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I haven't been in Istanbul for a few years - cruises ships didn't stop there for quite some time because of the security situation.  I'm glad they have re-started!  Its the most amazing, vibrant (sometimes scary!) city.

 

I never used to tour company - but if you ask your hotel for recommendations they will help.  They will also tell you which taxi services they consider to be safe. Don't pick up a roadside cab without knowing the company and agreeing the fare in advance.  (I keep a track on them using goggle earth too...)  The Grand Bizarre is amazing - keep close close watch on your possessions, don't carry more than you need.  But the energy and bustle is wonderful.  Aim to have mint tea in one of the garden courtyards for a rest.  I love grabbing street food from the stalls too - but I know some are more wary.

 

If the Grand Bizarre is a bit full on try the smaller market behind the mosque on the far side of the galata bridge.  Its a "women's market" where the women will go to do food shopping so the stall holders are less "in your face".    Do walk the Galata bridge.  (If you are female I find you get on better in relatively modest dress - 1/2 length sleeves and trousers rather than strappy sun stuff.  (I am female in case anyone thought I was just being repressive or weird!))

 

Bargain for everything - aim to pay half the ticket price and you'll be about there. If you have local currency you'll get a better price than trying for GBP or USD.

 

Don't be afraid to just ignore a hawker or stall holder.  If they are persistent tell them to go away and they mostly will.  A neat trick I found it to tell them to go away in a language not your own (I use French or German mostly - but Spanish or Italian works as well.  For some reason - possibly my accent - Dutch doesn't).  They will then waste their time yelling after you in that language which I personally find easier to ignore!

 

Wonderful city.  Take sensible precautions and you'll have the best time!

 

Oh sorry Yes - loads going on even at 4pm.  Markets etc tend to stay open until 7 or 8 at least.  Mosques, tourists sites etc all stay open.  If anything they close down more in the middle of the day to avoid the heat - especially in summer.

Edited by GastroGnome
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I've been to Istanbul numerous times and never used a guide or tour. It's very easy to get around. From the port it is easy to take the tram from the main street just outside over the Galata bridge and into the old part of the city which is known as Sultanahmet. 

 

One of the top sites to see in this area is the Haghia Sofia (I'd rate this #1 in Istanbul), gorgeous and well preserved monument first built as a church in the days when the city was still the head of the Roman empire (Constantinople), then turned into a mosque and now a museum of sorts. Don't miss going upstairs.

 

Other things in this area are the so-called Blue Mosque (right across from Haghia Sofia), the Basilica Cistern -- a large underground Roman cistern full of ancient columns and very atmospheric -- Topkapi Palace, where the sultans lived, the Archaeological Museum, the Islamic Arts museum, and more... 

 

The Grand Bazaar is walking distance from here and is worth a ramble. The entrances are very touristy, but if you get well inside you will find some interesting things. The smaller bazaar mentioned above is closer to the port and is known as the Spice Bazaar (or sometimes Egyptian bazaar) and is also worth seeing as is the nearby mosque called Rustem Pasha.  On the subject of mosques, the most impressive is the Suleymaniye mosque, which was fully restored about 5 years ago.

 

There's a bustling modern area of the city where there are lots of posh hotels and restaurants, but I prefer staying in the older area. Are you overnighting on the ship for those extra days or staying in Istanbul?

 

For the brave, you can also arrange to visit a real turkish bath. 

 

Another beautiful site is Chora church. I took a taxi there and back, it's a bit distant from the other sites. You can make a half-day of it by also looking at the nearby ancient city walls -- you can even get up on them at a point near the church.

 

For good info on how to do things on your own, information on the top sites, etc. I recommend getting Rick Steves' Istanbul guidebook. It's written in conjunction with one of the top Turkish guides in the city and has just about the right amount of detail for a first visit plus good directions on getting around on your own. His maps are not so great though, so you will need a better one of those...

 

Edited to add:  For full disclosure, on my very first visit to Istanbul many years ago, I did take a tour offered by the cruise ship and it was an awful experience. Lots of time wasted in long lunches, shopping opportunities (they literally locked us in a carpet store), and difficulties navigating a large bus through the terrible city traffic. I do NOT recommend using a ship tour!!

Edited by cruisemom42
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I agree with Cruisemom - we have never used the services of an organized tour in Istanbul and had no need. Sultanahmet is very easy to DIY and when we cruised into Istanbul we took the tram. Our last trip was independent (not cruise) and we loved our extended visit to the city.

If time permits, I would also recommend a visit to the Chora Church (Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora) - if you are interested In Byzantine mosaics & frescoes, it contains some of the oldest & finest (restored) and are simply amazing.

Topkapi Palace is also a must see imho. A visit to the Basilica Cistern is also a very interesting experience. 

All of the above sites, with the exception of Chora, are easily walkable from each other.

