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You have 12 hours in Istanbul. Where would you go? Its a hard decision to make. There are plenty of choices and alternatives.

Would you go see the old city and visit the most famous temples of Istanbul: Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque or Suleymaniye Mosque or do you fancy having a private cruise along the Bosphorus Strait and afterwards sit down for a relaxed lunch at one of those nice fish restaurants? How about an afternoon walk through the pedestrian Istiklal Avenue which has the nicest examples of 19th century Art Nouveau movement and listen to street musicians as they make their own music?

Plan your perfect day in Istanbul

This post is to help you plan your perfect day in Istanbul. Whether you visit the old city or do the other alternative areas of Istanbul make sure to read our one day guide before you plan your day.

tumblr_inline_nak8x96Mjj1s5cw821) Decide which area(s) and places you want to visit

Istanbul is a huge city. Its approximately 5000km2, which means its nearly three times bigger than London. First, make a list of places you want to visit and then do a research on how to move between these different areas.


Below you can find our recommendations of places to visit filtered by their areas:

Sultanahmet Area (old city)

Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Mosque in Turkish)
Hagia Sophia Museum (Ayasofya in Turkish)
Underground Cistern (Yerebatan Sarnıcı in Turkish)
Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum
Topkapı Palace Museum
Istanbul Archeology Museum
Hagia Irene Museum
Grand Bazaar

Eminonu Area

Spice Bazaar
New Mosque
Rustem Pasha Mosque
Old Train Station of Orient Express (Sirkeci Train Station)
Galata Bridge

Süleymaniye neighbourhood

Süleymaniye Mosque
Süleymaniye Library
Istanbul University


Chora Museum (Kariye Müzesi)
Old city walls of Constantinople
Tekfur Sarayı (Ruins of the last Byzantine Imperial Palace)

Fener and Balat neighbourhoods

Phanar Greek Ortodox Patriarchate
Phanar Greek Ortodox College (known as Red School)
Historical Jewish and Greek district of Istanbul
Traditional Balat houses
Greek Ortodox Churches and Ayazma’s such as Church of St. Mary of the Mongols or Panagia Vlaherna Church

Taksim and Istiklal Avenue

Taksim Square – city center of Istanbul
Istiklal Avenue (pedestrian)
Saint Antoan Roman Catholic Church
Fish market
Flower Passage
Haccopulo Passage
European Passage
Pera Museum
Art galleries: Galerist, Arter, Galeri Nev or Salt Istiklal

Galata and Karaköy neighbourhood

Galata Tower
Café’s and Turkish designer stores by Serdar-i Ekrem Street
Salt Galata
Turkish Jewish Museum
Café’s of Karaköy neighbourhood
Rooftop Russian Ortodox Churches of Karaköy
Istanbul Museum of Modern Art

Shores of Bosphorus Strait (European side)

Ortaköy neighbourhood
Kuruçeşme neighbourhood
Arnavutköy neighbourhood
Bebek neighbourhood
Rumeli Hisari neighbourhood (north of Istanbul)

Asian Side

Kadıköy area
Moda neighbourhood
Uskudar neigbourhood
Leanders Tower (near Uskudar area)

2) Pick a nice lunch spot!

There are so many good restaurants in Istanbul. Turkish cuisine is simply beautiful, healthy and of course delicious! Below you can find some recommendations, these are our all time favourite eateries in Istanbul by areas:

tumblr_inline_nakeneai7c1s5cw82Sultanahmet Area (old city)

Four Seaons Sultanahmet (International Cuisine) *****
Balıkçı Sabahattin, Sultanahmet (Fish) ****
Giritli, Sultanahmet (Fish) ***

Grand Bazaar Area

Aslan Restaurant, Grand Bazaar (Daily home-made Turkish food) **
Havuzlu Restaurant, Grand Bazaar (Daily home-made Turkish food) **
Gül Ebru Kantin, Grand Bazaar (Döner Kebap) **
Dönerci Şahin Usta, Grand Bazaar (Döner Kebap) **
Nar Lokanta, Grand Bazaar (Contemporary Anatolian Cuisine) ***

Eminonu Area

Hamdi Kebap, Emionu (Kebap) ***
Fener and Balat neighbourhoods
Köfteci Arnavut
Café Vodina

Karaköy neighourhood

Karaköy Lokantası, Karaköy (Daily home-made Turkish food)***
Naif, Karaköy (Daily home-made Turkish food) ***
Fasuli, Karaköy (Specialist in beans) **
Istanbul Modern Museum of Art Café, Tophane (International Cuisine) ****

Taksim, Istiklal Avenue and Galata Area

Galata Kivahan, Galata (Southeast Anatolian Cuisine) ***
Fıccın, Istiklal Avenue (Daily home-made Turkish food) ***
Zencefil, Taksim (Vegeterian) ***
Yeni Lokanta, Kumbaraci Yokusu, Istiklal Avenue (Contemporary Turkish Cuisine) ****

