Tour Istanbul in One Day

Last Updated on February 17, 2024

Istanbul, the cultural capital of Turkey, holds great historical significance as it has been a gateway to various civilizations since the beginning of time. This city has been home to numerous empires and served as an imperial capital for almost 1600 years, including during the Roman Empire, Byzantine Empire, and Ottoman Empire.

The historic city of Istanbul, with its rich history, is an incredible city and continues to hold great significance in the world today. It is home to notable landmarks such as the Topkapi Palace, Grand Bazaar, Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Istanbul Archaeological Museum, and Galata Tower (Galata Kulesi), and is one of the most visited places in the world. Visiting Istanbul is an experience that everyone should have in their lifetime.

While one day for exploring Istanbul is such a short time to sightsee all the sites, luckily for those with little time, Istanbul's top sights are grouped right around the Hippodrome in  Sultanahmet Square, so it can be possible to visit them all on your first (or only) day. The challenge is that Istanbul is such a popular travel destination these days, especially in AprilMaySeptember, and  October, that lines or queues to enter can be very long. So, here are some methods you can use to skip the lines:

You can skip those long ticket lines at major sights by taking a tour, hiring a private guide, or buying a Museum Pass. Efendi Travel offers moderately priced one-day walking tours. For a premium tour, contact Istanbul Tour Studio. Also, you can reserve one of our recommended licensed private guides well in advance—their agendas fill up quickly. An alternative is the Museum Pass, which allows you to jump in line as well.

Moreover, if you are spending only one day in Istanbul, traffic can be another big problem if you need to make it to the Istanbul airport at the end of the day. So, if you have only a day or part of a day to see the sights in Istanbulefficient airport transport is essential. We recommend you consider the economical private airport transfersguided tours, and similar travel services of our friends at Efendi Travel in Sultanahmet. Efendi's professional drivers and airport welcome staff know the traffic situations at all times in Istanbul, and their GPS-tracking-equipped Mercedes vans and minivans can whisk you into the city to see the sights and return you to the airport in time for your onward flight.

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We provide the best professional guides for you. They are all government-licensed, university-graduated experts in their subjects. They will meet you at the reception of your hotel in the morning, and you will make your program together, which is totally flexible. All day, the stories and the lives you will hear from them will bring the city of Istanbul to life.

One-Day Istanbul Itinerary

Istanbul is a central strategic and cultural location, acting as a bridge connecting two continents between Europe and Asia, making it one of the most important cities in the world. The city is home to numerous historical sites and cultural artifacts, which could take a lifetime to explore. However, with efficient planning and a little bit of luck, it is possible to visit the most important sites in just a day, as Istanbul is a really walkable city, and they are located within walking distance of each other. Here is our Istanbul itinerary of popular Istanbul attractions for those who want to explore Istanbul in one day:


Topkapi Palace

(Opening hours and closing hours: 09:00–18:00, closed on Tuesdays.)

Topkapi Palace is where real Sultans lived back in the Ottoman Empire, and now a museum offers a glimpse into the life of an Ottoman Sultan. Here, you can also visit the Harem section, where the Sultan's wives would live and be trained in palace etiquette.

Ideally, after getting a traditional Turkish breakfast, get to Topkapi Palace (the first site of our busy day) at 8:45 a.m. and go straight to the Harem section, which gets overcrowded very easily. You can spend a generous 2–3 hours exploring all sections carefully.

Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya)

(Opening hours and closing hours: 08:00–18:00, open every day.)

Right next to Topkapi Palace is the key artifact of the city, Hagia Sophia, the world's largest cathedral and Christian church for nearly a thousand years. After the Ottoman Empire conquered Constantinople (former Istanbul), they turned the Hagia Sophia into a mosque. Today, it is a place where cultures and religions meet, and everyone must visit Hagia Sophia.

Right after visiting Topkapi Palace, go to Hagia Sophia. Don't miss the best mosaics on the upper level. Around 1 hour should be more than fair to explore. Read more about visiting Hagia Sophia in 2024.

Blue Mosque

(Opening hours and closing hours: 09:00–18:00, open every day.)

Just across the park from Ayasofya, on the Hippodrome, the famous Blue Mosque, also known as the Mosque of Sultan Ahmet III (Sultanahmet Camii) is always crowded and often closed for prayers during the Salah (Namaz in Turkish) times. Check the prayer times and plan your visit accordingly, or visit a different imperial mosque to save time and have a better-quality visit. Here, you can stay for 1 to 2 hours.


If you ever visit Istanbul or any city in Turkey, don't miss out on traditional Turkish cuisine, which is an important aspect of Turkish culture. Traditional meals such as kebab and iskender döner are among the most popular options. If you are short on time, you can also grab street food from local vendors, such as döner ekmek, balık ekmek, or kokoreç. Treat yourself to a delicious dessert, such as traditional baklava or tulumba, along with a cup of Turkish tea or coffee after your lunch to satisfy your sweet tooth. There are lots of restaurants on Divan Yolu, but prices are better in nearby Sirkeci and Hocapaşa.


Byzantine Hippodrome

The park in front of the Blue Mosque is the ancient Hippodrome, with two obelisks, a truncated snake column, and a fountain donated by Kaiser Wilhelm II. You can spend 1-2 hours around Hippodrome imagining the old glory of Constantinople.

Basilica Cistern

(Opening hours and closing hours: 09.00 – 22.00, open every day.)

The Basilica Cistern is the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns that lie beneath the city of Istanbul and is a great structural complex full of mystery. The movie Inferno (2016), starring Tom Hanks, also featured Basilica Cistern!

At the NE end of the Hippodrome, just across the street from Hagia Sophia, beneath the little park is the Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Saray Sarnıçı) of Istanbul. You can spend around 2 hours here.

Grand Bazaar

(Opening hours and closing hours: 08:30–19:00, closed on Sundays.)

Grand Bazaar is the oldest and largest historical closed bazaar in the world, with more than 4,000 shops across 60 lanes. It is the perfect place to admire history and do shopping simultaneously.

To reach Grand Bazaar, walk uphill on Divan Yolu from the Hippodrome and see the sights along the way, or take the tram along it to Çarşıkapı. An alternative, open every day of the week, is the Egyptian Bazaar (Spice Bazaar) by the Galata Bridge on the Golden Horn (Haliç). Don't lose track of time, as there are still places in Istanbul that need to be visited.

Bosphorus Cruise

If one of the above sights is not of interest, substitute a 75-minute cruise up the Bosphorus, in which you can look at this amazing city and Istanbul's skyline from a different perspective and learn about the history of the strait and the sites nearby from your local guide.


Turkish Bath (Hamam)

A Turkish bath has been popular in Turkey for thousands of years, with many surviving from Hellenic and Roman times. In hammams, bath attendants wash and massage you, and it can be amazingly refreshing after a long day! Here are suggested hamams.


After spending the day visiting historical sites and relaxing in a traditional Turkish hammam, it's time to feast on delicious Turkish cuisine. Istanbul has dozens of excellent restaurants for dinner.

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