One of the most common questions asked about Turkey, and about Istanbul in particular is; what continent is Istanbul in?
Head to Istanbul, and they will proudly tell you, “Both!”
Nowhere else in Turkey is the divide more apparent than Istanbul. The Bosphorus Strait divides the two continents of Istanbul into the Asian and European side of Istanbul.
On either side of Istanbul’s famous Bosphorus Bridge, you will see signs welcoming you to Europe or Asia. While geographically it might appear a little untidy, for the traveller, it is a fun indulgence knowing you can tick off two continents in one day.
The Best Things to do in Istanbul in One Day
Many of the best things to do in Istanbul can be done in one day. Having spent a full day exploring the Old City, it was time to branch out and explore the two continents of Istanbul.
We had a full day tour planned that would centre around the Bosphorus Strait, exploring both continents of Istanbul and include a boat trip on the Bosphorus.
On the European side of Istanbul is the Dolmabahçe Palace, built between 1843 and 1856 by the Empires 31st Sultan, Adülmecid I.
The objective; a palace with the same contemporary style, luxury, and comfort of the European Monarchs. Something the medieval Topkapi Palace could not match.
Dolmabahçe Palace, the largest palace in Turkey is made up of three parts; the Imperial Mabeyn or State Apartments, the Ceremonial Hall, and the Imperial Harem.
In his bid to match the contemporary opulence of his European counterparts, construction of the palace cost the equivalent of $1.5 billion in current terms, equating to approximately a quarter of the yearly tax revenue. The cost of the construction put tremendous financial burden on the Ottoman Empire, contributing to an eventual slide into state bankruptcy.
The palace is decorated extensively with gold and crystal. The decor includes fourteen tons of gold leaf to gild the ceilings and the world’s biggest crystal chandelier, a gift from Queen Victoria.
The palace is also famous for the Crystal Staircase, made from Baccarat crystal, brass and mahogany in the shape of a horseshoe. Unfortunately, as with all of the Palaces in Turkey, no photographs of the interior are permitted.
Dolmabahçe was home to six Sultans until 1924. Ownership was transferred to the national heritage of the new Turkish Republic, founded by Mustafa Atatürk.
Atatürk used the palace as a presidential residence during the summers, as well as spending his final days of medical treatment here, until his death in 1938. The clocks in the palace were all reset to 9.05 am to honour the time of his death and remain this way today.
Dolmabahçe Palace Opening Hours:
Palaces in Istanbul are closed on Mondays and Thursdays.
Dolmabahçe Palace is open: 09:00-16:00 all other days.
Entry Cost: Harem (Privy Chambers) 30 TL (~$7.50 USD) | Common Ticket for both 60 TL (~$14.50 USD)
Head across the famous Bosphorus Bridge, one of the world’s largest suspension bridges to the Asian side and Camlica Hill. Camlica Hill, the highest peak in Istanbul commands magnificent views of the Bosphorus, old Istanbul, and Galata.
Standing on top of Camlica Hill gives you some perspective of the enormity of the city of Istanbul. A favourite spot on weekends for locals. Its beautiful gardens and tea rooms make it an ideal escape from the city for lunch and of course with views like this, popular for weddings.
The Golden Horn
Back across to the European continent, take a drive along the shores of the Golden Horn. Contrary to what one might first assume, this major urban waterway is not named for the curved shape of the estuary, but for the golden glow left on the water when the sun sets on the city of Istanbul.
Along the Golden Horn is the district of Fener, home to a large Greek and Jewish population. After the fall of Constantinople, Fener became home to the many Greeks of the city as well as the Greek Patriarchate.
Since 1586, the Orthodox Patriarchate has maintained its headquarters in this relatively modest church in Fener and is also said to hold remnants of the shackles which bound Christ.
Lunch at the Eminönü Fish Boats
Eminönü in the centre is where you want to go for lunch before jumping on a boat tour down the Bosphorus. It feels like the entire city comes to the waterfront at Eminönü to indulge in ‘Fish on Bread’.
Cooked and served directly from ornate boats tied alongside, this is something of an Istanbul institution.
Take a Bosphorus Cruise
What better way to take in the two continents of Istanbul than a Bosphorus boat tour?
Down the Strait and under the Bosphorus Bridge, the cruise gives you the opportunity to look back on Istanbul for a new perspective and some quiet amongst the chaos.
- Cruises depart every hour for 1.5 hr cruises up the Bosphorus and back.
- Cost is approx 15 TL (~$4 USD).
- Private cruises are also available. Rates will vary according to the vessel and duration.
- A Bosphorus cruise is included in the price of a full day tour of the two continents of Istanbul. See here for more details.
Istanbul Spice Bazaar
Back in Eminönü, finish the day at the Istanbul Spice Bazaar, also known as The Egyptian Bazaar. The spice market was built in 1660 with revenue from the Ottoman Eyalet in Egypt, hence the name.
There are nearly 100 shops in the Spice Bazaar selling mostly spices, sweets, teas and a plethora of other exotic foods and trinkets. It is easy to become overwhelmed with the heady aromas and buzzing market atmosphere.
Buy Authentic Turkish Delight
For authentic Turkish delight, this is where you come. Most vendors will be vying for your business which can become confusing; don’t make the mistake of opting for the cheap stuff they have on display out the front. Head inside, and you will find the real deal, handmade Turkish Delight.
Made organically, with honey to sweeten, it will, without a doubt, be more expensive. Hand pick your assortment of flavours, and they will pack them specifically to travel.
The good shops will serve Turkish tea and allow you to sample the product to help you decide what you like. There’s nothing quite like sipping tea and tasting delicious sweets in one of the world’s oldest spice markets.
Spice Bazaar Istanbul Opening Hours
Open: Daily from 08:00 – 19:30
Closed: October 29th and on religious holidays
From the fragrant atmosphere of the ancient Spice Bazaar to the opulence of Dolmabahce Palace, home to the last Ottoman Sultans. Crossing the two continents of Turkey in one day rewards you with a comprehensive overview of Istanbul.
Best Time to Visit Istanbul
Istanbul experiences very hot summers and cold winters with snow being quite common so spring and autumn, from March to May and from September to mid-November, are the best times to visit Istanbul.
Temperatures are pleasant and the crowds at the cities major attractions are a little more manageable than the peak tourist months of June to August.
Expect accommodation prices from June through August to also be a little more inflated.
Istanbul Tulip Festival
In spring, the city comes alive with a brilliant display of colour thanks to millions of tulips planted by the government. The annual Istanbul Tulip Festival is held throughout April.