How To Spend 2 Days In Istanbul: An Itinerary Of 48 Hours Of Fun

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Post author Nicky

Written by our local expert Nicky

Nicky, originally from the UK, is now a local in Turkey. She moved to Marmaris, Türkiye for love 12 years ago and is now your Turkey travel planner.

Do you need a 2-day Istanbul itinerary? It’s here. While it’s impossible to see all of Istanbul in just 48 hours, you could easily spend weeks in Istanbul and not see it all. That said, you can still capture the essence of this vibrant city. 

The city’s transport system makes navigating easy, letting you see as much as possible. My 2 day itinerary is perfect for those looking to get a real feel for the city of Istanbul in a short time.

Turkey Travel Blog_48 Hours In Istanbul_Two Days In Istanbul Itinerary

You have 48 hours in Istanbul – what are you going to do in those two days? Well, firstly, you need to understand one essential thing – you cannot see it all.

It is impossible.

You can’t even chip away at the tip of the iceberg. But you can get a taste of it, and you’ll probably be so intoxicated you can’t wait to return.

2 Days In Istanbul Itinerary

What you do during your two days in Istanbul, the bustling and superb city really depends on your personal preferences. Are you a history buff? Do you enjoy shopping? What about nightlife? There are so many choices that finding something to fill your days won’t be difficult. However, I’ve put together a plan for 48 beautiful hours in Istanbul below. Feel free to mix and match a few other things if these don’t float your boat, but I think these activities will give you a general flavor of what you can expect.

Of course, you need to choose where you’re going to stay. To help make this plan easier, I suggest you base yourself in Sultanahmet. This is the oldest part of the city and where you’ll find a lot of tourist must-see sights. There are large hotels, hostels, and smaller spots to stay in this area; undoubtedly, there’s something for every budget.

Day 1 Of Your 2 Days In Istanbul

How To Spend The Morning In Istanbul

Most Beautiful Mosques In Turkey - Blue mosque in Istanbul at sunset

Breakfast In Sultanahmet

Grab those comfortable shoes and set your alarm because this is going to be an early one! But you’ll need some food to fuel up for your busy day, and that means a Turkish breakfast or kahvalti.

You won’t struggle to find somewhere to eat breakfast in Sultanahmet, but Green Garden Restaurant Café and Ayasofya Asmaalti Café & Restaurant are two great picks in the area.

Hagia Sophia Mosque

Once you’ve eaten, it’s time to head to Hagia Sofia. Join the queue as early as possible, and you won’t have to wait too long. As Hagia Sofia is now a mosque, but there is an entrance fee for those not praying, you will have access to the second floor. It’s fantastic and worth the 25 euros.

Vladimir Hagia Sofia - Sultanahmet Istanbul

After that, hop over the gardens to Blue Mosque, which is one of the most stunning mosques you’ll ever see in your life. Again, there’s no fee here, but you will need to queue.

Remember that both of these buildings are working mosques so that they will be closed to visitors during prayer times, especially on Fridays. You should also wear modest clothing (even in summer) and cover your head if you’re a woman. You’ll be asked to remove your shoes, which will be stored safely at the doorway.

How To Spend Your Afternoon & Evening In Istanbul

What To Eat In Turkey - Turkish Food - Balik Ekmek
Balik ekmek (fish in bread)

In Sultanahmet, you’ll find markets that sell the Istanbul Kart and automated machines where you can top them up. This pre-paid public transport card allows you to use trams, buses, the Metro, and ferries. It’s highly recommended you do this, as you’ll save a fortune on taxis as public transport in Istanbul is very cheap and easy to use. 


Jump on the tram down to Eminonu on the water and try balik ekmek (fish in bread) for a late lunch. This is a traditional thing to do as you check out the beautiful Galata Bridge and fishermen attempting to fill their buckets with fresh fish.

This is a bustling area, so make sure you keep a good hold of your bag – and watch out for tourist scams. It’s not unusual for children to run around asking for money; it’s up to you what you want to do here.

