My wife and I will be traveling to Istanbul in June. We arrive on a Thursday and will be spending the weekend with a friend who lives on the Asia side. We will then have three days (Mon/Tues/Wed) on our own, staying in a hotel in the old district. My question is could someone provide some itinerary suggestions in how to make the best use of our three days, given that many of the sites (e.g., Hagia Sophia) are closed on Monday. Thanks
I think you should identify the key attractions you want to see and block off some time on Tuesday and Wednesday to see the ones you'll be missing on Monday. Istanbul is so huge, spread out, and so full of things to do other than the museums in the Old City, that I won't repeat all of them here ( Lonely Planet and Rick's Istanbul guide book are excellent resources for planning purposes, so check them out). Definitely look into Topkapi Palace and opening times, as well as the Archeological Museum, which is also excellent (there are others as well). Not all museums are in the Old City, there are several like the Istanbul Modern Museum and Sabanci Museum that are outside the Old City and further up the Bosphorus. Even if all museums are closed, you can always spend touring on the Bosphorus by ferry, visiting various mosques and the Chora Church, going to the Arasta Bazaar and Grand Bazaar, strolling around Gulhane Park, checking out the New City/Taksim area, etc. There are also interesting places right on the Bosphorus ferry stops such as Ortakoy, Kadikoy (Asia side), Uskudar (Asia side), and Eyup (off the Golden Horn), etc. Your friends will likely give you more suggestions. You can even take a half-day cooking class which looks like a great way to learn about and enjoy the Turkish culture and hospitality. If anything, it will be hard to prioritize what to do in such a short time frame in a megacity like Istanbul. I spent over two weeks there on one trip, and still didn't get to everything I wanted to do.
This is a useful web site showing the days sites are closed and their opening hours-
However,since that was made there have been a couple of notable changes.Hagia Sofia is now open 7 days a week and NOT closed on Mondays any longer.
Touristic mosques such as Blue Mosque are closed to visitors on Friday until c.14.30 but to compensate they stay open for visitors later that evening.
To make the best use of your time try to group attractions you want to see by location so you aren't dog legging back and forth across this huge(vast!) city.
For example Monday could be Golden Horn day.Take the Haliç Line ferry from Eminönü right up to Eyup at the top of the waterway,visit Eyup and Pierre Loti cafe.Then make your way by ferry down to Balat to visit Kariye Museum and Fethiye Museum.From there take the ferry across to the other side to the Sütlüce ferry pier nd visit the fabulous Rahmi Koç Transport Museum(which is amazing and sooo not like a museum).You could round off your day with a meal there,the restaurant is excellent and reasonably priced,or just walk along the side of the Golden Horn to Karaköy fish market and have a nice fresh fish dinner there watching the sun go down.
Perhaps these particular sites don't interest you but I just give this as an example of how to group attractions together in a main area.
One thing I found useful was to find out the prayer times for the days I was there (they change daily). The mosques (Blue Mosque, Suleiman, etc) close for prayers - they start shooing the tourists out a few minutes before prayer time.
Thanks for the very helpful replies.
Lucky you to have a friend to stay with! No doubt your friend can make valuable suggestions, perhaps ideas that only a resident could offer.
A few more thoughts . . .
I found the RS Istanbul book very helpful.
We took one of the short Bosphorus cruises in the late afternoon, as luck would have it, we returned just as the sun was setting behing the Istanbul skyline - beautiful (and great photo op), of course it will be much later in June than it was in October. Don't bother with a longer one - waste of your short time.
We happened to go to the Grand Bazaar about 6.30 p.m. and it worked out fine for us, there were few people and we had over an hour to wander through before the shops began to close up. I think by 8 p.m. everything was shut down. If you plan to do any serious shopping, though, you'll want a lot more time. But I'll bet your friend will have a better ideas for shopping. We loved the spice market. If you want to buy anything, the stalls outside the building on the periphery are definitely cheaper and it's the same stuff. Lokum is yummy (Turkish delight) and comes in lots of flavors. They will all give you tastes.
