One Day in Istanbul: 2020 Local Expert Help with No Regrets

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Here you can find useful tips to find the answer of the common question: Is one day enough for Istanbul, and how to best explore the city in a day? As being Istanbul locals, we definitely have to say that it is NOT!


We assume that if you are reading this page, you are probably having an airport layover, cruise-ship stopover or meeting/congress leisure day out in the city and have only one day in Istanbul and searching for advice to best explore the city in about 6 to 8 hours.

And you are in the perfect and right place, here’s your guide! If you need extra insider advice, please leave us a comment at the bottom of the page so that we can get back to you.

Before You Arrive in Istanbul

We recommend you to have some essential information first, when spending 3 days in Istanbul. Make sure you read our pages below.

Note: While you read on this page, you’ll see our pick of the best and great value for money discount cards, attraction tours and tickets. You can be sure that we only suggest the proven and top rated ones with travelers’ comments. With our links, you”ll make sure you get the best prices and skip the lines.

General Map of Top Sights

Below you can see the top attractions and sights of the city from an aerial view, with top neighborhoods. You can have a general idea of how to get around.


One Day in Istanbul: 2020 Local Expert Help with No Regrets
click to enlarge the image

Istanbul in One Day

Our itinerary covers about all the must-see sights and attraction that you can visit and do in the city for just in one day.

You’ll see how much time you should expect to spend. Regarding your layover time in the city or your interests, you can design your own itinerary by removing any of the sights or attractions below from your plan.

If you ask us for the top 3, we definitely choose Hagia Sophia, Bosphorus Cruise and Istiklal Street.

Getting to the City Center (30 minutes to 1,5 hours)

New Istanbul Airport (IST) layover passengers: The airport is located about 45 km. from the city center. You can take a 1 hour taxi for about €30, 1,5 hours HAVAIST Airport Shuttle for 18 TL (about €2,7), 1 hour shared shuttle for about €15 or 1 hour private shuttle for about €40. No direct metro line. Regarding the transfer time and inside the airport routines, we do NOT recommend you to get to the city center unless you have more than 10-12 hours layover.

Sabiha Gokcen Airport (SAW) layover passengers: The airport is located about 45 km. from the city center. Getting to the city center can be a mass due to traffic jam as the airport is on the Asian side and you have to pass the Bosphorus bridge. No direct metro line. So we do NOT recommend you to get to the city center unless you have more than 10-12 hours layover.

If you need left luggage you can find options at the airport terminals.

GALATAPORT cruise ship layover passengers: You are lucky that Istanbul’s Cruise Port is located in the heart of the city. You don’t need a taxi, tour bus, or shuttle to get to the city center. You can easily get to Sultanahmet, city’s historic center in 20-30 minutes by tram for 3,5 TL (about €0,5).


The best way to get around and see Istanbul in one day is using the tram.

You should get an IstanbulKart that you can have access all the public transportation network of Istanbul.

One ride is 3,5 TL (about €0,5), and you can obtain this card (with 6 TL initial fee) at the Istanbul airports, or at the ticket machines in any tram/metro station in the city.

Stop-1 -> Sultanahmet Square (30 minutes)

One Day in Istanbul: 2020 Local Expert Help with No RegretsSultanahmet Square (Hippodrome), is one of the most tourist areas of the city with loads of historic sights such as mosques, churches, museums, etc.

Once being a Byzantium hippodrome from the 4th century, the square itself hosts the famous historic places and sights that include; the Egyptian Obelisk, the Serpentine Column, the Colossus or the Column of Costantine Porphyrgenitus and the German Fountain.

Enjoy the sights here (about 30 minutes) and make sure you visit at least one of these greatest sights of the city, by entering inside: Hagia Sophia Museum (1 hour), Topkapi Palace Museum (1,5 hours), Blue Mosque (45 minutes), Istanbul Archaeology Museums (1 hour), Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts (1 hour), and Basilica Cistern (45 minutes). We recommend Hagia Sophia. (see at Stop-2)

For the other museums and sights, you will not have enough time to explore them all, and even looking the other sights from the outside will be a unique experience in itself.

Stop-2 -> Hagia Sophia Museum (1 hour)

One Day in Istanbul: 2020 Local Expert Help with No Regrets

Dating back to 325, Hagia Sophia is a former church and mosque and declared as one of the world’s greatest architectural works and accepted as the 8th wonder of the world.

It’s like stepping into the holy world of Christianity and Islam, merged on the shell-like apse and under an impressive dome, in a mysterious and mystical ambiance, and a wide range of architectural and art works coming from thousands of years.

Such as the golden Christian mosaics and colorful frescoes from the Byzantine era. Hagia Sophia’s mosaics depict the Christian scenes.

