Istanbul Pt 4

This was the last day, left for seeing whatever was left from previous days, and some shopping on the side

Kariye museum 

Kariye Museum

This seems to be the farthest place on the map we went to visit. It seems to be one of the reasons why many people decide to skip it. I wouldn’t recommend making that mistake. It won’t take much of your time, and it’s definitely worth seeing it. 

To get there all you have to do is change trams from T1 to T4 at Topkapi(not to be confused with the palace. They’re not even close) station and then get off at Yatan station. After that you need to walk a bit, which might be confusing if you don’t have a map.

Mosaics Museum

That was the other thing on our list for the day. I went there mostly because it was also included in our museum pass. It won’t take you long to visit and quite honestly if you have to pay separately for it it’s not worth it. Not that it’s not beautiful but there’s almost no description of the mosaics. It will take you 20 minutes probably to see it all. 

After that we had enough time to some more shopping and have dinner.

One thing to consider is that the Grand Bazaar is not working on Sundays!!!

Overall, we could have seen something more on Sunday. There was enough time for that.

Things we actually wanted but didn’t see for one reason or the other:

  • Galata Tower: it was too hot and didn’t find how to go up using public transport
  • Dolmbahce Palace: After reading how little time you have inside, and the fact that the tour is with a guide only, we decided not to go. Can’t even take pictures inside
  • Basilica Cistern: from a friend I heard that, while the place is interesting it’s nothing spectacular
  • Princes Islands: it was either bosphorus cruise or the islands. We choose the cruise. If you have more time, it’s probably worth seeing
  • Fatih Mosque: I thought we might not have enough time to see the other things. It’s a bit off course

Leaving Istanbul by Airplane is not complicated at all. We got the Tram from Sultanahmet, switched to Subway at Zeytinburnu and got off at the airport. It took roughly one hour and it wasn’t complicated at all.

Make sure you arrive there 3 hours earlier. At the time of our visit airport security checks were a little more strict than usual. That, and we were flying through New York.

Istanbul Pt 3

Day 2: Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia, Hagia Irene, and the evening Bosphorus cruise.

Actually, the first thing we decided to do in the morning is go to Blue Mosque again hoping there won’t be as many people this time. It turned out we were wrong, and at 10AM they were just as many as the previous day. Waiting time was roughly 20 minutes, so it wasn’t that bad. Conclusion was, that no matter when you decide to go, it will always involve some waiting time.

Lineup

 

After that we went to Topkapi Palace. Like I said previously, having a museum pass is certainly beneficial. There were quite a lot of people in line waiting to buy tickets, but we went in without worrying about that. While the palace is open until 7pm, the harem closes earlier, so keep that in mind. The entry to there is another 15 lira, but entry is included with the museum pass.

There are plenty of things to see, and unfortunately they don’t provide a map of the palace unless you rent an audio guide. Turkey is also the first country in my experience where I go to a museum, and couldn’t find any information about the place unless I pay extra for it. That would be understandable if they didn’t already charge as much for the entry. I doubt paper is such a rare commodity in there, but unless you’re really in a hurry, you should be able to see everything anyway if you search around. Don’t skip on exhibits, because they’re all worth it. Nothing inside the palace falls in the “boring” category.

Hagia Sophia 

This was the second biggest attraction for day 2. It’s not as time consuming as Topkapi Palace, but there’s plenty to see inside, and doesn’t involve as much walking. I can’t describe much here, but I can say that the size of this monument really struck me. Unfortunately, as usual there’s absolutely no information available freely around.

If you like Islamic calligraphy(not sure if I’m calling it the right name), you might spend even longer exploring inside. There was a nice exhibit on the ground level.

You can also climb on the second level and see the restorations of the original Christian wall paintings from up close.

Hagia Irene

I almost forgot to mention this one. Compared to everything else, this is probably the least exciting place to visit. The church had no drawings inside(they might be restoring them, but at the moment of our visit there was only a giant cross), and no information whatsoever on the history and its significance. It costs 15 Lira if you buy tickets, so my suggestions is, if you don’t have a pass don’t bother going there.

Alternatively you can hide inside from the heat outside and relax for a bit. There’s hardly anyone inside.

Bosphorus Scenic Trip

Now this one is a bit tricky. You can’t buy tickets online, so you have to go on the spot and buy them. It’s not as busy as I thought so going at least 15 minutes prior to boarding will guarantee you a good seat on the boat. Make sure you buy tickets in advance, otherwise the counter might be closed.

 

http://www.sehirhatlari.com.tr/en/that’s their website for more info.

*There are many people who stay around the city and try to sell you a tour of the bosphorus. I can’t comment on their quality, but you’ll definitely pay more. The one I got is like the regular ferry and for 20 lira both ways per person you couldn’t possibly go wrong. 

