Visiting Istanbul, Turkey? Grab this epic one day Istanbul itinerary and see the best highlights of Istanbul on your trip. #Istanbul #Turkey #Itinerary

One Day In Istanbul Itinerary: Epic Things To Do + Map!

Last Updated on June 3, 2024 by Soumya

Headed to Istanbul for a day? Looking for the best things to do in one day in Istanbul? Grab this carefully curated 1-day itinerary for Istanbul so that you don’t miss out on the highlights and see some hidden gems too.

From marveling at the stunning mosaics of Hagia Sophia and the incredible blue tiles of the Blue Mosque to shopping at the Grand Bazaar and enjoying a spectacular sunset at the Galata Tower, this one-day Istanbul itinerary will make sure you see the best of the ancient Ottoman capital.

I also have some great recommendations for amazing places to eat in Istanbul. So, if you are bothered about where to get the best kahvalti or where to stop for a quick lunch, then we have you covered.

On my recent trip to Turkey, I spent more than three weeks in Istanbul, exploring every nook and corner of the city. Now that I am back, I feel I could go back for more. If you ask me if one day in Istanbul is enough, I will probably say no! But a day is definitely a good start—so that you can come back later for more.

If you are staying longer, check out our expert 3-day Istanbul itinerary to plan your trip.

Please note: This post may contain affiliate links which means I may earn a commission if you make a purchase by clicking a link on this post. This will be at no additional cost to you. Affiliate links help me keep this website up and running. Thanks for your support!

One day in Istanbul doodle

Best One-Day Tour of Istanbul

Classic Istanbul in One Day

The best one-day itinerary for Istanbul

Istanbul is an incredible city. Straddling two continents, the city has lots of history and a wonderful confluence of cultures. It goes without saying that Istanbul has lots to see, eat, and discover. Come, let’s take a peek into this historic city with this incredible one-day itinerary.

Start your day in Istanbul with kahvalti at Serbethane

Menemen in Istanbul
Menemen is my favorite part of Turkish kahvalti. Do not forget to try this when in Istanbul.

The best way to begin any day in Istanbul is by having a classic Turkish breakfast called the Kahvalti.

Kahvalti is a traditional sit-down breakfast that marks the beginning of the day in every Turkish household. There’s plenty to be had at the breakfast table, including a wonderful variety of cheese, freshly baked bread, honey, preserves, fresh veggies, and greens, salami, and sausages, eggs of all kinds, tea, and coffee.

My favorite food at the Kahvalti is the menemen, which is scrambled eggs prepared with tomatoes, onions, and green peppers.

I am sure you are drooling after reading this and keen to start your first day in Istanbul with the best kahvalti in town. And there is no better place to do that than at Serbethane Cafe & Restaurant, which has rave reviews. Located right next to the Blue Mosque in the historical neighborhood of Arasta Bazaar, Serbethane is the perfect place to fuel up for the day.

Begin your one-day Istanbul trip at the Hippodrome

Obelisk at Hippodrome in Istanbul
The Egyptian Obelisk at Hippodrome.

Once you’ve had your breakfast, head to the Hippodrome or the modern Sultanahmet Square, which are just five minutes away from Serbethane.

When Istanbul was Constantinople, the Hippodrome was an open public square where chariot races were held. The Hippodrome was also the venue of gladiator fights, celebrations, and official meetings. This place was literally the heart of the ancient Roman city of Constantinople.

At its peak, the Hippodrome could accommodate up to 40,000 people and was decorated with statues and sculptures from all over the world. The unmissable highlights include an Obelisk from Egypt and the Serpent Column from Delphi. The best part about visiting the Hippodrome is that it is free to enter and explore.

Head to the Blue Mosque

Blue Mosque - a must have on your one day in Istanbul itinerary
The majestic Blue Mosque – a must-have on your 1-day Istanbul itinerary.

The next stop on this exciting Istanbul itinerary is the famous Blue Mosque, located right next to the Hippodrome.

