Istanbul is an incredible city and deserves much more of you attention than just a day.
However, if you end up getting laid over there for a day or so, here’s a rapid fire way to stretch your legs in between flights and see the sites.
Assuming that you’re coming into the airport, the first thing you need to do is stop in to get your Visa, (it’ll cost around 45 euros($60) depending on your nationality), so make sure to get that done on your way through… it’s quick (5 minutes or so) and you’re on your way.
Look for the city map in the airport… it’s probably the worst city map you’ll ever come upon in your life, but it’s still nice to have some sort of idea.
Signs are well posted in the airport to get you to the metro. The first metro runs at 6am and I believe the last around 11pm.
This metro has two lines on it, you are looking to get to Aksaray, which is the last stop on one of the lines. From there the uselessness of your map will become quite apparent. If you want to walk around on foot, ask people for ‘Beyazit’ which is the Grand Bazaar.
Walking through the Grand Bazaar you’ll be overtaken with the sheer size and history. With over 30,000 people employed, the Grand Bazaar is the oldest and largest covered marketplace in the world.
It may be difficult to exit on the correct side, as it’s a bit of a maze in there, but attempt to come out in the south or eastern exits and you’ll find your way easily to the Hippodrome.
Wander through the few remaining monuments from the Hippodrome and head down to the Sultan Ahmen Mosque. This Mosque tends to have a large line if you come later in the day, so try to get there early.
Incredibly, just a stone’s throw away from the Sultan Ahmed Mosque is the Hagia Sophia.
Stop for a quick bite of corn or roasted chestnuts in order to keep on keeping on.
The Hagia (or Aya) Sophia is an absolutely amazing piece of architecture with an incredible history crossing many cultural and religious lines. It represents Istanbul itself in its great glory as the border city in between Europe and Asia.
I won’t take the time to give you the full history lesson here, but read up a bit about Istanbul and this Mosque in order to truly appreciate what you see on the inside.
Now that you’ve hit three or four of the major sites, it’s time for you to get a little bit of nourishment and settle down to take in a quick glimpse of the modern Turkish culture.
Grab a coffee and brunch at one of the shops on the corner, sit outside, and watch this metropolis continue on its way.
The Topkapi Palace is not far from you, so you should be able to muster your way over there without much issue and wander around the grounds. The Spice Bazaar and the Aqueduct are worth seeing since they’re right in the vicinity as well.
Now you have some choices, the above itinerary can probably be done decently in 5 – 7 hours, so gauge your energy levels before continuing on. There’s no shame in admitting that you don’t want to run around the city any more, and wandering back to the Grand Bazaar to get lost in the chaos and charisma is a great option as well.
If you think that you may never get back to Istanbul, then the Blue Mosque is a must. It’s a little further away, so you are going to have to get some local transport to get there. You’ll see it on your ridiculous map, it’s called ‘Eyup Mosque’. The other side of Istanbul is across the water. There’re fewer tourist sites on this side, but if you’re itching to continuing running around, then head over for a little taste.
Leave plenty of time for getting lost (especially if you are going by foot), because even your best traveller instincts will be making rough guesses at every turn due to this so called map (seriously, who designed this thing? Was it an art project at a local high school or something?)
Get back to the Aksaray metro stop, hop on the line and head all the way to the Ataturk Airport. Settle back into your plane seat and promise yourself that you’ll do your best to get back to this fascinating city for a better visit in the future.