When time is short and at a premium, you
can see all of Istanbul's top
sights in 2 or 3 days,
take a one-day or overnight excursions to
another Turkish destination. (See also my Istanbul
To make the most of your time, your visit must be very efficiently planned—especially transportation. You should seriously consider joining a value-for-money guided tour and/or having one of my recommended Turkish travel agencies help you to make your travel arrangements.
You must also consider seeing the sights with a recommended Licensed
Private Guide so you don't get lost in this confusing city, and you don't have to wait in ticket lines (guides are allowed to jump the lines). When your time is short, their expertise and help are all the more valuable.
A Istanbul Museum Pass can save you time as well as money. More...
Here are possibile plans for 2 to 5 days in Turkey:
top sights are grouped right around
the Hippodrome in Sultanahmet
(9-5, closed Tuesday;
stay 2-3 hr). Get there at 8:45
am and go straight to the Harem,
which gets overcrowded.
Sophia) (9-4, closed Monday; stay
1 hr). Right next to Topkapı. Don't
miss the mosaics on the upper
(stay 1/2 hr). Just across the
park from Ayasofya, on the Hippodrome.
The mosque is closed to visitors
for 25 minutes after each call
to prayer, and for much of the day on Friday. Here's mosque-visit etiquette.
(At Meydanı, stay 1/2
hr). Enjoy the monuments in the
park: Egyptian Obelisk of Theodosius, Kaiser Wilhelm II Fountain, serpents' column and more.
closed Monday; stay 1-2 hr).
Right on the Hippodrome across
from the Blue Mosque, this is
a treasurehouse of Anatolian
Sarnıçı) (9-5; stay 1/2 hr).
At the NE end of the Hippodrome
beneath the little park.
bath (1-3 hr) can
be amazingly refreshing after
a long day. If not today, then
you visit Istanbul's top Byzantine (4th
to 14th centuries) sights, and go shopping.
tour) Walk from the Hippodrome uphill
along this historic boulevard,
the ancient Roman Mese, to
see the tombs of the Ottoman sultans,
other Ottoman buildings,
and Çemberlitaş (Forum
of Constantine) to Beyazıt
Square (Forum of
Theodosius) and Istanbul
Take a bus or taxi to Edirnekapı
and the Chora Church (Kariye Museum) or, better yet, make the most of your time and avoid hassles by joining
a convenient, value-for-money
guided tour that takes you to a number
of hard-to-reach sites.
Wednesday; stay 1-2 hrs). Come
for the brilliant gold 14th-century Byzantine mosaics that
cover the ceiling and walls.
Nearby is Tekfur
Saray, Istanbul's only extant Byzantine palace,
built into the huge 4th-century city
walls. Take a bus or taxi
back to Beyazıt
Square and the Grand Bazaar. (If
you're on the tour,
you'll go on to Eyüp,
and the Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarchate. More...)
(9-5, closed Sunday;
stay 1-2 hrs, longer if you're
really shopping). With its 4000
shops, it has something you
want! Finding it is great fun.
Have lunch at one of the
little restaurants right in the
bazaar. When you're done, walk
downhill along Long-Market Street or take a tram or taxi to Eminönü and
the Egyptian (Spice) Bazaar. More...
open every day; stay 1/2 to 1
hr) Right next to the southern
end of the Galata
Bridge, it's much smaller
than the Grand
Bazaar, but the surrounding
district is full of other shops
selling food, clothing, kitchen
The tram will
take you right back to Sultanahmet.
An alternative: combine a Bosphorus Cruise with a visit to the Spice Bazaar and gem-like Rüstem Pasha Mosque on a guided walking tour. More...
19th-Century Istanbul: Beyoğlu
the romance of late Ottoman Istanbul on
a walking tour of Beyoğlu,
and a visit to the sultan's most
(stay 1/2 hr)
Start at the bridge over the Golden
Horn which links Old Istanbul and Beyoğlu. Take in the view,
then walk north through Karaköy (Galata) and uphill to...
on Monday; stay 1/2 to 1 hr)
Best views of the city from this
Genoese cone-topped stone tower.
Continue uphill to Tünel Square and...
Rue de Péra; 1-2 hr walking
tour) Lots to see along the main
boulevard of 19th-century Istanbul:
dervish hall, grand old embassy
buildings, the Pera
Palace Hotel, Galatasaray
Square, and lots of boutiques.
Plenty of restaurants for
From this hub
of modern Istanbul, go downhill
to Dolmabahçe Palace or
north to the Military Museum.
(9-4, closed Monday
and Thursday; stay 1-2 hrs) With
a façade almost 400 meters (1/4 mile)
long, this is the mother of all Ottoman palaces, and a must-see
if you're into magnificence.
(9-5, closed Monday & Tuesday;
stay 1-2 hr) North of Taksim
along Cumhuriyet Caddesi past
Hilton, the museum chronicles
1000 years of Turkish military
history—quite fascinating. At
3 and 4 pm you can hear the Ottoman Mehter,
the world's original military
band, in costume with period
4 & 5
Excursions from Istanbul
seen Istanbul's top sights, now get
out of the city. Here are the best one-day and overnight trips. More...
—by Tom Brosnahan