We visited the city of Istanbul on a long layover and we fit so much into 24 hours. From the Grand Bazaar to Hagia Sophia, here’s our detailed itinerary.
The largest city in Turkey, Istanbul is also know as the ‘city of mosques’. The city has a whopping grand total of 3,113 mosques. Istanbul is the only city in the world that’s half in Asia and half in Europe. Istanbul isn’t even the capital city of Turkey – that honor goes to Ankara. Now, that the fun facts are out of the way let’s get down to business – how to make the most of your long layover in Istanbul.
If you like short & sweet vacations – you should read about our 24 hours in Alicante
First stop is always coffee. You only have a short stopover in Istanbul and a lot to fit in so caffeine is a necessity. Luckily, turkish coffee is famously good.
This ‘too cool for school’ neighbourhood across the river on the asian side is filled to the brim with quirky coffee shops along its (mainly) pedestrianised streets. We stopped in 180 Coffee Bakery who luckily for us have excellent baked goods (think muffins, tarts & cheesecakes) and really good bacon! After the (necessary) caffeine hit we strolled through the area took lots of photos and eyed up some restaurants and bars for later that evening.
Top tip – return here at dark! When the neighborhood is transformed into a bustling but relaxed haven.
Famous for the Galata Tower standing tall in the midst of this arty neighbourhood. I’ll be honest, when we saw the queue for the Galata Tower we were immediately turned off. We decided against queuing on that hot and sticky day. If you do want to visit the Tower, we recommend getting there as soon as it opens or just before it closes. We recommend familiarizing yourself with the Galata Tower opening hours.
We read somewhere that one of the best views in Istanbul and a very similar view to that from the tower is at Glata Konak Cafe. So we stopped by and attempted to get a cup of coffee. True – the views are excellent but it was so busy at the cafe that we didn’t even get the chance to order a coffee. We did manage to take lots of photos before we gave up on waiting for a server.
In short, come to Galata for the tower, stay for the cool vibe.
An obvious choice when in Istanbul – despite it being a major tourist attraction we thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Hagia Sophia. It’s well worth going inside, we were lucky because we didn’t have to queue at all – this was at 3pm. So, perhaps that’s a good time to visit. Hagia Sophia began as a church, later becoming a mosque, and today serves as a museum.
Did you know – until the Seville Cathedral was built in 1520, Hagia Sophia had been the largest cathedral in the world for almost 1000 years.
Get lost in the narrow twists and turns of Istanbul’s most famous shopping area. A haven of trinkets and everything you-don’t-really-need but will probably buy anyway. We didn’t bother making a purchase here, as I’ve a feeling everything is severely marked up in price. The Grand Bazaar of Istanbul is a tourist trap but it’s a tourist trap in the nicest sense of the word. Does that make sense? The Grand Bazaar is a must-visit on your stopover in Istanbul.
And if you still happen to have time left
Lucky you – then we recommend also paying a visit to Basilica Cistern; Topkapi Palace and Taxim Square. We researched a lot before our trip to Istanbul, wrote lots of recommendations in my diary and screenshotted from Instagram where we wanted to visit. Having a list of where you want to visit on a layover in Istanbul definitely helps, considering you will be tight on time.
Where we stayed on our long layover in Istanbul
We stayed at Kadikoy Port Hotel, smack bang in the middle of the action of lively Kadikoy. It was very reasonably priced and tastefully decorated with beautiful Turkish antique-style furniture. The staff here were also insanely helpful! On check-in they sit you down with some Turkish tea and give you a really detailed insight into the best things to do in Istanbul. And where not to go too – always helpful from a local.
Have I convinced you to layover in Istanbul?
In short, Istanbul is a bustling vibrant city. It’s a city of old vs new with the thousand year-old Hagia Sophia standing in stark contrast to the hipster youthful area of Kadikoy. But we loved both sides equally. Istanbul is well worth a layover – stay for a few days like we did if you can!