Istanbul itinerary 2 days – European side

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Istanbul is world famous for glorious historical sites in the old city of Sultanahmet, like the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, Haghia Sophia and the Grand Bazaar, but there’s so much more to see. To make the most of this Istanbul itinerary 2 days, Taksim is a good base for exploring other parts of Istanbul. Be aware it’s important to choose a hotel in the right location. Too far from the centre and you’ll lose valuable sightseeing time getting around. Too close and the hustle and bustle of the street life might just wear you out. The Marmara Pera Hotel* in Beyoglu is perfectly situated a few streets parallel to Istiklal Caddesi, in easy reach of some wonderful museums, galleries, waterfront neighbourhoods and great for shopping.

Day 1

View from my Marmara Pera room - hard to leave!
Lots of yummy fresh Turkish specialties.

As soon as I woke up I went over to the window and lost myself in the busy to-and-fro of the ferries chugging past Topkapı Point around to the mouth of the Golden Horn. Eventually I managed to drag myself away from the view and went downstairs for breakfast. The open plan, spacious breakfast area of the Marmara Pera is comfortable and welcoming. Hot food is available direct from the kitchen where they’ll make your eggs to order, and there’s a rich selection of Turkish specialties such as sucuk, pastirma and delicious locally made jam.

Art exhibition at Marmara Pera Hotel

On the way back to my room I saw a notice about an exhibition in the hotel’s art gallery. Marmara Pera holds regular exhibitions in their mezzanine level space, and supports numerous art and film festivals held in Istanbul every year.

The Harem - on display at Pera Museum.

Just a hop skip and a jump up the street from the hotel is the Pera Museum. This private museum houses three permanent collections, Anatolian Weights and Measures, Kütahya Tiles and Ceramics and my favourite, Orientalist Paintings that includes works by Turkish artist Osman Hamdi Bey. The museum has hosted joint projects with the Victoria and Albert Museum, the New York School of Arts, St Petersburg Russian State Museum and many others, meaning there’s always something new to see.

Near the halfway mark of Istiklal Caddesi, the main pedestrian shopping street joining Taksim Square with Tünel, Beyoğlu, is ANAMED, the Koç University Research Center for Anatolian Civilizations. Throughout the year they hold small photographic exhibitions, displaying thematic historical photographs of Turkey curated from their extensive archives. Check out their website to see what’s on during your stay.


The lovely women of Erra Goppa cooking up a storm

All that art and photography is bound to build up an appetite so head for nearby Erra Goppa. This small restaurant is a link back to Istanbul’s past as a stopping point for White Russians escaping the Bolshevik Revolution. Erra Goppa serves Çerkez (Turkish for Circassian) food, the cuisine of the pale skin high cheek-boned people who fled to Istanbul in their thousands in 1917. Alternatively, follow the back streets to Tünel and grab a plate at Helvetia at General Yazgin Sokak No. 12. You get to choose three dishes from that day’s freshly prepared selections for a very reasonable price, served with hearty wholemeal bread.

Why not give it a whirl and watch a Dervish spin?

Head for the Beyoğlu/Tünel end of Istiklal Street and walk down Galip Dede Caddesi. Once controlled by a Venetian principality, the warren of streets leading down to the Golden Horn are a treasure trove of delight. Music stores selling traditional Turkish instruments vie for attention with a Dervish lodge, and your senses are aroused by aromatic soaps and freshly squeezed juices.

A freshly squeezed juice makes for a good reason to stop along the way.

The medieval stone Galata Tower, at the halfway point, makes a great place to stop and recharge before heading to the top and some stellar views over the city. The narrow slightly sloped walkway wrapped around the tower might be a challenge for some. Back on firm ground take any Galata backstreet to discover some of Istanbul’s rich and varied history.

Enjoy the stately pace of an original Istanbul tram.
Climb aboard Istanbul's original funicular.

When you’ve reached the bottom of Galip Dede Caddesi, catch the Tünel funicular back up to Istiklal Street and walk back to the hotel. Alternatively catch the tram from Tünel up to Taksim and shop your way back down to the hotel.


Dine up in the clouds - photo courtesy of Marmara Pera Hotel
Catch some rays by pool - photo courtesy of Marmara Pera Hotel

Dine at the hotel’s own Mikla restaurant where Turkish-Scandinavian chef Mehmet Gürs (re)creates traditional Turkish ingredients with a contemporary aesthetic, producing outstanding food in a breathtaking setting.

If you’re keen to discover the city’s nightlife, you can enjoy Turkish dance shows, evening dinner cruises along the Bosphorus and whirling dervishes, just for starters.

Day 2

Fishing off Galata bridge - photo courtesy of Dorota Yamadag
Cruise the waters of Istanbul - photo courtesy of Dorota Yamadag

After breakfast get a taxi to Haşköy and head for the Rahmi M Koç Museum Transport, History and Communications Museum. Don’t worry, the serious sounding name is misleading. It’s a hands-on experience where you can sit behind the wheel of a vintage car or in the cockpit of a plane. Do a real life science experiment (just try not to blow anything up) or just admire the extensive collection of historical planes, trains and automobiles formerly used in Turkey. Weekends are best. You’ll have the chance to take a ride on a real steam boat, ride a train, and try out a Segway if you’re lucky.