Also known as the Sultan Ahmet Camii (mosque in Turkish), the Blue Mosque is a traditional Ottoman mosque dating to the early 17th century. It features five main domes (and several smaller ones) and six tall minarets while combining Ottoman and Byzantine architectural styles. Built to rival Hagia Sophia, which stands right in front, the Blue Mosque is indeed a dominating element on Istanbul’s skyline.

Blue Iznik tiles in gorgeous tulip designs adorn the interior – giving the mosque its name. The mosque is so huge and grand that it is often considered the last classical monument of Ottoman architecture.

The Blue Mosque is a functional religious place and free to enter. Be sure to dress modestly and cover your head, shoulders, and legs before you enter the mosque. The mosque opens at 9:00 am every morning and closes an hour before sunset. But check for prayer times here before planning your visit.

Visit Hagia Sophia

The stunning mosaics of Hagia Sophia.
The stunning mosaics of Hagia Sophia.

Head next to Hagia Sophia, one of Istanbul’s most impressive monuments. Its massive dome—180 feet high and 100 feet wide—inspired renowned Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan to create his masterpiece Selimiye Mosque in Edirne.

Perhaps the most remarkable feature of Hagia Sophia is its collection of stunning Byzantine mosaics that depict Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, emperors, and saints. The most iconic mosaics are those of Emperor Leo VI, Emperors Justinian and Constantine, the Deesis Mosaic of Christ, and the Virgin and the Child. Several mosaics have been lost to the vagaries of time, politics, and iconoclasm. The ones that remain face an uncertain future with Hagia Sophia becoming a functioning mosque again. It is not possible to go up to the gallery on the upper level and see the mosaics there (this was allowed when Hagia Sophia was a museum). Access is restricted to the ground level.

Once a church, then a mosque, then a museum, and now a mosque again, Hagia Sophia has surely seen a turbulent history. A storied history and stunning architectural details make Hagia Sophia an absolute must-have on every Istanbul itinerary. The best way to explore Hagia Sophia is on a guided tour like this one. Having a local explain the mosaics to you is so much more insightful than seeing them on your own.

Located just across the park from Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia is easy to reach. It is free to enter and opens at 9:00 a.m. (this time is not really set in stone—it opened at 9:30 a.m. the day we went).

Break for lunch

Simit - the famous on-the-go snack in Turkey
When in doubt, have a simit in Istanbul.

After touring Hagia Sophia, take a short break for lunch. There are many wonderful places to eat near Hagia Sophia. Matbah is a Michelin Star restaurant that serves authentic Ottoman cuisine. Ayasofya Kebap House is another great place to try Turkish kebabs and stews.

If you’d like something cheaper, there are several local canteens nearby with a buffet on display. You can pick and choose what you want to eat and pay for that. A quicker and cheaper alternative is grabbing a simit (famous Turkish bread) or two from the hundreds of simit sellers that line the streets of Sultanahmet.

Post lunch, you have two choices. You can head to the Basilica Cistern and follow it up with shopping at the Grand Bazaar, or you can visit the Topkapi Palace, Archaeological Museums, and Spice Market.

Plan A: Basilica Cistern + Grand Bazaar

Do a tour of Basilica Cistern

Basilica Cistern in Istanbul
Image courtesy: blazekg via Canva Pro

Discover the intriguing underground world of Istanbul on a guided tour of Basilica Cistern.

Built by Emperor Justinian in the 6th century, the Basilica Cistern is the largest Byzantine cistern in Istanbul. It is supported by 336 Corinthian columns and features two Medusa heads as bases for the columns. In antiquity, the cistern was used as Constantinople’s water reservoir, from which water was supplied to the city.

As you descend the stairs to get to the cistern, you can immediately feel a wave of coolness sweep over you. It is a great place to explore if you are visiting Istanbul in summer. When you are exploring Istanbul in a day, the cistern is best reserved for a hot afternoon like we have in our itinerary now!