This amazing landmark is situated just by the Sultanahmet Square, and has over two million annual visitors. You should buy skip the line tickets  to avoid the long queues as you have very limited time.

Fast track entry ticket with guide will cost you about €21,00 a person while general admission ticket on location is about €15. The difference is negligible and a great value of money as you’ll skip the lines and have guidance by an official guide and Audio App in 10 languages.

We recommend the below ticket options for the great value for money.

Wanna learn more about Hagia Sophia?

Optional: Topkapi Palace (1,5 hours)

If you think you’ll have enough time, visit the famous Topkapi Palace, a magnificent oriental palace and one of the world’s greatest architectural works. Once a residence of the Ottoman Sultans, it is also one of world’s richest museums.

One Day in Istanbul: 2020 Local Expert Help with No RegretsIt houses the finest samples of seal, book binding, jewelry and box craftsmanship as well as inscriptions, as well as the finest collection of Chinese porcelain in the world.

It is located within 5 minutes walking distance from Hagia Sophia. It is a giant complex so expect to spend at least 1,5 hours there.

We recommend the below ticket options for the great value for money.

Wanna learn more about Topkapi Palace?

Stop-3 -> Lunch in Sultanahmet (30 minutes to 1 hour)

You’ll feel hungry after the Hagia Sophia tour. You can find loads of tourist cafes and restaurants along the Sultanahmet Square and along the tram road.

We’d recommend Historical 1920 Sultanahmet Koftecisi (Divan Yolu Str., No: 12) to taste the delicious grills meat balls and the sweet Semolina cake. Expect to spend about €8,00 a person for this menu.

Optional: Grand Bazaar

If you think you’ll have enough time, visit the famous Grand Bazaar, a plus 550 years old covered market, also one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world.

You are able to find about anything here from the finest silky shawls and scarves in traditional patterns to traditional items, from antiques, leather goods, ceramics to the famous carpets, from spices, beautiful handicrafts to gold and jewelry.

It is located in Beyazit, about 5 minutes by tram from Sultanahmet. Expect to spend at least 1 hour there.

Stop-4 -> Bosphorus Cruise (1,5 hours)

Typical Bosphorus boat tours start from the Eminonu pier in every hour. Take tram from Sultanahmet to Eminonu (10 minutes) and reach the Eminonu pier.

One Day in Istanbul: 2020 Local Expert Help with No Regrets

This is a popular, unique and fantastic forms of entertainment and sightseeing during your Istanbul stay. It is also one of the best ways to discover and enjoy the most beautiful sights and sounds of the city over the sea.

You’ll be able to explore the city at your own pace on board of the boat, and enjoy all the famous landmarks on the Boshphorus such as Dolmabahce Palace, Ortakoy Mosque, Rumeli Fortress, Maiden’s Tower and the Bosphorus Bridge.

Buy Bosphorus Cruise Tickets

Wanna learn more about Bosphorus Cruise?

Optional: Egyptian Spice Market (30 minutes)

If you think you’ll have enough time, visit the famous Egyptian Spice Market situated just across the Eminonu pier.

You are able to find about every kind of herbs and spices at the market, and as well as ingredients for cooking, Turkish delight and Turkish coffee. Expect to spend at least 30 minutes there.

Stop-5 -> Taksim & Istiklal Street (1,5 hours)

Take the tram from Emimonu to Kabatas (20 minutes – last stop), and take the funicular (5 minutes) to reach Taksim.

You’are now at Taksim Square. Take some photos along the square and start your walking tour through the Istiklal Street.

One Day in Istanbul: 2020 Local Expert Help with No RegretsIstiklal Street is probably the most famous street and entertainment area in Istanbul. It is a long colorful pedestrian street full of all kind of shops, restaurants, cafes and street shows.

You can visit one of these sights by entering inside: Madame Tussauds Wax Museum (30 minutes), the amazing St. Anthony of Padua Church (30 minutes) and Pera Museum (30 minutes).

You’ll finish off Istiklal Street heading Tunel Square and than walk downhill from the Galip Dede ramp until you reach the Galata Tower.

You’ll find and enjoy variety of lovely craft, souvenir and music shops as well as a couple of art galleries along the Galip Dede ramp.

Stop-5 -> Galata Tower (1 hour)

Galata Tower, topped with a distinctive witch’s-hat roof, is one of the most impressive and popular landmarks in Istanbul.

One Day in Istanbul: 2020 Local Expert Help with No RegretsDating back to 14th century, the tower is an old Genoese tower overlooking the city that rises to a height of 72 meters above its base.

Galata Tower serves as a popular tourist sight, that its observatory deck has a 360 degrees view of Istanbul.

