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Day tour vs. "on your own" - Sultanahmet

Boston, MA
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Day tour vs. "on your own" - Sultanahmet

The forum has been invaluable for getting my bearings before I visit. We were thinking doing a tour just one day (we have 4 days in Istanbul total) in old city but so many of you say its not necessary because primary sites - Blue mosque, Hagia Sofia, Topkapi Palace, Basilica Cistern and the Grand Bazaar are basically clustered close to each other and its pretty easy to find your way around. My question is however - is there information provided at each of these sites relating to the historical significance of each, do some sites have guides at the site (such as at the Palace), or do you just wander around? I have bought a guidebook that describes each, but I don't always feel like pulling out a book. I see many comments that the tours do too much in one day, so basically are rushed.

Surrey, UK
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1. Re: Day tour vs. "on your own" - Sultanahmet

You can get a licensed guide at Topkapi and Haghia Sophia if you with but otherwise DK it yourself. That was you can spend as much time as you like where you like. Recently someone said that there tour allowed an hour at Topkapi palace - and really you need 4+ hours there!

San Francisco...
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2. Re: Day tour vs. "on your own" - Sultanahmet

I agree with the previous poster. I was on my own and happily took my time with all the wonderful sites, as tour groups were rushed past me... I had my Lonely Planet guidebook pages with me, and that was enough information, as there are usually signs and explanations in English at the famous places also.

I cut pages out for a city when I travel there, staple them together, and then discard them when I leave. It's the only book I'd ever cut up, but the entire guidebook is way too heavy to carry around in a daypack.

Melbourne Australia
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3. Re: Day tour vs. "on your own" - Sultanahmet

Just got back from Istanbul - visited these sights... as a general rule, the information provided within these sights are minimal at best, so if you are after a detailed tour, get a guide. We wandered around, and did each in about 1-2 hours each.... contrary to popular opinion, the Hagya Sofia seemed rather bare to me in terms of content... We also took the Haram ticket at Topkapi and again, I must say I was underwhelmed - just a series of pretty ordinary rooms. For the palace of the Sultan, it seemed to be very downmarket..having been to the Mughal palaces in India....(I am quoting them because they ruled at the same time as the Ottomans and had similar empires..and similar architecture)... but certainly worth a visit. The museum curation is also poor - poor lighting and poor information and random collections... No clear path to take within Topkapi- minimal signs. The signs showing the path to Konyali Restaurant and restrooms leads to a closed off door. Half of the Hagya Sofia is filled with scaffolding (very unsightly) - something which seems to be the trademark of Italian, Greek, Turkish and Spanish museums and historic sights...

Istanbul, Turkey
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4. Re: Day tour vs. "on your own" - Sultanahmet

"...half of Hagya Sofiaisfilled with scaffolding(very unsightly)-something which seems to be the trademark of Italian,Greek,Turkish,Spanish museums and historic sites..."

Could be due to their great age and the millions of tourists(people just like you)who pass through them each year,plus air pollution damage too.

If you want your grand children and great grandchildren to also be able to witness these wonderful historical monuments then you need to accept there will always be ongoing restoration and maintainance taking place.

Vancouver, Canada
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5. Re: Day tour vs. "on your own" - Sultanahmet

intrepid, Australia is "new"....there was nothing there 1,500 years ago except dirt and kangaroos. So I can appreciate you not understanding preserving ancient structures.

Hagia Sofia was built 1,500 years ago and has been in constant use since then. You'd probably need a little scaffolding to shore you up if you were 1,500 years old too.

Delavan, Illinois
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6. Re: Day tour vs. "on your own" - Sultanahmet

I was in the Hagia Sophia in November 2011 and don't recall any scaffolding taking up "half" of the place. There was a little bit in one corner in the museum on the second floor. So, perhaps intrepid was using a bit of hyperbole.

As for the guides and signage. We used the audio guides, not a professional guide, and I got enough detail that we were in the Hagia Sophia for 2 hours. Most guided tours, provided by the professional guides at the site (not group tours arranged elsewhere) seemed to be taking about an hour, which is probably sufficient, and then you could at the end go back and examine more closely that which interested you the most or get the photographs that took so much of my time. It's true there is not a lot of signage, but the Hagia Sophia isn't the sort of place that needs a great deal, especially since the audio guides fill you in on more than would fit on most signs.

My recommendation, given your particular desires, is to do it yourself, but take advantage of the professional guides at each site for that place.

Edited: 12 October 2013, 20:45
San Francisco...
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7. Re: Day tour vs. "on your own" - Sultanahmet

Well said, Datthecoast. You put into words what many of us were thinking.

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8. Re: Day tour vs. "on your own" - Sultanahmet

@ turkce_bilmiyorum, we visited the Hagia Sophia last month and actually Intrepid's description is pretty accurate; the beautiful building does have a lot of scaffolding as of this spring, i believe. I had read about the scaffolding so knew to expect it - it runs along the left side of the building as you walk in, from the second floor out to the middle of the floor, just before the large chandelier. I was still able to take good pictures of this incredible building, my favorite of the sights i saw. The scaffolding is just a necessary evil to help maintain it for many more years, and hopefully I'll have the opportunity to visit it again. It was really stunning!

9. Re: Day tour vs. "on your own" - Sultanahmet

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