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24 hours in Istanbul

Evgeny Eremeev

Istanbul is one of the world's most fascinating cities in terms of history, architecture and splendour. As the former capital of two empires, the city has always been a true melting pot of cultures. Spend just 24 hours in Istanbul and be rewarded by sights, tastes and smells that you'll never forget!

 Spices and tea on display at the Spice Bazaar
Spices and tea on display at the Spice Bazaar

8AM // Pretzels and fresh fruit

Spice up your morning!

Wake up early to make the most of your 24 hours in Istanbul. Grab a pretzel from one of the many stands and try the Turkish coffee - but leave the coffee grinds at the bottom. Make your way down to the Galata Bridge and pick up some fresh fruit and juice on the way.

Cross the bridge over the Bosphorus and you'll have arrived in the Old City (Sultanahmet district). Take in the view of the Yeni Cami (New Mosque) right in front of you and walk through the Spice Bazaar to see colourful piles of spices, tea and Turkish delight.

Interrail tip: Don't pay full price for your souvenirs! Haggling is an essential thing to do at Istanbul's markets, whether you like it or not.
 The 1500-year old Hagia Sophia
The 1500-year old Hagia Sophia

9AM // The Byzantine Empire

Heavenly domes and underground halls

Be first in line at the Hagia Sophia, the pinnacle of Byzantine architecture. Built as a Christian basilica, it was converted into a mosque in 1453 when the Ottomans conquered the city. Today, it's a museum worth visiting for its impressive dome and restored mosaics.

Across the street is the Basilica Cistern, a subterranean water storage the size of a cathedral. Built in the 6th century, it used to hold 100,000 liters of water. Cross the street again to find the 3,500-year-old Obelisk of Tutmose towering over the square that used to be the Byzantine Hippodrome (horse race track).

Interrail tip: The Mosaic Museum may sound a bit boring, but its intricate floor mosaics from the Byzantine Palace are not to be missed.
 Inside the famous Blue Mosque
Inside the famous Blue Mosque

11AM // The Ottoman Empire

Splendour and wealth beyond belief

Next to the Hippodrome is the Sultan Ahmet mosque, best known as the Blue Mosque. Impressive on the outside, words can hardly describe the beauty of its interior. Take your time to admire the massive pillars, stained-glass windows and hand-painted blue tiles from which the building derives its name.

The wealth and power of the Ottoman empire is best displayed in Topkapi Palace, through gilded calligraphy, mother-of-pearl doors and treasures from around the world. Make sure to visit the Imperial Harem, home to the Sultan's wives and concubines.

Interrail tip: Check out the splendid Sülemaniye mosque, designed in 1550 by master architect Mimar Sinan.
 Find the perfect gift at the Grand Bazaar
Find the perfect gift at the Grand Bazaar

2PM // Shopping and soaping

Exploring Turkish traditions

Spend at least an hour strolling around the Grand Bazaar, one of the world's oldest indoor markets. It's easy to get lost in this lively and colourful place and by all means you should. Browse your way through thousands of shops to find the best bargains - and whatever you do, don't forget to haggle!

After all this walking you should indulge in another Turkish tradition: the Hamam. You'll find these bathhouses all over Istanbul, some of them over 500 years old. Restore your energy with a traditional scrub, soap treatment and massage, while relaxing on a hot stone.

Fun fact: Construction on the Grand Bazaar first started in 1455. After centuries of expanding, it now has over 4,000 shops.
 The Maiden's Tower standing in the Bosphorus strait
The Maiden's Tower standing in the Bosphorus strait

5PM // Take a walk on the Asian side

There and back again

Istanbul is the only city in the world to be located on two continents, so if you're still up for it you should visit the Asian side. Take an underground train to Üsküdar for an authentic and tourist-free experience of city life and check out the Mihrimah Sultan Mosque.

If you want to see more, take a ferry over to Kadiköy and explore the Haydarpasa station- once the final stop of the Orient Express. For a fancy dinner experience, try to book a table at the Maiden's Tower, just off the Asian coast.

Interrail tip : Don't feel like leaving Europe? Visit the Balat area instead, Istanbul's old and colourful Jewish district.
 View on Istanbul from Galata Tower
View on Istanbul from Galata Tower

8PM // A night out in Istanbul

Eat, shop, smoke

If you spend the night in Istanbul, make sure it's somewhere near the Istiklal Avenue, the main shopping street in the Beyoglu district. Shops here stay open until midnight and there are tons of places for you to drink Turkish tea, eat kebabs and smoke shisha like a local.

The district has a distinctive European feel to it, which it owes to centuries of Italian influence. Check out Galata Tower, built by the Genoese in 1348, for an amazing view of the city. If the tower seems crowded, head to one of the many rooftop bars instead.

Fun fact: Backgammon (or tavla in Turkish) is a very popular game, and you'll see people playing it in cafes everywhere.

Experience Turkey

Turkey has fascinating sights and stunning nature to offer!

Travel with an Interrail Pass

The following Interrail Passes give you access to the Turkish rail network:

Interrail Turkey Pass

Best for exploring all of Turkey


Interrail Global Pass

Valid in 33 countries including Turkey