BEST THINGS TO DO IN 2 DAYS IN ISTANBUL – ITINERARY

WHAT TO DO IN ISTANBUL IN 2 DAYS

To find out about the best things to do in 2 days in Istanbul, read on because I am happy to share my travel tips. 

Istanbul is one of the most unique cities globally – what other city is spread over two continents? But that is not the only reason to visit this fun city.

Istanbul is a city that offers many historical and religious sites – but is also rich in modern sights and has the cutest cafes and restaurants, which also translates into a fun nightlife.

It offers all that to its visitors. Of course, I do not want to forget to mention the extremely delicious food (that also caters to vegetarians and vegans) – no, you cannot go wrong with booking a trip to Istanbul for a weekend.

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TRAVEL TIPS FOR YOUR ISTANBUL ITINERARY

Check out the quick travel tips for your Istanbul itinerary.

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Istanbul itinerary for 2 days
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How to get to the City Center From the Airport

If you arrive at the Istanbul Airport – the main one, the Atatürk Airport, closed and the new main airport just opened in 2019 – you can easily take the Airport Shuttle to get to the city center.

  • Whichever of the two main tourist areas – Sultanahmet or Taksim – you choose, the shuttle bus gets you there for around 3€ one way. The buses are modern, clean, and the ride is quite comfortable. Once you arrive at the bus station, you might have to walk to your accommodations, or you can then take a taxi.
  • Some taxis are waiting just outside, or you can book a private pick-up service in advance.
  • You could rent a car at the airport and drive yourself. However, for this 2-day Istanbul itinerary, driving will not be the best option for getting around.

Getting Around Istanbul in Two Days

Getting to/from the airport is easy via the shuttle bus. However, what is the best way to get around in Istanbul itself if you stay for 2 days?

  • Well, most of the time, walking is the best option. I walked a lot – but I am also very used to walking long distances. Wearing comfortable shoes is just the most important thing when I walk a lot. 
  • The tram and metro is affordable and reliable and are good options if you get tired or do not want to walk that much. For this itinerary, you will not need them often but only if you get from one neighborhood to the other.
  • I normally avoid taxis but I just took a taxi for 2km because this itinerary is quite busy and walking can get exhausting. If you use a taxi, here are some tips to avoid scams: Only take official taxis, they are painted yellow and are named “Taksi ” and make sure that the counter is on once you are in the taxi. I showed the taxi driver my location on Google maps on my phone and also could see if he uses the shortest way possible. However, you can avoid taxis, and will be fine to get around on foot, and public transportation.
  • Renting a car is – in my opinion – a bad idea. There is traffic, the city center is crazy and most places can easily be reached on foot so you avoid headaches if you do not drive yourself.
  • Boat cruises in Istanbul are also a good mode of transportation to see the city – and it is part of this itinerary so you will find out more about it later on.

Where to Stay in Istanbul for 2 Days

I recommend staying in Sultanahmet, which is the old part of Istanbul. I booked two different hotels, and both of them were close to Sultan Ahmad Square.

  • My tip: Hotel Poem is a small but lovely boutique hotel with friendly staff and a great breakfast! Check out rates here and book before it is fully booked (it is quite small).
  • Hotel Spectra Sultanahmad is another option. I booked it just for the views from the breakfast room, and those views did not disappoint. Find out more about this hotel here.
  • However, I liked Hotel Poem a bit more, and if prices are similar, I suggest staying at Hotel Poem (despite the smaller rooms).
  • If you are looking for something more luxurious, check out Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at Sultanahmet.
  • If you are a hostel person and are looking for a good hostel in Istanbul, this place might be a perfect fit for you.

Blue Musque view
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Best Time to Visit Istanbul For 2 Days

Istanbul is a popular travel destination all year round. Expect a lot of crowds in the summer months. If you can, pick spring or fall for your trip to Istanbul though winter in Istanbul might also be a fun time to visit.

Solo Female Travel Tips For Istanbul

  • I traveled to Istanbul by myself. My Turkish Airlines flight – without any explanation – arrived more than 2 hours late in Istanbul, so I arrived in the middle of the night. I took the airport shuttle and just had to walk a few hundred meters to my hotel – at that moment, it felt uncomfortable. It was raining, it was cold, and it was dark, and there were not many people around.
  • BUT that was the only short moment I felt uncomfortable. I think Istanbul is a safe place to visit as a solo female traveler. So many people visit Istanbul that you don’t stand out from the crowds when traveling alone. If you exercise common sense, there is no reason not to travel alone in Istanbul.
  • Be aware of your political statements, democracy is going downhill in the country. But there are no particular precautions to take as a solo female traveler. People are friendly and nice, and it is easy to do small talking to locals (if they speak English).
  • There is so much to do – even solo – that I did not have time to feel bored.

