This itinerary is designed to show you the top sights in Istanbul, and things to do, and to avoid weekly closings. You may want to take a walking tour or employ a recommended Licensed Private Guide, especially to see the Chora Church and City Walls.
Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia & Hippodrome
Morning flight to Istanbul‘s Atatürk International Airport (IST), and transfer to your hotel. Have lunch in a simple local restaurant, then take a walking tour of Sultanahmet, the heart of historic Byzantium/ Constantinople/ Istanbul: the Hippodrome, Ayasofya(Hagia Sophia; closed Monday), the Blue Mosque and Yerebatan Saray (Sunken Palace Cistern). In the evening, relax over a candlelight dinner in a nice restaurant.
Topkapı Palace, Grand Bazaar, İstiklal
Get to Topkapı Palace (closed Tuesday) before its doors open and go straight to the Harem to assure your place. After seeing the Harem, explore the rest of the palace/museum, perhaps having an early lunch in the palace’s Konyalı Restaurant overlooking the Bosphorusand Sea of Marmara. In the afternoon, walk or ride the tram along Divan Yolu to the Grand Bazaar for shopping, or take a taxi to the Chora Church (Kariye Müzesi, Church of the Holy Savior in Chora, closed Wednesday) to see its splendid Byzantine mosaics, and the City Walls. In the evening, stroll along Istiklal Caddesi (La Grande Rue de Péra) in Beyoğlu to find a cozy cafe, bar or taverna for a drink, then dinner.
Hop aboard a ferry for a cruise up the Bosphorus toSarıyer near the Black Sea. After a seafood lunch, ride south by land stopping at the Sadberk Hanım Museum, Rumeli Hisar castle, and/or Yıldız Palace and Park. Stop in trendy Ortaköy for seaside tea and snacks, then taxi to Taksim Square for some strolling and window-shopping in Nişantaşı or along Istiklal Caddesi.
Lots of Choices!
If there’s time before your board your homeward flight, visit the Archeological Museums, the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts, or the Egyptian (Spice) Bazaar (open every day); stroll along İstiklal Caddesi; search for art and antiques in Çukurcuma; have tea at the Ottoman-Victorian Pera Palace Hotel; or hop aboard a Şehir Hatları ferry for the one-hour intercontinental round-trip/return cruise from Eminönü across the Bosphorusto Üsküdar, Kadıköy or Haydarpaşa, with fine views of Seraglio Point, Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque from the water.
—by Tom Brosnahan