The Old City, or Sultanahmet, is number one on every traveller’s list when they come to Istanbul. It has awe-inspiring historical sites, great museums, and colorful bazaars. However, this area can be quite touristy and prices (especially for restaurants) can be steep. If you’re traveling on a budget, don’t fret. You can spend two amazing days here even with a slim wallet.
Day One: Hitting all the must-sees.
@9:30am - Breakfast-- Simit Cart
In Istanbul, you cannot escape this traditional bagel-like bread covered with sesame seeds. The picturesque red square carts selling them for 1 TL are ubiquitous. Head to the Eminonu ferry dock or to the square outside of the Egyptian Bazaar.
@10:00am - Museum-- Topkapi Palace
Topkapi Palace, the residence of the Ottoman Sultans for over 400 years is the perfect introduction to the history of Turkey. This museum is expensive - 30TL - but it’s extensive and you can spend almost the whole morning there.
@12:30 - Sightseeing-- Basilica Cistern
This large and fascinating water purification and storage area, built by the Romans is a great escape from the heat of the midday. To enter this famous eerie setting is only 10TL, or 5TL with a student card!
@1:00pm - Lunch-- Street Food!
Just outside the cistern, is Alemdar Street, the major road in Sultanahmet. On it, cheap street food abounds such as the classic doner, a meat sandwich totalling around 5TL. Curious about other street food options? Check out this article!
@2:00pm - Sightseeing-- Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque)
This 17th century mosque is one of the most famous sites in Istanbul. It’s stunning intricate tiling will be sure to catch your eye. Linger and sit on the floor for a while you digest both your lunch and this historic spiritual space.
@3:30pm - Sightseeing-- Hagia Sofia
Even more famous than the Blue Mosque, this Orthodox cathedral turned mosque highlights the rich history of Istanbul and the mix of cultures that had a presence here. An impressive space, its feel is completely different from the Blue Mosque.
@5:30pm - Relax-- Tea Garden
Just next to all the major sights likes a shady park called Gulhane. Wander through this cool environment and take a bench, it’s been a long day and you deserve some down time. Just outside the park on the shore of the Bosphorus are a few tea houses where you can get a tea for 1 TL and gaze at the beautiful Bosphorus.
Gulhane Parki Sarayburnu Tea Garden Location
@7:30pm - Romantic Scenery-- Sultanahmet Park
Depending on what time of year you’re in Istanbul, time your walk back to dinner so that you can see the two mosques and the fountain that lies between them lit up at night. Alternatively, do this after your dinner if you like! (PS- here’s the point in the itinerary where you kiss your date!)
@8:00pm - Dinner-- Ortaklar Kitchen
This family-owned restaurant is known for the best cheap food in the old city. It’s authentic and delicious. Great dishes include the Lahmacun (ground meat on thin bread) and the Lentil soup. Order both and it should only total up to 10TL!