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How much time for Istanbul?

Hi, My husband and I will be in Istanbul at the end of May this year. My RS book has not arrived but I'm trying to purchase flights. How many days/nights should I allow for Istanbul? I do not know much about the city but we do want to visit the blue mosque, spend time at a bazaar/market and crusie on the Bosphorus. We will have spent time in Athens and Santorini prior to arriving in Istanbul. Any thoughts would really be helpful. Thank you, Velda

Posted by
338 posts

I'd suggest four days to see the top sites, but you could easily spend more than a week and still have plenty to see. Here is a list of ideas based on what you mentioned and some of my recommendations. The hours I list should allow for a decent not too hurried visit. Yoiu'll also need to factor in travel time. The ide as I list for the four days are roughly grouped by location to minimize travel time.

Day 1 = Blue Mosque (30 minutes to 1 hour), Aya Sophia (2 hours), Archaeology Museum (4 hours)

Day 2 = Topkopi Palace (6 hours), Hippodrome (30 minutes to 1 hour)

Day 3 = Bosphorus Cruise (4 to 6+ hours depending on how far you go, if you use a private boat or the public ferry, if you eat lunch along the route, etc.)

Day 4 = Grand Bazaar (3 hours), Suleiman Mosque (1.5 hours)

Other ideas = Galata Bridge and adjacent fish markets (1 hour), Spice Market (30 minutes), Rustem Pasha Mosque (30 minutes), Galata Tower and adjacent markets (1 hour), Istiklal Street and Taksim Square (2 to 4 hours), Islamic Art Museum (3 hours), Basillica Cistern (1 hour)

Have fun!

Posted by
1487 posts

You could also visit the Galata Tower for a great view of the city. Also, near the Spice Bazaar is the Yeni Cami another very interesting mosque. The Archaeological Museum (really 3 museums) is also worthwhile, if you have time. Cross the Bosphorous to visit the Asian side - the Kadikoy neighborhood is very interesting. We were there on a Sunday and the market district was very interesting. We walked along the seaside promenade for another great view back at Istanbul old town. We got a completely different view of life in Istanbul. Istanbul has so much to offer and it's so different from Athens. You won't regret spending an extra day or two to really get a feel for the city.

Posted by
12 posts

We visited Istanbul before heading down to the coastal area of Bodrum, and we spent 5 days in Istanbul. It's a full-on city - lot's of people and noise, and plenty to see. I felt like 5 days was enough to see the major sights as well as couple of less trodden ones, and it allowed us to get familiar with the city.

It's a walking city, and it's going to tire you out because of all the hills, but there's a great public transport system which is easy to use to take some of the trudge out of your time there. But I'd encourage you to walk as much as you can, because it really gives you a feel for the different neighbourhoods.

  • I'd recommend heading to the Galata Tower early in your visit
    there. From the top, you get a really great view of the city, which
    helps to put the size and scale of this city into perspective, and
    the key landmarks will help give you a context to how close or far
    away from each other, places are.

  • We stayed in the old town near the Blue Mosque and we visited
    there a couple of times and different times during the day, it's a
    great place for photographs and people watching.

  • Another place we went to numerous times was the Grand Bazaar -
    which is huge, and can get a bit hectic and frantic. On our 5 day
    trip, we visited there 3 times for small chunks of time ... my
    patience couldn't stand more than a few hours at a time, and I wanted
    to make sure to enjoy my time there, so we stayed until it stopped
    being fun, and then went back on other days.

  • You should definitely take a boat trip. The waterways are the
    lifeblood of the city and no trip to Istanbul is complete with at
    least one jaunt on the water. We took 3 boat trips while we were
    there. We hopped on a Public Ferry over to the Asian side of Istanbul
    .. it took about 20 minutes, and these boats are frequent and cheap.
    We took a 1/2 day Turyol ferry boat trip up the Bosphorus -- which is
    cheaper than the organized tour boats. And then one day we took a day
    trip to the Princes Islands. We did this on the mid way point of our
    Istanbul trip because we were tired from all of the walking, and a
    boat trip allowed us to sit for an extended period of time!

  • Theres a couple of different ferry ports depending on your
    destination, but you should at least head towards the Galata Bridge
    for a walk around, and the Spice Market in nearby.

  • We visited the Topkapi Palace one morning, after the Hagia
    , and then stopped in the nearby Archaeological Museum.
    These are all really close to each other. The Topkapi palace was
    mobbed at the time we went, so it wasn't an enjoyable as I'd
    anticipated, but the Hagia Sophia was a diamond in the rough and well
    worth a visit, but the highlight of this trio was the Archaeological
    Museum. It was amazing, full of ancient relics, is a lovely building
    (which had very welcome air conditioning after a hot stroll around
    the Palace. I would go back to this Museum in a heartbeat.

  • There are so many mosques in the city, and I couldn't get enough of
    them... I just loved the different decorative finishes in them. So if you walk past one, just pop in for a look at the courtyard at the very least.

You'll have an amazing time. After Paris, it's my favourite walking city.