You have two options. You can take the long or short tour during the day(25 and 10 liras), or you can take the sunset cruise(20 lira, and that’s the best deal in my opinion)

http://www.sehirhatlari.com.tr/en/timetable/sunset-cruises-415.html – that’s the link to the sunset tour schedule

As you can see the ferry leaves at 18:25 from Eminönü

The boat itself stops at different parts of the city and goes to A. Kavagi as a final stop. You can get off at any place. During daytime you could probably take the bus back or wait for the same ferry to come back. I’m not sure how that would work out during the evening cruise. We got off at the last stop and got back on at the same spot.

The boat arrives at around 8:30PM and you have around an hour and a half to grab dinner somewhere. There are plenty of restaurants along the coast. The more scenic ones are more expensive. There will also be plenty of people trying to grab your attention so you buy something from them. Just ignore them if you want and pick the place you like the most. All restaurants serve fish, so if you don’t feel like spending much you should go for the restaurants in the back which are probably twice as cheap. Just a suggestion, if the restaurant is too busy with locals, it probably means the food is good, but it also means you’ll wait very long time to get anything. That’s what happened to us at least.

Other than food there’s not much to see in the village. It’s small, and once it gets dark you don’t have much choice other than to go back on board. Make sure you get that last ferry, otherwise you’d be stuck in there for the night.

We arrived back around 11:50 pm, and the trams were still running, but if you live farther you might want to check just in case, because I think public transport runs until around midnight in Istanbul. Eventually you can grab a taxi if there’s nothing else.

That concluded day 2 for us.

Istanbul Pt 2

My stay in Istanbul lasted exactly 3 days, so I’ll try to outline what’s worth seeing, and how long does it take on average to see every attraction. You can tailor your own trip that way. I’ll start with the ones that took me the longest, going to the shortest. Keep in mind that your time spent on exploring might vary depending on your personal interests.

*At the time I was there some of the museums were being renovated, and time might vary in the future!

  1. Bosphorus Tour(including the evening scenic tour) – 3-6 hours
  2. Topkapi Palace – 2+ hours
  3. Hagia Sophia – 1 – 1.5 hours
  4. Istanbul Archeology museum – roughly 2 hours
  5. Blue Mosque – 30 minutes, depending on waiting time
  6. Mosaic Museum – 30 minutes
  7. Kariye Museum – 30 to 45 minutes
  8. Hagia Irene Museum – up to 30 minutes
  9. Any other mosque – 20-30 minutes per visit(free)

I’ll start with the order I visited each place, and I didn’t have to rush anything. One thing to consider, if you want to visit more museums, is to grab a museum pass

Museum pass.

It cost 85 lira, but grands access to every single museum on my list(Kariye Museum isn’t mentioned but it grants access just as well). That way you avoid the lineups, and save a bit in the end. If you don’t plan on visiting more than 2, it might be better just to buy tickets, but like I said, that way you save some time to see other things. Oh, and with a pass you can visit the Harem in Topkapi palace, and that alone is worth a lot(more on that later)!

 

Day 1

 Our arrival time in Istanbul was somewhere around 9AM, and it took us roughly an hour(plus breakfast) to get to the hotel. Check in time was at noon, so we had to find something to do before we could go back to the hotel. Fortunately, our hotel was right in the heart of the historical part of the city, Gulhane station on T1, to be price, so we didn’t have to go too far or waste time in order to start our tour.

I thought we might go to Topkapi Palace first, but we passed by the Archaeology Museum on the way, and spend roughly 2 hours in there. That’s also where we got our museum passes. It was relatively early on Friday, so people weren’t rushing to go in. Glad we did that first, instead of Topkapi palace.

The archaeology museum is pretty big and if you’re into it you might spend a lot longer to see everything. Two hours should be considered the minimum.

 At around 12:30 we went back to the hotel, left the luggage in the room, and decided to go to Blue Mosque or Hagia Sophia. Everything in the area is walking distance away so no need to hop on the tram for this. Weather was rainy, and still there were plenty of people lining up to go inside the mosque. We decided to go back again the following morning hoping there would be less people in line. Lineups go fast enough so if you could spare 15 minutes you’ll go in. There are guides waiting outside that offer you instant entry(for the appropriate price of course).

We went south and visited Sokollu Mehmet Pasa mosque. There were only 2 other visitors, but the place is nice enough and doesn’t take a lot of your time. It’s a nice mosque to visit! No pictures allowed though 😦

After that we went north again, and surprisingly ended up at the Grand Bazaar. The place is huge, full of store that sell mostly jewellery, clothes, and occasionally some Turkish delights. What grabbed me though, was the sights above those stores. If you look up when walking you could see all the history and architecture of the bazaar. It wasn’t our shopping day so we just passed by on our way to Suleymaniye Mosque and exchanged some cash.