Basilica Cistern is open every day from 9:00 am – 7:00 pm. Tickets cost about 300TL for foreign visitors but be sure to check the cistern’s official website for the latest numbers. You can explore the Basilica Cistern on your own or do a guided tour (highly recommended!) of this ancient relic. Note that the entrance to the Basilica Cistern is not covered by the Istanbul Museum Pass.

Shop at Grand Bazaar

Istanbul's famous Grand Bazaar
The famous Grand Bazaar of Istanbul – absolutely unmissable.

For all you shopping enthusiasts, head to Grand Bazaar once you are done with the Basilica Cistern. This place is not only the best place to purchase Turkish souvenirs but also a treasure trove of history.

The Grand Bazaar dates back 600 years ago (early 15th century). With 60+ streets and more than 4,000 stores, it is one of the oldest and largest covered marketplaces in the world. Every day, 300,000 people visit the Grand Bazaar to shop for anything ranging from spices and Turkish delights to lamps and towels.

It is literally a maze in here. Just enter through one of the gates and wander till you find what to wish to buy. Some shopkeepers will beckon to you. Others will be too busy chatting. You’ll find a water fountain in the middle of nowhere. You’ll marvel at the hand-drawn paintings on the arches and the walls. The veritable hubbub of this place is intoxicating.

I went to Grand Bazaar to shop but came back with an immersive experience of Turkish culture and a ton of lovely memories.

Plan B: Topkapi Palace + Archaeological Museums + Spice Market (includes Pandeli Restaurant)

This is our second option for travelers who are interested in visiting the Topkapi Palace and the Archaeological Museums of Istanbul.

Marvel at the opulence of the Topkapi Palace

Author at the Harem in Topkapi Palace
Marveling at the grandeur of the Harem in Topkapi Palace.

Do you wonder how and where the Sultans of the Ottoman Empire lived? Visit the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul to experience for yourself.

The Topkapi Palace was the royal residence and administrative center of the Ottoman Empire. Built-in the 15th century, the main palace was home to the emperors, whereas the Harem housed the queens and their families. The Harem, consisting of rooms, baths, mosques, and service rooms, is probably the most beautiful part of the palace and, I must say, totally worth the extra fee. Impressive pavilions, an awe-inspiring library, the treasury, and the palace kitchens are other unmissable sights.

The Topkapi Palace is one of my favorite places to visit in Istanbul. It is gorgeous, historical, and enormous. Honestly, if you were visiting Istanbul for 2 days or more and loved history, I would recommend spending one entire day at the Topkapi Palace Complex. You definitely need that kind of time to understand this place.

Note that Topkapi Palace is closed on Tuesdays. So, if you are in Istanbul on a Tuesday, you’ll need to skip this landmark. For alternate ideas, refer to Plan A above.

Explore the Archaeological Museum of Istanbul

Archaeological Museums of Istanbul
The Tiled Kiosk Museum in Istanbul.

The Archaeological Museum is actually a collection of three museums: the Archaeology Museum, The Tiled Kiosk Museum, or the Islamic Art Museum, and the Museum of the Ancient Orient.

Exploring the three museums in detail can easily take 3-4 hours. But since you’re in Istanbul only for a day, here are the museum highlights that you should not miss.

  • Lycian Sarcophagus at the Archaeology Museum
  • Alexander Sarcophagus at the Archaeology Museum
  • Treaty of Kadesh at the Ancient Orient Museum
  • Fine ceramic decoration at the Tiled Kiosk Museum

Shop at the Spice Market

Spice Bazaar or Egyptian Market in Istanbul

After visiting the museums, head to the Spice Market or the Egyptian Bazaar for some shopping. The Spice Market is not as big as the Grand Bazaar but has some of the best shops and souvenirs. The spices and sweets are really good here, but you can also find other souvenirs at cheaper prices than at the Grand Bazaar.

The Spice Market has a bit of a history too. Apparently, the Ottomans built it from their revenues in Egypt – therefore, it is also called the Egyptian Bazaar.

