One Day in Istanbul
November 25, 2013 8:03 AM   Subscribe

I'll be traveling to Hong Kong/China this February, with a one-day (19 hour) layover in Istanbul. What's the best use of my time there?

I've always wanted to go to Istanbul, and while I was planning my China trip this winter and looking up flights, I found this option and couldn't resist. I'll land in Istanbul at about 6 am and will depart again at 1 am the following day, so I'll have basically an entire day in the city without being tied down to a hotel. It will be a February Wednesday, so I expect it to be pretty chilly and quiet, but I don't mind spending time outside in the cold.

I'm a 31-year-old solo female traveler. I've read some about going to taverns etc., but I'm not sure how much fun that would be on my own. I was thinking of spending the evening seeing a performance or some such? Is it worth it to take one of the Bosporus cruises, or to book a guide to lead me around the city? For what it's worth I love educational tours, but don't really like being part of set tour groups.

I will definitely see the Hagia Sophia, but am unsure about what needs seeing between the Topkapi Palace, the Blue Mosque, the Basilica Cistern, and the Chora church (which looks super neat) or anything else I might be missing. I don't need to see everything in the city, and I'm fine with sitting in a cafe to people watch or what have you. I'd just like to get a flavor of it, and to take advantage of my time there in a relatively easy-going kind of way. I will hopefully be going back!

Any help on things to bookend the day--breakfast, dinner, post-dinner--would be especially helpful!

**Since booking my flights I've been wondering how to go about spending great days in cities I'm already familiar with (New York, Taipei, Montreal, etc.) and it's actually kind of a fun thought exercise for me. I know one day isn't enough to see all of Istanbul, but it should be enough to see a bit, eat a bit, and come to some part of an understanding of what I'm missing out on :)
posted by Curiosity Delay to Travel & Transportation around Istanbul, Turkey (6 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Well of course this is subjective, but here's how I'd rank your list, assuming you do see Hagia Sophia:

1. Topkapi (this way you can visualize all the stories you hear about the sultans and harem and so forth for the rest of your life!)
2. Basilica Cistern (really awesome and unlike anything I've seen anywhere else)
3. Chora Church (out of the way, takes a while to get there and back, and while it's nice, it's not unlike Byzantine churches you'd see in Ravenna)
4. Blue Mosque (interesting, but you'll have already seen the HS, so you maybe don't need another giant mosque)

I took a Bosporus cruise and it took all day. How about lunch at one of the fish restaurants on the bridge instead?

In the evening definitely go walk around… we found lots of very fun evening places with music, people dancing on tables, smoking hookah, having tea and coffee et

I'm sure other people have more specific recs and I'll be watching the thread with interest!
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:28 AM on November 25, 2013

I think you could manage the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, and the Basilica Cistern in a morning for sure (we did). Especially if you start out relatively early which it looks like you will. They are all in Sultanahmet, and really quite close to each other. I think most people prefer the HS, but I loved the Blue Mosque. Even though it was full of tourists, I felt a real sense of oldness and peace there.

Topkapi Palace is also in this area. It is is enormous and absolutely fascinating - it could take you all day but it depends on how detail-oriented you are. We managed it in about 4 hours.

I liked wandering up and down Istiklal Caddesi on the way up to Taksim Square. We went in the evening and it had a vibrant atmosphere. Felt completely safe as well. If you like shopping I would definitely go there. There's a nice restaurant there called Otantik which does delicious gozleme (like a savoury crepe - yum!).

I've only been to Istanbul once and we didn't go for very long. So YMMV!
posted by Ziggy500 at 8:39 AM on November 25, 2013

Taking one of the regular ferries by which locals get about is a whole let cheaper (and quicker) than a cruise. The linked map shows you the places you can go.
posted by rongorongo at 8:41 AM on November 25, 2013

Best answer: Here's a possible itinerary:

From the airport, take the very convenient Havatas bus to Taksim. Here you'll have your choice of cafes, street food (the wet burger stand is a few feet from the bus stop), and shops. Take a walk down Istiklal Caddesi in the direction of the Galata Tower.

Once you've had your fill of the area, take the tram -- located close to the Galata Tower -- to the Hagia Sofia. Here, you'll be in walking distance of all the major tourist sites you mentioned in your post.

If you're still up for more, get back on the tram, ride through the city, and arrive at my favorite spot in Istanbul: the Ortakoy Mosque. This will give you a chance to see the city from the tram, cross bridges, and get off at any spot you'd like. The Ortakoy Mosque is on a beautiful pier on the Bosporous. There's a nice plaza to sit around and watch people, plus you can get some more street food -- mussels stuffed with rice.

Also easily accessed from the tram: Istanbul Modern and Dolmabahce Palace.
posted by Cwell at 10:02 AM on November 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

If I were back in Istanbul for a day, I would get myself a Turkish bath at Cemberlitas. I would also buy even more scarves to bring home.

The big touristy places like the Aya Sofia and Topkapi and the Cisterns are all very much worth seeing, and close to each other, so easy enough to do. I also liked the spice bazaar.

There was some good info in this thread, if you haven't yet read it.
posted by gingerbeer at 12:55 PM on November 25, 2013

Best answer: Gingerbeer beat me to it on two counts. This will be a very long day for you, so ABSOLUTELY fit in a couple of hours at Cemberlitas when you most need it! Sure it's a tourist-catering version of the Turkish Baths, but gawd if it isn't heavenly, especially on a chilly day after your feet are worn out. Unless it's changed in 15 years, as I recall you don't need a bathing suit (tuck fresh underwear and deodorant into your day bag) and you can stay as long as you please. Choose the full treatment that includes the actual bathing and shampooing part. Those ladies ROCK. You'll emerge never having felt cleaner. And you'll be hungry, but there's no shortage of fantastic food. On a day like yours, I'd probably plan my visit around 2pm for a bit of revitalization so I was energized for Act II.

Other standouts in my memory:
-Hagia Sophia, of course;
-The Spice Market (take saffron back to your gourmet cook friends. They'll swoon;
-Wandering and people watching the whole rug-selling business (if you want a small, inexpensive souvenir rug, buy a kilim pillow cover. I got mine for $5 and bought the pillow after I returned home);
-Buying a lunch of fish off a little boat on the quay and sitting in the plastic chair they put out for me;
-Cherry juice from a costumed street vendor (so very tourist, but there you go);
-Visiting a small and very old church that was a short walk to the old wall of Constantinople. Sorry I don't recall the name or location, but if you can go view the old wall someplace, it really makes an impression.

A couple of random things:
-The Bosphorus cruise would take too long, yes.
-If you venture across the river and stroll the Istiklal Caddesi, it's modern shopping hell but great for people watching and food. I remember a fun bar there…Irish of all things! I also agree that the area feels safe--I think it was because of the sheer crush of people. It's probably where I'd choose to hang out after dark. Also, there's a tower at the far end that you can climb for a really nice vista across the city. And in the same neighborhood, one thing I missed but wanted to see: the Whirling Dervishes. It's on a set schedule that you'd want to consult ahead of time.

Have a fab time!
posted by AnOrigamiLife at 3:01 AM on November 26, 2013

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