Greetings Internet Stranger and welcome to a perfect 24 hours in Istanbul. Have you ever wanted to experience true glamour and intrigue? Not the kind of glamour and intrigue you can find in a relatively new city like Paris or London, but the kind you can find in one of the oldest and most important cities the world has ever known?
Then this 24 hours in Istanbul is the perfect itinerary for you! Istanbul, which I hear was once Constantinople, is one of the most cultured and fascinating places I have ever visited. As a solo female traveler, I never once felt unsafe there. You can indulge in delicious foods, fine wines, and stunning landscapes. Plus the Turkish people are extremely friendly to tourists and will be most enthusiastic to help you enjoy their gorgeous city. Let’s not waste another second!
24 Hours in Istanbul
Where to Stay?
I’m from New York City, which is one of the most ludicrously overpriced cities in the world. So for me, one of the best things about traveling is that I can sometimes afford to stay in better quality hotels than I could afford back home. And I truly lucked out by finding a great deal at the stunning Pera Palace Hotel. (You can find a similar deal by clicking here.)
The Pera Palace Hotel is indulgent in every way. There are amenities like a welcome drink and yummy welcome macarons. (Every hotel should have welcome cookies.) An amazing breakfast spread is included with the price of the hotel room every morning. Plus you actually get to stay in the same hotel where Agatha Christie stayed when she was writing Murder on the Orient Express. For a mystery junkie like me, it doesn’t get better than this.
If you’d like to find a fabulous deal on this hotel, click here. And if it’s out of your price range and you’d rather explore great deals on hotels in Istanbul that are more within your budget range, click here! I promise you’ll find something that will work for you! You’ll have over 4,000 options to choose from!
24 Hours in Istanbul
What to Pack
You’ll need comfy shoes for all the walking we’re going to do today. If it’s summertime, I love my special pink Birkenstocks. These aren’t your grandpappy’s Birkenstocks anymore. They come in every shade, and I always get compliments on my electric magenta shoes.
Istanbul is hot in the summer, so don’t forget the sunscreen, especially if you want to tango in the streets all day. My favorite is the Neutrogena spray bottle because it’s so easy to apply. And as a solo traveler, I can actually use it myself on my own back. I just put it in my purse and re-apply throughout the day.
Finally, if you’re American, you need a universal adapter if you’re going to plug in electronics. Turkish electrical outlets don’t work with American plugs. I suggest the NEWVANGA travel adapter. It’s usable with any electrical outlet in the world, so you won’t need to keep buying new adapters. I always carry two with me, just in case something happens to one.
24 Hours in Istanbul
Morning: Secret Food Tour
My top favorite activity to partake in when I’m visiting a new city is go on a food tour. After all these are all the things you get on a food tour:
- Yummy Food
- A history lesson that’s actually fun
- Exercise that isn’t painful
- A cool new local friend who can give you tips on the city
- Really Yummy Food
Secret Food Tours is one of my favorite food tour companies, and they operate in cities all over the world. I’ve taken their tours on several continents, and I’ve never been disappointed. On a Secret Food Tour, you’ll experience where locals go to eat, not the same old places everyone already knows about. If this sounds up your alley, just click here to book! It’s easy!
You’ll start the Istanbul Secret Food Tour by heading to the Kadikoy neighborhood. This is on the Asian side of Istanbul. I was staying on the European side at the Pera Palace Hotel, so this meant that I had to take a gorgeous ferry ride to get to the tour start. Not a bad way to begin the morning!
I don’t want to spoil all the Seeeeeeecrets that I learned on the Secret Food Tour. But I do want to whet your appetite with…
Approximately Top 5: Secret Food Tour
1) Cay Tarlasi Cafe
There was sooo much food on this tour. You are seriously not going to believe it when I show you all the pictures. Our first stop was at a mom and pop cafe called Cay Tarlasi. We started with the breakfast plate, which as you can see is a little different from an American style breakfast. But I have grown to appreciate the more typical Mediterranean/Balkan breakfast which involves lots of cheese and vegetables. It feels like a healthy way to start the day.
Of course, what is breakfast without eggs? We feasted on this flavorful Turkish egg dish called menemen. It’s made with peppers, tomatoes, and egg. If raw cucumbers are too much for you for breakfast, I’m sure you’ll enjoy this soothing dish, which is kind of like Turkish scrambled eggs.
2) Pide Sun
Up next it was Turkish-style pizza called “pide”. This was a hands-on stop because the chefs let you press out the dough with your fingers yourself. I did my best, but I’m not sure it was very good. I’m not a dextrous person. So don’t be afraid to give it your best shot because you can’t possibly be worse than I was.