Dine at Pandeli Restaurant

Chicken kebabs at Pandeli Restaurant in Istanbul
Some yummy food at the Pandeli Restaurant in Istanbul.

My favorite part is that the Spice Bazaar is home to the famous Pandeli Restaurant. Established more than a century ago by an Anatolian-Greek chef of the same name, Pandeli is a Michelin-starred restaurant that serves some of Istanbul’s best food. Plus, it has wonderful views of the Galata Bridge from the windows.

With its blue tiled walls, Pandeli is one of the prettiest restaurants I have eaten in Istanbul. Over the decades, it has played host to many celebrities, from Audrey Hepburn to Queen Elizabeth II. Be sure to reserve a table in advance to avoid disappointment.

Pandeli’s doner kebabs are too good. I loved their pilaf and classic lamb stew. They also have good vegetarian options, and everything is made the traditional Turkish way. Delicious!

Enjoy the sunset at Galata Tower

Sunset views from Galata Tower
Beautiful sunset views from the Galata Tower – a must-have on your Istanbul one day itinerary.

As we approach the end of the most memorable day in Istanbul, we take you to another iconic Turkish landmark: the Galata Tower.

Galata Tower is one of the most remarkable buildings on Istanbul’s skyline. It was built in 508 CE by Byzantine Emperor Justinianos and has been used as a fire watchtower for centuries. It is 200+ feet high and has a beautiful lookout balcony on the top.

Climbing up the Galata Tower is completely worth it because of the amazing views it provides of Istanbul city. Sunset is one of the best times to do that since the entire city is bathed in an ethereal orange hue!

There is a fee to climb the Galata Tower (about 200 TL). It is covered by the Istanbul Museum Pass. Opening hours are from 8:30 am – 10:00 pm (winters) and 8:30 am – 11:00 pm (summers).

Experience Istanbul’s nightlife on Istiklal Street

If you are in for a late evening stroll, head to Istiklal Street – the most happening place in Istanbul.

Lined with a multitude of cafes, bars, restaurants, souvenir shops, and street food vendors, Istiklal Street is the perfect place to people-watch, relax, eat, and wind up your hectic day in Istanbul. Often, you’ll find musicians and dancers performing here, and there’s a nostalgic tram that provides the perfect photo ops.

An evening sightseeing and food-tasting tour like this one, which includes Istiklal Street, is the perfect way to end an eventful day.

End your day with a dessert at Hafiz Mustafa 1864

Kunafa at Hafiz Mustafa 1864
Doesn’t that place of Kunafa at Hafiz Mustafa look gorgeous?

Don’t leave Istanbul without tasting the delicious pastries and desserts of Hafiz Mustafa. Great news – you’ll find a Hafiz Mustafa right at the northern end of Istiklal Street (Google Maps), closer to the Taksim Square.

Hafiz Mustafa 1864 is a 150+-year-old confectionary shop in Istanbul that serves some of the best desserts in Turkey. Their Turkish delights, baklavas, puddings, cakes, and kadayifs are absolutely delicious. Have some with a cup of Turkish tea or coffee and you’ll have one memorable day in Istanbul.

Hafiz Mustafa has numerous branches throughout Istanbul. So, even if you miss the Istiklal one, don’t worry. You can catch up at one of the others!

Interactive map for 1 day in Istanbul

Interactive map of best things to see in Istanbul in one day
Click on the map above to access directions to all the attractions that you can visit in Istanbul in one day.

Where to stay in Istanbul for one day?

Since you are going to be in Istanbul only for one day, deciding where to stay is crucial. You do not want to waste your precious 24 hours commuting, do you? That’s why I highly recommend staying in the Sultanahmet area.
Sultanahmet, also known as the Fatih District, is literally the historic heart of Istanbul. Almost all Istanbul highlights are located in Sultanahmet or nearby. For example, Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, and the Hippodrome are in Sultanahmet. You can easily walk or take the tram to other nearby attractions such as Grand Bazaar, Basilica Cistern, Topkapi Palace, and Galata Tower.

