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.)
We had a nice long day in port to explore the city of Istanbul.
We started our day at the Topkapi Palace (25 TL) after stuffing into a packed tramway car.
The palace was impressive.
It looked like a castle on the outside and offered incredible views of the city.
We strolled through the different rooms in the palace looking at ornate artifacts, including an 86 carat diamond!
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.
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.
Next we went to the Underground Cistern (10 TL), which was dark and mildly impressive.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We then hopped back on the tram and went to the Spice Bazaar.
It was smaller in size and feel more cramped and busy than the Grand Bazaar.
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!
I ordered chicken shish, Jenn ordered calamari, and Sam and Nish both ordered meat shish (lamb).
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!