 

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  • 1 year later...

We are in Istanbul for an all day port stop, 9:00 am to 6:00 pm, and plan to tour on our own taking the tram back and forth from the cruise terminal.  It will just be my sister and me, and we are in good shape and can move pretty fast.  How much will we be able to fit in for a one day port stop?  My priority is Haghia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the Basilica Cistern, and Topkapi Palace with maybe a wander through the Grand Bazaar.  Is this doable, too much?  I'm not sure we'll be back to Istanbul, and I want to see as much as possible in the day that we have there.  Thanks in advance for advice/help--it will be much appreciated.

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We did a tour with Lale Kosygin but that was a while ago.  You could also check with Levent Solmaz.   The last few years have been difficult for guides so some are not guiding.

 

We did the spice market on our on our own the first evening and then did a private tour to Hagia Sofia, the Blue Mosque,  Grand Bazaar, Topaki Palace and the cisterns.  So it is  possible but the traffic can be crazy!  We even had time for lunch but it was a very full day. One of the most beautiful cities and I highly recommend the cisterns!  

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On 9/18/2020 at 10:36 PM, HRPro said:

We are in Istanbul for an all day port stop, 9:00 am to 6:00 pm, and plan to tour on our own taking the tram back and forth from the cruise terminal.  It will just be my sister and me, and we are in good shape and can move pretty fast.  How much will we be able to fit in for a one day port stop?  My priority is Haghia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the Basilica Cistern, and Topkapi Palace with maybe a wander through the Grand Bazaar.  Is this doable, too much?  I'm not sure we'll be back to Istanbul, and I want to see as much as possible in the day that we have there.  Thanks in advance for advice/help--it will be much appreciated.

 

It will be a bit of a flying visit, but yes, you can do it.

 

Suggest leaving your ship ASAP (usually clearance is fast). Take the tram and get off at the Sultanahmet stop. Go immediately and purchase your tickets for Haghia Sofia. It is the least crowded first thing in the morning or at the very end of the day. Afterwards, cross to the Blue Mosque, which faces Haghia Sofia, and check the times of prayer (it closes for a while at each prayer time). If you can get in, I'd go ahead and see it next. If the call to prayer is close, you can walk up to the Cistern and see it. (It doesn't take long, but I usually spend longer than you'd think because I'm a lingerer....). Then go back to the Blue Mosque.

 

After that, I would recommend, instead of going to the Grand Bazaar, that you visit instead the bazaar beside the Blue Mosque. The Grand Bazaar is, I understand, one of "those" places -- but it is very touristy at the entrances and takes some time to locate the areas where there are still genuine craftsmen and merchants working.  The bazaar I speak of is smaller and has some good quality items -- I believe it's called the Arasta bazaar and it is along the street to the left of the Blue Mosque if you are facing its entrance.  I'd also recommend finding a spot for lunch in this area -- numerous choices for either a quick meal or a slower one. The food in Turkey is outstanding.

 

Finally, walk down the hill a bit to Topkapi Palace entrance. The palace grounds are quite large. I think there are headsets you can rent with info about the various buildings. If you can, do the harem tour -- it is a special guided tour given on the hour but only sometimes in English. Otherwise just wander and see what's interesting. (I enjoyed the jewels, the kitchens, and the portraits of the sultans....also just wandering the grounds.)

 

After this you've probably exhausted yourselves!  Walk back to the same tram stop where you got off and head back to the ship. If you have any time/stamina left, you can walk across the hippodrome and look at the two monuments there, two of the original/oldest things you'll see unless you visit the great archaeological museum beside Topkapi.

 

If you decide instead that you'd rather go to the Grand Bazaar, you can either find the tram tracks and walk along them (it's not that far) or reboard it and take the tram two stops further from where you first got off to Beyazit.

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2 hours ago, cruisemom42 said:

 

It will be a bit of a flying visit, but yes, you can do it.

 

Suggest leaving your ship ASAP (usually clearance is fast). Take the tram and get off at the Sultanahmet stop. Go immediately and purchase your tickets for Haghia Sofia. It is the least crowded first thing in the morning or at the very end of the day. Afterwards, cross to the Blue Mosque, which faces Haghia Sofia, and check the times of prayer (it closes for a while at each prayer time). If you can get in, I'd go ahead and see it next. If the call to prayer is close, you can walk up to the Cistern and see it. (It doesn't take long, but I usually spend longer than you'd think because I'm a lingerer....). Then go back to the Blue Mosque.

 

After that, I would recommend, instead of going to the Grand Bazaar, that you visit instead the bazaar beside the Blue Mosque. The Grand Bazaar is, I understand, one of "those" places -- but it is very touristy at the entrances and takes some time to locate the areas where there are still genuine craftsmen and merchants working.  The bazaar I speak of is smaller and has some good quality items -- I believe it's called the Arasta bazaar and it is along the street to the left of the Blue Mosque if you are facing its entrance.  I'd also recommend finding a spot for lunch in this area -- numerous choices for either a quick meal or a slower one. The food in Turkey is outstanding.

