24 hours in ISTANBUL

Since Turkish Airlines often offers the best prices when going to South East Asia – and I heard that sometimes they might even be your best bet going to Latin America – a short stay anywhen soon might be quite probable.

Therefore, here comes another issue of my 24 hours in… series, designated to transform a short stay like a layover into an extra vacation.

Touristy Center of Istanbul during 24 hours.
Like One Thousand and One Nights.

Of course, this itinerary – one for a sunny and an alternative for a rainy day – is great not only for a layover. It comes in handy for any kind of brief stay – for instance when you’re on your way to a beach vacation on the Turkish coast.

icon bag of money Local Currency

1 US$ = 18.62 Turkish Lira (TRY) as of November 2022 / current rate

icon police car Emergency Contacts

Police 155

Emergency/Ambulance 112

National Airline

Turkish Airlines

image airport board Airports

Istanbul Airport / IATA-Code: IST
Sabiha Gökçen Airport / IATA-Code: SAW

Tourist Info

Meydanı – Sultanahmet (on the Hippodrome)
Open daily from 9 a. m. to 5 p. m.
Phone: + 90 – 212 – 518 18 02

mean of transportation Getting Downtown and Back

There is nothing easier than getting from Istanbul Airport to any place in the greater Istanbul area.

Riding the Tünel train is a great activity when for 24 hours in Istanbul
The Tünel Train is not only one of Istanbul’s landmarks: Although it’s the oldest and shortest train line, because
of the steep ascent, its services are highly appreciated.

Presuming that you’ll stay only 24 hours, the best way is to book yourself in a hotel in the Aksaray area. This way, you can take the HavaIst bus for 30 TRY.

Then, you should get an “Istanbulkart“, a sort of credit card that you have to tap up with an amount of your choice and eventually you use your credit on all public transport. One ride will cost you between 2.60 TRY and 4 TRY depending on the distance.

Following this itinerary you will need about 10 to 15 TRY – this is including the initial amount of 6 TRY. You can tap up at any time, and fares are significantly cheaper using this card instead of tokens.

Morning Activities

Sultan’s Palace

If you choose the below-stated hotel or another accommodation around Aksaray station, you find yourself in the perfect spot to go to all the places recommended.

So grab your Istanbulkart and off you go to Tophane station by tram T1 (towards Kabataş) – of course leaving at Aksaray.

Dolmabahce Palace, to be seen when for 24 hours in Istanbul
The building, the garden, the views -everything is romantic at Dolmabahçe.

Dolmabahçe’s foundation was installed by Sultan Ahmet I. at the beginning of the 17th century. Before, there was a bay.

Then at the beginning of the 19th century, Sultan Abdülmecit I. ordered to build a palace according to occidental royal architecture like for instance Versailles.

Finished in 1853, it was the Sultan’s main residence till the end of the Ottoman Empire.

However, Türkiye’s first president Kemal Atatürk died at Dolmabahçe on November 19, 1938.

Besides the palace there is also the Dolmabahçe Camii, its mosque, to be visited – and then you can relax for a while on a bench under the trees next to the Dolmabahçe Saatkulesi, the clock tower.

Dolmabahçe Palace 
Dolmabahçe – Beşiktaş
Phone: + 90 – 212 – 236 90 00

Open daily from 9 a. m. to 4 p. m. except for Mondays and Thursdays.

Note: Expect long queues for the tickets since, unfortunately, they don’t accept the Müzekart. Also, you can visit only with a guided tour. Albeit, it is included in your ticket.

Sultan’s Park

Ready for some more outdoor activities? Then let’s visit the Sultan’s park, the lush and serene Yıldız Parkı. It’s about 2 km / 1.5 mi East of  Dolmabahçe, but you have to walk along big roads with much traffic. So better walk back about five minutes to Kabataş station and take one of the buses like No. 22 or 30D to Yahya Efendi station.

At the park, you can just wander along the well-maintained walkways and maybe enjoy a cup of Turkish mocha at the Restoran Dahill overlooking the mighty Bosporus. However, you can combine your stroll with visits to the traces of the  Ottoman past around the park: The Yıldız Sarayı, the palace with the adjacent mosque, the Yıldız Camii.

Turkish Tea to be enjoyed when for  24 hours in Istanbul
Enjoy oriental delights: Turkish tea and baklava, a wedge of cake with nuts and honey.

