Note : This is a picture intensive post, so allow for a little load time on this one!
So you’re here in Istanbul and there are 5000 possible things to do and see in this remarkably old city. You have done your research and you have your short list of things to do. Here’s how to rock 12 to 14 hours in Istanbul.
- 8am : Have your breakfast. Preferably it will be in a decent hotel. See my review on the Le Meridien Istanbul Etiler for a great example of what you should stay in.
- 9:30am : Head directly to the subway and spend 20 mins trying to figure out your routing and the subway stations. Here is a tip … you’re going to the Sultanahmet subway stop. Everything for the next 6 hours will be there.
- 10:30am : Once you arrive at Sultanahmet station,walk to the Tomb of Sultan Ahmet I. It’s interesting and will make for a cool photo stop. It’s only worth about 10 mins, but it’s on your way to the big stuff anyway
- 11:45am : Next … go directly to fountain between the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia. The view will look something like this on a hot sunny day
– Noon – 3pm : Over the next 3 hours, you’re going to get a lot of the following
1) Reams of history, if you’ve done any reading about the place
2) Fantastic pictures depending on your equipment. If you have a good SLR, you’re going to love the challenge of shooting inside the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque
3) Hassled! Everyone and their dog will try and sell you a service, ride, cameltoe and the like … ignore it all and proceed on your own through the Blue Mosque. I do not recommend a guide for the Blue Mosque. It’s huge inside but the pamphlets will provide enough of the dimensions, history and overall picture. I have a video or two on my youtube channel
– Noon – Blue Mosque
– Also known as Sultanahmet Camii and Sultanahmet Mosque, the Blue Mosque is one of Istanbul’s major attractions. The mosque itself doesn’t open to the public until 9am, but admire its early 1600s architecture and six iconic minarets.
– It will take about an hour to go through all of the Mosque, Courtyard and lineup
– Visitor Info: Daily 9am to one hour before dusk. (except during prayer times, five times a day for around 30 minutes). Access is through the north gate.
– 1pm : Head on over to the Hagia Sophia and be prepared for amazement.
– I highly recommend a guide for this part of your day. We were very lucky to have a great and super funny guide by the name of Ibrahim Yerli. His contact information is below and something in the region of 25TL per person is a fair price for his services
– Ibrahim Yerli (Click here for a picture of his business card)firstname.lastname@example.org
– There is so much to see and do here … as a museum, the 6th century Hagia Sophia has become a fusion of Byzantine and Ottoman styles with a Basilica-style dome as well as Islamic minarets and Byzantine/Ottoman mosaic interior.
- 3pm : Head for some lunch. There is tons of good food but we ended up at a very old restaurant ın Sultanahmet.
- We had seen the long queues outside this place and decided to try it. Not much to choose from on the menu, we ordered the meatballs and some rice and salad. The portions served where, compared to the price a lıttle too small and we had to order another plate of kofte. It was tasty but a bit too expensive in my opinion but it is historical.
– 4pm – 6pm – Head over to Tokapi Palace for the rest of your day
Here are a couple tips for enjoying the rest of the daylight over here
– It’s going to be hot, use an umbrella for shade
– It’s going to be crowded in summer, pace yourself
– Topkapi Palace is huge and will take time. Don’t rush and if the Ottoman legacy really interests you, then obviously plan to come back for a full day. It really can take a full day to see and digest everything in the Palace.
– There are many exhibits where photography is prohibited. If you’re really looking to take pictures of these, I suggest that you make your equipment is bit less pronounced
– Check the website – not all attractions are open daily.
– 6pm – 8pm – Dinner/Snacks and some Shisha with Turkish Delight
It’s already been a long, exhausting and hot day in Istanbul. Your body is screaming for some rest – but you are “Da BOSS” and you want to maximize your time here in Istanbul at all costs. To do this, you will need some rest – I would suggest walking down the street on Sultanahmet and lounging in one of the many coffee shops or restaurants. Kick back … so some souvenir shopping and have some Turkish delight, coffee and smoke some shisha.
As for explaining what is Turkish Delight or Lokum … especially for a Trinidadian palate … I would liken it to “Jaleebi” … which is really derivative from a Greek/Indian pastry filled with honey. It’s soft, gooey and with tons of sugar and nuts. It’s really a very simple candy made from sugar, starch and floral flavourings like rosewater – that is a really the difference to a Caribbean palate – we’re not accustomed to very floral flavors. It’s served in little cubes that are dusted with sugar to prevent sticking and comes in many varieties with ingredients like hazelnut, almonds, pistachio, dates, coconut etc.
