Istanbul Shores

Condensing 72 hours of Istanbul museum visiting into 24 hours [YQrtw Day 49 May 26]

Location: Istanbul, Turkey

Yesterday, I did a bit of research on the Museum Pass. On the web site, a lot of museums in different regions of Turkey were listed so I had the impression that the Museum Pass would cover all those sites. That’s perfect for us since we’re visiting Cappadocia where there is the Goreme Open Air Museum.

So while queuing for Haghia Sophia, I told mom that we should just buy the Museum Pass. I forked over 144 Turkish Lira to the man in the van and received our two black passes.

I was rather devastated when I read the pamphlet. It only listed a few museums in Istanbul and none that were out of the city. I looked at the pass again and realized that it’s actually Museum Pass Istanbul.

Worst thing was that we would be leaving Istanbul almost 25 hours after the pass’s first use. *sad music*

Anyway, I decided to make the most of it and cram 72 lira worth of sites into 24 hours so we wouldn’t be wasting our money.

This is also a list of “How to see the most of Istanbul’s museums in 24 hours

Site 1: Haghia Sophia (Day 1 5pm) [25 lira]

Haghia Sophia interior
Haghia Sophia interior

We checked off Haghia Sophia around 5pm on Day 1. This is the one site that everyone must visit while in Istanbul. It was even featured in ARGO where Ben Affleck’s character walked with an U.S. agent who worked in Turkey.

This church/mosque/museum will take about 1.5 hours of careful looking and posed photographs. When inside, the space looks smaller than it does from the outside.

Some renovation work was going on so we saw a bit of scaffolding on one side of the hallway.

The mosaic on the second floor was probably the most impressive among everything on display. You could see each tiny mosaic tile when you stand close. When you stand further, the tiles blend together into a stiff representation of Jesus and gang.

Unfortunately, by the time we finished Haghia Sophia, most of the other sites included in the museum pass was closed so we ended today’s sight seeing.

Bonus site: Blue Mosque (Day 2 8:30am) [0 lira]

Exterior of Blue Mosque
Exterior of Blue Mosque

We learned the hardway about the Blue Mosque’s visiting hours. It’s best to visit here in the morning as visiting hour streches from 8:30am to 12 noon. The timing’s much shorter in the afternoon and evening.

Heading to the Blue Mosque earlier means it won’t take up the time for other paid sites that uses the Istanbul Museum Pass.

Unlike the other sites, the queue for the Blue Mosque is much faster as there is no second queue that you need to go to. Just be sure to wear modest outfits.

What to wear to the Blue Mosque
What to wear to the Blue Mosque

Site: Istanbul Archaeological Museum (Day 2 09:40am) [10 lira]

We needed to check out of the hotel by 11:00am so I scheduled a visit to the Archaeological Museum in the morning and Topkapi Palace later in the day.

The museum is not very big so it’s easy to fit this place in an hour’s visit. We did it in less than that.

One of the best exhibit in the museum is the Alexander Sarcophagus, which wasn’t Alexander the Great’s actual coffin but one that had carvings of the guy at war.

Alexander Sarcophagus
Alexander Sarcophagus

There are a few mummies around if you’ve not seen one.

BONUS TIP: There is a free shuttle service on a golf kart from Gulhane Park (the beginning of the slop to the museum and Topkapi Palace). The service is FREE and saves a bit of time walking up or down the slopes.

SIte: Cheap boat ride across the straits (Day 2 11:30am) [extra 4 lira not included in Museum Pass]

After we stored our luggage at the tour agency, we head out to explore. As we weren’t hungry, I suggested that we take a boat ride (since mom seemed to desperately want to ride the boat).

There are packages for 2-hour Bosphorous Boat Tours which cost about 10 euro. We didn’t have 2 hours in our day’s schedule so we took the public transport boat from the Old City to the Asia part of Turkey.

With our Istanbulkat (public transport value card), we paid about 2 lira each for each way. It’s not exactly a long tour by the coast but we did see parts of the shores and the many houses and buildings crammed on the small land.

Istanbul Shores
Istanbul Shores

Across the straits, food seemed to be cheaper as we bought a doner for 2.50 lira (while it’s usually 4 lira at tourist places).

