Edited by Holly Stark
48 hours may not sound like long when venturing into one of the world’s most vibrant and historic cities, but you’ll be surprised by how much you can fit in. Istanbul, Turkey’s ancient and largest city straddles two continents: Asia and Europe. Surrounded by the glistening Bosphorus and home to a rich history of empires, from Byzantine to Roman to Ottoman, Istanbul is a city not to be missed. With a vast choice of historical monuments, grand emporiums, and scenic beauty to explore, you might be wondering is 2 days in Istanbul enough? With an amazing cultural and architectural heritage, and endless things to do in Istanbul, your 2 days in Istanbul itinerary will be packed with the best of the capital. From visiting the majestic mosques and ornate museums to tasting your way through the best of traditional Turkish cuisine to soaking up the vibe of a cosy cafe or art gallery, enjoy the best of Istanbul during your 48 hours in the capital.
Day 1 - Morning
Spend your first morning at the spiritual heart of the city. You’ll find a mosque in every corner of Istanbul. Facing the early 17th-century Blue Mosque with its impressive six minarets, the Aya Sofya or Hagia Sophia Museum across the small park mirrors its domed silhouette and is a great historical museum for understanding and appreciating Istanbul in Ancient times. Built as an Orthodox cathedral in 537 CE, Aya Sofya was converted to a mosque under the Ottoman rule after 1453. Hagia Sophia was the largest church in the world for about 900 years until the Seville Cathedral of Spain was completed in 1520. Epitomising Byzantine architecture, the spot is perfect for anyone seeking the true spirit of Istanbul.
Day 1 - Lunch and Afternoon
Enjoy classic a Turkish meal and dessert in the quaint neighborhood of Moda. Sip a Turkish tea, coffee or beer in a cosy cafe followed by our famous, slightly chewy Turkish ice cream at Dondurmacı Ali Usta. The ice cream icon has served up some of the most traditional scoops of Turkish ice cream since 1969, such as Santa Maria, Hazelnut, Walnut and Melon. Spend the afternoon wandering the streets of the Galata region. A social and cultural hub with some of the best activities in Istanbul, Galata possesses an array of monuments, ancient synagogues, churches and mosques. The Galata Mevlevi House Museum and cultural center is a architecturally-impressive, preserved structure home to performances by the Whirling Dervishes. The experience is not to be missed for anyone searching for the local essence and heart of Istanbul. The poignant and captivating ceremony sees skilled Turkish Dervishes hypnotically spinning in deep prayer to the sound of Islamic hymns. For an authentic glimpse into Turkey’s cultural and spiritual past, Galata is one of the best places to visit in Istanbul and not to be missed if you have 48 hours in Istanbul.
Day 1 - Evening
While in Galata, try traditional Turkish food at Ali Ocakbasi; home to fresh Ali salad, stuffed zucchini blossoms, divine mezzes, kebab with pistachios, succulent lamb chop, and ribs. Finish your meal with an amazing Turkish dessert called Katmir; which resembles hot light baklava with pistachio filling topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and folded in half. Try Turkish coffee too. If you’re wondering what to do in Istanbul at night during your 2 days in Istanbul, trying Turkish cuisine makes the top of the list.
Day 1 - Night
Istanbul is steeped in culture, art and music. There are many galleries and places to enjoy traditional Turkish music. Head for an Istanbul meyhane (tavern) and enjoy a raki-fuelled night of Turkish fasil (song and dance). A great night spent in Istanbul is at Bina Kadıköy, a record event exhibition where you can drink wine, play old records and buy the records you’re listening to. With a laid-back atmosphere, the spot is representative of Istanbul’s great music scene. Bomonti is another great space for live music. Formerly the factory for Bomonti beers, the huge renovated area has become one of the best places to hang out in the Şişli neighborhood at night. Bomontiada has everything in one area; restaurants, bars, and a live concert venue. Have a few drinks at a bar then head to The Populist which often has live a DJ, or hit up the Babylon concert hall for a night of live performance. Check out the Pilevneli Gallery for exhibitions and contemporary art.
Day 2 - Morning
Your Istanbul 2 days itinerary would not be complete without a trip to Istanbul’s famous bazaars, emporiums, and markets. Spend the morning zig-zagging your way through the impressive Grand Bazaar (Kapali Çarşi) which boasts 5000 shops. Built-in 1461 as a vibrant hub of international and local trade, the Bazaar is a labyrinth of glittering delights and the ultimate Turkish shopping experience. Float your way through one of the largest covered markets and dive into the best places for exquisite textiles, handcrafted ceramics, colorful spices, sparkling jewelry, pretty lanterns, and souvenirs.
Day 2: Lunch and Afternoon
Head onto the Spice Bazaar; a short walk from the Grand Bazaar. The 17th-century Eminönü Egyptian Spice Bazaar is a gastronomic paradise and foodie haven; perfect for lunch. Since 1664, the Spice Bazaar has been thought to be the best place to select dried fruits, nuts, spices, olives, Turkish delight, oils, and essences. Soak up the aromas of coffee, oils, and spices, be amazed by the jewels glinting in the sun and enjoy the decadent, sense-uplifting experience. Sample delicious baked bread such as Simit.
Spend your evening at the Hush Gallery, a space hosting exhibitions devoted to young local and international artists. Art is everywhere in the relaxed Kadıkoy neighborhood; most known for its vibrant entertainment scene, galleries, street-art, tree-lined streets, and fish and produce market that’s home to Turkish pizza, olives, and fresh seafood. Art and community flourish most at ArtHere: an artist-run cafe/space with communal work tables, books, and paintings on the walls. Founded by a Syrian photographer, space combines a gallery, studio, community center, and temporary housing for Syrian artists to work with their Turkish and international counterparts. ArtHere hosts frequent movie nights, live music, discussions, and workshops for a polyglot audience. With a labyrinth of art and cultural Istanbul attractions to explore, you won’t tire of walking the Kadıkoy streets; one of the best things to do in Istanbul in 2 days.
Day 2: Night
Continue your night dancing the night away at a great bistro-come-bar. Lucca is a great, fancy spot, loved by locals, in Bebek. The Bebek neighbourhood is located right by the beautiful Bosphorus and is a well loved area for delicious cocktails, like mojitos and satsuma vodka. Spend your Istanbul night on the shores of the city and enjoy the meeting point of history and urban.
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