 

Finally, walk down the hill a bit to Topkapi Palace entrance. The palace grounds are quite large. I think there are headsets you can rent with info about the various buildings. If you can, do the harem tour -- it is a special guided tour given on the hour but only sometimes in English. Otherwise just wander and see what's interesting. (I enjoyed the jewels, the kitchens, and the portraits of the sultans....also just wandering the grounds.)

 

After this you've probably exhausted yourselves!  Walk back to the same tram stop where you got off and head back to the ship. If you have any time/stamina left, you can walk across the hippodrome and look at the two monuments there, two of the original/oldest things you'll see unless you visit the great archaeological museum beside Topkapi.

 

If you decide instead that you'd rather go to the Grand Bazaar, you can either find the tram tracks and walk along them (it's not that far) or reboard it and take the tram two stops further from where you first got off to Beyazit.

Thanks cruisemom42, just what I needed.  I appreciate very much your detailed advice, and we will definitely follow that on our visit to Istanbul if we are fortunate enough to be able to cruise next May.

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16 hours ago, bennybear said:

We did a tour with Lale Kosygin but that was a while ago.  You could also check with Levent Solmaz.   The last few years have been difficult for guides so some are not guiding.

 

We did the spice market on our on our own the first evening and then did a private tour to Hagia Sofia, the Blue Mosque,  Grand Bazaar, Topaki Palace and the cisterns.  So it is  possible but the traffic can be crazy!  We even had time for lunch but it was a very full day. One of the most beautiful cities and I highly recommend the cisterns!  

We are using Levent Solmaz for our tour of Ephesus and really looking forward to that tour.  He was very prompt and responsive when I emailed him about a private tour.  Thanks for all the information you've shared--it's been very helpful as we plan our cruise.

 

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Istanbul has long been one of our favorite destinations, but the situation with their current President has sure kept many tourists away from Turkey.  We agree with most of what Cruisemom posted except that Hagia Sophia has recently been changed from a Museum to a Mosque....complements of President Erdogen.  It has said that the immense building is still open for tourism and we hope that is true.  Since you are planning to be in Istanbul for a few days we would also recommend visiting the Bascilica Cistern which is another place found in the major tourist area.  DW and I just love walking everywhere in Istanbul since it gives us an opportunity to browse interesting shops, eat at various venues, and just enjoy the atmosphere.  We have not been there since Erdogen started changing things (which makes me very sad) and I wonder how different things have become under his dictatorship.  Folks in Turkey (especially women) would often tell us how proud they were of their democracy (now long gone) and equal rights for women (also long gone).  By the way, there are many mosques in Istanbul and many are open to visitors (or at least used to be open to visitors).  DW and I have spent days walking around the city and we used to stop in many different Mosques (with permission) and found each one quite interesting for their architecture.  

 

Hank

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Yes, definitely go see Haghia Sofia while you can. For now it is still open regularly for tourists -- supposedly only closing during major religious holidays for use as a mosque. 

 

Hank, I also mentioned the Basilica Cistern in my post. Definitely worth seeing.

 

To HRPro -- a couple of things I forgot to mention -- do take some kind of map (hard copy, on your phone, etc.). The main areas of Sultanahmet district are easy to navigate -- open, things are close together. But if you wander, some of the back streets are twisty and narrow and you can get a bit disoriented.  If lost, just look for the minarets of either Haghia Sofia or the Blue Mosque.

 

And also, the area has many of those familiar brown "directional" signs to the main attractions -- so long as you know that Sarayi = Palace, and that Yerebatan Sarnici = the Basilica Cistern. Ayasofya is self explanatory. :classic_biggrin:

 

image.thumb.png.5917e9cecd6802009dfa83f156e1f212.png

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  • 1 month later...

It's been six years since my husband and I spent several days in Istanbul on our own prior to a Black Sea cruise.  We absolutely loved the city and found it very easy to get around.  I would also like to say that each time we took the local tram, at least one (if not more) folks jumped up to offer me (a senior citizen) their seat.

PS   When I take public transport in Pittsburgh, only rarely do I see that kind of behavior. 

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We've been to Istanbul multiple times and agree that it is one of the most interesting cities in the world.We agree with cruisemom42 that it is possible to see all of those places one day but it will be tight.. DW loved the grand bazaar especially if you are a shopper. One thing not mentioned is that you have to have Turkish coins to get onto the tram. I recall that there was a coffee ship across the street from the port exit that we obtained some change needed to purchase tokens in the machine on the tram stop platform. Enjoy !

Edited by dabear
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