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  • Writer's picturePretty Little Wanders

48 Hour Walking Tour of Istanbul

Updated: Feb 6, 2022

I found myself in Istanbul accompanying my husband (an avid Liverpool FC fan) to watch them play in the Super Cup in August 2019. It turned out to be a fantastic destination and is an ideal city break from Europe. This 2 day itinerary incorporates a good chunk of the main sights in both the European and Asian parts of the city and involves lots of walking (averaging 20,000 steps a day). Some of the longer walks could easily be substituted with taxi, train or tram rides, if you don’t want to walk so much. Istanbul is the world’s only city that occupies space across two continents: Europe and Asia. As such, it possesses a unique blend of culture and heritage.

Getting There

Istanbul has two main international airports; Istanbul Ataturk Airport on the European side and the Sabiha Gokcen Airport on the Asian side. We took a direct flight from London Heathrow to Istanbul Ataturk Airport which took 3 hours and 50 minutes.

Getting Around

Istanbul is a huge city covering almost 600 square miles. It is however possible to base yourself centrally and be able to access a majority of the main attractions. With the exception of one taxi ride, we walked everywhere. Whilst this might not be everyone’s cup to tea, it is doable for any reasonable fit person with plenty of opportunity to stop along the way for a Turkish coffee or scenic view. Alternatively swap some of the walking with taxi, train or tram rides.

One thing that I didn’t appreciate about Istanbul (and curiously did not show up on any of my research) is just how hilly a city it is. So be prepared for this with comfortable walking shoes.

Best time to visit

We were there in August, it was hot (30 degrees) and the city was extra busy due to the football event. Ideally April, May, September and October are the best times to visit, when the temperature is a little cooler, crowds in the city’s attractions more manageable and room rates are better.

Where to stay

We chose to stay right near Taksim Square (Beyoglu district) due to it’s central location for us (sightseeing and being able to walk to/from the football match at the Vodafone Arena). We stayed in the Suitel Bosphorous Taksim Hotel, which although nothing special, accommodation was becoming scarce as we were quite late to book. The hotel was well located and had a lovely outdoor bar/restaurant area overlooking the Bosphorous River. This was particularly beautiful at sunrise and sunset. This area has lots of other hotel options at both ends of the budget.

Day 1

2pm (5 min walk) Hotel to Babel Restaurant & Cafe

After settling in to the hotel, we headed straight to lunch at Babel Restaurant & Cafe (just behind the hospital). A charming little cafe with seating upstairs on a balcony, it’s a great spot to people watch, has tasty vegetarian food and friendly customer service. I can highly recommend the large mezze platter.

Mezze platter

3pm (20 min walk) Babel Restaurant & Cafe to Galata Tower

Galata Tower, a medieval tone tower 67metres high provides great views of the city from the top. We didn’t climb to the top as the queue was enormous (1 hours plus waiting time) and I don’t do queues! There is an elevator and a final set of stairs to climb, if you do want to go to the top be sure to arrive early (or wait in a long queue). Opening hours are 9-8.30pm (sunset time gets very busy too). We opted to indulge in a Turkish coffee at the Galata Cafe, there are plenty of other cafes in the vicinity. Be prepared for things to be very busy and congested in this area.

Galata Tower

4.30pm (11 min walk) Galata Tower to Galata Bridge

Galata Bridge is 340 metres long and is at its best at sunset, it seems to be the place to be. As you stroll across the bridge, you’ll see many sights from here: Galata Tower, Suleymaniye Mosque, people fishing, street food vendors and there’s a selection of restaurants and cafes underneath the bridge from where you can see all the action right on the river. You can also take a river cruise from here or a cheaper ferry boat ride.

View of Suleymaniye Mosque from Galata Bridge

Street food

7.30pm (10 Min walk) Galata Bridge to 5.Kat Restaurant & Bar

5. Kat Restaurant & Bar – the location is a little tricky to find and you’ll have to take an elevator to the 5th floor. There is a rooftop bar with superb views over the Bosphorous River. The cocktails, food and ambience are all worth seeking this establishment out for. Plus it’s only a 5 minute walk back to the hotel.

Day 2

8.00am Start the day off with a Turkish breakfast – this is an absolute must!

Turkish breakfasts are a sumptuous selection of spreads, breads, cheeses, olives, honey and plenty of tea to wash it all down. We had ours on the hotel terrace overlooking the Bosphorous River.

9.00am (30 min walk) Hotel to Blue Mosque

We opted to take a taxi as wanted to get there early to avoid the queues (the taxi ride took 30mins due to heavy traffic which is quite normal. We could have walked it here in 30 minutes too!). Get here early to avoid the queues and do check opening times beforehand, as the mosque closes to tourists during prayer time, which takes place multiple times a day (these times change depending on the times of sunrise and sunset). Avoid Fridays as that is the day of special prayers, so it is closed until 2.30 (although Muslims can visit and join in prayers at any time). There is no entrance fee and once inside you can fully appreciate why it’s called the Blue Mosque.

Dresscode: Bear in mind you are visiting a place of worship. Women should take a scarf to cover their head and must cover their legs and arms, and wear loose fitting clothing and avoid leggings. Men must cover their legs (so no shorts). If you are inappropriately dressed, there is a kiosk where you can borrow/rent clothing to suitably cover yourself.

The Blue Mosque

11.00am (8 min walk) Blue Mosque to Hagia Sofia

We opted to admire this church come mosque from outside. It is an architectural marvel, originally built as a Christian Basilica nearly 1500 years ago. It was renovated into a mosque by the Ottomans. You can visit the inside, but again prepare for the queues.

11.30am (4 min walk) Hagia Sofia to The Basilica Cistern

Open from 9-6.30 and a £3 entrance fee. There was yet another queue to enter, but it moved swiftly and I felt it was worth the waiting as it would be cool respite from the 30 degree heat outside. The Basilica Cistern is constructed of 336 columns, it has an eerie feel and is well preserved. Do seek out the Medusa heads and engraved columns.

Basilica Cistern

Medusa head

12.30 (2 or 12 min walk) Basilica Cistern to The Grand Bazaar

This famed bazaar covers 60 streets and has over 4000 shops and is not to be missed. Do bear in mind that if it is a Sunday or Eid it will be closed. We just happened to be there on Eid and missed out! Oh well, it happens sometimes. Instead we stopped for a Turkish coffee and some baklava at Hafiz Mustafa. This is a chain and they have the most incredible selection of Turkish delight, lokum, baklawa and other sweets. We bought our gifts to take home from here, they’re pricey compared to a lot of other shops but they are great quality and the selection is mind boggling.

Turkish Delight


1.30pm (10min walk) The Grand Bazaar to The Spice Market

It’s open 7 days a week, and if you are claustrophobic then this is not the place for you. The crowds were phenomenal! Spices, dried fruits, cheeses, sausages, nuts, seeds, lokum and some strange looking items stacked high in mounds is an absolute feast for the eyes (and nose!)

2.30pm (35min walk) Spice Market to the hotel

Time for a short siesta before heading off to the Vodafone Arena for the football match- which was an experience in itself!

Alternatively, you could fill the rest of your afternoon with:

  • Turkish Hamman (spa)

  • Take a tram ride in Taksim

  • Visit Topkapi Palace

  • See a Whirling Dervish show

  • Istiklal Street (great for shopping and street entertainment)

  • Suleymaniye Mosque

Or with more time to spare, take a trip to Cappadocia (ideally 2-3 days)

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