Site: Topkapi Palace and Harem (Day 2 1:45pm) [25 lira + 15 lira]

We waited for the Topkapi Palace shuttle but it didn’t come in 5 minutes. As we walked up the slope, the shuttle went past us. We waited at the Archaeological Museum for it to come back up. There was only a seat so mom got in and I walked up to the top. It was torturous.

The Topkapi Palace was bursting with tourists. It was a Sunday so it seemed like many locals were there as well.

The Palace has nice exhibit items. The most memorable was Prophet Muhammad’s multiple beards in multiple small beautiful cases. There was also a really really big diamond that was about the size of a chicken egg.

Besides the exhibit, the palace’s gardens is great for relaxing. Roses were in full bloom while we were there.

Attack of the Topkapi Palace roses
Attack of the Topkapi Palace roses

The museum pass also covers the harem so we headed there last. I had read that it was the best building in the Palace but I thought it was a little underwhelming since some walls of the palace were decorated more lavishly.

Eunuchs' dorm
Eunuchs’ dorm

Remember, the Topkapi Palace is closed on Tuesday, as noted by an angry user on Foursquare.

Did fitting 72 hours into 24 hours work?

By the time we finished Topkapi, we were quite tired. If I was travelling alone, I might have forced myself to walk to the Mosaic Museum. Since I was with my mom, we took it easy and went for a tea break instead.

We only used about 75 lira of entrance fees in the end but the pass was still very helpful since we did not have to queue for tickets.

If you are in Istanbul for a similarly short period, the pass is helpful to help you cut down on queue time. Think of it as Time Equals Money and the few minutes count as 1 lira, or something like that.

Do you purchase Museum Passes?

More about Liau Yun Qing

Yun Qing is a writer, improviser and curious person. She loves finding little adventures in life. In 2013, she went on a 130-day round-the-world trip. She wrote a book to help those who also want to go on a career break.

9 Comments

    1. As TravelJackie indicated, the museum pass in Paris is a must have. Same deal with the one you purchased for Istandbul YQ. I am amazed that you and your mom saw all of that – even with a museum pass – in 24 hours. You both must have been bone tired. The lines for the Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace was overwhelming and even with the pass, it took me 3 days before I committed to standing in the Hagia Sophia one. LOL. You mentioned the cisterns and I loved this place. It’s relatively easy to get into and I loved that James Bond was filmed inside here (from the first movie, From Russia With Love). Great post! Even better endurance. Ha.

      1. Thanks for the comments Steve. How’s home after your RTW?
        Mom and I were lucky to be at Haghia Sophia and Topkapi when the lines were short (close to closing time and lunch time for the two sites).

        1. Still decompressing . . . I am venturing out a little bit at a time, e.g., dinner with friends last week, an art festival with a buddy this Memorial Day weekend, and even a date (LOL). However, for the most part, it’s nice not having to be anywhere. So, I have a question – what is your RTW itinerary? How long? Where is the next country? I thought you might have said 4 months and that sounds exactly like my trip, with the frequent airport visits and hotel and/or hostel changes. How are you holding up?

        1. After Turkey, I’m heading to South America for 2 months to learn Spanish and to explore the continent. I’m flying into Buenos Aires but I don’t have any concrete plans for the rest of the trip.
          The trip still feels fantastic now, especially with mom coming in and breaking the solo travelling.

    1. Well, if you are flexible, I would suggest Quito, Ecuador. It’s a World Heritage Site and was the best decision I made insofar as traveling in S and C America. Boquete, Panama was another excellent destination. If you have questions about either, let me know . . . Ecuador is a wonderful “secret” that wont be for long.

      1. I checked my travel insurance’s new policy, seems like Ecuador is now covered. It’s very likely I’m going there before Peru. Thanks for the recommendation!

        1. Definitely go to the old city center of Quito and they have tours to must see towns – Otavalo and Cotacachi (best on Saturday when their world famous markets are open). I’m happy for you Liau! You will really enjoy your time there. By the way, the altitude is fairly high (no snow though), so hydrate and if necessary, take aspirin for headaches. Or, do what the locals do – chew coca leaves.

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