The pide was tasty, but my favorite part is that it was topped with pastrami, aka cured meat. I had never tried this as a pizza topping before! It added an intriguing salty flavor that I enjoyed. One of the other people on the tour was vegetarian and she got a meatless pide, no problem. Many, but not all, of the stops on the tour can be made veggie-friendly. But the Turkish people are famous for their meat preparation techniques!
In case this wasn’t enough food, we also nibbled on some manti, a kind of traditional Turkish dumpling. I knew Eastern European cuisines were famous for their dumplings, but I didn’t realize Turkish cuisine had dumplings as well. But these cultures have been trading foodways for centuries, so it’s not surprising.
The dumplings were filled with meat and covered in a tangy sauce. This is probably the number one taste I think of when I remember the food I ate in Turkey: meat + sourness.
3) Turkish Coffee
Even more than food, Turkey is famous for its strong coffee. So of course we had to sample some on this food tour! Turkish people sometimes like to tell their fortune using the coffee grinds at the bottom of the cup when you are done drinking.
Our guide showed us how to do it–or at least she tried to. You need to leave a little liquid in your cup to drink the grounds, and I had drunk too much of mine. I’m not good at rolling out pide dough, and apparently I am too good at drinking Turkish coffee. But I’m not going to let that keep me down! Onward…to more food!
4) Ruhha Lahmacun
So before spending 24 hours in Istanbul, I had no idea that so many Turkish foods were kind of like pizza. Truly, Turkish cuisine has mastered the art of street food in ways I had never seen before. At the next restaurant we tried lahmacun, which is a very thin crust topped with spiced minced meat. The meat is usually lamb because Turkey is a Muslim country and pork is not halal.
This was my favorite dish to eat because it was hands-on. You just sprinkle some spice on it to your taste and then roll it up and nom on it! Our guide provided lots of napkins on the tour but you might want to bring some hand sanitizer because you do eat so many of the dishes with your fingers.
5) Tatar Salim
The most famous Turkish food around the world is probably doner kebap. This is a wrap made with meat that is cooked on a stick, rotisserie-styles. Don’t think that street food means that the food is poor quality. Everything here is made fresh–we even got to see them making the fresh bread for the wrap.
Also, at this place, the meat is so good that the owner says you don’t need anything else on it. No sauce, no extra spice, NO KETCHUP! You don’t want to insult the chef do you? I personally wouldn’t want to insult anyone who’s job it is to impale meat on sticks.
6) Dürümcü Emmi
Feeling full yet, Internet Stranger! I hope so! But we only have one more food stop left, and it’s for the traditional “Soup and Dessert Combo”. The soup you have here is beyran, which is made with lots of meat, fat, spice, and a bit of sourness.
My father’s family is from Romania, and it reminded me of our sour soups known as ciorba. But this makes sense because Romania used to be part of the Ottoman Empire, controlled by the Ottoman Turks. (You’re going to hear the phrase “Ottoman Empire” a lot in my posts about the Balkans.)
The most famous dessert in Turkey is baklava, a honey-nut pastry that all right-thinking peoples love. But this is a seeeeeecret food tour, so we need a secret dessert. Here we have katmer, which is kind of like baklava only it’s filled with cheese instead of drenched in honey.
And I think if there’s anything better than cheese followed by dessert, it’s cheese in dessert. Also, I just noticed that we have a Turkish breakfast with tons of cheese and now we have a Turkish dessert stuffed with cheese. I’m sort of wondering if Turkey is sponsored by the Cheese Marketing Board.
24 Hours in Istanbul
Afternoon: Galata Tower
We’ve spent all morning walking around and eating, so I suggest spending the afternoon in just one place, kind of chillaxing. Fortunately, the Galata Tower is an amazing place to spend a low-key afternoon during your 24 hours in Istanbul. It’s one of the most famous attractions in Istanbul, so you can check it off your Istanbul Bucket List with pride. All of the information about prices and hours is available on their website here.
There is a rather long line to get into Galata Tower most days, so you might have to wait a little bit to get in. Just bring a book or a fellow human to pass the time. Or you can make friends with some of the other people on line. I met a nice Muslim family from Cameroon who were visiting Istanbul because it’s an important city for Muslims.
When you finally get inside, you’ll be able to experience some of the best views in all Istanbul. I’ll help you make the most of your time at the Galata Tower with…
Three Fun Facts: Galata Tower
1) Why is the Galata Tower Famous?