Use the trams to get around or walk. Traffic is horrid and trams have the right-of-way (and they are easy to use. You can get a multiple ticket card easily at the machines at the tram stops (the hard part is reading the screens in the bright sunlight). Taxis can take longer than walking.
You don't need much time in the Blue Mosque, more at Hagia Sophia, and most at the Topkapi, where there are several buildings to visit and there can be waiting lines at all of them. I'd skip the Chora Church - too long to get there, not as much to see, considering your limited time. Try to get to the Mosque of Suleyman the Magnificent (there's a very good self-guided walking tour in the RS book that includes it). I liked it much more than the Blue Mosque, and as much as the Hagia Sophia. The Archeology Museum is excellent and extensive (several buildings). If that interests you, do make time for it.
Ahh, missing Istanbul as I write this. Worse - I am flying through IST to the US in a couple of months and won't have time to go outside the airport. I may break down and buy some lokum - though it's much more expensive there.
If you plan a tour of Topkapi Palace, you might want to have lunch at the restaurant There overlooking the Sea of Mamara. It is only open for lunch and every table has a great view. Ask your friends or your hotel for advice as it might be closed on Monday. If you were to go to Topkapi Palace you would want to be waiting in line when the Palace opens for the day.
Pam from Bath
The Turkish Minister of Culture and Tourism has announced that Hagia Sophia will be open 7 days a week through December 31.
Thank you all for the great suggestions. Matt and I had a wonderful time in Istanbul. A few special treats:
--The day after we arrived, we ferried over to one of the islands (the big island?) in the Marmara Sea. Our friend's co-worker at the college lives there. We walked all over, then came back to his apartment for pide (Turkish pizza) and espresso. It was a good day and a low-key way to get acclimated.
Another was attending the sema on Sunday at the Galata Mevlevi Dervish house. The real thing.
And the cats! The cats are everywhere. I've put together a Flickr album: You can see it here.
And the food! Loved the food in Turkey. Fell in love with ayran (the yogurt drink).
I was surprised how UN-crowded it was at the sights. We didn't have to stand in lines for much of anything. The Spice Market was extremely crowded; but the Grand Bazaar was fairly empty. (Oh, apparently there is now an app for the Grand Bazaar. The ads for it (on the sidewalk) say "Never get lost at the Grand Bazaar" and "Always find a bathroom at the Grand Bazaar" or something like that.
We did take the short Bosporus cruise. It was a very gray day, though; but we got our spectacular views of (part of) the Bosporus from the top of Galata Tower. It was a perfect day when we went. The Bosporus & the Golden Horn were bluest of blue.
We used most of the transit options: numerous ferry rides, the "Dolmesh" (vans), the tram/train on the European Side, the funicular (up to Taksim Square), and taxis. We even used the Istanbul version of Uber, called BiTaksi. Worked wonderfully.
As noted, we stayed on the Asian side for 3 nights (in Bostanci), and 4 nights in Sultanahment (near Topkapii Palace). Perfect location. Tram stop at the next corner.
We loved Istanbul & would like to return again, only this time for a couple of days to acclimate then take the train with our friend to Ephesus and Cappadocia.
I'm flying through IST tomorrow and now I'm wishing I could stay a few days. Istanbul is great, you had wonderful experiences, and Cappadocia and Ephesus are great destinations for your next trip. Consider the RS Turkey tour - I enjoyed it very much.
Key sights to see in order of importance
1) Hagia Sophia- use audio-guide, plan on about 2.5 hours
2) Topkai Palace including Harem, also, use audi-guide
3) Chora Church, it is out of the way but worth the effort, take a taxi.
4) Archaeological Museum, close to Topkapi, also use audio-guide
5) Spice and Grand Bazaars are not a long distance from Hagia Sophia, but you can walk there.
6) Blue Mosque
7) Hippodrome and Basilica Cistern, Hippodrome is in front of Blue Mosque.
8) Galata Tower
9) Bosphorus Cruise is fine, but not a bigger for us.
You should be able to do all in three days.