You came to Istanbul for a meeting, or a work appointment, or vacation, and you have only one free day. Where to go, what to see, in only one day in Istanbul?

Last September, I had a guest from London, UK. He came to Istanbul for shooting a short film, and he had only one free day. Fortunately, most of the fascinating sights of Istanbul are in the historic peninsula, which means they are close to each other and can be seen in one day.

First, we went to the historic peninsula by metro. The first place we visit was the Grand Bazaar. It is about 5-10 minutes’ walk from Vezneciler metro station.

Grand Bazaar

What to see in one day in Istanbul? Beyazıt Entry of Grand Bazaar
What to see in one day in Istanbul: The Beyazıt Entry of Grand Bazaar, Istanbul (September 2016)

Grand Bazaar is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world. It is known as “Kapalıçarşı”, meaning “Covered Bazaar” by locals. There are 61 covered streets and over 3,000 shops in this historical building. In 2014, it was listed No. 1 among the world’s most-visited tourist attractions with 91,250,000 annual visitors.

Probably one of the first shopping malls of the world, the construction of Grand Bazaar started during the winter of 1455/56, just two and a half years after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople, and it was completed in the winter of 1460/61.

What to see in one day in Istanbul: Inside Grand Bazaar, Istanbul
What to see in one day in Istanbul: Inside Grand Bazaar, Istanbul (September 2016). It was pretty empty compared to how it usually was.

It was not as crowded as it used to be when we go there. Maybe because it was September, or maybe because of Turkey’s tourist crisis in recent years. But it was a good thing for us, as we walked inside the building easily, which was not the case in its heydays because of the crowd.

Roman-era Hippodrome and Obelisk

The next place we visit was Roman-era Hippodrome to see the Obelisk of Theodosius. The famous Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii) was also really close there, but since we had a very limited time (we started our tour a bit late, in the noon), we didn’t go there to be able to spend more time in the Hagia Sophia. But if you have more time, it is a place really worth visiting, it is actually in the top five must-see places in Istanbul.

What to see in one day in Istanbul:  - Obelisk of Thutmose III in the Hippodrome of Constantinople
What to see in one day in Istanbul: The obelisk Obelisk of Theodosius was first set up by Thutmose III (1479–1425 BC) to the south of the seventh pylon of the great temple of Karnak. The Roman emperor Constantius II (337–361 AD) had it and another obelisk was transported along the river Nile to Alexandria to commemorate his ventennalia or 20 years on the throne in 357. The other obelisk was erected on the spina of the Circus Maximus in Rome in the autumn of that year and is today known as the Lateran obelisk, whilst the obelisk that would become the obelisk of Theodosius remained in Alexandria until 390 when Theodosius I (378–392 AD) had it transported to Constantinople and put up on the spina of the Hippodrome there. Photo: Wikipedia

Hagia Sophia

In the south end of the hippodrome, the magnificent Hagia Sophia (Turkish: Ayasofya) stands. The entrance fee is 40 Turkish Lira (around ten Euros/eleven US dollars, as of 2017), but if you have International Press Card you can enter free. The entrance is also free for the children under 12 (even if s/he isn’t a Turkish citizen), and the students and the teachers staying in Istanbul with the Erasmus programme.

You can also rent a guide, as we did, for around 80 Turkish lire (lira) for half an hour.

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul
What to see in one day in Istanbul: Hagia Sophia in the evening

From the date of its construction in 537, the Hagia Sophia was used as a church for 916 years but, following the conquest of Istanbul by Fatih Sultan Mehmed in 1453, it was converted into a mosque. Then it was converted into a museum in 1935. As of 2021, it’s again a mosque now. Its name comes from Ἁγία Σοφία in Greek, meaning, “Holy Wisdom”; Latin: Sancta Sophia or Sancta Sapientia; Turkish: Ayasofya.

Inside Hagia Sophia
What to see in one day in Istanbul: Inside Hagia Sophia (September 2016)

Basilica Cistern

Our next stop was Basilica Cistern. It is known as Yerebatan Sarayı, “Sunken Palace” by the locals of Istanbul. Located in about a hundred meters in the southwest of Hagia Sophia, the Basilica Cistern is the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns that lie beneath the city of Constantinople. Justinianus I, the Byzantium Emperor (527-565), constructed it as a big underground water reservoir. Before being converted to a cistern, a great Basilica stood in its place, built between the 3rd and 4th centuries during the Early Roman Age as a commercial, legal and artistic center.

The entrance fee of Basilica Cistern is 20 Turkish lira (around 5 euro / 6 US dollars) for foreigners and 10 Turkish lire for Turkish citizens.

Basilica Cistern, Istanbul (September 2016)
What to see in one day in Istanbul: Basilica Cistern, Istanbul (September 2016)
Medusa, Basilica Cistern, Istanbul (September 2016)
What to see in one day in Istanbul: Medusa as a plinth of a column in the Basilica Cistern. In Greek mythology, Medusa was a monster, a Gorgon, generally described as a winged human female with a hideous face and living venomous snakes in place of hair. Gazers on her face would turn to stone. Most sources describe her as the daughter of Phorcys and Ceto, though the author Hyginus (Fabulae Preface) makes Medusa the daughter of Gorgon and Ceto. According to Hesiod and Aeschylus, she lived and died on an island named Sarpedon, somewhere near Cisthene. The 2nd-century BCE novelist Dionysios Skytobrachion puts her somewhere in Libya, where Herodotus had said the Berbers originated her myth, as part of their religion.
Medusa was beheaded by the hero Perseus, who thereafter used her head, which retained its ability to turn onlookers to stone, as a weapon until he gave it to the goddess Athena to place on her shield. In classical antiquity, the image of the head of Medusa appeared in the evil-averting device known as the Gorgoneion.


If you didn’t drink a beer in Istiklal avenue (Turkish: Istiklal Caddesi) in Beyoğlu, you didn’t visit Istanbul. It is a few kilometers from the historic peninsula, but you can easily go there using the tram and then the tunnel or the funicular. We chose the second one, first went to Kabataş by tram, then took the funicular to the Taksim square. We drank beer in a pub, then went home.

Historic Tram, Istanbul
What to see in one day in Istanbul: Taksim-Tünel Nostalgia Tramway in Istiklal Avenue, Beyoglu, Istanbul.

The Map of One Day in Istanbul

Here is the map of our tour below. I marked the places we paid a visit.

Matt Aucott and Özgür Nevres
Here is the photo of my guest, Matt Aucott, and me, Özgür Nevres (with the red shirt).


Özgür Nevres

Published by Özgür Nevres

I am a software developer, a former road racing cyclist, and a science enthusiast. Also an animal lover! I write about the city of Istanbul on this website. I live in Istanbul since 1992.

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