Posted by
52 posts

Hello and THANK YOU for all of the great ideas and advice. I apologize for my tardy reply but I had no idea that anyone had even responded to my question. I am not accustomed to this new RS website. In the past, I would receive an email letting me know that I had a response. That did not happen this time...maybe I'm doing something wrong. Anyway, You have all made me feel much better about the decision we ultimately made. We will have 6 nights and 5 full days for Istanbul. After reading all of your comments, I'm so glad we allowed that much time. I will keep all of your suggestions in mind as I plan each day. Thanks so much, Velda

Posted by
44 posts

All the above responses are right on -- I would like to add - Take a bath! Been to Çemberlitas Hamami a couple times -- it is a fantastic experience.

Posted by
11613 posts

I would move the Basilica Cistern to close to the top of your list.

Posted by
7 posts

Istanbul 3-4 days
full day classical tour (topkapi palace, blue mosque, hippodromme, hagia sophia, grand bazaar)
half day public bosphorus cruise and bazaars
evening turkish night or whirling dervishes
afternoon tuırkish bath
free day to explore by yourself

cappadocia 2-3 days and kusadasi (ephesus) 2-3 days are teh other highlights of turkey.

athens 2-3 days
half day athens sigtseeing tour + acropolis
greek night
free day to explore by yourself

mykonos 2-3 days
join delos Island or delian sunset cruise

santorini 2-3 days
go up the caldera on a mule ride, dive into the sunset, visit a winery, go to ammoudi for swimming and eating

Posted by
1196 posts

I hope you see this as I know I used to get an email when people posted their responses for my questions. Now with the new web site you don't get an email anymore. You need to check every day. Wish they did not do away with that great feature of getting an email when people posted their replies. Anyway, you should also take a look at the RS Istanbul week long tour and see what the tour does every day. This will give you a good outline as to what there is to see and do. I went on the RS tour this past September and it was great. One of the most interesting and amazing tours!!! You will love Istanbul and the sites are just overwhelming as well as the city. You will have a good amount of time there but don't expect to see it all. There is so much to see and do and lots of shops, sites, mosques and museums. You will enjoy it. Have a great time.

Posted by
14 posts

People who made a reply to the question, never mentioned about Istiklal Avenue.

The HEART of Istanbul is Istiklal (Independence) Avenue and Beyoğlu area If you haven't been to Beyoğlu, it means you have NOT been to Istanbul.

You tourists just stuck in the Old-City part of Istanbul, visit mosques, Grand Bazaar and buy some carpets but you get no idea how the urban life is. Nobody lives in the old city, there are only historical monuments, souvenir shops and hotels. It is not your fault though, how could you know the place where you had never been before?

Give a day to Beyoğlu and Istiklal Avenue

An Istanbulite

Posted by
15542 posts

Velda, you can go to your profile by clicking on your name in the upper right-hand corner of this screen. Then you can change your profile to received notification of responses to your questions.

I found Istanbul fascinating. It will be easy to fill 4 days . . . even a week. Have a great trip.

Posted by
65 posts

I just returned from Istanbul (5 nights there, 4 in Athens/Hydra) and I had a great time.

One of the sights not mentioned above, if I'm not mistaken, was the Mosaic Museum, quite near the Blue Mosque. I really enjoyed it, plus it was not at all crowded. Another "lesser" diversion is to head east from the Blue Mosque until you reach the water, then turn left for a long walk, great for people watching - you'll probably see some spearfishermen suiting up.

Aside from that, I visited many of the "top" sights - Haiga Sophia, Blue Mosque, Taksim Square, Topkapi, as well as other mosques such as the Rustem Mosque and the New Mosque. I found Rob's time breakdown quite helpful in planning.

I'd suggest getting a museum pass or individual tickets ahead of time for Hagia Sophia and Topkapi. However, you will still encounter long lines within Topkapi entering various galleries. I'd suggest getting to these places early! I spent a good part of a day at Topkapi, and the lines I saw when I was leaving in mid-afternoon were astonishing.

I really enjoyed taking the full day cruise up the Bosphorus, including a lengthy stop at the far end to hike up to some castle ruins and view the Black Sea (and towers for the new bridge), with time for a fine seafood lunch as well. I went on the public ferry (nearest building to the east of the bridge), and paid only 25 lira. I saw numerous brochures and hawkers pushing trips that cost 50 or more euro, for what seemed to be essentially the same trip (no dinner, etc). Again, get there early if you want a nice seat on the rail.


Posted by
8467 posts

Cannot believe that the Chora Church hasn't been suggested by anyone. Besides Hagia Sophia it was my favorite part of the RS tour I was on a few years ago. Supposedly not it a great neighborhood but I recall we walked from it (cannot for the life of me remember how we got there) and no point did we ever feel unsafe. Safety in numbers I guess. It's not in Old Town so you'll have to take a bus or taxi but IMHO well worth the effort. Believe RS talks about it in the guide. I would also take the time to stroll through Gulhane Park near Topaki Palace. Lovely spot.