Then, there are three small pavilions, the Çadır Köşkü, the Malta Köşkü, and the Şale Köşkü, which is actually part of the Yıldız Sarayı. At the Çadır Köşkü as well as the Malta Köşkü are very posh tea salons where you can enjoy refreshments and feel like an Ottoman noble.

Open daily from October to May from 9 a. m. to 6 p. m. and June to September from 9 a. m. to 8 p. m.
Entrance is free

Dahill Restaurant
Palanga Caddesi
Yıldız Parkı – Beşiktaş
Phone:  + 90 – 212 – 227 49 28

Yıldız Sarayı
Barbaros Bulvarı
Yıldız Parkı – Beşiktaş
Phone: + 90 – 212 – 258 53 44

Open Tuesday to Sunday 9 a. m. to 4.30 p. m.

Morning Activities

It’s definitely not difficult to spend an inspiring and fun day in Istanbul even though it’s raining. For instance, let’s visit some really cool museums and see some great Turkish contemporary art. We’ll get to the classics later.

A Hidden Gem

Let me lead you to a neighborhood that, nevertheless, at the first glance seems not very appealing: Maslak, Istanbul’s financial district up North next to the Technical University.

Proje4 Elgiz Museum not to be missed when for 24 hours in Istanbul
Azade Köker: Exploded Still-Life and
Jan Fabre: The Wall of the Rise of the Angels, an incredible cockroach dress  – only two of the many original works at the Elgiz

After a short walk from Aksaray to Yenikapı station, you take the Métro M2 towards Hacıosman. Then, get off at İtü-Ayazağa station.

Once there, walk down Dereboyu 2 Caddesi and turn right into Maslak Meydan Sokak. To your left, you’ll get to a big parking lot that you have to cross to reach Istanbul’s first venue of contemporary art – the Projet4/Elgiz.

Dr. Can Elgiz, an architect and building contractor, started to collect modern art in the 1980s and is so kind to present it to the public at his museum – for free! Besides the permanent collection, the special sculpture exhibits on the gallery’s rooftop are worth the visit – and the long ride out here.

Elgiz Museum
Beybi Giz Plaza 34398
Maslak – Istanbul
Phone: +90 – 212 – 290 25 25

Open from Wednesday to Saturday 10 a. m. to 5 p. m. (Saturday 4 p. m.)
Entrance is free

In this post, you get more details on the Elgiz Museum, one of my favorite galleries in the world.

A Contemporary Institution

While the Elgiz is definitely a hidden gem worth to be discovered, there’s another gallery introducing a wide range of contemporary Turkish artists, it’s the Istanbul Modern.

Istanbul Modern to be visited when for 24 hours in Istanbul
Istanbul Modern: Cool, exquisite art (Photo: Sinan Koçaslan/Istanbul Modern) 

To get there from the Elgiz museum is easy since you take the Métro M2 at İtü-Ayazağa station towards Yenikapı and get off at Şişhane.

I hope it’s not raining too hard since now you have to walk about ten minutes down Kumbaracı Yokuşu towards the Bosporus and then turn left on Meclis-i Mebusan Caddesi.

The Istanbul Modern houses a fantastic collection of modern and contemporary Turkish artists including paintings, sculptures, and videos. In addition, it’s the main venue of the Istanbul Biennial.

Istanbul Museum of Modern Art
Meclis-i Mebusan Caddesi
Liman İşletmeleri Sahası, Antrepo  4
Karaköy – İstanbul

Open from Tuesday to Sunday 10 a. m to 6 p. m. (Thursday to 8 p. m.)

Regular admission is 72 TL for foreigners.


Time for lunch?

Fish Lunch
Fresh fish for lunch.

What better way of combining one of Istanbul’s most important sights – the Galata bridge with groups of fishing men standing, sitting, and sprawling around while waiting for the fishes to bite – and sampling some of their catch next to the waters of the mighty Bosporus?!
The bridge’s lower part is packed with fish restaurants, but unfortunately, I have to warn you that they are all overpriced tourist traps.
Exquisite quality at a good price – this is what you get at Tarihi Karaköy Balikçısı not far from the bridge on the ‘Golden Horn’.

To get there, take bus No. 30D at Yahya Efendi station and get off at Karaköy station. From there, you walk all the way down Kürekçiler Kapısı Sokak and you practically cannot miss the restaurant. Coming on a rainy day from the Istanbul Modern, you better take tram T1 at Tophane and get off at Karaköy.

