To support my trip, I downloaded Triposo’s Istanbul Guide for my phone, it’s free for Apple or Android. It has a nice clickable map & description of the sights. Tripadvisor also has a guide but I didn’t think it was nearly as versatile as the Triposo one. My GPS wasn’t working in Istanbul but I was able to figure out where I was without much issue.
I looked around the web and this travel guide was the best one I found if you’d rather print something out.
This was my planned itinerary before I arrived, and for the most part was able to stick close to it.
- Airport buy Jeton (token) take Metro towards Aksaray Transfer at Zeytinburnu for tram
- Buy jeton, get on tram towards Kabataş.
- Get off at Karakoy (1st after bridge)
- Walk towards Galata Tower
- Walk over Galata Bridge to the New Mosque, Rustem Pasha Mosque, and Spice Bazaar.
- Go towards Gulhane Park, Topkapi Palace
- Walk towards Basilica Cistern, Hagia Sophia, Sultanahmet, Wall of Constantinople
- Check out Blue Mosque and Hippodrome
- Stop by Grand Bazaar on way to airport
Currency exchange is a bit of a hassle since the changers at the airport charge 4% and only take major currencies. I suggest if coming from HK to bring USD rather than HKD. I only changed $40 USD which was more than enough for a day trip.
The Metro is extremely easy to find, there’s signs towards the basement of the airport where you walk through a short tunnel to the entrance. There’s a machine that accepts bills or coins, 2 TL per Jeton. I suggest purchasing two Jetons (or 4, and keep two for the return trip), one for the Metro, and one for the tram ride. Upon entering the station you can take any train, they all head in the same direction towards the city. It was a quick comfortable ride to Zeytinburnu, about 15 mins from the airport. At Zeytinburnu station, if you are near the middle of the train there’s an exit on the platform directly to the tram station outside, just place another Jeton into the turnstile and it’ll spit you out onto the tram station. Walk across the tracks to the opposite platform towards Kabatas and that’ll take you on a tram ride about 30 mins towards the city and Sultanahmet.
I got off at Karakoy, looked up to spot the toward and walked that way. I didn’t realize it was on a steep hill, so make sure you’re prepared for that hike up steep streets and stairs. It’s not far though, maybe a 10 minute walk. Unfortunately there’s no view of the city from the top of the hill unless you are up the tower, but I think it was closed when I went.
Walked back down the hill towards the bridge. Actually once you reach the second mooring, you can walk down the stairs, there’s a bottom level with some restaurants and shading. You’ll get a good view of the cool Kanuni Sultan Suleyman Turbesi mosque, but I was too lazy to walk another hill there…looked good enough from afar! The New Mosque is at the end of the bridge across the street. I went inside for a rest and it was nice and empty. The Spice Bazaar is next door so I took a walk through there as well. But as it was only still 8 am I really wasn’t ready for the smells or foods they were badgering me to try.
Walking from the Spice Bazaar I headed towards Gulhane Park and Hagia Sophia. I randomly walked behind the Hagia Sophia and ended up at the entrance to Topkapi Palace. I saw all of these tourists entering the gates so figured it must’ve been something good inside. I enjoyed the AC at the Museum Shop and walked around the grounds, skipped the actual Palace though since I was on a limited time frame and entrance fees are steep.
Headed towards the front of Hagia Sophia, got some great views of the Blue Mosque…you’re a bit too close to Hagia Sophia to take full pictures, so you need to walk towards the Blue Mosque to get those pictures. It’s breath-taking looking at both structures from the park.Unfortunately Hagia Sophia is closed Mondays when I went, so I walked into the Blue Mosque instead. Lots of tourists and not nearly as serene as the New Mosque. If you’re wearing shorts they’ll provide a wrap for you.
I never did find the Hippodrome, but stopped by the Sokollu Mehmet Pasha Mosque on the way to the Grand Bazaar. The Bazaar is way too touristy and if you want souvenirs, you can buy them anywhere near the sights. I found the market very dark and crowded, a bit claustrophobic. I didn’t spot anything particularly unique that couldn’t be found outside, so don’t expect to do any serious shopping here in my opinion, especially if you’re coming from HK / China where there’s so many of these markets. Keep in mind this place is huge so you’ll probably get lost, or lose members if your group if you don’t stay closeby each other.
After the Grand Bazaar I made may way back to the airport via the tram / metro combination. It was super easy and I was whisked through immigration into the wonderful Turkish Airlines lounge in no time.