PLACES TO VISIT IN 2 DAYS IN ISTANBUL

Without further ado, here is how to spend 2 days in Istanbul.

TIP: You might want to check out the Museum Card if you plan to visit many attractions as it could save some money. However, you normally will not be able to skip the lines, and with two days, you might not want to stand in lines forever.

DAY 1 OF 2 DAYS IN ISTANBUL

I recommend exploring Sultanahmet – the old town – only and visit the main attractions here for the first day. 

Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya)

One of the top places to visit in Istanbul is the Hagia Sophia.

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 Hagia Sophia was a Christian Cathedral commissioned by Emperor Justinian in the 6th century and converted to a mosque by the Ottomans. But it did not stay a mosque for long.

After 1935 it was converted to a museum (on Atatrürk´s order). But guess what? It has become a mosque again in late 2020. So, even loud protests by many could not stop the religious and conservative Turkish government from converting it. Especially, because Hagia Sophia been a Unesco World Heritage site since 1985 and UNESCO must be given prior notice of any modifications. So, the status of the World Heritage Site is now evaluated and we´ll have to wait for the result.

So, as a museum, it was one of the busiest places in the city – long queues were the result. I haven’t seen what the situation is like since it was converted. So, I recommend visiting as it is a beautiful example of Byzantine architecture.

Hagia Sophia, view from the upper gallery is one of the best things to do in 48 hours in Istanbul
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TIPS FOR VISITING HAGIA SOPHIA

  • Entry is free now
  • Open every day – 24 hours a day
  • Open to Muslims and Non-Muslims
  • Remove your shoes before entering the mosque
  • Dress moderately (scarves for women, cover your arms and legs for men and women)
  • If possible avoid weekends & Friday prayer at noon because as it will be more crowded with the locals
  • Tours available (for a fee)
  • You will probably need around 60-90 minutes for Hagia Sophia

Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Mosque)

Another must-see is the Blue Mosque – which is free to enter and is still used as a mosque (to avoid the busiest times, don’t visit during prayers).

Blue Mosque, (Sultanahmet Camii), Istanbul one of the most beautiful places
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The Blue Mosque was completed in 1616 and is beautiful inside and out. While it actually is not really blue from the outside, it has 20,000 handmade mosaic blue tiles surrounding the walls of the interior, which is where it derives its name.

Interior of the Blue Mosque, Istanbul is a must-see in 2 days
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The Blue Mosque was built to rival Hagia Sophia, and I must say, from the outside, it is surely more impressive and stunning than the neighboring building.

Visit the Blue Mosque website and check the prayer times.

TIPS FOR VISITING BLUE MOSQUE

  • Entry is free now
  • Open every day – 24 hours a day
  • Open to Muslims and Non-Muslims (it’s closed to non worshippers for a half hour or so during the five daily prayers)
  • Remove your shoes before entering the mosque
  • Dress moderately (scarves for women, cover your arms and legs for men and women)
  • If possible avoid weekends & Friday prayer at noon because as it will be more crowded with the locals
  • You will probably need around 20-60 minutes for the Blue Mosque

Sultan Ahmet Square

2 days in Istanbul will most likely be quite stressful, so plan in enough breaks. After visiting the Blue Mosque, it is time for such a break.

Snacks in Istanbul
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Hagia Sophia and Sultanahmed Square in Istanbul is a must for a 2-day itinerary
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The two main attractions mentioned earlier are located on Sultanahmet Square – one of the major public areas in Istanbul. I loved Sultanahmet Square! As busy as it is, it is also pretty and a great place to sit down and watch people.

Also, the little snack stalls that offer delicious snacks, like corncobs and chestnuts, are amazing.

I could have snacked all day (and did), so after the sightseeing, it is time to buy those snacks that are also quite affordable.

Topkapi Palace

Topkapı Palace is the next major attraction to visit.

Topkapi-Palasce is one of the best things to see in 2 days in Istanbul
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It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985 and was built in the 15th century of the Ottoman period. It was used for the longest time as a royal palace and was the residence of Ottoman sultans and the center of state management and education.

