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!
- Bosphorus Tour(including the evening scenic tour) – 3-6 hours
- Topkapi Palace – 2+ hours
- Hagia Sophia – 1 – 1.5 hours
- Istanbul Archeology museum – roughly 2 hours
- Blue Mosque – 30 minutes, depending on waiting time
- Mosaic Museum – 30 minutes
- Kariye Museum – 30 to 45 minutes
- Hagia Irene Museum – up to 30 minutes
- 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
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)!
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.