Istanbul – Itinerary

Words from Turkey’s expert Tom Brosnahan are probably accurate in summarizing planning of itinerary for Istanbul:

“You can see Istanbul’s top sights in a rush on an overnight stay, but you’ll need at least two days to do them justice, and three or four days to really get a sense of the city. In a week, you can get a good look at most of what Istanbul has to offer, do some shopping and enjoy an excursion as well”

But Istanbul has such an abundant of things to see or do.  The drawback hence is that you’ll probably have to make choices. Chances are that your visit just won’t last long enough to fit them all in. Don’t worry; whatever the best itinerary you plan, you’ll gonna miss a thing! For sure.

Most of historical sights are located in Sultanahmet area and around (Bazaar Districts & Topkapi and around). So, make any efforts to stay in Sultanahmet area. If for reasons you’d like to visit the sights again, they are on your doorsteps. I would also recommend that you don’t take tour for visiting historical sights in Sultanahmet areas. With 35 Euro/70 TL for half-day tour you can save the money for something else by visiting them yourself. It is damn easy, and with information on the sights are abundant in the internet you’d probably not need a guide.

Once you’ve settled into your Istanbul hotel, you might want to take a sightseeing bus city tour (hopon-hopoff double decker bus tour) by Plantour ( for orientation. Last for 1.5 hours (depending on the traffic), this tour offers you a quick orientation of Old City and Modern Istanbul in one-go, passing all must-see point of interests ( ) . The other advantage is you will have a mental picture of what the area and point of interest look like if you decide to visit later.

If you don’t plan to have excursions out of Istanbul (i.e. Prince’s Island or Bursa) you’d probably end up best with 3-4 days

For itinerary builder you have to consider:

  • Whether you’ll take it by yourself or via tour. Tour offers simplicity, hassle-free visit but less flexible, more expensive and may direct you to areas out of your interest.
  • Proper visit duration for each sight. Basilica Cistern for example may take only half an hour, but Topkapi Palace requires 4-5 hours. Camii (mosque) will take your time half an hour. Aya Sofia takes 2 hours. Istanbul Archaelogical Museum, 2-3 hours. Dolmabahce Palace, 2 hours (depending on the queue, guided visit is 50 minutes). Miniaturk is 3-4 hours including travel time from Sultanahmet. Visit to Camlica Hills, Kadikoy and Uskudar on the Asian side take half-day of your time. Depending on your shopping, Taksim Square, Istiklal Caddesi and Galata Tower take half-day. Visit to bazaar (Spice Bazaar or Grand Bazaar), for me, is pretty straightforward of less than an hour each. Excursions outside Istanbul (Prince’s Island, Bursa) take one day of your time. Fortunately there are some activities that can be done at night such as Bosphorus Dinner Cruise (19.30 – midnight), or Sufi Dance (19.30 – 20.30 PM or 21.00 – 22.00 PM)
  • Closing days. Some sights are not open throughout the week. You need to know when a particular sight is open before building an itinerary.

Closed on:

Sunday                 Grand Bazaar, Spice Bazaar

Monday               Hagia Sophia, Dolmabahce Palace, Archaelogical Museum, Beylerbeyi Palace

Tuesday               Topkapi Palace

Wednesday        None

Thursday             Dolmabahce Palace, Beylerbeyi Palace

  • Opening Time. Normal opening hours  for most sights are from 9-5 PM. No entry is usually allowed after 16.00 PM. Mosques are closed for praying half an hour before and after praying time or longer for mid-day Friday Prayer (Duhur).
Archaeological Museums (Arkeoloji Müzeleri)
Open: daily from 09.00 – 17.00, no entrance after 16.00
Closed: Monday, and until 12.00 on the first day of religious holidays
Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarnıcı)
Open: daily from 09.00 – 17.30
Closed: until 13.00 on the first day of religious holidays
Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii)
Open: daily from 09.00 till dusk
Closed: 30 min before until 30 min after prayer time, 2 hours during Friday noon prayer
Dolmabahçe Palace (Dolmabahçe Sarayı)
Open: daily from 09.00 – 16.00
Closed: Monday, Thursday, January 1st and the first days of religious holidays
Egyptian or Spice Bazaar (Mısır Çarşısı)
Open: daily from 08.00 – 19.00
Closed: Sunday, October 29th and the full duration of religious holidays
Galata Tower (Galata Kulesi)
Open: daily from 09.00 – 20.00
Closed: no closing days
Grand Bazaar (Kapalı Çarşı)
Open: daily from 08.30 – 19.00
Closed: Sunday, October 29th and the full duration of religious holidays
Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya Müzesi)
Open: daily from 09.00 – 17.00
Closed: Monday, and until 13.00 on the first day of religious holidays
Harem (Harem)
Open: daily from 09.30 – 17.00, lunch break from 12.00 – 12.30
Closed: Tuesday, and until 12.00 on the first day of religious holidays
Süleymaniye Mosque (Süleymaniye Camii)
Open: daily from 09.00 – 17.30
Closed: during prayer time
Note: due to restoration, till 2010 only a small part of the mosque is open
Topkapi Palace (Topkapı Sarayı)
Open: daily from 09.00 – 17.00
Closed: Tuesday, and until 12.00 on the first day of religious holidays
Tünel (Tünel)
Open: daily from 07.00 – 21.00
Closed: no closing days


