Once a French poet said: “If one had but a single glance to give to the world, one should gaze on Istambul”. And with that said, you can imagine how beautiful Istanbul is. The Turkish capital is a gateway between continents, Europe and Asia. A place where Orient meets Occident, a mixture of cultures with a vibrant atmosphere. For all these reasons Istanbul should be on your bucket list.
Located between Asia and Europe, Istanbul is the only city of the world with land in two continents. Therefore it is ideally located to travel from many countries, Russia, Middle-East, India and all of Europe basically. Usually one can find cheap flights from any of these places to Istanbul, making it a perfect place to do a stopover or a long weekend. For example, Dubai to Istanbul flights may cost as little as 200 USD.
The ideal time to visit Istanbul is 4 days but in case you are just passing by and only have one day to visit the city, we elaborated a 24 hours guide of Istanbul, with all the points of interest you must visit.
Although Istanbul has so much to offer we will focus on the main historical attractions, that are all situated in the district of Sultanahmet. The most known historic sites are all concentrated in this district and are within walking distance. Besides the historical attractions, you will find plenty of bazaars, restaurants, and hotels.
How to get from Istanbul Ataturk Airport to Sultanahmet?
The best way to get to Sultanahmet from the main airport, Ataturk Airport is by Metro. The Metro station is underneath the airport, you will need to catch the M1A in the direction to Yenikapi and get off in Zeytinburnu station, from there you will need to catch the train T1 (blue) in the direction to Sultanahmed. The voyage takes about 1 hour.
The other option is to catch a taxi directly to Sultanahmet, it is more expensive but easy, just be careful with taxi scams and make an agreement on a price before you start the trip.
What are the top attractions to visit if you only have a weekend in Istanbul?
Aya Sophia is one of the most famous attractions in Istanbul. It was consecrated as a church in 537 AC by the Byzantine emperor and then converted to a mosque by the Sulton Mehmet II in 1453. Nowadays it is a museum where you can admire the influences of Byzantium and Ottoman architecture. The church/mosque has an impressive dome and a mixture of Christian and Muslim features. One of the cooler aspects of the museum is the gold mosaics on the walls.
Try to arrive early or you will find plenty of people and a big queue to enter, the ticket price is 40 Turkish Liras, 9 USD.
The Blue Mosque is just on the opposite side of Aya Sophia, so close that from one you can see the other. The interior of the Mosque is filled with Blue tiles, thus its name. It is one of the most beautiful and iconic Mosques in the world. Built by the Sultan Ahmet I in 1617 AC. The Mosque has an impressive architecture with plenty of domes, it has 6 minarets and a big courtyard. The interior has a huge praying space. It is magnificently decorated with thousands of windows, truly a place to contemplate.
The Mosque is closed to tourists during prayer times. It is a place of worship, so you need to dress appropriately. There are scarfs by the entrance, and you have to take off your shoes.
You will need time to visit the Topkapi Palace, at least an afternoon. It’s one of the biggest attractions in Istanbul, both because of its size and the number of visitors it receives. Topkapi Palace was built in the XV century by Sultan Mehmet II on the top of a small hill and it was the political center of the Ottomans. The palace is so big that’s considered a city within the city of Istanbul.
To enter the palace one has to buy a ticket of 40 Turkish Lari, about 9 USD.
Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar is one of the oldest and biggest Bazaars in the world. Be aware that you can spend much more time in it that you originally planned! On purpose or not, you can easily lose yourself inside, several times… To put things in perspective, on a normal day between 250 000 and 400 000 people visit this market and more than 20 000 work there!
In such a big market you can find anything and everything, from jewelry to food, from furniture to spices, passing through carpets, leathers and casual clothes! If you need it, you’ll probably find it in the Grand Bazaar. Even if you don’t want to buy anything we strongly advise you to visit the Grand Bazaar! It’s rightfully considered the heart of the Istanbul for centuries now and the place where you’ll experience its the colorful and chaotic life.
Either because you have a long stopover or you want a short escapade, you really should consider Istanbul as one of your next travel destinations. It has a great culture, many historical sites, it’s easy to get to the center from the airport and it’s a very budget friendly destination!