One Day in Istanbul

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Istanbul was a port of call on our 12-day Mediterranean Cruise. We wished we would have had more time in this fascinating city! If you only have one day in Istanbul, here are some ideas for things to do. (And if you’ve got more than one day, here’s a great list of places to stay in Istanbul.)

Istanbul Turkey

We had a nice long day in port to explore the city of Istanbul.

Topkapi Palace

We started our day at the Topkapi Palace (25 TL) after stuffing into a packed tramway car.

Topkapi Palace

The palace was impressive.

View from Topkapi Palace

It looked like a castle on the outside and offered incredible views of the city.

Topkapi Palace grounds

We strolled through the different rooms in the palace looking at ornate artifacts, including an 86 carat diamond!

Topkapi Palace

Also in the palace was an imam (cleric) reading verses from the Quran (out loud) 24 hours a day, just as imams have nonstop since the 16th century.

Hagia Sophia

After the palace, we walked over to the area between Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. Hagia Sophia was closed, since it was Monday, so we just took a few photos from the outside.

Underground Cistern Istanbul

Next we went to the Underground Cistern (10 TL), which was dark and mildly impressive.

Sultanahmet Koftecisi

We found a restaurant recommended to us by a Turkish/American we met at Topkapi Palace, called Sultanahmet Koftecisi. We all ordered a Coke (in a bottle, although it was also offered ‘in a box’, whatever that meant!). Sam ordered meatballs that weren’t exactly balls and because the menu was mostly meat, I just ordered rice, which was actually pretty tasty by itself.

Blue Mosque One Day in Istanbul

After lunch, we headed over to the Blue Mosque. One of our travel buddies, Nish, got to go in a separate entrance, because the guy assumed he was Muslim. The rest of us entered through the visitor’s entrance.

Blue Mosque

We had to remove our shoes before entering the mosque. I knew this ahead of time, so I brought socks to wear, because I didn’t want to walk around barefoot.

Forget Someday Travel Blog Couple One Day in Istanbul

As a female, I had to cover my head, which I also knew ahead of time, so I picked up a cheap scarf in Athens the day before and embraced the custom.

Blue Mosque

The mosque was magnificent. A few Muslims came in to pray during the time we were there, but the mosque actually closes five times a day for prayer (in which the visitors are asked to leave).


After leaving the mosque, we walked through the Hippodrome as Sam served as our tour guide reading information/facts about what we were seeing from our Rick Steve’s Mediterranean Ports guide book. It was very informative!

cream caramel dessert

We then stopped at a café where the guys ordered local Turkish beer, Jenn ordered a coffee and I ordered a cream caramel dessert. It tasted like a combo of flan and crème brûlée.

Istanbul imam tower

While we were relaxing, an imam announced the call to prayer of the loudspeaker at the mosque from the top of the minaret. It was a unique cultural experience.

Istanbul tram

Next we were off to get some more culture, so we packed onto the crowded tram and headed to the Grand Bazaar, the world’s oldest shopping mall.

Grand Bazaar Istanbul

With over 4000 booths, it was massive and overwhelming. There were many jewelry, scarf, handbag, lighting and ceramic booths… those seemed to be the most common.

Grand Bazaar Istanbul

We splurged and bought a glass lantern (US$75) encased in a bronze design. The merchant explained that this design was unique because the glass was literally blown into the bronze casing. We felt confident with our unique purchase as we didn’t see hardly anything like that throughout the rest of the bizarre.

Grand Bazaar Istanbul

We then hopped back on the tram and went to the Spice Bazaar.

Spice bazaar Istanbul

It was smaller in size and feel more cramped and busy than the Grand Bazaar.

Spice bazaar Istanbul

Because of the claustrophobic atmosphere, we didn’t stay long. We tried to go on a boat tour of the city, but we had just missed a boat and the next one wasn’t leaving for another hour. Instead we decided to get another ethnic meal in a restaurant called Zeno on the lower level of the Galata Bridge. It was a little windy, but the view was great! The food was wonderful too!

Zeno Istanbul

I ordered chicken shish, Jenn ordered calamari, and Sam and Nish both ordered meat shish (lamb).

Turkish Delight

Before heading back to the ship, we stopped for Turkish delight in a sweet shop. Because of the language barrier, they got frustrated with us trying to order and gave us a crumpled box of delights. The experience wasn’t so delightful, but the treats themselves were fairly tasty!

Want to keep exploring?

You can check out the other Mediterranean cruise ports we visited on our 12 day adventure!


  1. How many hours did you have to explore the city–I’m assuming you didn’t spend the night because you were on s cruise.

    • I believe we had about 8 hours. No, we did not spend the night, as we visited Istanbul as a port of call on a cruise. However, we visited Istanbul again sometime later as a long layover when flying from Greece back to the US. It was a long over night layover, so we got a hotel down the street from the airport. HUGE lesson learned… we needed a visa to leave the airport (not required when visiting on a cruise ship), so we had to pay extra money we weren’t expecting just to travel down the street to get to our hotel for a good nights’ sleep!

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