The Galata Tower is one of the oldest towers in the world! The original tower on this spot was built back in 528 as a lighthouse. Remember, back then Istanbul was a Christian city and the center of the Byzantine Empire. (It was also known as Constantinople. Now it’s Istanbul, not Constantinople. And New York was once New Amsterdam.)
The Galata Tower that you’re standing on right now doesn’t date back to the 6th century. The original lighthouse was made of wood, and you can probably guess what happened to it. (It involves burning.) This stone Galata Tower was built in the 1300s by the Genoese. (Why were the Genoese in Istanbul building things instead of in Italy? Byzantine history is rather complicated. You could almost say that it’s byzantine in its complexity.)
2) How Did the Ottoman Turks Get Control of Galata Tower?
By conquest, naturally! The Galata Tower used to be called Christ Tower, but the Ottoman Turks changed that when they took over Istanbul. (Most modern Turkish people that I met don’t like it if you call the Ottoman Turkish empire just Turkish. They think it’s important to make that distinction between that empire and Turkey nowadays.)
Over the centuries, Galata Tower has seen many changes. It’s been hit by an earthquake and burned several times. It’s been a prison for slaves and an observatory for astronomers. But every time it’s been restored, and it remains one of the oldest and most unique buildings in the world. In a way, it’s as resilient as the city of Istanbul itself.
3) Is There Anything Else To Do at Galata Tower?
These spectacular views aren’t enough for you? Fine! You can actually go on a cool little simulation of a helicopter ride around the city of Istanbul. It’s a little like a 3D movie, and it costs about 3 American dollars more than regular admission to the Galata Tower, so I think it’s worth the price. And since helicopter rides are the one tourist attraction I will never do because I think it’s too dangerous, it was fun to try this simulation for no risk at all.
24 Hours in Istanbul
Evening: Dinner at Mikla
So I’ve mentioned that Turks are world champions at street food. But that doesn’t mean they don’t know how to kill it at fine dining. Turkish gourmet restaurants are winning more awards than you can shake a yogurt at.
And one of the most decorated restaurants in the city is Mikla. This restaurant has even been rated one of the 50 best restaurants in the world. It’s located just a short walk away from the Pera Palace Hotel, so it’s quite convenient if you’re staying there.
Mikla is a tasting menu restaurant, so I can’t guarantee that anything I ate will still be on the menu when you visit. But I can give you an idea of what to expect: high-quality Turkish ingredients prepared so the flavor can really shine through. And we’ll be trying upscale twists on a lot of the foods we sampled on the tour earlier! I started with a perfect artichoke heart braised in olive oil. Once again I was reminded that Turkish cuisine and Mediterranean cuisine have a lot in common.
Up next was the most experimental dish on the menu: almond milk and bonita fish. I had never tried fish with something sweet like almond milk! I love finding new flavor combinations the way Garfield loves lasagna and hates Mondays.
Remember how we had pastrami on the pide earlier today? Well get ready for the gourmet version of pastrami! Usually, beans don’t excite me that much, but these were the freshest beans I had ever tasted in my life. It just shows that all veggies are delicious if they’re eaten straight off the farm the way nature intended.
And now we have the gourmet version of those manti dumplings we had earlier on the food tour! It’s almost like Mikla and Secret Food Tours coordinated this day just for us!
Most tasting menus wind down with two main courses: one fish and one meat. The fish dish here was made with pickled cherry which added a lovely sweet and sour taste that I had never experienced before. And that’s why I love tasting menu restaurants–they always broaden my food horizons. It’s like dinner and a show all in one.
No Turkish tasting menu can be complete without some succulent lamb. This dish combined every possible taste: a little sourness from the yogurt, umami flavor from the lamb and tomato, a little saltiness in the seasoning, and sweetness and a touch of bitter in the walnut paste that dressed the lamb. Truly, it was a feast for the senses. And really, this whole day had been a feast for the senses. If this post didn’t make you want to spend 24 hours in Istanbul, I’m not sure what will!
After all that heavy food, it was a relief to have a lighter dessert. This was a soothing dessert soup made with chickpeas. If there’s two things I would never have thought to include in a dessert, it would be chickpeas and soup. But that’s just why I don’t own a tasting menu restaurant!
That’s a Perfect 24 Hours in Istanbul!
What would you do with 24 hours in Istanbul? Are the Turks the masters of street food or can any other country beat them? And does this cat really think it’s found a good hiding spot? Please leave your thoughts below!
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend 24 hours in Istanbul. If you have time for another 24 hours in Istanbul, try this itinerary!