48 Hours in Istanbul: Boats, Baklava, and Stunning Sunsets
Turkey is one of the historically fascinating countries in the world and a trip to spend just 48 hours in Istanbul might sound crazy, but it is definitely worth it!
Filled with endless cultural gems from nearly every corner of the globe, mixed with some of the most delicious flavors of food you could imagine, funky new neighborhoods, breathtaking islands off the coast, castle, bazaars, and mosques, 48 hours in Istanbul will be a trip you’ll never forget.
Our readers have been asking us for months to film a 48 hours in Istanbul episode, so when we saw the perfectly timed flights on Turkish Airlines leaving Dubai on a Thursday evening and landing at 5:30 am Friday morning, it didn’t take much convincing to book our tickets. We did this trip on a totally normal 2 day weekend and were back in our desks 8 am on Sunday morning so you have no excuse!
Now, we had a challenge on this trip because it was so short – but nothing we couldn’t handle! We had a TON of stuff we wanted to see and got loads of recommendations from all of you guys so we were thrilled to come across the Conrad Bosphuros Istanbul and their amazing 1/3/5 Stay Inspired concept of 1, 3 and 5 hour tours organized and leaving directly from the hotel which are designed specifically for people like us who only have a couple days to explore a city.
We planned our stay at the Conrad and immediately started plotting all we could do in just 48 hours. Arriving at 5 am and only have two days we opted for their VIP airport service which had us from the plane to a chauffeured car in SIX minutes – no joke, it was insane. If we knew this was possible on previous trips it would have saved so many nightmares.
All checked in with the Hilton Honors app before we even stepped foot in the hotel, we were freshened up and ready to go in no time. The sun was shining, not a cloud in the sky and it was a perfect 25 degrees – could we ask for anything better? We easily linked up with Ulku, the friendly local tour guide arranged for us through the Stay Inspired tour plan and we headed out for our first of two days exploring Istanbul.
Having Ulku and the same driver with us throughout the weekend from airport pick up to drop off Saturday evening was key and saved us loads of time. No hassle with taxis, no directions on your phone, no metro or bus mix ups. We headed straight for Sultanahmet, the old city of Istanbul and what is the most important thing before any city tour? Eating!
There is no better restaurant view of the Golden Horn, Old City and Galata than Hamdi Restaurant, which started off as a simple kebab food cart in the 1960’s but soon got so popular they needed a bigger space. Make sure to ask for a rooftop seat and enjoy a breathtaking view of Istanbul. For starters, order the yoğurtlu şakşuka (yogurt meze with fried eggplant, peppers, and potato), the içli köfte (meatballs rolled in bulgur) and the lahmacun (thin, meat-topped pizza), but make sure to leave room for plenty of kebabs! Order any meat and you’ll leave fat and happy.
Once we were totally stuffed we headed with Ulku next door to the amazing Spice Bazaar and explored the rows and rows of shops sampling everything from Baklava, Turkish delight, apple tea, cheeses, smelling all the spices and nearly bought everything in sights – but alas we had to go – on off to the boat terminal!
Heading back to the busy ferry terminal in Ortekoy we jumped on a 90-minute boat ride to one of the Princes Islands, the biggest of them all, for what proved to be one of our biggest surprises on any recent trip. No 48 hours in Istanbul is complete without visiting these islands and the Stay Inspired 5-hour tour of the island the perfect way to fit it into our schedule.
Welcomed with a fresh breeze, seagulls cawing, and endless rows of ocean front seafood restaurants, we got lost down the quaint alleyways, only filled with horse-drawn carriages as cars are not allowed, and were absolutely shocked at how incredible this little island we’d never heard of before was. We felt torn between thinking we were in California or the south of France.
After hours of wandering around, exploring the island on horseback and getting our fill of grilled shrimps, octopus and a few local beers we jumped back on the boat with Ulku to make sure we were back at the Conrad for sunset as we’d heard rumors their rooftop lounge was one of the best places in all of Istanbul to watch the sunset.
