2 Days in Istanbul: Getting the Most From Your City Break (6 minute read)

(Last Updated On: August 30, 2023)

There’s something brilliant about a city break isn’t there? Jetting somewhere new for a whirlwind 48 hours or so. Seeing the sights, enjoying some nice food, and making it back home in time for work on Monday. And in a time when people around the world are seeing their incomes squeezed, short stays and city breaks are better for the budget too. For travellers from Europe, parts of Asia, and Africa, Istanbul in Turkey is a popular choice. This cosmopolitan city sits with a foot in both Europe and Asia, offers spectacular sights, delicious food and hospitable locals. It’s an excellent choice for a last-minute city break. Here is our recommended itinerary if you’re planning a short Istanbul city break.

Getting to Istanbul

You will most likely fly to Istanbul, which is served by two airports. Istanbul International Airport opened in 2019 and is more conveniently located on the European side. If you are flying into the city with a budget airline, then your more likely destination is Sabiha Gokcen on the Asian side. This airport is a fair drive from the city centre, though it is served by taxis and buses.

Where to stay

One of the most important decisions when planning a city break is where to stay. If you’re only in a city for 48 hours, you cannot afford to be spending lots of time travelling, so you want a city centre (or at least close to the city centre!) location. And of course, you want the best service possible and plenty of amenities.

On our award-winning Turkey group tours, three of the hotels we use regularly in Istanbul are the DoubleTree by Hilton Piyalepasa (5 star), the Ramada Old City Hotel (4 star) and the Kent Hotel (4 star). The DoubleTree offers a free shuttle into the city centre, and the Kent is located within walking distance of the Grand Bazaar. The Ramada is close to the Blue Mosque and the rooftop bar offers sweeping views of the Sea of Marmaris. Both offer plenty of amenities including free Wi-Fi, and the DoubleTree also boasts a swimming pool.

The DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Istanbul - Piyalepasa
The DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Istanbul – Piyalepasa

Day 1

If it’s your first time in Istanbul, there are certain non-negotiables for sightseeing! Istanbul is a fascinating, vibrant city with a rich history and plenty of incredible attractions to visit. The Blue Mosque dominates the city skyline. It’s the most famous of the more than 3,100 mosques in Istanbul and the only one with six minarets. If visiting, remember to dress conservatively and not show off any skin, as you may be denied entry.

The Byzantine Hagia Sofia is equally as impressive and actually even older than the Blue Mosque. Dating back to the year 325 AD it has survived several devastating fires and is well worth a visit. Other must-do activities include an hour or two browsing the Grand Bazaar, and a trip to Topkapi Palace, which was home for four centuries of Ottoman sultans. On our City of Sultans short stay in Istanbul, you’ll see all of these attractions and more on a guided sightseeing tour.

It’s a good idea to get the main sightseeing done on your first day, so you can revisit anywhere you fall in love with on day 2, and free up some time for shopping, eating and mooching around! It’s also worth noting if visiting Istanbul for the weekend that the Grand Bazaar is closed on Sundays, so get your souvenir shopping done before then.

The Blue Mosque is sure to be a highlight of your Istanbul city break
The Blue Mosque, with its six imposing minarets

Day 2

On your second day, you can tick off any of the main attractions you didn’t visit the day before. And there are certain other activities we strongly recommend. A dinner cruise on the Bosphorus Strait is an unforgettable experience. This body of water divides Istanbul and acts as the dividing line between Europe and Asia.

You must also devote some of your Istanbul city break to sampling some of the famous street food. Simit is a sesame seed bread often eaten as breakfast. Balik ekmek, a traditional fish sandwich, is best consumed by the Bosphorus. Maraş Dövme Dondurmasi Turkish ice cream should be washed down with a traditional coffee, and it goes without saying you cannot come to Istanbul without tucking into some baklava!

One last activity you may wish to embrace is a visit to a Hamam. These bathhouses are a staple in Turkish culture, and often feature stunning Ottoman architecture as a bonus. This won’t appeal to everyone, but a visit is a great way to round off your city break.

A Bosphorus cruise is a must for any Istanbul city break
A Bosphorus cruise is a must for any Istanbul city break

Pros of booking a tour

Whilst many travellers opt to explore Istanbul solo, booking a short tour such as our 4-day City of Sultans for your Istanbul city break does have its pros. You will take the most efficient route to the city’s main attractions on a guided tour, seeing all the main sights and benefiting from the services of our dedicated guides. Your accommodation is included, as are many of your meals. And a range of different accommodation standards can be booked to suit your budget. An airport arrival transfer is also included, this can be particularly handy if flying into Sabiha Gokcen airport.

If you’d like more information about the trip, then don’t hesitate to get in touch today!