We are going on a RS Best of Turkey Tour in November and will be in Istanbul for 1 1/2 days before and 1 1/2 days after the tour. Of the sights not covered by the tour I know I want to see the Basilica Cistern and the Suleymaniye Mosque and probably browse through the Grand Bazaar again. I am interested in opinions of the Archaeological Museum and the Dolmabahce Palace. I would also like to know if you have visited the Galata Dervish Monastery or other Sema ceremony. I welcome any recommendations. Thanks.
I had a long layover in Istanbul and just returned from there last night. I would highly recommend the Archeological Museum - it was my first time there and, unfortunately, the 2 hours I had in the morning did not do it justice but I had to catch my flight. It's comprised of 3 buildings (The Tiled Kiosk, The Museum of the Ancient Orient, and the main Museum) and it really deserves at least 3 hours, but more likely 4-5 if you're an archeology buff, you need time to read and digest the descriptions, or you want to relax a bit at the cafe. The highlights for me were the sarcophaghi, the Iznik tiles, and the Babylonian/ Assyrian treasures. Wonderful museum and very close to the main sites in the Old City, including the Cistern. Definitely set aside 3-5 hours or so for it, depending on your interest in the subject matter.
On a different note, I would also highly recommend Dolmabahce Palace (gorgeous views and really stunning, over-the-top interior) as well but you should consider that it is fully-guided, timed-entry and you need to get there early so as not to stand in a long line (this may not be valid in November though). You'll need to take the tram there (it's easy) to the Tophane stop and walk a bit...it's along the Bosphorus to the north. So altogether, it will take you a half day at least with transport, tour, standing in line, and having some snacks in the cafe.
One other really fun thing to do (and super relaxing) is just to take a local ferry to the Asia side and poke around. I went to Kadikoy and had a great time checking out food markets and eating some wonderful local food. Not many tourists there at all compared to Sultanahmet. The ride on the Bosphorus is 4 Lira and priceless! Definitely the top highlight of Istanbul - you can ride local ferries in either direction (Bosphorus or Golden Horn) - they don't need to be the tourist oriented ones, just the simple ferries that locals take to get back and forth. PM me for any questions - I've been to Istanbul multiple times on my own.
I would include the Byzantine Chora Church, also called the Kariye Museum. The frescoes and mosaics are beautiful.We went there after seeing Sulieyman Mosque.
You could consider a half day cooking class. There is one quite close to where you will be staying, Cooking Alaturka. It was great fun.
And the Aya Sophia Turkish bath is a very wonderful experience. Also close to where you will be staying.
We enjoyed the Museum of Archaeology and would recommend it. The walking tour in RS Instanbul book was very helpful, drawing our attention to some details we might have missed. He includes descriptions of the Tiled Kiosk and Museum of Ancient Orient as well, so would include those also. We also took the ferry to Kadikoy and spent part of the afternoon there, eating supper there in a restaurant that was absent of any other tourists.