A little bit on the history of the sweet – Lokum is one of the oldest sweets in the world – it was created in Turkey about 500 years ago but it was not until the early 1800s under the reign of Sultan Abdul Hamid I, that the candy really become popular – since he was the first to appoint a confectioner in his court. Lokum then made its way to Britain in the 19th century to various traders who bought cases in Istanbul and shipped them to Britain under the name Turkish Delight. As for the meaning of the name – since the long name of Turkish delight is rahat lokum. It is a corruption of the Turanian word meaning morsel. Rahat is a Turkish word, meaning peace or contentment, therefore the correct translation is a morsel of contentment.
– 8pm – 10pm – 90 minute Bosphorus River cruise
So now you’re a bit more rested and you want some adventure. Why not walk to the riverfront and head out for a cruise on the river. It’s pretty great to spend an evening. I would even say that no Istanbul experience is complete without a cruise up the Bosphorus. I think its important in your visit as visiting any of the other major sightseeing spots. Certainly from June to September it’s one of Istanbul’s greatest pleasures. There are several ways to take a tour on the Bosphorus – but obviously your first mission is to get to the Bosphorus Cruise Pier.
We ended up taking a random boat cruise which turned out to be pretty awesome.
The photography is stunning but you will need a great camera to get the shot you want. Even my equipment wasn’t suitable for the best moving night shots …
Not much to say on the cruise except to do it! Here is a sample video of the cruise …
10 pm to 1am … Go have a snack or a fish sandwich on the cruise pier
So there you have an epic “how-to” on exactly how to get the best of a single day in Istanbul for a first timer. If you have more time on your hands, I would challenge you to knock off the “101 things to do in Istanbul list”, shown below and I lifted the entire thing from the Galata Antique Hotel website – but I think it is a phenomenal list to follow.
1. Take a ride in a horse-drawn carriage on Princes’ Islands
2. Enjoy the spectacular view of Istanbul Moderns’ Café
3. Stroll the streets of Çukurcuma and Galata
4. Enjoy the wonderful scene at Aşşk Café
5. Try pistachio and almond marzipans at Meshur Bebek Badem Ezmesi
6. Eat a truly tasteful Turkish Kebap at Samatya Develi
7. Smoke a Turkish Water Pipe – Also known as Hooka, these stylish traditional smoking pipes are worth a try after a hard day of sightseeing. There are quite a few pipe emporiums found near the Grand Bazaar.
8. Go People-watching in Taksim Square – The Square is at the top of Istanbul’s main public shopping mall, and provides a good chance to sit in a café or restaurant and people-watch. Enjoy a Turkish tea and let the faces, clothing and culture inspire.
9. Book a fancy dinner at Suada in the middle of Bosphorus
10. Visit a Turkish Bath House – The way to relax in Istanbul is to visit a bath house, facilities of which include saunas, pools and massages. Most baths have separate areas for men and women and a few set rules; the most centrally accessible is Cemberlitas Bath, near the Grand Bazaar. Suleymaniye Bath is the only bath in Istanbul that allows mixed bathing. The way to relax in Istanbul is to visit a bath house, facilities of which include saunas, pools and massages. Most baths have separate areas for men and women and a few set rules; the most centrally accessible is Cemberlitas Bath, near the Grand Bazaar. Suleymaniye Bath is the only bath in Istanbul that allows mixed bathing.
11. Explore the bohemian neighborhood of Istanbul: Cihangir
12. See the Blue Mosque – Also known as the Sultanahmet Mosque, it was once on of the most important Mosques in Istanbul. Called the ‘Blue’ mosque for its impressive blue tiling on the interior walls. Conveniently located near another ‘must see’ attraction, the Hagia Sophia.
13. Have a delicious Turkish breakfast in Namlı Karaköy
14. Drink Turkish Coffee – Turkish coffee is coffee prepared by boiling finely powdered roast coffee beans in a pot, possibly with sugar, and serving it into a cup, where the dregs settle. The necessary equipment to prepare Turkish coffee consists of a narrow-topped small boiling pot called cezve, džezva, xhezve or μπρίκι (bríki) (basically a tiny ewer), a teaspoon and a heating apparatus.
15. Taste the best “baklava” in the city: Karakoy Gulluoglu
16. Enjoy your Turkish coffee at Pierre Loti Café
17. Drink “Rakı” in Asmalimescit
18. Cool Down with a Bosphorus River Cruise – A river cruise is the perfect way to see a city so immense, to gauge the size and to cool down in the heat. There are tour cruises available, or ferries that go to cities edge.
19. Try Turkish fast-food from Taksim Square kiosks
20. Reserve a diner at the Bosphorus’ restaurant/night clubs