The palace covers around 700,000 square meters, most of which are actually the Royal Gardens (Hasbahçe). 

It is now a museum and one of the best places to learn about its history as you’ll find many weapons, porcelain, Islamic manuscripts, Ottoman treasures and jewelry, and more that date back to those times. There is also an extra section with the Harem – it is where the wives and concubines of the sultans lived.

Given its size and importance, it can take several hours to go through the palace.

TIPS FOR VISITING TOPKAPI PALACE

  • Open every day except Tuesdays
  • The museum pass is accepted
  • An admission ticket without a Museum Pass is 100 TL – but you can buy skip-the-line tickets for this one as well. Check them out here
  • To see the Harem you have to pay an extra fee of about 70 TL.
  • Plan in between 2-4 hours for visiting Topkapi Palace

Basilica Cistern

This attraction is not just a great way to escape the heat in the summer months: visiting the Basilica Cistern is a popular activity in Istanbul and close to the main attractions mentioned above.

The Basilica Cistern, (Yerebatan), Istanbul, Turkey is one of the best places to see in 2 days
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Cisterns were built all around the city to meet the population’s water requirement – in the case of a siege, and the Basilica Cistern was the largest in Istanbul, providing water to the Tokpaki Palace and other buildings in the area. Check out skip-the-line tickets here.

TIPS FOR VISITING BASILICA CISTERN

  • The entrance fee is 20 TL
  • Open 7 days a week between 09.00 – 5.30 pm
  • You will need about 30-90 minutes to see the Basilica Cistern

If you visit all places mentioned above, you will have a busy first day in Istanbul and you might want to have dinner and end your day. There are more attractions are located on Ahmed Sultan Square. It is easy to see them on the first day, and it does not take much time, so you will probably more or less pass them.

The Fountain of Ahmed III

One of the other things to see in Istanbul – without much effort – is the Fountain of Ahmed III located on the Ahmed Sultan Square.

Fountain in Istanbul in 2 days
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It was built in the 18th century and is known as one of the most beautiful samples of Turkish rococo styles.

Mausoleum of Sultan Ahmed

You can also visit the Mausoleum of Sultan Ahmed – the construction of the Mausoleum started shortly after his death in the 17th century. It is free to visit (but dress accordingly and be respectful when visiting).

Bosphorus Cruise

Depending on how fast you have been, you could then end your day at the Bosphorus on day one or start your second day here. 

Bospherus in Istanbul itinerary
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I loved this area in particular – it is busy, and it was here that I first got a feel for how big Istanbul actually is. Sultanahmet is beautiful, but it felt like a smaller city on its own.

I am all about boat tours and ferry rides. If you are like me, hop on a boat/ferry and see Istanbul from a different perspective. Those Bosporus boat cruises take a couple of hours and so it is nothing to squeeze in quickly.

  • You can buy tickets on the spot if you like or check out prices here and book in advance.
  • If you want to book a Bosphorus boat cruise with dinner and entertainment, click here.

Extra: Sulemaniye Mosque 

Other than the Blue Mosque, the Süleymaniye Mosque is another well-known mosque in Istanbul and is actually the largest mosque in the city.

It is located on the Third Hill of the city, near Istanbul University, and if you have some free time on your hands, then check out this mosque, too.

DAY 2 OF 2 DAYS IN ISTANBUL

After a busy day 1 in Istanbul, it is time to continue your 2-day Istanbul trip.

Grand Bazaar

Of course, you have to visit the Grand Bazaar. But a word of warning: if you visit at the wrong time, it is crazy and hectic and crowded. After checking out the Grand Bazaar, I needed to sit down and take a looooong break.

Grand Bazaar in Istanbul is one of the best places to visit in 2 days
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But given its size, it is one of the oldest and largest covered markets in the world, with around 30,700 square meters with 61 covered streets, and over 4,000 shops and restaurants. It is great for buying souvenirs and little presents – and gold and other jewelry. You can basically shop till you drop.

TIPS FOR VISITING THE GRAND BAZAAR:

  • Open every day from 9 am to 7 pm, except Sundays
  • Depending on which streets you visit, you might have to pass a security check
  • Definitely haggle and do not accept prices immediately (you might get “discounts” of 30-50%)
  • Plan in between 1-4 hours for the Grand Bazar

Galata Bridge

After the Grand Bazar, it is time to visit another area of Istanbul. It is time to cross the Galata Bridge – and on your way to Beyoglu, look back because the views are gorgeous!