Glatata Bridge Istanbul -2

Spend a little time exploring the area and taking some photographs before walking over the Galata Bridge and following the water to Galataport. This huge shopping center is open-air and has some fantastic views over to the Asian side of Türkiye.


You can splash some cash here, and if you want to, you can stay for dinner as there are plenty of places to choose from, including the famous Salt Bae restaurant. There are also some funky bars to try.

However, you can also jump on the tram outside Galataport and return to Sultanahmet, where many restaurants serve traditional Turkish kebabs.

Or you can see a Whirling Dervish show – so much fun.

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Day 2 Of Your 2 Days In Istanbul

How To Spend The Morning In Istanbul

Asian side of Istanbul and popular Bagdat avenue at Valentine's Day
Bagdat avenue, Kadikoy

Your feet might be stinging a little from the day before, but there’s no time to waste on this 48 hour in Istanbul itinerary! Grab some plasters and fuel up for breakfast.

Europe And Asia In One Day

Once you’re done, jump on the tram down to Eminonu, and this time, head to the ferry station, where you can get the ferry over to Kadikoy. If you need to top up your Istanbul Kart, there are plenty of machines to do that.

Once you arrive in Kadikoy, you’re in Asia! Yes, you can visit two continents in one holiday. Walk around this charming but busy area and enjoy the vibes. There are many cafes, and you’ll find doughnuts and cakes everywhere! There are also lots of markets and shops to check out.

A good recommendation for lunch is kofte ekmek, which is a meatball sandwich. You’ll find small ‘bufe’ kiosks selling this along the main street at a very reasonable price.

How To Spend Your Afternoon & Evening In Istanbul

Romantic places in Istanbul - Dolmabahce Palace
Dolmabahce Palace

Once you’ve eaten, jump back on the ferry, but you’re going to Besiktas this time. This is another bustling area, but once you get off the ferry, turn left and walk along the main road to Dolmabahce Palace.

Dolmabahce Palace

A large white stone gate with ornate carvings at Dolmabahçe Palace

This is a spot you’ll never forget. It is a magnificent palace; you’ll want to take lots of photos outside, but it is forbidden to take photographs inside. Tours aren’t guided, but visitors are encouraged to keep moving through in a slow but steady stream. As such, you’ll only need two hours here – but it will be two impressive hours.

Once you leave, head back the way you came and jump in a taxi on the main road in Besiktas. You’re going to Ortakoy, which is right on the Bosphorus shore and the home of Ortakoy Mosque and the Bosphorus Bridge.

Turkish simit bread with Ortakoy Mosque Istalbul - vegan in Istanbul
Ortakoy Mosque

Ortakoy is a very touristy area, and it’s the best place to grab kumpir, which is jacket potato with whatever filling you want on it – and some people have every single filling! If you have a sweet tooth, grab one of the huge waffles with all manner of sweet stuff on top.

If the sun is still up, take lots of photographs as the sun sets, and be sure to head to the café on the water, where you can try salep, a warm and creamy drink with a bit of cinnamon sprinkled on top.

End Your Time In Istanbul

You’re far from home here, so it’s best to jump in a taxi and head back to Sultanahmet. You’ll no doubt be tired, so why not spend some time in one of the bars around Sultanahmet? There’s a chilled-out vibe here, and nightlife ends around 1 am.

Sunset Rooftop Vibes

Or you could head up to a rooftop bar to witness the sunset, and Istanbul bathed in lights. 

More Ideas Of Things To Do In Istanbul

A bird flies over a Maiden’s Tower - Kiz Kulesi at sunset

If you did not love all of my suggestions, here are some other ideas on what you can see on your visit to Istanbul. You can sub out some of my ideas for these instead.

Topkapi Palace is the perfect place to start your day of exploring, offering a glimpse into the opulent lives of Ottoman sultans and expansive courtyards, a must-see part of Istanbul’s rich history.