Tarihi Karaköy Balikçısı
Tersane Cad.
Kardeşim Sok. 30
Phone: + 90 – 212 – 243 40 80

Afternoon Activities

After lunch, you might want to walk a little so it comes in handy that you have to cross Galata bridge, anyway. You can either walk all the way to the Topkapı palace which is about 2,5 km / 1.5 mi so it takes about 30 minutes, or you cross the bridge walking and hop on the tram T1 at Eminönü, or you just take it right away at Karaköy station and save your energy for exploring the palace.

I explicitly don’t recommend the Istanbul Tourist Pass – it costs 115 € including nonsense like a free shuttle from the airport (one way!); that’s absolutely outrageous!

On the other hand, I might want to get a museum pass, the ‘Müzekart‘ for 325 TL. It’s good for five days, but if you visit lots of the landmarks, it might even pay if you use it only for one day.

Also, another advantage is absolutely priceless: You don’t have to wait in line, but can walk straight in.

Once you see the queue in front of Hagia Sofia and Topkapı Palace, you will thank me for this tip.

Topkapı Palace

It was Sultan Mehmet II who began the construction of the palace right after the conquest of Constantinople in 1453.

Faience at Topkapi palace to be seen  when for 24 hours in Istanbul
There is gold and there are diamonds and pearls, but I think
I love the faience the most.

Over the centuries various significant transformations took place so that the Topkapı Palace got its present appearance only in the early 18th century. Following Turkish tradition, the palace is not one big building but consists of many individual dwellings and pavilions. The entire complex has a size of 69 hectares / 170 acres and housed up to 5000 people; it was like a town of its own. Besides the beautiful gardens and incredibly decorated buildings, there are a couple of fascinating museums showing all the splendor and opulence of the Ottoman royalties. Although I’m a big fan of contemporary art and love the modern galleries in Istanbul, I find that the Topkapı Palace is the most important sight to visit when in Istanbul since for me it’s the cradle of Turkish culture.

Topkapı Palace Museum
Fatih – Istanbul
Phone: +90 – 212 – 512 04 80
Email: topkapisarayimuzesi@kulturturizm.gov.tr

Opening hours are from Wednesday to Monday:
October 30th – April 15th 9 a. m. to 4.45 p. m. and
April 15th – October 30th 9 a. m. to 6.45 p. m.

Sultanahmet Arkeolojik Park

Once you are at Sultanahmet, you should absolutely do what everybody does because in this case, everybody is right.

Arkeoloji Parki Sultanahmet to be visited when for 24 hours in Istanbul
When in Türkiye do as the Turks do – strolling around
the Sultanahmet Arkeolojik Park.

Go to see the enormous structures of Ayasofya Camii and the spiritual atmosphere of the Sultan Ahmet Camii; both buildings are just a stone’s throw from the palace around the Sultanahmet Arkeolojik Park.

There cannot be a visit to Türkiye without a visit to one of the many tumultuous markets. So you should end your sightseeing at the Kapalı Çarşı, the big covered market. From Sultanahmet, it’s just a mile so you can actually walk there. If you are tired of walking, take tram T1 at Sultanahmet station and get off at Çemberlitaş.
You’ll find the exact entrance address below in the afternoon activities for a rainy day.

Afternoon Activities

Even if it’s raining cats and dogs, you absolutely have to see Topkapı Palace which prides itself to have many beautifully decorated rooms and halls as well as exhibitions of different treasures like weapons, costumes, and precious stones. From the lunch place you walk back to Karaköy station where you take tram T1 to Sultanahmet.

İstanbul Arkeoloji Müzesi

For info to this visit please refer to the sunny afternoon activities above.

Alexander Sarcophagus from the late 4th century
One of the museum’s most impressive finds: The Alexander Sarcophagus from the late 4th century. (Robot8A, Istanbul Feb 2020 11 37 44 776000, cropped 2:3 and realigned, CC BY-SA 4.0)

If after the visit to the Palace you still have time, I recommend a visit to the very nice and interesting İstanbul Arkeoloji Müzesi which was founded in 1891 as the main archeological museum of the Ottoman Empire and is until now Türkiye’s largest and most important archeological museum. Next to the mesmerizing sights around – like the Topkapı Palace, the Sultan Ahmet Camii, the Ayasofya Camii, and the Yerebatan Sarayı it is highly underrated.

İstanbul Arkeoloji Müzesi
Osman Hamdi Bey Yokusu
Sultanahmet – İstanbul
Phone: + 90 – 212 – 520 77 40

The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday from 9 a. m. to 7 p. m.