St Stephan's Iron Church, Istanbul

From Haşköy catch a ferry across to the other side of the Golden Horn. Get off at Fener and make your way to the Bulgarian church. Made out of cast iron in Vienna in 1871, the whole structure was shipped over to Istanbul and reassembled on the shore.

Next, head inland to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate. The Patriarchate has been on the same site since about 1601, but the current Church of St George only dates from 1720. It’s the world centre of the Eastern Orthodox Church and is one of several non-Muslim churches in Istanbul.

Feel saintly in the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate


How high will you climb in Balat?
One of Balat's many colourful cafes

A bit further north-west of the Patriarchate is Balat. Once home to a mixed population of Turks, Rum (Turkish born Greeks) and Jews, this older neighbourhood of Istanbul is becoming more and more popular with a younger hipper crowd attracted by reasonable rents and historical buildings. Check out Cumbali Café, Istanbul’s most Instagrammed café, on Kürkçü Çeşmesi Sokak and then wander through Ayan Caddesi and Yarım Balat Caddesi. Make the short ascent to Merdinvenli Yokusu to admire the colourful houses in this small steep street. Stop for a bite to eat at one of the many new cafes or at an older, more traditional restaurant.

A little boy becomes a prince for his circumcision - photo courtesy of Dorota Yamadag
The ancient plane trees of Eyup mosque - photo courtesy of Dorota Yamadag
Beautiful tiles at Eyup mosque - photo courtesy of Dorota Yamadag

Make your way back to Fener and catch the ferry or the tram along the Golden Horn to Eyüp to visit Istanbul’s most holy shrine. Eyüp Sultan Mosque is the burial place of Ebu Eyüp el-Ensari, standard-bearer to the Prophet Mohammed. The current mosque only dates back to 1800, but the tomb was built in 1458. It’s always crowded with worshippers, and is especially popular with parents of boys about to undergo sünnet. The boys are brought here to pray, wearing their princely circumcision costumes, before the ceremony. Make sure you see the enormous çınar, a plane tree growing in the grounds, believed to be 600 years old.

Cable car up to Pierre Loti - photo courtesy of Dorota Yamadag

Finish your day out on the Golden Horn with a glass of tea up on the hill at Pierre Loti Café. You can take a taxi to the top or ride the cable car. The café was built over site of the original coffee house where the Turcophile French novelist Pierre Loti used to come to admire the view over the Golden Horn.

The shaded walk down to the hill leads through a magnificent collection of Ottoman funerary art. There are evocative Ottoman gravestones to admire, the men’s topped with stone fezes and the women’s carved with roses and carnations. Back on street level explore the streets behind Eyüp Sultan Mosque. This is where some wonderful medrese (seminaries), imarets (soup kitchens) and türbe (tombs) are to be found.


Hummus offering at Neolokal

Istanbul has a lot of choices when it comes to somewhere to eat. If you don’t want to walk too far hop on the funicular back down to Karaköy. For something really special, dine at Neolokal. Located on the top floor of the Salt Gallery main building, Neolokal has gorgeous views over the city and an exquisite tasting menu to match. Their food is a work of art.

48 hours in Istanbul is just enough time to see what else the city has to offer on the European side and leave you wanting more. I wouldn’t be surprised if you start planning your next visit in the taxi on the way to the airport. Hint, hint!

Iyi yolculuklar. Yine bekliyorum!


Here are my helpful tips for planning your trip to Turkey

For FLIGHTS I like to use

Don’t pay extra for an E-VISA. Here’s my post on everything to know before you take off.

However E-SIM are the way to go to stay connected with a local phone number and mobile data on the go. Airalo is easy to use and affordable.

Even if I never claim on it, I always take out TRAVEL INSURANCE. I recommend Visitors Coverage.

I’m a big advocate of public transport, but know it’s not suitable for everyone all the time. When I need to be picked up from or get to Istanbul Airport or Sabiha Gokcen Airport, I use one of these GetYourGuide website AIRPORT TRANSFERS.

ACCOMMODATION: When I want to find a place to stay I use

CITY TOURS & DAY TRIPS: Let me guide you around Kadikoy with my audio walking tour Stepping back through Chalcedon or venture further afield with my bespoke guidebook Istanbul 50 Unsung Places. I know you’ll love visiting the lesser-known sites I’ve included. It’s based on using public transport as much as possible so you won’t be adding too much to your carbon footprint. Then read about what you’ve seen and experienced in my three essay collections and memoir about moving to Istanbul permanently.

Browse the GetYourGuide website or Viator to find even more ways to experience Istanbul and Turkey with food tours, visits to the old city, evening Bosphorus cruises and more!

However you travel, stay safe and have fun! Iyi yolculuklar.


*All opinions about my stay at Marmara Pera are my own. See disclosure policy.

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