using an Istanbul card and it costs 30 TL per person.

You can pay with contactless credit/ debit cards but be aware they do not always work and we did see other tourists running to purchase an Istanbul card and top it up before the bus left.

Beautiful Hagia Sophia, Istanbul
Hagia Sophia

We enjoyed our whirlwind 48 hours in Istanbul, it was the perfect base to go out from to Turkmenistan and then Cappadocia.