Kapalı Çarşı – The Covered Market

Everybody knows that the markets are an important part of the oriental culture, and you are lucky since in Istanbul is a huge covered market that you can visit even on a rainy day.

Kapali Carsi
The blueprint for occidental malls:
The Kapalı Çarşı, Istanbul’s covered market.

It’s not very far from the Arkeoloji Müzesi, so if it’s not raining too hard you can actually walk the mile; otherwise, just take tram T1 at Gülhane station and get off at Çemberlitaş.

Mahmutpaşa Bazaar Gate
Taya Hatun Mahallesi
Mahmutpaşa Yokuşu Sokak 4
Fatih – Istanbul

After you’ve shopped – and before you drop – let’s grab some hearty Turkish dinner. To the diner, it’s only a short walk of about ten minutes.


There are many restaurants everywhere – and in the highly touristy Sultanahmet neighborhood, you should be careful because the owners tend to add an unexpected tourist surcharge.

Rich’n’healthy salad for dinner.

Anyway, I absolutely love the very Turkish fast-food chain Köfteci Ramiz that you’ll find at many locations all around Istanbul – and the rest of Türkiye, for that matter.

Not only do they offer delicious Turkish burgers – ‘Köfte’ – the best and most impressive part is their salad bar offers far more than tomato, carrot, and iceberg lettuce: There are all these exotic beets and sprouts and herbs – and everything is arranged with so much abandon and an eye for detail. Go and try it out – it is so good!

Köfteçi Ramiz 
Bab-ı Ali Cad.
Himaye-i Ekfal Sk. 17
Phone: + 90 – 212 – 527 13 40
Email: cagalogluistanbul@kofteciramiz.com

The diner is open from 9 a. m. to 9 p. m.


Instead of a ‘nightcap’, I recommend you see the really mesmerizing ceremony of the whirling dervishes.

Whirling Dervishes
Whirling Dervishes.

There are various venues – sometimes combined with a dinner. This touristy show is definitely not the real thing, so I recommend the Turkish Cultural Dance Theater & Whirling Dervishes Ceremony. You have to make a reservation and only then they supply you with the address. I can tell you it’s behind the Sultanahmet Arkeolojik Park towards the Bosporus.
It’s a ten minutes walk from the diner to the ceremony’s venue.

To get to the Amethyst Hotel after the ceremony, you walk to the Sultanahmet station and take tram T1 to Aksaray station.

illustration of a bed Accommodation

Especially if you are on a layover and need to get back to the airport in the early morning, staying close to Aksaray station at the Amethyst Hotel Laleli* makes things much easier.

Map – sunny day itinerary

Map – rainy day itinerary


You know that I am always keen to supply you not only with correct information but like to add links so you have the chance to re-check. I’m sorry to say that doing this for the Istanbul post was impossible: Many sites are pure scams or impossible to navigate or my computer warned me to open them – it was just pathetic! So I’m terribly sorry that you don’t find as many links to the venues as in my other articles, yet I hope that this post will be useful and help you have a great time in Istanbul – and if it’s only for 24 hours.

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Note: I’m completing, editing, and updating this post regularly – last in November 2022.

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7 Replies to “24 hours in ISTANBUL”

  1. On the travel wish list! Would love to visit Istanbul. You had a very busy 24 hours. We would surely love to have fresh fish right where the fishing men were working. And the covered markets are always a fun treat. Good to know that the museum pass may be a better deal that the city pass.

  2. On both trips, I stayed just around the corner from the Galata Tower – however, I never climbed it. Still something to go back for 😉

  3. I have been living in Istanbul for 7 years and I love this city. It can get a little too loud sometimes, but it still has its charm. I fell in love with it the minute I landed here back in 2012 when I came on vacation. It has been my home since 2013.
    Just a note: the Ataturk airport has closed now and is only operating cargo flights. The new Istanbul airport replaced it 🙂

  4. I love that Turkish Airlines offers the free tour when you have a long layover. It allowed us to spend a great day exploring both the Asian and European side and included a meal and snacks. Awesome benefit of flying with TA. On the return trip, we booked a personal tour and explored the city with a local food guide and all I can say is I can’t wait to go back.

  5. One of the stops I always recommend for tourists is a trip up the Galata Tower, just over the river from the Galata bridge. A view from the top of there really puts the scope of this city in perspective, and you can play spot the mosque, which are handy landmarks when walking around the city.

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