Istanbul from Galata Bridge view_
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However, I suggest spending some time at the Bosporus River as well. I already suggested a Bosporus cruise for day 1 and now, it is about relaxing and watching people before crossing the bridge. 

You could take the tram (or do a boat ride), but I recommend walking towards Beyoglu from the Old Town. You will arrive in a hipster area of Istanbul – Beyoglu.

Galata Tower

The Galata Tower is one of the main landmarks in Istanbul and Beyoglu, and it is a great place for great views (I did not get up there myself).

Gelata Tower, Istanbul in 2 days, ARZO TRAVELS
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 The lines are probably always long (that was the case when I visited in October), so I skipped it. The 66-meter-high medieval stone tower – sitting on a hill about 38 meters above sea level – offers panoramic views over Istanbul. 

The tower was built in the 14th century as an addition to the Galata Wall for defense purposes and was the Galata Walls’ main tower. It also served as a dungeon for slaves before converted to a depot for the boatyard. There was such a fun and relaxed vibe here that you should not miss out on this area – Even if you don’t climb the stairs to enjoy the views.

TIPS FOR VISITING GALATA TOWER:

  • Entrance Fee: 30 TL
  • Opening hours: 1 April – 1 November from 8:30 am until midnight and from 1 November – 1 April from 10:00 am to 8 pm
  • Two elevators take you to the top – or you climb the 146 stairs
  • There is also a cafe and restaurant at the top

Beyoglu 

This is the place to sit down and have lunch or just a coffee – food and drinks are reasonably priced, and the cafes are the cutest I have seen in Istanbul (indoor and outdoor cafes).

Cute cafe in Istanbul is one of the top things to see in 2 days
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 It has a bit of a hipster feel, but it still felt authentic, and I would make sure to plan in enough time to spend some here. Plus, you might get lucky and have some great live music playing somewhere nearby.
Fruits in Istanbul
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Tram

There is an old red tram – similar to the ones in San Francisco – that you can use for a small amount (less than 1€), which will take you all the way up to Taksim Square and back (you need a separate ticket for each ride). 

Iconic red tram in Istanbul
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I hopped on it, but it was so busy that I did not find a seat and was squeezed in with many others. So, my tip is to make sure to wait for the tram and be on time, so you can be one of the first to get in, grabbing a seat and better views.

It will be almost impossible on a busy day to take a picture of the tram without tons of people standing in front of it! They all want a souvenir picture.

Istiklal Street

As I was visiting Istiklal Street on a Saturday, I experienced the busiest shopping street I have ever seen – probably. This long shopping street, pedestrian and tram only, is a hectic and bustling place with many international shops. 

Personally, it was not my favorite place in Istanbul – if you are into shopping, then this is the place to see. If you aren’t, you could skip it.

Taksim Square

Taksim is the heart of modern Istanbul and probably best known at the moment for the place where the demonstrations against the current president, Erdogan, started. Still, it is generally known as a place for political protests.

However, it is also where all the fancier restaurants, shops, and hotels are, but apart from that, there are not that many interesting sights or attractions. It is not really a must-see place with only 48 hours (or a bit less) in the city in terms of attractions, but due to the place’s importance, I have still added it to this 2 days in Istanbul itinerary.

From there, you can either take the tram back to Beyoglu and end your day there, or you can take the underground and go back to Gelata Bridge, and then either walk back to Sultanahmad or end your day at the Bosporus.

I loved the numerous cafes and restaurants in Sultanahmet. So, if you had lunch in Beyuglou already, then I suggest having dinner in one of the many cafes or restaurants in the old town of the city.

Hammam

Extra: If you have time and want to relax, I definitely suggest visiting a Turkish Hamman.

While I have not visited any in Istanbul, I did so on other Turkey trips and highly recommended them. Because 2 days in Istanbul can be crazy and hectic, what better way is there to relax and enjoy than in a Turkish bath where you can end your day with a relaxing massage? 

THOUGHTS ABOUT VISITING ISTANBUL IN TWO DAYS

I think 48 hours in Istanbul is a good amount (and the minimum) to spend. Whether you are a solo traveler, travel with your partner, friends, or family, Istanbul will not be boring.

2 days in Istanbul will be fun and exciting – the city is so vibrant and interesting. You will not be able to see all of the highlights, but you will get a good idea and cover the main attractions.

Safe Travels, Arzo
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