Some of my favorite hotels in the area are the Haci Bayram Hotel, the Angel’s Home, and the White House Hotel. Haci Bayram is a cozy 3-star hotel with a terrace with gorgeous views of the Blue Mosque. The staff is friendly, and the rooms are impeccably neat. ▶️ CHECK OUT REVIEWS OF HACI BAYRAM HOTEL HERE.

Angel’s Home is set in a 19th-century building and has a beautiful rooftop terrace (where you can enjoy a scrumptious breakfast) that boasts some great views over the Sultanahmet area. ▶️ SEE MORE PHOTOS OF ANGEL’S HOME HERE.

White House is a luxurious 4-star hotel whose opulently-furnished rooms give you the true feeling of royalty. Located just 5 minutes from all major Istanbul attractions, the hotel has excellent service and an ability to delight its customers. ▶️ CHECK MORE REVIEWS OF WHITE HOUSE HOTEL HERE.

Practical information for 1 day in Istanbul

The nostalgic tram on Istiklal Street in Istanbul
The nostalgic tram on Istiklal Street which is a hub of activity every day in Istanbul.

Best time to visit Istanbul

The best time to visit Istanbul is in the spring (April – June) and fall (September – November). Summers can be hot and humid, whereas winters can be snowy. If you are traveling to Istanbul during the month of Ramadan, keep in mind that restaurants may have different operating hours, and some may be closed during the day because of fasting hours.

Getting to Istanbul

The easiest way to get to Istanbul is by air. You can fly to either the New Istanbul Airport or the Sabiha Gokcen Airport and then take the HAVAIST Airport Shuttle to the city center. We took the Havaist Airport Shuttle and it was a safe and convenient way to get to the city. If you are looking for more comfort and privacy, book this highly rated private transfer from Istanbul Airport and enjoy a stress-free ride.

You can also arrive in Istanbul by ferry from the Greek islands or Italy.

Getting around Istanbul

The best way to get around Istanbul in one day is by foot. You can literally walk between all the attractions in the Sultanahmet area that we have spoken about in the itinerary here. Be sure to refer to our interactive map for directions.

Further, the touristy T1 tram covers almost all touristy places in Istanbul and is the best way to get to Galata Tower.

Istanbul one-day itinerary FAQ

Is one day enough for Istanbul?

One day in Istanbul is enough to see the main highlights, such as Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, Galata Tower, Grand Bazaar, and Istiklal Street.

How to see Istanbul in one day?

You can see Istanbul in one day by seeing the best highlights in the Sultanahmet area, staying close by, and planning your day with an efficient itinerary like this one that saves your commute time and allows you to see the attractions for longer.

Is Istanbul a walkable city?

Yes, Istanbul is a totally walkable city. The best attractions, such as Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the Grand Bazaar, and the Topkapi Palace, are located in the Sultanahmet area, which can be easily covered on foot in one day.

Experience more of Istanbul, Turkey

Read our posts on
Perfect Istanbul Itineraries | From spending one busy day in Istanbul to enjoying an Istanbul trip of 3 days, our itineraries are definitely going to wow you.
Best Things to do in Istanbul | Grab this list of the most beautiful places in Istanbul and check out the most amazing things to do.
Hidden Gems of Istanbul | Visit some lesser-known monuments and landmarks in Istanbul and surprise yourself.
Shopping in Istanbul | Wondering what to buy in Istanbul? Check out our list of best Turkish souvenirs and where to buy them.

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Visiting Istanbul, Turkey? Grab this epic one day Istanbul itinerary and see the best highlights of Istanbul on your trip. #Istanbul #Turkey #Itinerary

Soumya is an acclaimed travel writer who has traveled to 30+ countries and lived in 8 while pursuing her passion for history and culture. Her writings have been published in BBC Travel, Architectural Digest, National Herald, and many more. She loves exploring world heritage sites and has a deep affinity for everything ancient, especially the lost civilizations of Mesoamerica!

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