Planning Your Time in Istanbul

The Blue Mosque is rightly a first-day must for many visitors.
By Lale Surmen Aran and Tankut Aran

Istanbul demands a minimum of two days, but we'd suggest at least four days to do it justice. Even with a week, you'd find yourself running out of time trying to tackle everything the city has to offer.

Istanbul in Two Days

On the morning of Day One, focus on the Sultanahmet district in the center of the Old Town. Take our guidebook's self-guided Historic Core of Istanbul Walk to get your bearings, visiting Hagia Sophia, the Underground Cistern, and the Blue Mosque. With additional time, tour Topkapı Palace (time-consuming sultans' complex a short walk away) or the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum (small collection in the heart of Sultanahmet).

On Day Two, follow the self-guided Old Town Back Streets Walk — including tours of the Grand Bazaar, Mosque of Süleyman the Magnificent, and Spice Market. You'll finish near the Galata Bridge, where you can end your day with our book's self-guided Golden Horn Walk.

Day Three

If you haven't done so already, tour Topkapı Palace and the nearby Istanbul Archaeological Museum. Or, if you're museumed out, consider Day Four's New District activities.

Day Four

Devote this day to the New District, following our guidebook's self-guided walk (including the Pera Museum and Galata Tower). Then, take a taxi to the Chora Church to see its sumptuous Byzantine mosaics, and consider following our book's self-guided City Walls and Neighborhoods Walk, which starts nearby. Or, if you'd rather stay in the New District, choose from a range of other sights: Dolmabahçe Palace, Military Museum, Quincentennial Museum of Turkish Jews, or Istanbul Modern Arts Museum.

Day Five

Go to Asia. Set sail on the Bosphorus Strait, spending a full day going up to the Asian fishing village of Anadolu Kavağı, then returning to the Old Town.

Istanbul in a Week

More time gives you more options, from some of the smaller museums to quintessential Istanbul experiences, such as getting scrubbed in a Turkish bath, watching Whirling Dervishes spin themselves into a trance, or lazily smoking a water pipe (nargile) filled with apple tobacco.

When to Go

Istanbul has a moderate climate year-round. It is generally hot and humid from mid-July to mid-August, and it can snow during January and February. The peak-season months (with the best weather) are from mid-April to June and September to October. During the off-season, you can generally find better deals and smaller crowds, the weather is usually good, and all the sights are open. Weather conditions can change throughout the day — especially in spring and fall — but extremes are rare. Summer temperatures generally range from 65 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit (42–60 degrees in winter). Temperatures below freezing and above 90 degrees make headlines.

Keep in mind that prices in Istanbul are higher during festivals and holidays such as Easter, Christmas, and New Year's. On holidays, you'll see lots of vacationing Europeans, mostly from Spain, Italy, and France.

Lale Surmen Aran and Tankut Aran are the authors of the Rick Steves Istanbul guidebook.