If you are passing through Istanbul and have only one day to spend sightseeing, we have just the guide for you. It’s impossible to experience all Istanbul has to offer in one day, but with our list, you’ll visit some of the most important places in Istanbul and get a feeling of the general vibe of the city. Here’s the plan for your one and only day in Istanbul.
Even if you have very limited time in Istanbul, Hagia Sophia is the place not to be missed. Having witnessed fires, earthquakes and rebellions, Hagia Sophia is a true hallmark of the city. The first two structures couldn’t survive the turbulent past of Istanbul, but the third one which is still standing today has survived since the 6th century. During its long history, Hagia Sophia has first been an important Orthodox Church for the Byzantine Empire and a cherished mosque for the Ottoman Empire. After the Republic of Turkey was established, Hagia Sophia was converted to a museum.
Today, it gets millions of visitors each year and fascinates these visitor with its ground-breaking architecture and interior. Being a must-see attraction, Hagia Sophia inevitably has a long line everyday, but you can skip it by getting yourself a skip-the-line ticket with a guided tour.
Blue Mosque is an architectural masterpiece built by one of history’s most respected architects, Sedefkar Mehmet Aga. It was built facing Hagia Sophia as an Ottoman masterpiece to stand against it, which makes visiting both of them on the same day very easy.
Blue Mosque’s elaborate design and looks are not just found on the outside, on the inside it’s breath-taking as well. Each of the lower piers are covered with about 20,000 handmade tiles and higher-level piers are covered with tiles that show even more color. The dominant color of these tiles is blue, which is where the name of the mosque comes from.
When visiting Blue Mosque, please be mindful of your clothing and try not to wear revealing clothes since this religious ground is still used by citizens of Istanbul for praying.
Basilica cistern is another important and beautiful historical artifact located very close to HagiaSophia and Blue Mosque. Basilica Cistern is the largest remaining cistern from the Byzantine Empire. It was used to collect and store water for the city. It was forgotten by the empire and its citizens some time after local inhabitants left, and was rediscovered by a scholar after the Ottoman Empire took control of the city. This scholar talked to the locals and found out they could collect water by lowering buckets into holes in their basements. It was later understood they were using the Basilica Cistern.
Today, only a fraction of the water capacity of the cistern is used so that the visitors can enter and take in the interior atmosphere. Basilica Cistern is on the must-see-list of almost every visitor, which makes this beautiful location a tourist attraction with long lines. To avoid losing time on your only day in Istanbul, we recommend getting a skip-the-line ticket with a guided tour.
Last but not least, Topkapi Palace is the best place to catch a glimpse of the enigmatic life of Ottoman Sultans. When you enter this place, you’ll get a unique feeling as if each room is presenting you with a piece of 5-century-long history. During these 5 centuries, the palace was home to the sultans and their families, along with other people of their courts. Politicians, courtiers, and euniches resided and worked here too, making plans and hatching schemes. Topkapi Palace is vast, with the harem section alone having 300 rooms.
In order to get the most out of your visit and spend your time learning about the palace’s meaning and history, we strongly suggest getting a skip-the-line ticket. Not wasting time and getting the most out of your visit are important when you have only one day.
After you finish sightseeing, one of the best things Istanbul has to offer is watching the sunset on a boat with a cool drink in your hand. With a sunset cruise, you can enjoy Istanbul under vibrant sunset colors. Istanbul’s skyline is a very unique sight with the minarets and skyscapers showing two differect sides of the city all at once. And the best place to enjoy it is on a boat between Europe and Asia. If you’d like to experience our favorite activity in Istanbul, you can get information about some of the best companies from our Bosphorus Tours page here.