24 hours in Istanbul: A guide to the perfect day

Just a day and a night to spend in Istanbul? We take you on a whirlwind city tour, taking in the city’s best sights, sounds and tastes.

10am, brunch at Istanbul Modern

Istanbul’s premier space for modern art is also one of the best breakfast spots in the city. The airy patio overlooking the Bosphorus and the Old Town is a gorgeous place to start the day. And afterwards, you can explore the converted shipping terminal that houses three floors of contemporary local and international artists, as well as a sculpture garden. Istanbul Modern is open from 10-6 each day except Mondays. Meclis-i Mebusan Caddesi, 34433 Karakoy.

Istanbul Modern

12pm The Hagia Sophia

Grab a taxi and head to the old town. If you’ve only got time to visit one major Istanbul attraction, of the city’s many wonders the Hagia Sophia has to be a contender for the top spot. The former church that became a mosque that is now a museum stands 55 metres high and contains superb mosaics depicting Christ, the Virgin Mary and Byzantine emperors. It’s just redolent with history and stories - look out for the Viking graffiti scratched on the balustrade in the south gallery. Entry is £8.70. Closed Mondays.

Hagia Sophia

2pm - Lunch at Matbah Ottoman Palace Cuisine

Just a short stroll from the Hagia Sophia, this is the ideal lunch spot in the heart of the Old Town. Serving up dishes that would’ve satisfied even the pickiest Ottoman prince. And in fact, the dishes they serve are straight out of the Ottoman era, so it’s likely that you’ll find a dish you’ve never tried before. Matbah’s focus on flavour and atmosphere means it’s a very popular spot. Dine on fish soup, rich kebabs, duck stews, lamb shanks and round off your meal with baklava. Matbah is located in a small lane opposite the Hagia Sophia. Caferiye Sokak No 6/1.

Lunch in Istanbul

3.30pm - Cruise the Bosphorus

It’s about a kilometre’s walk from Matbah to Eminonu. Head to the Eminonu ferry dock at the end of the Galata Bridge and you can hop aboard a boat for a 90-minute cruise along the Bosphorus. In an hour and a half, you’ll be able to enjoy the domes and minarets of the Old Town, the magnificent Dolmabahce Palace, the Galata Tower and take in the view of the Bosphorus to the north and the Sea of Marmara at your south.

Bosphorus boat tour

5.30pm - Soak the day away at Kilic Ali Pasa Hamam

Sightseeing is hard on the body. As evening approaches and you start to weary, this is the ideal time to visit one of the city’s Hamams. Kilic Ali Pasa Hamam (a 2km walk or short taxi ride across the Galata Bridge) is one of Istanbul’s oldest spas. Commissioned by famous Ottoman Admiral Kilic Ali Pasa and built in 1580 to service the Ottoman navy, the hamam has undergone several renovations and now offers services to both men and women. The upscale hamam is a beautiful building with many of the original features, topped by a large dome. Services include olive oil massages and full body scrubs. Children are welcome.

Turkish bath

7.30pm - Dine on Finnish-Mediterranean fusion food

Stroll or taxi back across the Bosphorus to Mikla, located on the top two floors of the luxury hotel Marmara Pera. This unique fusion restaurant combines Finnish and Mediterranean cuisine. The decor is modern and elegant and the views over the Golden Horn and Bosphorus stunning. The Michelin candidate uses local ingredients to create some truly special avant-garde dishes. Mesrutiyet Caddesi 1, Taksim Square.

Istanbul dining

9.30pm - Explore the city

If you still have the energy after your day of exploration and you’re ready for more, here are a few options to ease you into your night.

Bar: head to 360istanbul. This expensive bar is located on Istiklal Caddesi and is widely held to have the best view of any bar in the city. Order an expensive cocktail and gaze out over Galata Tower to the Sea of Marmara. And keep your eyes open - the bar is frequented by everyone from Jamiroquai to the Queen of Spain.

Music: The best place to see live music is along Istiklal Caddesi. Live acts range from awful to sublime, and as they’re all grouped in the same area you’ll be able to sample them all. Check out Jolly Joker, an intimate venue that attracts big names; Babylon for sheer eclecticism, Mask Live Music for up-and-coming acts, or Hayal Kahvesi for new acts performing in a beautiful venue.

Bar in Istanbul

Sunrise - sleep, Ibrahim Pasha

When you’re ready to hit the hay, grab a taxi and head back to your hotel. Kebab stop optional.

The Ibrahim Pasha is a beautiful and intimate hotel in the Sultanahmet district of the Old Town in Istanbul. It’s not only stylish, but affordable and atmospheric, with guests awakened by the morning call to prayer. The hotel is located in two adjoining townhouses and has 20 rooms decked out with antiques, beautiful textiles and modern furniture. The hotel is named after Turkey’s most popular Grand Vizier - the second in command to the Sultan. The Sultan’s palace is next door and is now home to the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum. A buffet breakfast is available in the morning in the comfortable lobby.

Sunrise in Istanbul

Morning - stroll the old city

With just a short time left in the city, take a pleasant stroll through the Old Town and along the Bosphorus. Grab a coffee at one of the many little cafes, watch the fisherman hawk their morning’s catch at the waterfront, and soak up the atmosphere.

Istanbul Old Town


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