How to Spend 24 Hours in Istanbul

Istanbul is packed with atmospheric streets, squares and alleys
Istanbul is packed with atmospheric streets, squares and alleys | © Kateryna Kukota / Alamy
Photo of Feride Yalav-Heckeroth
3 September 2021

If you’ve already done the mainstream tour of Istanbul, including major sights like the Hagia Sophia and Topkapı Palace, it’s time to spend some time among the locals. Check out our tips for a unique day in Istanbul’s popular neighbourhoods.

Interested in visiting? Let our local insider show you the best of Istanbul on Culture Trip’s specially curated 12-day Turkey adventure.

Eat breakfast at Daltı Maya

Start out the day in the bohemian Cihangir neighborhood, popular with both artists and expats. Datlı Maya specializes in traditional Anatolian recipes made with fair trade and sustainable resources. For breakfast, indulge in a homemade simit (sesame bagel), three different kinds of cheese, zahter powder from Antakya, olives from all over Turkey and varieties of oregano marinated in cold-pressed olive oil from Ida Mountain, alongside fresh tomatoes, peppers and cucumber.

Menemenler Turkish breakfast at Van Kahvalti Evi, in the Cihangir neighbourhood | © dbimages / Alamy

Go antiquing in Çukurcuma

From Cihangir, it’s a short walk to reach the Çukurcuma neighbourhood, known for its many antique shops. One popular store is A La Turca, an old Istanbul home filled with antique carpets, textiles, chairs, ceramics, furniture and artworks that all seem to exude a regal air.

Cukurcuma, in Beyoglu, offers antique shops, pop ups and hip cafes for a young crowd | © Claudia Wiens / Alamy

Visit the Museum of Innocence

A visit to the Çukurcuma neighborhood would not be complete without visiting the museum of Nobel Prize-winning author Orhan Pamuk. Based on his novel of the same name, The Museum of Innocence is a collection of poignant antiques from the 1970s that not only tell the story of forlorn love but also of an entirely different era in Turkey. If you’ve read the book, you’ll happily recognize the details in every display; if not, you’ll still be mesmerized by the glimpse into 1970s Istanbul.

The Museum of Innocence exhibition offers a unique way to learn about Istanbul’s history | © PA Images / Alamy

Go shopping in Karaköy

If you head down the hill from Çukurcuma, you’ll come upon one of Istanbul’s coolest neighborhoods right by the Bosphorus. What used to be one of the city’s most important ports and centres of commerce is now a collection of trendy cafés and boutiques, as well as a few hidden historic churches and schools. Make sure to drop by Bey Karaköy for some Scandinavian aesthetic-inspired menswear and Mae Zae to purchase jewelry, clothing and accessories by some of Turkey’s best designers.

Karakoy district is a hip district bordering the Bosphorus | © Kirk Fisher / Alamy

Eat lunch at Karaköy Lokantası

At this point, you’ve probably begun to feel your appetite spike once more, so head into Karaköy Lokantası (the neighborhood’s best restaurant) to eat some classic Turkish home cooking in a very modern atmosphere. One must-try dish is the hunker beğendi composed of slow-cooked lamb cubes over a bed of smoky and cheesy eggplant purée.

Karaköy Lokantası serves excellent traditional Turkish food | © Hackenberg-Photo-Cologne / Alamy

Cross the Galata Bridge

Now that you’ve satiated your appetite, you can make your way across the Galata Bridge, a very opportune time to shoot some memorable photos of Istanbul’s idiosyncratic skyline. Watch the fisherman try their luck as well as the ferries that glide by at every hour of the day.

The Bosphorus Bridge with the Sultanahmet district and Suleymaniye Mosque in the distance | © Kirk Fisher / Alamy

Get lost in Balat/Fener

Once you’ve made it to the other side, it’s time to explore one of Istanbul’s lesser-known but tremendously historic neighborhoods. Stroll down the Golden Horn and enjoy the view before you make your way into Balat/Fener, marked by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, also known as the Church of St. George. From there, you can explore the historic neighborhood, which used to be populated by the city’s bourgeoisie Greek Orthodox families. Check out our neighbourhood guide to make the best of your visit.

The Balat district is crammed with historic streets | © stoyanh / Alamy

Eat dinner at Agora Meyhanesi

To end your beautiful day in Istanbul, drop by Agora Meyhanesi, one of the city’s oldest taverns, open since 1890. The Armenian, Greek Orthodox, Turkmen and Zaza chefs in the kitchen are the reason behind a menu that is not only eclectic but also excellent every single time.

Agora Meyhanesi is a lauded Istanbul eatery popular with locals | © Feride Yalav-Heckeroth

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