There are two elevators in the entrance that takes you to the top. You’ll find amazing views of the Historical Peninsula, Golden Horn and Bosphorus on top that encompasses Istanbul. Take photos, as much as you can. Expect to spend about 30 to 45 minutes here.

Wanna learn more about Galata Tower?

Stop-6 -> Relax with a Snack or Drink (2 hours)

Have a snack or drink in one of the rooftop restaurants and cafes in Galata and Karakoy neighborhood, along with the beautiful views of Bosphorus.

If you have enough time, finish the night in one of the taverns, bars or restaurants at the Nevizade or Asmalimescit, along Istiklal Street in Taksim with a Turkish cuisine.

Or spend the night in one of the music clubs, bars or pubs in the Galata or Taksim neighborhood.

Or if you want something exciting, unique and special with lively shows, such as Turkish classical music, belly dancing, whirling dervishes, or folkloric shows, than we highly recommend the below programs:

Advice for Airport/Cruise Port Passengers

New Istanbul Airport (IST) layover passengers should be around Taksim or Sultanahmet as to catch the HAVAIST Airport Shuttle without hurry.

GALATAPORT cruise ship layover passengers should be around Galata or Karakoy as to access the port on foot in about 15-20 minutes.

Discount Cards & Combos Advice

We recommend you one of the below discount cards that covers all this daily attractions, including the IstanbulKart. They are by far the easiest and great value for money in the market.

Istanbul Welcome Card Premium

Valid for 7 days, free delivery to your hotel/airport pick-up and includes; Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace fast track entry tickets with 30 minutes guidance and Audio Guide App in 10 languages, Istanbulkart with 10 Rides, Bosphours Cruise (1,5 hours), Digital Guide Book and City Map.

Buy Istanbul Welcome Card Premium

Our website visitors will get 5% extra discount.


Combo Tickets for Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace & Basilica Cistern

Valid for 3 days, digital pass, no need a printed ticket, guidance service with certified guides.

Buy Combo Tickets

Our website visitors will get 5% extra discount.


Guided Istanbul Highlights Tours Advice

We recommend this kind of tours, especially for first time visitors. You are able to make the most of the city’s sights and sounds with a private guide and save yourself from the hassle of making an ideal one day to 3 days plan. All will be made by professionals and you’ll get skip the lines tickets, as well as pick-up and drop-off hotel transfer.

Highlights of Istanbul: 1 or 2-Day Private Guided Tour

This is Get Your Guide’s top selling and certified tour, which means it has gained one of the best traveler experiences.

You’ll discover the magic of Istanbul on a private 1 or 2-day walking tour with skip the line tickets. Enjoy a river cruise and guided tour of the city highlights, including the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Grand Bazaar, Spice Bazaar, Dolmabahce Palace, and Istiklal Street.

Duration: 7 hours – 2 days
Live tour guide: English, Spanish, German, Japanese
Pick-up from the front desk of your hotel in Istanbul

Book Highlights of Istanbul Guided Tour

Just click the red button above to buy your 1 or 2 Day Private Guided Tour of Istanbul online. We recommend you book in advance to guarantee your place.

Free cancellation up to 24 hours before activity starts


Istanbul: 1, 2 or 3-Day Private Guided Tour

This is also Get Your Guide’s top selling tour. Has great traveler ratings and comments.

You’ll see the sights of Istanbul that most interest you on a customized tour with private guide. Marvel at some of the city’s most significant sights including Topkapi Palace, Chora Church, Basilica Cistern, Fener-Balat neighboorhood, and many more.

Duration: 7 hours – 3 days
Live tour guide: Spanish, English, French, German, Italian
Pickup is available from centrally-located hotels in Istanbul, by your guide on foot.

Book Istanbul 1, 2 or 3-Day Guided Tour

Just click the red button above to buy your 1, 2 or 3-Day Private Guided Tour of Istanbul online. We recommend you book in advance to guarantee your place.

Free cancellation up to 24 hours before activity starts


Istanbul in One Day Highlights Tour

This is our collaborator Istanbul Welcome Card, providing in-depth guided tours in English to Istanbul’s most visited attractions. Has great traveler ratings and comments.

You’ll visit the iconic sites such as the Hagia Sophia, Basilica Cistern, Blue Mosque, Spice Bazaar, Topkapi Palace and Harem, learn the highlights of Istanbul from a local guide and discover the historical peninsula and learn the whole story of Istanbul.

Your local guide picks you up at 09:00 from your Hotel in Sultanahmet or Taksim area and together you will start discovering the city like a local with public transportation.

A 6-7 hours tour. A great value for money. You can cancel the reservation free of charge 14 days before departure.

Book Your Istanbul in One Day Highlights Tour


Please Get Us in the Comments Now

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