Shores of Bosphorus Strait

The House Café, Ortaköy (International Cuisine) ****
Adem Baba, Arnavuktöy (Fish) ***
Takanik, Arnavutköy (Fish) ***
Poseidon, Bebek (Fish) *****
Mangerie, Bebek (Contemporary Turkish and International Cuisine) ****
Lucca, Bebek (International Cuisine) ****


Asitane Restaurant, Edirnekapi (Fine Ottoman Cuisine)****
Uludağ Kebapçısı, Yeşilköy, close to Ataturk International Airport, (Kebap) ***
Aşkana Mantı, Ulus (Specialist in Turkish Ravioli: Mantı) ***
Bayramoglu Döner, Kavacık (Döner Kebap) **
Asian Side
Uskumru, Asian side (Fish) ***
Tapasuma, Çengelköy (Contemporary Mediterranean Cuisine) ****
Çiya, Kadıköy (Southeast Anatolian Cuisine) ***
Average**, Above average***, Expensive****

3) Choose your medium(s) of transportation

Although Istanbul transportation system is very complicated for first time visitors, there is always a way to get around. But first you need to know where the journey is! Once you decide which areas you want to go, you can consider the options below to travel in Istanbul:



Especially if you are staying at Taksim, Galata, Karaköy or Sultanahmet area the tram is a good option. Starting from Kabataş towards Eminonu, Sultanahmet and Grand Bazaar tram is one of the most convenient ways to travel in Istanbul. It runs between 6am-midnight. One way token for tram is 4 Turkish Lira.

Ferry (Vapur in Turkish)

Istanbul is like Venice, but perhaps x100 bigger! Sea transport plays a very important role in Istanbul’s daily life. Ports of Istanbul are connected with public and private boats. Kadıköy, Üsküdar, Beşiktaş, Kabataş, Karaköy and Eminönü are among the most busy ports of Istanbul. Karaköy to Kadıköy is approx. 20 minutes cruise. Or Uskudar to Beşiktaş is fifteen minutes cruise. If you are to change continents it’s highly recommended to use the sea transportation.

There are also private companies offering Sea Taxi service. Contact us if you need private sea taxi arrangement both during the day or night.


Istanbul has approx. 20.000 taxis. They are available throughout the city and you can hail one on the streets. However, bare in mind that generally taxi drivers do not speak any foreign languages.We strongly recommend the use of public transportation such as tram or boats during the rush hours. (8am to 10am in the morning; 5pm to 8pm in the afternoon)

Private car

This is of course the best and most comfortable way to discover the city. As you tour Istanbul on a private car with a professional driver, you can save your time and make the most of your 12 hours stay in Istanbul. It is also possible to combine private car rental with the public transportation.

You can do pedestrian areas such as Istiklal Avenue on foot and have your private car whenever you need it.

You don’t necessarily need a private car if you are going to visit Sultanahmet area since you will be walking the whole day. However, if you are staying at Beşiktaş or Ortaköy area, you might consider having a private car. Contact us if you need further information about the private car with a professional driver.

What’s the most convenient day to tour Istanbul?

Weekdays are always nicer than weekends. But don’t worry if you are coming to Istanbul on a weekend. Just remember that the historical monuments, museums and touristic attractions are very crowded between 11am – 4pm. If you plan your sightseeing times before 11am or after 4pm, you won’t get affected by the weekenders. Most of the museums of Istanbul open at 9am and close earliest at 6pm during the summer season.

Are the museums of Istanbul open all week?

Most museums of Istanbul are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. Below you can find a full list of museum opening hours in Istanbul:


Hagia Sophia Museum: Open all week, 9am-7pm Entrance fee: 30 TL
Topkapi Palace Museum: Open everyday except Tuesday, 9am-7pm Entrance fee: 30 TL (closed on Tuedays)
Hagia Irene Museum: Open everyday except Tuesday, 9am-7pm Entrance fee: 20 TL (closed on Tuedays)
Chora Museum: Open everyday except Wednesday, 9am-7pm Entrance fee: 20 TL (closed on Wednesdays)
Turkish Jewish Museum: Sunday to Friday, 9am-5pm Entrance fee: Donation based (closed on Saturdays)
Galata Tower: Open everyday, 9am-7pm, Entrance fee: 25 TL
Sabanci Museum: Tuesday to Sunday, 10am-5pm, Entrance fee: 10 TL
Rahmi Koc Museum: Tuesday to Sunday, 10am-5pm, Entrance fee: 12.5 TL
Istanbul Museum of Modern Art: Tuesday to Sunday, 10am-5pm, Entrance fee: 15 TL

NOTE: Almost all the art galleries in Istanbul are open from Tuesday-Sunday. (closed on Mondays) Most of them open earliest at 11am.
We love the beautiful photographs all over from Istanbul. A big thank you to all the following photographers allowing us to share them: 12 hours photo by Flickr userSultanahmet photo by Flickr userEmionnu photo Flickr userLunch photo by Flicker user

Sinan Sökmen
Co-founder and Managing Director of Istanbul Tour Studio,
Born and raised in Istanbul,
Fluent in English and Spanish