The three-country packaged tour of Turkey we are doing at the moment had only one day for Istanbul, which was really disappointing. Istanbul was on my list for a long time and I wanted to see at least all the main attractions.
It turned out that with a bit of prior knowledge and planning you can cover a lot in a day.
Most of Istanbul’s attractions are concentrated in one area and are within walking distance to each other, which makes it easier because by walking you can avoid traffic jams of old Istanbul which can have you stranded for hours.
We started our day at nine but if you could start at eight, it will give you a bit more time in the museum and you might be able to avoid mid-morning crowds.
We were dropped off near the Blue Mosque and walked through the alleyways to an open area where the three columns are ( I wrote about them in my post-Istanbul – The city of 3200 mosques). We spent about forty minutes learning the history of the columns and taking photos.
The entry to the Blue mosque is just to the right of the columns. We managed to get in before the prayer time. Unfortunately for us, the mosque was going through major restorations. Only a quarter of the interior was visible. Whatever was visible was exquisite. We spent a good half an hour inside taking photos, reading information and admiring the artwork of the walls and ceiling.
Right next to the Blue Mosque is the Hagia Sophia. Built-in 537 by Byzantine Emperor Justinianus, it used to be the Christian church in the golden age of Byzantine. In the 15th century, it was converted into a mosque. In the twentieth century it was converted into a museum and now holds the Christian and Muslim relics side by side. Give yourself an hour and a half to see them. There is a fast lane available at some extra cost. Use that if there is a long queue to get in.
At about five minutes’ walk is the Topkapi Palace, more than just the private residence to Ottoman Sultans for three hundred and fifty years, it was the seat of supreme executives and judiciary council. It has four main areas to see – the ministers meeting place which has expensive antique watches and weapons on display; the museum for holy Islamic and Jewish relics such as Moses’s shaft; the newly opened library and Ottoman kiosks where ministers used to meet and entertain. Outside gardens provide relief from the crowds. It will take you good two hours to see the all.
By this time you will be starving. You can eat at the restaurants in the palace compound our you can walk outside and eat at one of the restaurants in the old city. Use your smartphone to find one you want to try. We went to By Kinyas in a street nearby and sat on the rooftop and had beautifully grilled fish with salads. Turkish dips and salads are something to die for. Creamy but light, flavorsome but not spicy.
Speaking of spices, the next stop is the Spice Market also known as the Egyptian Market. It is a bit of a walk, taking a taxi will save time.
The Spice Market is an indoor market with impressive archways. It has 86 shops, mostly selling spices, jewelry and … Each shop has an army of young men recruited to lure tourists to come inside the shop. But they are very friendly and polite. There is no pressure selling, instead, you are offered free pomegranate tea and Turkish delights. An Arminian guy charmed us so much that we took photos with him and promised to see him if we come to Istanbul again.
The Grand Bazaar is similar to the Spice market and has more than 4000 shops. You can find all kinds of gifts here Both are open till seven at night. You can split your time between the two before getting back to the hotel for a seven-thirty pickup for the Bosphorus dinner cruise a food and dance spectacle spiced with the light show of the building along the Bosphorus strait.
That is Istanbul in a day.
The next post will be on Gallipoli.