If you have only a day, or part of a day, to see the sights in Istanbul, efficient airport transport is essential, so I recommend you consider the economical private
tours and similar travel services of my friends at Efendi
Efendi's professional drivers and airport welcome staff know the traffic situations at all times in Istanbul, and their GPS-tracking-equipped Mercedes vans and minivans can whisk you into the city to see the sights and return you to the airport in time for your onward flight.
Luckily for those with little time, Istanbul's
top sights are grouped right around
the Hippodrome in Sultanahmet
Square, so it can be possible to visit them
all on your first (or only) day.
The challenge is crowds: Istanbul is such a popular travel destination these days, especially in April, May, September and October, that lines/queues to enter can be very long.
Here's How to Skip the Ticket Lines
You can skip those l-o-n-g ticket lines at major sights by taking a tour, hiring a private guide, or buying a Museum Pass.
Efendi Travel offers moderately-priced one-day walking tours. For a premium tour, contact Istanbul Tour Studio.
Reserve one of my recommended licensed private
guides, well in advance—their agendas fill up quickly. More...
An alternative is the Museum Pass, which allows you to jump the line as well. More...
at 8:45 am and go straight to
which gets overcrowded (9-5, closed
Tuesday; stay 2-3 hr).
Just across the
park from Ayasofya, on the Hippodrome, the Mosque of Sultan Ahmet III (Sultanahmet Camii) is always crowded, and often closed for prayers. Check the prayer times and plan your visit accordingly
(stay 1/2 hr), or visit a different imperial mosque to save time and have a better-quality visit. More...
Right next to Topkapı. Don't
miss the best mosaics, on the upper
level (9-4, closed Monday; stay
Lots of restaurants on Divan Yolu, but better prices in nearby Sirkeci and Hocapaşa.
The park in front of the Blue Mosque is the ancient Hippodrome, with two obelisks, a truncated snake column, and a fountain donated by Kaiser Wilhelm II (stay 1/2
At the NE end of the Hippodrome, just across the street from Hagia Sophia,
beneath the little park (Yerebatan
Saray Sarnıçı, 9-5; stay 1/2
Walk uphill on Divan
Yolu from the Hippodrome
and see the sights along the
way, or take the tram along it
to Çarşıkapı (CHAR-shuh-kah-puh) (9-5, closed
& holidays; stay 1-2 hrs,
longer if you're really shopping). An alternative, open every day of the week, is the Egyptian (Spice) Bazaar by the Galata Bridge on the Golden Horn. More...
If one of the above sights is not of interest, substitute a 75-minute cruise up the Bosphorus. More...
bath (1-3 hr) can be
amazingly refreshing after a
long day! Here are suggested hamams.
has dozens of excellent restaurants
—by Tom Brosnahan