Only got 1 day in Istanbul, eh?
Google no further - I’ve got the plan for you.
I’m not a local. I just did a bit of research for you, traveled there, and visited these spots.
Stay: Galata area (not Sultanahmet)
What to do:
⛅️ Morning (8am — 10am):
- Drink Turkish Coffee at any one of the cute cafes in Galata.
- Grab Turkish delights & baklava from any of the amazing baklava stores (to-go).
🌞 Prenoon — Afternoon (10am — 4pm):
- Walk (or take the train… there's only one line) from Galata to Sultanahmet
- Visit the Basilica Cisterns
- Tour the Topkapı Palace
- Walk around the Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, and the Grand Bazaar. They’re sort of in the same walkable area, be warned that the lines (queues) are killer
- Get a massage at a hamam
🌆 Evening (4pm — 9pm):
- Return to Galata and get a reservation for dinner with a view of the Bosphorous
🌚 Night (9pm — ?):
- Head to Taksim Square. It really has Lan Kwai Fong vibes (if you’ve ever been to Hong Kong).
Istanbul is filled with history. It’s a gorgeous city, and it’s a shame that the US media portrays it so negatively.
Istanbul connects Asia and Europe (and when you’re there, you’ll hear the city referred to as the Asian side or the European side). Like literally, it’s the junction between Asia and Europe.
The Bosphorous Strait historically has been an important ‘gate’ connecting Africa, Europe, and Asia Minor.
The City initially was the Greek city of Byzantium in 600 BC. Captured by the Christian King Constantine in 330 AD and renamed Constantinople, later conquered by the Islamic Ottoman Turks in 1453, which was dissolved post-WWII, and is now known as the Republic of Türkiye.
There are great YouTube videos, books, and podcasts on Istanbul’s deeper history, but if you keep the Greeks, Constantine, Ottoman, and post-WWII Turkey in mind, seeing the dancing tapestry of each of these phases is vibrantly obvious at every nook of the City.
OK, getting to the itinerary.
Stay in the Galata area. Many blogs recommend to stay in Sultanahmet, but if you want to be on the grittier, cooler, and hipper part of town — stay in Galata.
Drink some Turkish coffee from any of the cute cafes in Galata and pick up some Turkish Delights or Baklava (I couldn’t find any vegan ones, BTW).
Selfie central is mostly in the Sultanahmet area, south of Galata. From Galata, you can either walk across the bridge or take the train. The train is ~4 minutes ride and comes every 10 minutes. You’ll find stops on Kemeraltı Cd. the closest stops are either Karaköy or Tophane.
If you visit one spot you have to visit the Basilica Cistern. Snap some IG-worthy photos, but more importantly, if you’re a history buff you’ll love the significance of the cisterns to Istanbul. The cisterns used to provide filtered water for the palaces that were surrounding the area including the Topkapı Palace. They were built in the 6th century and feature an upside-down Medusa head.
After the conquering of Constantinople, the Ottomans began construction of the Topkapi Palace in 1459. The architecture, design, and tiling are stunning & typical of the Ottoman style. King Mehmet II and the kings who followed continued to add building after building and layer after layer to the now beautiful compound that overlooks the Bosphorous. There is a TON of material online on the castle, so I won’t bother with that — but definitely take the tour. Don’t forget to visit Hagia Irene (outside the Palace). My buddy added in the Harem Tour, but I didn't. 🤷🏾♂️ Comment below, if you do.
The letter at the end of the Topkapı is not an ‘i’ its a dotless i, a letter common to Turkish. From Wikipedia; the exact pronunciation is made by shaping your lips to say e (as in bread), but trying to say u (as in you) instead.
The hamam is a Turkish bath house inspired by the Roman therme. I’d recommend going to the one near the Hagia Sophia, but just search online and see where you can get a reservation. Trip Advisor would be your friend here, making sure you get the highest reviewed place given reservation availability.
Himanshu and I felt like sultans after the massage.
Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, and the Grand Bazaar
There's a ton of information on these, and most tour guides will take you here — so give them a visit (because they’re all in a walkable area).
Dinner on the Bosphorous
Luckily for us, we have an amazing Sutro support agent, Levent, that lives in Istanbul. There are A LOT of restaurants on the Bosphorous. Just walk up and down the waterway in Galata. Really good food, drinks, and vibes. Go bar hopping!
After dinner and a few cocktails, head up to Taksim Square. I didn’t get any photos (wasn’t in the right state of mind), but there are super cool clubs, bars, and small little restaurants. It almost feels like the city doesn’t sleep.
That's it! If you visit Istanbul, comment below with updates on what you did and where you went.
Music I was listening to while I wrote this
While in Germany, I’ve been getting a bit into German rap. This track Ohne Uns from Dicht & Ergreifend is super good!
This is day 35 of my #90DayOfProse challenge.
The meta image was generated via Midjourney via the prompt “beautiful Istanbul from Constantinople to the Ottomans”.