Grand Bazaar could easily fill your itinerary with its vast network of shops; it’s a place where you can lose yourself in the hunt for treasures and trinkets.

Bosphorus Cruise provides some of the best views of the city, showcasing the panoramic views over Istanbul as you traverse the Bosphorus Strait.

Galata Tower offers a chance to see Istanbul from above, with panoramic views that make it a highlight of any Turkey itinerary.

Spice Bazaar is a sensory overload and a vivid introduction to the flavors and smells available in Istanbul.

Süleymaniye Mosque, a masterpiece by Sinan, is part of old Istanbul and reflects the city’s architectural grandeur.

Istanbul Archaeology Museums allow you to discover a trove of artifacts, making any visit to Istanbul complete without a stop here.

Basilica Cistern invites you to walk through its atmospheric depths, a unique spot in Istanbul offering a break from the bustling streets.

Chora Church showcases exquisite Byzantine art, standing as a testament to the city’s historical layers.

Istiklal Avenue, the most famous street in Istanbul, buzzes with life, shops, and cafes, marking the modern side of Istanbul.

Taksim Square pulsates with the energy of modern Istanbul, representing the city’s vibrant street life.

Maiden’s Tower tells the legends of Istanbul from a small islet in the Bosphorus, a romantic spot to watch the day between sunrise and sunset.

Princes’ Islands offer an escape to explore at a slower pace, ideal for those who plan to visit Istanbul for a weekend or more.

Miniaturk is where you can see miniature models of Turkey’s landmarks, perfect for a quick cultural tour around Turkey in just a day.

Rüstem Pasha Mosque and Ortaköy Mosque are spots in Istanbul known for their breathtaking tile work and locations, offering some of the most beautiful scenes in the city.

Istanbul In 2 Days FAQs


How should I plan my stay in Istanbul for 2 days?

To make the most of your 2 days in Istanbul, consider staying in a hotel in the central area like Sultanahmet or Taksim Square so you can easily access major attractions.

What are the best ways to get around Istanbul during my visit?

A: Getting around Istanbul is easy with options like public transportation, taxis, and walking. Consider using trams or ferries to reach different parts of the city efficiently.

What are the must-visit attractions during a 2-day itinerary in Istanbul?

Make sure to include iconic spots like the Galata Tower, Taksim Square, and a cruise on the Bosphorus in your itinerary to capture the essence of Istanbul in 2 days.

How can I spend my first day in Istanbul exploring the city?

A: Start your day by eating a Turkish breakfast, then visiting the historic areas of Istanbul, such as the Old City and the European side of Istanbul, before heading to the Asian side side of the city.

What is the recommended way to experience Istanbul in two days?

Wander about on your own, or take guided tours, and indulge in a traditional Turkish meal to make the most of your 2-day Istanbul itinerary.

Is it possible to see the highlights of Istanbul in just two days?

No way. Istanbul has too many attractions to see in just two days. But a well-planned 2-day itinerary like mine can cover key spots like the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, and the Grand Bazaar for a memorable experience.

What are some off-the-beaten-path places to explore during a short trip to Istanbul?

Consider venturing to lesser-known areas like Balat or Fener to discover hidden gems and experience the authentic side of Istanbul away from the tourist crowds.

Final Word On Two Days In Istanbul

How Many Days In Istanbul Is Enough - The Basilica Cistern

These places in Istanbul form an itinerary that is perfect for anyone headed to Istanbul this year, whether you’re squeezing in the highlights into a 2-day itinerary or have full days to explore every corner of this captivating city. From the historical depth of the Sultanahmet quarter to the lively streets of modern Istanbul, each spot offers a unique slice of what makes Istanbul so special.

Remember, the best time to visit depends on what you want to see and do; Istanbul offers delights in every season, and its transportation system makes navigating the city a breeze. So, pack your bags and get ready to experience the magic of Istanbul, including its ancient marvels and contemporary wonders.

Now that you have your 48 hours in Istanbul itinerary – please tell us how you will spend your two days in Istanbul. 

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