That mosque is located at a very good spot. It’s almost as good, if not better than Blue mosque, and doesn’t have as many visitors. Unfortunately, there are many beggars in the area. Actually Istanbul is one of those city with too many beggars on the streets. I haven’t been to many touristy destinations like this one, but I thought developed(cause I conside Turkey to be one of them) countries should have better social policies regarding the poor. We took a few shots in there and continued our walk. (once again, we had no agenda, or clear idea where exactly we might end up).

After a short walk through a quite sketchy (the area north of the mosque)

neighborhood we found ourselves at the Golden Horn with a great view of the other side of the city. From there you get access to the ferries across the bosphorus, and of course the spice bazaar. You can pay for ferries with the same Istanbul pass you’d use on the subway, and trams.

New Mosque is also located in there, but we didn’t visit it. Maybe we had a bit too much for 1 day and it was close to 8PM already.

Those were a lot of places to visit in one day, and I recommend you take it slower. No point in rushing things. After everything we decided that Topkapi and Hagia Sophia should be the first places to go on Saturday.

 

*forgive my writing. I might have spelling mistakes, especially on the names of places in Istanbul.

A guide to Istanbul Pt.1

Intro

Before I start, let me just say that I tried to find as much information about Istanbul before I went there, and somehow most of the things I found seemed outdated. After 3 days in there, I decided to share my experience in case you find yourself in a similar situation as I did. Some of the things I write might not apply to anyone, but coming from Canada here’s how things like:

  • Getting there

Most people fly to Istanbul, but I was previously in Bulgaria so I got a bus from Sofia, which was a)cheaper b)just as convenient as getting the plane.

The night bus from Sofia is a decent option if you’re on a budget. I got my ticket from the central bus station in Sofia(Subway stops there so it’s not hard to find), and cost me 50Leva one way. The bus leaves from “Serdika” station, which is on the other side of the street across the railway station.

I got my ticket from “Metro”, but there are other companies that go the same route for probably the same amount. I can’t comment on their quality, but metro was okay. They gave some snack before we left, and coffee/tea, even though I didn’t feel like drinking coffee at 11PM.

The ride went smooth, and the only time we had to leave the bus was when we crossed the border. Check your country’s passport requirements for entry into Turkey. It wasn’t an issue for me, but for other countries, you might have to pay for visa on entry. A small thing to consider is that security isn’t as tight and nobody bothers you during the trip, so in a way I find the bus even better than flying there. (I hate airport security)

The bus arrived there around 8-9AM the next day. There was supposed to be a free shuttle bus to Sultanahmet, but it never showed up, and we got on the one to Aksaray. You can also get the subway from the central bus station. It is roughly 5 minute walking. Depending on where you’re going you should probably switch to tram at Aksaray station.

  • Public Transport

This part is pretty straight forward as long as you get it right. There are 2 ways to travel with the public transport. One is a token, called”jeton”, which costs 4 Lira(as of July.2014), and Istanbulpass which gives you some discount, and you can charge the card at any station. I’m not sure exactly how much discount you’re getting, but if you change a bus or subway within a certain time period you pay only 50% on the next trip. You can also use it for more than 1 person, which makes it even more convenient. It will save you a lot of money so I’d really recommend buying one. I got mine from an employee since the machine was broken and I might have overpaid a bit, but it’s well worth having one if you’re staying 2+ days.

To put things in numbers traveling with a pass costs roughly 2.45 lira on the first and 1.20 on the second trip.

I avoided taking the bus, and I have absolutely no idea how convenient it is for foreigners to take. Fortunately, going around the main parts doesn’t require taking a bus. Walking should be fine for covering most of the historic part of Istanbul

Trams have a good announcement system, and there are also instructions in English on interchange stations. Same goes for the subway.

I actually used public transport from my hotel to Ataturk airport on the last day. It took me roughly an hour from Sultanahmet on Monday morning(considering traffic and commuters), and it’s really easy and cheap. You just have to switch from Tram to Subway at Zeyitinburnu station.

  • Changing money

That’s another thing which bothered me before going to Istanbul. It might be convenient for people coming from Europe to use ATMs, but for me having only Canadian dollars it meant I had to find some place to exchange money. Didn’t try any banks, and went straight to exchange offices. I actually saw some pretty good rates at the airport when I was leaving, but they might charge commission, so check before giving them any money.

For me the best places to change money was in Grand Bazaar. Avoid changing around the main touristy areas since they’ll probably sell you liras for much cheaper. Look for “no commission” sign and you’ll probably be fine. I changed money in 3 different places and never had issues.

Do your research beforehand, and look for the difference in “buy” and “sell”. If it’s too big then it’s probably not a good rate you’re getting in there.

Many places accept credit cards, but companies usually charge fees for using them abroad.