How to Spend 24 Hours in Istanbul, Turkey
Ever wondered how to spend 24 hours in Istanbul? It was one of my top bucket list destinations. Istanbul’s striking scenery and culture is what intrigued me. My friends booked a Princess Cruises Black Sea cruise itinerary which had an Istanbul overnight.
A group of ten of us from Cruise Critic made our own excursion for our two-day adventures in Istanbul. Our private guide Honifi, of Tours By Locals, picked us up from the cruise pier in a Mercedes mini-van and we set out to explore. Here is how we spent ours, and I recommend you spend 24 hours in Istanbul, Turkey.
First things first, we had to beat the crowds. We toured the over-the-top Dolmabahce Palace, the largest palace in Turkey. Dolmabahce Palace runs along the coast of the Bosphorus, the Sea of Marmara, and the Golden Horn. It was the headquarters for the Ottoman Empire from 1856 to 1922.
The 31st Sultan built Dolmabahce as he wanted a more modern palace than the one at Topkapi. In today’s currency, the price tag would be 1.5 billion dollars, or one quarter of the tax revenues collected annually. The mega-palace consisted of 285 rooms, part appointed to the sultans family and the others to the public. You’ve got to see it to believe it!
Although photography was not allowed inside, the beauty will linger with me forever. The most gorgeous bohemian and Baccarat glass chandeliers hung throughout the palace with gilded gold leaf ceilings behind them. The ceremonial hall was even more opulent than the palaces I saw in Russia last year.
One of my favorites was a four ton chandelier that held 750 lamps. Ornamental alabaster, bearskin rugs, oil paintings, and huge Turkish carpets decorated the Palace. I was surprised to see a painting of Old Faithful, a gift from the United States, in the 202 oil painting collection.
Photo worthy spots outside the palace include the gates, ornate clock tower, and the river views.
Cruise the Bosphorus
We did a relaxing and informative Bosphorus cruise, which lasted around 90 minutes. Our cruise ship previously sailed through the Bosphorus on route to the Black Sea (for ports in Romania and Bulgaria), so it was the same things we had already seen.
Be Amazed at the Hagia Sophia
Our group started walking again to the Hagia Sophia. (pronounced hi-ya So-fee-ya). Think domes (182 feet tall!), minarets, and the most amazing site within a country of over 25 million and you may have captured the magnificence of the Hagia Sophia. I was awestruck at the grandeur of it and had been waiting for this moment since my ship first docked in Istanbul.
This iconic figure is one of the most recognizable and famous places on Earth; wrap your head around that. It is also one of the only places in the world where both Muslim and Christian symbols are visible under the same roof.
Hagia was built in 537 C.E. by Emperor Justinian as a basilica. It began its religious days as an Eastern Orthodox Church. It is because of this that there are paintings of Jesus throughout the decoration.
In 1453, an invasion of the Ottomans converted the Church into a mosque, in which Islam forbids depictions of man in places of worship, thus the paintings were covered over. As of 1931, the mosque became a museum and after much hard work, some of these religious depictions were uncovered and are able to be seen today. For 1500 years, the Hagia Sophia has been delighting people with its exuberance and enchantment.
Discover the Grand Bazaar
Following the Bosphorus cruise, we toured the Grand Bazaar, arguably Istanbul’s most well-known destination. The Bazaar features 4,000 stalls of merchandise in a structure so large it has 23 entrance gates. This is the largest market in the entire world! We stepped into a stall for a sampling of Turkish delight, a variety of nuts, teas, and dried candies. Then we were given time to roam on our own.
The Bazaar is a very overwhelming due to its size, but things were repetitive stall after stall. Items such as Turkish rugs, jewelry, spices, teas, and linens were the majority of it. I will add that the Bazaar is unbelievable; it would be easy to spend hours there.
Our tour group walked past into Hippodrome Square, stopping to learn about its three famous columns on the way to Topkapi. This was the former center of political activities of Constantinople. We then headed straight for Topkapi Palace.
Built between 1609-1616, Topkapi Palace is not one single palace, but a series of buildings scattered around an enormous area. It sits on two waterways; the Bosphorus and Golden Circle. Its’ grounds are perfectly maintained and interesting fountains with dancing waters offer visitors a place to sit and unwind. The palaces are made of sandstone, hand painted tiles, and marble floors. In a nutshell, this was the former imperial residence from where the Great Ottoman Empire was ruled.
The first building I went inside was a contemporary museum that housed biblical relics such as Moses’s staff, Joseph’s cast of his arm, David’s sword, and Abraham’s hat. It even had some oddities such as beard of prophets. Another museum housed the most valuable single exhibit, the famous Spoonmaker’s diamond, an 86 karat pear-shaped diamond, surrounded with 49 Old-mine cut smaller diamonds, once worn by the Queen of France. This ring is the 4th largest of its kind in the world.
Eat a Great Meal
We drove a short distance to the town of Pierre Lotti where we ate at a gorgeous seaside restaurant, the Pierre Lotti Cafe. I order the mixed lamb, beef, and rice platter, plus had complimentary apple tea. I really loved Pierre Lotti and hope to come back some day.
We loaded back up in the bus and Honifi dropped us at the Emerald Princess until tomorrow. Day two of exploring Istanbul was a BIG day as we had all the mosques and museums to cover. As for my first day in Turkey, I was pleasantly intrigued by the city and humbled by its friendly people. I never felt any danger and liked joining huge droves of people hustling around the city.
Tour A Most Famous Mosque
We left Topkapi and went straight to the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, or Blue Mosque as it is known by westerners. There, we were required to wear a scarf over our heads and remove our shoes before entering. Men wearing shorts, or women showing their knees, had to wear a skirt to cover them inside the religious center.
The Blue Mosque is amazing, almost hypnotic. It is made of 22,000 handmade ceramic tiles and has the biggest carpet I’ve ever laid eyes on. Black symbols on the wall with gold writing offered the signature of sultans, and impressive decor clamored for approval. The upper levels and dome contain 200 stained glass windows.
The Blue Mosque has six minarets, one main dome, and eight secondary domes. A minaret is a tall, skinny tower where one goes to call others to prayer. So what makes it known as Blue Mosque? The sapphire hue that reflects off of its walls and tiles.
During service, the mosque would be full of men only, standing shoulder to shoulder in straight lines across the carpets in prayer. Prayer in this part of the country (muslims), occurs five times a day, and a loud speaker inside the minarets broadcasts a chant, or song, that calls everyone to worship. This was the hardest thing to get used to in Istanbul, as you sometimes hear many of them at one time, with each one making different sounds, and boy are they loud! Having never been to a muslim country, I was most surprised to find that muslims believe in Jesus Christ. They do not think he was the son of God, but only a prophet.
A Wonderful 24 Hours in Istanbul
My head was swimming after so much culture, education, and beauty during my 24 hours in Istanbul. Though we were in the city two days, all of these things could be done (with determination and much energy) in only 24 hours. Istanbul is a fantastic city to visit and one that made me feel like a foreigner for the first time in my life. I loved being outside of my comfort zone.
Cheers to a great trip!
Fact: Istanbul is the most popular city in Turkey and also is the only city in the world to straddle two continents. Its 14 million people make up a small portion in Europe and the other 27 million live on the Asian side.
Fact: Turkey is a modern democracy and a secular (separation of government and religion) country.
FYI: Our tour was roughly $68 per day, per person for a group of 10, plus admissions to Topkapi ($14), Hagia Sophia ($14), local boat cruise ($7), Dolmabahce Palace ($14), and lunch (around $15).
Istanbul Photo Gallery