  • Contingency. There is always something happen unforeseen. Be it weather, unexpected delay, very long queue that force you to divert, fully booked place, longer visiting time than planned or other circumstances. Prepare for allocating enough buffer time for contingency. If you travel with family or in group you will see slower itinerary progress  than if you’re solo traveler. Don’t worry, you don’t need to be in a rush, just prepare enough buffer time as said above.

  • Your point of interests. Are your after historical sights? Adventure? Shopping? Been there done that? Those will determine choices you have to make.

Itinerary Builder

You’ll find below an overview of the main attractions, grouped by type.


  • Archaeology Museums (Arkeoloji Müzeleri)
  • Harem (Harem) of Topkapi Palace
  • Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya)
  • Istanbul Modern
  • Military Museum


  • Dolmabahçe Palace (Dolmabahçe Sarayı)
  • Topkapi Palace (Topkapı Sarayı)
  • Beylerbeyi Palace


  • Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii)
  • Süleymaniye Mosque (Süleymaniye Camii)
  • New Mosque (Yeni Camii)
  • Rustem Pasa Mosque
  • Other mosques: Kucuk Aya Sofia, Nuruosmaniye Camii, Beyazit Camii, Yeni  Valide Camii,

Places of Interest

  • Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarnıcı)
  • Bosphorus Cruise
  • Flower Passage (Çiçek Pasajı)
  • Galata Tower (Galata Kulesi)
  • Golden Horn (Haliç)
  • Hippodrome (At Meydanı)
  • Istiklal Street (İstiklal Caddesi)
  • Taksim Square (Taksim Meydanı)
  • Pierre Lotti Café
  • Miniaturk
  • Ortakoy
  • Uskudar and Kadikoy
  • Camlica Hills


  • Egyptian or Spice Bazaar (Mısır Çarşısı)
  • Grand Bazaar (Kapalı Çarşı)
  • Istiklal Caddesi
  • Kanyon Shopping Mall
  • Olivium
  • Bagdat Caddesi


  • Black Sea
  • Prince’s Island
  • Bursa and Uludag

Suggested Optimistic Itineraries

Day 1     :  Start early around 8 AM at Hippodrome, then enter Blue Mosque. By 9 Am start queueing for Aya Sofia. Before lunch, complete visit to Sunken Palace Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarayi). Lunch then go to Grand Bazaar and nearby Suleymaniye Camii. Back to Beyazit Station through Istanbul University perimeter road. Go to Sultanahmet Square for Sightseeing Bus Tour. Back to hotel and ready to pick up for Bosphorus Dinner Cruise or watching Sufi Dance

Day 2     : Dedicated to Topkapi Palace. Light lunch at Konyali Restaurant at Topkapi overlooking Sea of Marmara. Take a tram to Kabatas, go to Dolmabahce Palace. Back to Kabatas, transfer to Taksim through Funicular. Strolling Istiklal Caddesi down to Galata Tower. End the day with dinner at Galata Bridge or Sirkeci Area.

Day 3     : Start sharply at 9 AM by visiting Istanbul Archaelogical Museum. Spend 2 hours. Go to Gulhane train station by walking thorugh Imperail Gate and cobbled street behind Topkapi walls. Take a tram to Eminonu. Visit Yeni Camii and Spice Bazaar. Take ferry to Uskudar. Take a taxi to Camlica Hills. Lunch at Camlica Restauratan overlooking Istanbul, and Bosphorus Strait. Back to Uskudar, visit Yeni Valide Camii or Maiden Tower. IF you have time, make your way to Kadikoy and see Haydarpasa Station. Back to Eminonu from Uskudar or Kadikoy

Day 4     : Excursions out of Istanbul: Bosphorus Cruise, Prince’s Island or Bursa.

Day 5     : Go to Miniaturk. Spend 2 hours at least. Go to Kanyon Shopping Mall (train to Taksim then Metro to LEvent) or Olivium Outlet at Zeytinburnu (accessed through train from Sirkeci Train Station). End the day with sampling Baklava at Sirkeci.

Day 6     : Your free day to make up any missed point of interests. You have the options to go to Beylerbeyi Palace at Asian Side near Bosphorus Bridge, visiting Golden Horn areas (Chora Church, Pierre Loti Café) or visiting Tophane for Istanbul Modern or Ortakoy for Ortakoy Camii & Ciragan Palace.