I recently spent 6 days in Istanbul and have found this forum to be extremely helpful for planning my trip. A simple search answered many of my questions and I have received lots of help from TA members when I posted questions - thanks to this forum I knew exactly how to plan the perfect sightseeing itinerary for me during my visit to Istanbul. I'd like to thank the people on this forum for being so helpful and I'm certain that my trip wouldn't have been as enjoyable had I not used this forum. I stayed at the Sultanahment at a b and b, Sultanahment was the perfect base for exploring the city. Here's a day by day account of what I did.
After an fairly long flight I arrived in Istanbul; I really needed to take it easy and relax, I wasn't in any state to start sightseeing aggressively. I choose to visit the Grand Bazaar for two reasons, first it was within walking distance from my hotel and second, I thought the hustle and bustle and noise would keep me up. I had a photocopy for a walking tour of the Grand Bazaar (sorry, don't remember which guidebook it was from). I followed the walking tour, browsed in the stores and took a coffee break. I decided I was simply too tired from the long flight to tackle anything else so off I went for dinner and called it a day.
I woke up only to find my tour to the Chora Church had been cancelled. I strolled around the Hippodrome and saw the monuments there and got to the Blue Mosque, unfortunately it was closed for prayers. I then walked over to a City Windows kiosk to enquire about the night tour that I had read about on this forum. A two day City Windows ticket for 30 euros would allow me to take all three routes, the Blue Line (which I was particularly interested in), the Red Line and the Green Line. I enquired about the Chora Church and was told to take the Green Line and to get off at the second stop and walk. I did this, but I do not recommend this, the City Windows staff told me the church was a five minute walk from the bus stop, that wasn't true, it was more like a 15 minute walk and part of it was uphill. Had I known this, I would have just taken a taxi from the Hippodrome to the church. After touring the church, I retraced my steps to the bus stop and set off for the remainder of the Green Line tour. I got off to take the cable car to Pierre Liotti and found myself an ideal spot at the top for lunch/drinks with a great view of the city. Back at the bus stop I had a painfully long wait for the bus, when it finally came I resumed the Green Line tour and didn't get off until the Hippodrome. I do NOT recommend the Green Line, buses are not frequent and getting to the Chora Church from the bus stop was a hassle. The Blue Line tour started at 6 pm, I had just enough time to visit a Turkhish Deligh store I'd walked pass the day before and buy some candies to snack on later and grab a quick bite - I know it was too early to eat but I thought it would be best to refuel as I was told the tour takes about 3 and a half hours and there wasn't anywhere on the tour to have a proper meal. I did the Blue Line tour in the evening. City Window staff were not very good they'd run around trying to collect headphones when passengers were listening to the commentary and some passengers on the bus were simply awful - the majority were constantly yelling at each other, not sure what the conversations were about as these passengers weren't speaking English. However, I can assure you they were very bothersome to other passengers and those who kept yelling during the tour didn't care about those around them. The tour did take close to 4 hours and after that I decided to call it a day.
Got to the Blue Mosque quite early and stood in a horrendously long line, got in and simply couldn't walk, there were far too many tourists inside. I did spend about 20 mins inside. The plan was to visit Hagia Sophia next, I walked over and took one look at the line and cringed. There was no way I was going to stand in that line, fortunaltely I had three more days in Istanbul, so I put off visiting Hagia Sophia. I swear the line here was at least three times the length of the line at the Blue Mosque. The Red Line tour was really a repeat of the overview provided on the Blue Line tour the day before, I took the Red Line tour as I had purchased a two day ticket and got off at Taksim Sq. I strolled around, dodged people and walked along Issikal St stopping at Haci Bekir to buy some Turkish Delight. I was very disappointed with Haci Bekir's products, I'm glad I only bought a small quantity to sample. I had lunch at Mado and made my way to the Funicular, took that to the tramline and got back to Sultanahmet by tram. Shopping, or at least browsing was next on the agenda, I thought I'd get a head start on Christmas shopping by buying at least some gifts from Turkey. I had looked for souvenirs/gifts on Issikal St and had already bought one glass evil eye for a friend back home. Issikal is like any pedestrain shopping street in Europe, most of the big name stores are here and I found little in the way of souvenirs. I browsed around the stores in Sultanahmet to get an idea of what souvenirs were available, merchandise was almost identical to what I'd seen at the Grand Bazaar but I can't comment on prices as I never bothered to ask prices when I was at the Grand Bazaar on day 1. I didn't find anything that would make good Christmas gifts, so I had some kebabs for dinner and called it a day.
Day four and I still hadn't been inside Hagia Sophia, I got there super early and toured the building with the audio guide just as they opened, I really enjoyed Hagia Sophia and my timing couldn't have been better, large tour groups started to enter just as I was finishing sightseeing there. Topkapi Palace was next, I toured the premises and had lunch on the palace grounds. After touring Topkapi I took the tram to the Spice Bazaar and strolled around the side streets in the area and I also made it a point of visiting Haci Bekir's orginal store. Of course I bought some Turkish Delight in the Spice Bazaar but didn't bother to try Haci Bekir's products again. The store however is great to vist, the decor probably hasn't changed much since it opened, but I'll bet the prices for the products have. After a pleasant stroll across the Galata Bridge I was on a mission to find Karakoy Gulluoglu, baklava and cay was the perfect snack. Took the tram back to Sultanahmet had dinner and called it a day.
First on the agenda was the Cistern, a visit here didn't take too long and it wasn't crowded - what a pleasant change from the crowds I encountered at the other tourist sights I'd been to. My next stop was the Archaeology Museum, my luck had run out and I was back to touring sights which were too crowded. After the museum I had lunch and as I didn't have anything planned for sightseeing I opted to revisit the Grand Bazaar to try to get some gifts for people back home. The touts were simply annoying and the prices I was quoted were absurd, even after bargaining. My big purchase at the Grand Bazaar were some souvenir magnets, postcards and some glass evil eyes (these were a little less than the prices I'd seen on day 3 in Sultanahmet's stores. I haven't written about the touts until now, but I will say that I encountered touts everyday in Istanbul and everyday thery were annoying.
I spent my last day in Istanbul on the day long Bosphours cruise, the weather was perfect, my seafood lunch was wonderful and I was back at the Galata Bridge just in time to enjoy a magnificent sunset, my trip to Istanbul was quickly coming to an end. After dinner I made sure carefully pack the glass evil eyes and the rest of my belongings for the flight back.
I hope that those who read this trip report benefit from it, and the main thing I'd like to emphasis is to add an extra day or two in Istanbul, the sights are crowded, and one can easily underestimate how long it takes to see the sights/stand in line/etc.Edited: 12 December 2011, 23:56