Arriving just in time we could not have been happier! If you know Anne and me at all, you know we LOVE a good rooftop bar after a long day or exploring a city and the 270-degree views, amazing designer cocktails and delicious small bites made for an evening we will not soon forget. If you make it to Summit Bar, pick one of the corner tables, order their amazing peach daiquiri and enjoy!
Waking up bright and early Saturday morning we had to rip each other out of the insanely comfrotable bed and get ready for second day fun! Pulling Anne out of this amazing bathtu in our room proved harder than I’d imagined.
again linked up with Ulku and headed out by foot to explore the neighborhood of Besiktas, one of the most vibrant in Istanbul, just steps from the Conrad hotel. Within 5 minutes we were walking through amazingly colorful streets, passed fish and vegetable markets and finally arriving at what is locally known as “Breakfast Street”, or what we will now call “heaven”. Turkish breakfast is a BIG deal and we knew we were in for a treat. Endless adorable outdoor cafes line the streets and it is impossible to go wrong so just pick one and sit down. Ask them what they recommend and let them decide what you’ll eat for you – I promise you won’t be disappointed.
Within minutes our table was absolutely covered with cheeses, breads, spreads, honey, jams, crepes, and a whole host of unknown delicious looking items. We dug in and didn’t stop until we couldn’t move. Maybe not the best move 30 days before our wedding, but if there was one thing we were going to stall our wedding diet for it was a traditional Turkish breakfast!
After stuffing our faces it was time to *attempt* to start and walk it off so we jumped back in our trusty ride with Ulku and headed to explore Sultanahmet, the Old City of Istanbul. As far as world wonders are, I don’t think there are any two in closer proximity than the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sofia, two of the most beautiful architectural structures on Earth today.
Exploring them both inside and out is a must during any 48 Hours in Istanbul and they can be done easily. Lucky for us, Ulku is able to jump the lines at both, just one more perk of the 1/3/5 hour Stay Inspired tours.
Just a quick walk from the Blue Mosque is the world famous Grand Bazaar, the oldest indoor market in the world, comprised of over 4,000 shops and continually in business for over 550 years. A step inside the ancient walls and we were transported to a magical world full of bright colors, Arabic scents of food and incense and music, friendly shop keepers and beautiful textures around every corner. We were happily surprised by the Grand Bazaar, not nearly as busy and hectic as we imagined it could have been.
With only hours before our departing flight, we rushed back close to the Conrad to do one final tour with Ulku, exploring the eclectic and funky neighborhoods of Ortakoy and Kadikoy. Walking the hip streets we found amazing street vendors, were tempted by every cafe, bar, and restaurant and finally ended up at the most delicious Baklava restaurant in Istanbul – and promptly stuffed our faces. If there was one theme for the weekend it was eating between everything we did, and we enjoyed every single minute of our 48 hours in Istanbul.
Our favorite part of traveling is showing up in a country or city we have never explored and getting lost, meeting locals, finding new and amazing places to relax, hang out, eat, drink and soak up a new destination and making memories that we’ll take with us forever – something Istanbul was jam packed full of.
Heading back to the Conrad we were shocked at all we were able to see in just two days, which seemed more like two months. Pulling ourselves away from the amazing hotel room we were back at the airport and on our way home to Dubai in no time, back at our desks Sunday morning like it was all a dream.
The modern world has a lot of problems, but being able to fully explore a new city in just your average weekend, for cheap, efficiently and full of new surprises if why we travel and what keeps us inspired to see what our next destination is.
So, pack your bags, book your ticket and try out the 1/3/5 Stay Inspired tours in Istanbul for yourselves, I promise you won’t regret a thing! And as always, reach out, say hello and ask us any questions. We love nothing more than helping people get out and see the world, it is much easier than you could ever imagine – your 48 hours in Istanbul is waiting!