(See part 1 for details on the Istanbul Museum Pass and sights in Sultanahmet.)
It is important to note that Hagia Sophia is closed on a Monday and Topkapi Palace is closed on a Tuesday. This worked out perfectly for us as it enabled us not to attempt to cram all the sights into 1 day.
On the Wednesday morning we left our hotel at 8:30 and took a stroll to Topkapi Palace. We were second in the queue which was great because the line was super long by 9am. We used our Istanbul Museum Pass to gain access, but do note that the Harem is an additional 15tl if you opt to visit it.
Topkapi Palace was the major residence of the Ottoman empire for about 400 yrs (1465- 1856). They have displays of weaponry (which is super cool; how did anyone wield swords those sizes?), stunning mosaic tiles everywhere, an interesting kitchen with displays of overly elaborate kitchen sets (they clearly had too much money), the Harem which was where the Sultan’s mother, concubines and wives lived (what a mix) and a display of Islamic sacred relics which includes the Prophet’s PBUH sword, as well as covers from the Qibla. The views of the Bosphorous are just stunning.
It took us around 2 hours to make our way around Topkapi Palace but it then started to get full. If you have a great appreciation for art and architecture, I would recommend scheduling some extra time there.
We then took a stroll to Hagia Irene which is a very old church (possibly the first in Constantinople). It is located in the Topkapi courtyard. It appears that they have concerts there. There wasn’t much to see and we barely spent 10 minutes there before making our way to the Istanbul Archaeological Museum. The Archaeological museum is pretty awesome and we came across a class of students sketching elaborate sarcophagi. What a terrific place to learn. The history of Turkey is just incredible.
Next, we went to the Istanbul Mosaic Museum. Its probably great for art lovers but it didn’t interest me much. By then our feet were feeling it. We headed back to the hotel, which was very nearby, to freshen up.
At about 2pm we made our way to the Eminonu pier to catch the 2:30pm Sehir Hatlari Short Bosphorous cruise. This is a government tour and costed only 13 TL with an additional discount with the Museum Pass. The short cruise is just 2 hours and the long cruise is half a day. This isn’t one of those fancy dinner cruises which cost an arm and a leg, but its a great way to take in amazing views of the beautiful ancient city. Definitely great value for money and highly recommended.
That evening we took the Metro and Funicular to visit Istiklal street- the famous and longest pedestrian shopping street. You will need to buy an Istanbulkart to use the public transport, it works out cheaper anyway. You can buy it from vending machines or from shops near the stations for 10TL. More than 1 passenger can use the card. Fares are not that cheap by South African standards but the transport is very well connected and convenient.
Istiklal street is long! you can take the tram from one end to the other. The street is filled with high end stores and there are many alleyways with cheaper shops. Its also a great place to get a bite to eat with a variety of restaurants to choose from. Unfortunately we got stuck in a torrential downpour which had us hiding in Burger King for a good hour.
Istanbul is an amazing place. We fell in love with the hustle and bustle. Our deepest condolences to anyone who was affected or injured by the recent bombings in Istiklal street. We hope to one day return to a safe, beautiful Istanbul.
FYI I’m adding our 15 day Itinerary for anyone trying to pack a lot of Turkey into a short time:
Day 1: Arrive at Ataturk and take a flight to Keyseri (Cappadoccia)
Day 1-3: Cappadoccia
Day 4: Fly to Izmir and take a train to Selcuk
Day 5- Ephesus
Day 6: Pamukalle
Day 7: Bus to Fethiye and Oludeniz
Day 7-10: Oludeniz
Day 11- Fly to Istanbul
Day 11-15: Istanbul
Read more about Turkey Here: