(Updated April 2020)
Since Turkish Airlines often offers the best prices when going to South East Asia – and I heard that sometimes they might even be your best bet going to Latin America – a short stay anywhen soon might be quite probable.
Therefore, here comes another issue of my 24 hours in… series, designated to transform a short stay like a layover into an extra-vacation.
Of course this itinerary – one for a sunny and an alternative for a rainy day – is great not only for a layover. It comes handy for any kind of a brief stay – for instance when you’re on your way to a beach vacation on the Turkish coast.
Turkish Lira (TRY) / 1 TRY= 0.14 US$ (April 2020) / current rate
Tourist Info Online and Onsite
Atatürk Havalimanı/Atatürk Airport
Yeşilköy (small desk after passing customs)
Open daily from 8 a. m. to 11 p. m.
Phone: + 90 – 212 – 465 31 51 and + 90 – 212 – 465 35 47
Meydanı – Sultanahmet (on the Hippodrome)
Open daily from 9 a. m. to 5 p. m.
Phone: + 90 – 212 – 518 18 02
Getting Downtown and Back
There is nothing easier than getting from the Atatürk Airport to any place in the greater Istanbul area.
Presuming that you’ll stay only 24 hours, the best way is to book yourself in a hotel in the Aksaray area since then you don’t have to change trains: Just take the Métro M1 from Havalimanı to Aksaray.
First you should get an “Istanbulkart“, a sort of credit card that you have to tap up with an amount of your choice and eventually you use your credit on all public transport. One ride will cost you between 2.60 TRY and 4 TRY depending on the distance.
Following this itinerary – including the rides from and to the airport – you will need about 10 to 15 TRY – this is including the initial amount of 6 TRY. You can tap up at any time, and fares are significantly cheaper using this card instead of tokens.
The Sultan’s Palace
If you choose the below stated hotel or another accommodation around Aksaray station, you find yourself in the perfect spot to go to all the places recommended.
So grab your Istanbulkart and off you go to Tophane station by tram T1 (towards Kabataş) – of course leaving at Aksaray.
Dolmabahçe’s foundation was installed by Sultan Ahmet I. beginning of the 17th century. Before, there was a bay.
Then in the beginning of the 19th century Sultan Abdülmecit I. ordered to build this palace according to occidental royal architecture like e. g. Versailles.
Finished in 1853, it was the Sultan’s main residence till the end of the Ottoman Empire.
However, Turkey’s first president Kemal Atatürk died at Dolmabahçe on November 19, 1938.
Besides the palace there is also the Dolmabahçe Camii, its mosque, to be visited – and then you can relax for while on a bench under the trees next to the Dolmabahçe Saatkulesi, the clock tower.
Dolmabahçe – Beşiktaş
Phone: + 90 – 212 – 236 90 00
Open daily from 9 a. m. to 4 p. m. except Mondays and Thursdays.
Note: Expect long queues for the tickets since, unfortunately, they don’t accept the Müzekart. Also, you can visit only with a guided tour. Albeit, it is included in your ticket.
The Sultan’s Park
Ready for some more outdoor activities? Then let’s visit the Sultan’s park, the lush and serene Yıldız Parkı. It’s about 2 km / 1.5 mi East of Dolmabahçe, but you have to walk along big roads with much traffic. So better walk back about five minutes to Kabataş station and take on of the buses like No. 22 or 30D to Yahya Efendi station.
At the park you can just wander along the well-maintained walkways and maybe enjoy a cup of turkish mocha at the Restoran Dahill overlooking the mighty Bosporus. However, you can combine your stroll with visits to the traces of the Ottoman past around the park: The Yıldız Sarayı, the palace with the adjacent mosque, the Yıldız Camii.
Then, there are three small pavilions, the Çadır Köşkü, the Malta Köşkü, and the Şale Köşkü, which is actually part of the Yıldız Sarayı. At the Çadır Köşkü as well as the Malta Köşkü are very posh tea salons where you can enjoy refreshments and feel like an Ottoman noble.
Open daily from October to May from 9 a. m. to 6 p. m. and June to September from 9 a. m. to 8 p. m.
Entrance is free
Yıldız Parkı – Beşiktaş
Phone: + 90 – 212 – 227 49 28
Yıldız Parkı – Beşiktaş
Phone: + 90 – 212 – 258 53 44
Open Tuesday to Sunday 9 a. m. to 4.30 p. m.
It’s definitely not difficult to spend an inspiring and fun day in Istanbul even though it’s raining. For instance, let’s visit some really cool museums and see some great Turkish contemporary art. We’ll get to the classics later.
A Hidden Gem
Let me lead you to a neighborhood that, nevertheless, at the first glance seems not very appealing: Maslak, Istanbul’s financial district up North next to the Technical University.
After a short walk from Aksaray to Yenikapı station, you take the Métro M2 towards Hacıosman. Then, get off at İtü-Ayazağa station.
Once there, walk down Dereboyu 2 Caddesi and turn right into Maslak Meydan Sokak. To your left, you’ll get to a big parking lot that you have to cross to reach Istanbul’s first venue of contemporary art – the Projet4/Elgiz.
Dr. Can Elgiz, an architect and building contractor, started to collect modern art in the 1980s and is so kind to present it to the public at his museum – for free! Besides the permanent collection the special sculpture exhibits on the gallery’s rooftop are worth the visit – and the long ride out here.
Beybi Giz Plaza 34398
Maslak – Istanbul
Phone: +90 – 212 – 290 25 25
Open from Wednesday to Saturday 10 a. m. to 5 p. m. (Saturday 4 p. m.)
Entrance is free
In this post you get more details on the Elgiz Museum, one of my favorite galleries in the world.
A Contemporary Institution
While the Elgiz is definitely a hidden gem worth to be discovered, there’s another gallery introducing a wide range of contemporary Turkish artists, it’s the Istanbul Modern.
To get there from the Elgiz museum ist easy since you take the Métro M2 at İtü-Ayazağa station towards Yenikapı and get off at Şişhane.
I hope it’s not raining too hard since now you have to walk about ten minutes down Kumbaracı Yokuşu towards the Bosporus and then turn left on Meclis-i Mebusan Caddesi.
The Istanbul Modern houses a fantastic collection of modern and contemporary Turkish artists including painting, sculpture, and video. In addition it’s the main venue of the Istanbul Biennial.
Istanbul Museum of Modern Art
Meclis-i Mebusan Caddesi
Liman İşletmeleri Sahası, Antrepo 4
Karaköy – İstanbul
Open from Tuesday to Sunday 10 a. m to 6 p. m. (Thursday to 8 p. m.)
Regular admission is 72 TL for foreigners.
Time for lunch?
What better way of combining one of Istanbul’s most important sights – the Galata bridge with groups of fishing man standing, sitting, and sprawling around while waiting for the fishes to bite – and sampling some of their catch next to the waters of the mighty Bosporus?!
The bridge’s lower part is packed with fish restaurants, but unfortunately I have to warn you that they are all overpriced tourist traps.
Exquisite quality at a good price – this is what you get at Tarihi Karaköy Balikçısı not far from the bridge on the ‘Golden Horn’.
To get there, take bus No. 30D at Yahya Efendi station and get off at Karaköy station. From there, you then walk all the way down Kürekçiler Kapısı Sokak and you practically cannot miss the restaurant. Coming on a rainy day from the Istanbul Modern, you better take tram T1 at Tophane and get off at Karaköy.
Tarihi Karaköy Balikçısı
Kardeşim Sok. 30
Phone: + 90 – 212 – 243 40 80
After lunch you might want to walk a little so it comes handy that you have to cross Galata bridge, anyway. You can either walk all the way to the Topkapı palace which are about 2,5 km / 1.5 mi so it takes about 30 minutes, or you cross the bridge walking and hop on the tram T1 at Eminönü, or you just take it right away at Karaköy station and save your energy for exploring the palace.
I explicitly don’t recommend the Istanbul Tourist Pass – it costs 115 € including nonsense like a free shuttle from the airport (one way!); that’s absolutely outrages!
On the other hand, I might want to get a museum pass, the ‘Müzekart‘ for 325 TL. It’s good for five days, but if you visit lots of the landmarks, it might even pay if you use it only on one day.
Also, another advantage is absolutely priceless: You don’t have to wait in line, but can walk straight in.
Once you see the queue in front of Hagia Sofia and Topkapı Palace, you will thank me for this tip.
It was Sultan Mehmet II who began with the construction of the palace right after the conquest of Constantinople in 1453.
Over the centuries various significant transformations took place, so that the Topkapı Palace got its present appearance only in the early 18th century. Following Turkish tradition the palace is not one big building, but consists of many individual dwellings and pavilions. The entire complex has a size of 69 hectare / 170 acres and housed up to 5000 people; it was like a town of its own. Besides the beautiful gardens and incredibly decorated buildings there are a couple of fascinating museums showing all the splendor and opulence of the Ottoman royalties. Although I’m a big fan of contemporary art and love the modern galleries at Istanbul, I find that the Topkapı Palace is the most important sight to visit when in Istanbul since for me it’s the cradle of Turkish culture.
Topkapı Palace Museum
Fatih – Istanbul
Phone: +90 – 212 – 512 04 80
Opening hours are from Wednesday to Monday:
October 30th – April 15th 9 a. m. to 4.45 p. m. and
April 15th – October 30th 9 a. m. to 6.45 p. m.
Sultanahmet Arkeolojik Park
Once you are at Sultanahmet, you should absolutely do what everybody does because in this case everybody is right.
Go to see the enormous structures of Ayasofya Camii and the spiritual atmosphere of the Sultan Ahmet Camii; both buildings are just a stone throw from the palace around the Sultanahmet Arkeolojik Park.
There cannot be a visit to Turkey without a visit to one of the many tumultuous markets. So you should end your sightseeing at the Kapalı Çarşı, the big covered market. From Sultanahmet it’s just a mile so you can actually walk there. If you are tired walking, take tram T1 at Sultanahmet station and get off at Çemberlitaş.
You’ll find the exact entrance address below in the afternoon activities for a rainy day.
Even if it’s raining cats and dogs, you absolutely have to see Topkapı Palace which prides itself to have many beautifully decorated rooms and halls as well as exhibitions of different treasures like weapons, costumes, and precious stones. From the lunch place you walk back to Karaköy station where you take tram T1 to Sultanahmet.
İstanbul Arkeoloji Müzesi
For info to this visit please refer to the sunny afternoon activities above.
If after the visit to the Palace you still have time, I recommend a visit to the very nice and interesting İstanbul Arkeoloji Müzesi which was founded in 1891 as the main archeological museum of the Ottoman Empire and is until now Turkey’s largest and most important archological museum. Next to the mesmerizing sights around – like the Topkapı Palace, the Sultan Ahmet Camii, the Ayasofya Camii, and the Yerebatan Sarayı it is highly underrated.
İstanbul Arkeoloji Müzesi
Osman Hamdi Bey Yokusu
Sultanahmet – İstanbul
Phone: + 90 – – 212 520 77 40
The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday from 9 a. m. to 7 p. m.
Kapalı Çarşı – The Covered Market
Everybody knows that the markets are an important part of the oriental culture, and you are lucky since in Istanbul is a huge covered market that you can visit even on a rainy day.
It’s not very far from the Arkeoloji Müzesi, so if it’s not raining too hard you can actually walk the mile; otherwise just take tram T1 at Gülhane station and get off at Çemberlitaş.
Mahmutpaşa Bazaar Gate
Taya Hatun Mahallesi
Mahmutpaşa Yokuşu Sokak 4
Fatih – Istanbul
After you’ve shopped – and before you drop – let’s grab some hearty Turkish dinner. To the diner it’s only a short walk of about ten minutes.
There are many restaurants everywhere – and in the highly touristy Sultanahmet neighborhood you should be careful because the owners tend to add an unexpected tourist surcharge.
Anyway, I absolutely love the very Turkish fast food chain Köfteci Ramiz that you’ll find at many locations all around Istanbul – and the rest of Turkey, for that matter.
Not only do they offer delicious Turkish burgers – ‘Köfte’ – the best and most impressive part is their salad bar offering far more than tomato, carrot, and iceberg lettuce: There are all these exotic beets and sprouts and herbs – and everything is arranged with so much abandon and an eye for detail. Go and try it out – it is so good!
The diner is open from 9 a. m. to 9 p. m.
Instead of a ‘nightcap’ I recommend you see the really mesmerizing ceremony of the whirling dervishes.
There are various venues – sometimes combined with a dinner. This touristy show is definitely not the real thing, so I recommend Turkish Cultural Dance Theater & Whirling Dervishes Ceremony. You have to make reservation and only then they supply you with the address. I can tell you it’s behind the Sultanahmet Arkeolojik Park towards the Bosporus.
It’s a ten minutes walk from the diner to the ceremony’s venue.
To get to the Amethyst Hotel after the ceremony, you walk to the Sultanahmet station and take tram T1 to Aksaray station.
Especially if you are on a layover and need to get back to the airport in the early morning, staying close to Aksaray station at the Amethyst Hotel Laleli* makes things much easier.
Map – sunny day itinerary
Map – rainy day itinerary
Note: You know that I am always keen to supply you not only with correct information, but like to add links so you have the chance to re-check. I’m sorry to say that doing this for the Istanbul post was impossible: Many sites are pure scam or impossible to navigate or my computer warned me to open them – it was just pathetic! So I’m terribly sorry that you don’t find as many links to the venues as in my other articles, yet I hope that this post will be useful and help you having a great time in Istanbul – and if it’s only for 24 hours.
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