Cruise Port Atlas | Istanbul, Turkey Day Trips | Attractions

Istanbul, Turkey Day Trips | Attractions

With limited time in port, planning is the best way to make the most of your time. Should you strike out on your own? Should you hire a local guide? Or should you book a shore excursion offered by the cruise line or an international tour company? Below we have listed the attractions and activities that many other cruisers have enjoyed. This information should help you plan.

The advantage to cruise line tours is that they are timed for your visit and give you flexibility to change your mind after your trip begins. The advantage of using a large international firm is that tours are often less expensive than cruise sponsored tours. The advantage to using a local tour company or guide is that prices can be significantly lower or you may be able to get a customized trip just to see the attractions that interest you most.

Cruies lines that visit Istanbul: Star Clippers, Voyages of Discovery, Voyages to Antiquity, Windstar, Azamara Club Cruises, Crystal, Oceania, Regent Seven Seas, Seabourn, SeaDream Yacht Club, Silversea, Celebrity, Cunard, Holland America, Princess, Costa, MSC Cruises, Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, AmaWaterways, Avalon Waterways, Uniworld, Viking River Cruises

Recommended Attractions: Hagia Sophia (Aya Sophia or Church of Divine Wisdom), Topkapi Palace (Sultan's Palace, Harem, Imperial Treasury), Grand Bazaar, The Blue Mosque, Suleymaniye Mosque, Dolmabahce Palace, Galata Tower, Maiden's Tower, Rumeli Fortress, Taksim, Hamam (Turkish Baths), Whirling Dervishes

Hagia Sophia seen from the Sea of MarmaraHagia Sophia

Port to Hagia Sophia - 3-4 KM, 12 minutes
Link to Full-Page Google Map

The current building was constructed in the mid-6th century on the order of Justinian I. Upon its completion, it was the largest church in the world and remained so for nearly 1000 years. During the 4th Crusade, the city was taken by Latin Christians and the church spent 50 years as a Roman Catholic house of worship. It was retaken by the Byzantines in 1260 and remained a church until the Ottomans conquered the city. Today, we see the minarets that were added during that era. It remained a central mosque in Turkey until 1935 when it was converted to a museum by Ataturk. Since then, the Turks have worked to restore the great works of each era of the temple. With the removal of plaster, the beautiful mosaics of the Church have been rediscovered. Walking into the massive nave you will see the huge Apse mosaic (Virgin and Child) above the altar, the 50 foot iconostasis, and large Islamic calligraphic roundels. The dome is supported by gigantic marble columns. The marble in the building is primarily green and white, lending the interior with a heavy solemnity. The entrance fee is 20 Turkish Lira (01/2012). Hagia Sophia Mosaic

Please note that some incorrectly call the building St. Sophia. It was not named for a Saint, but was called Hagia (also Aya or Agios) Sophia, meaning Church of Holy Wisdom.

World Heritage Site   A major influence on Byzantine and Islamic architecture   Stunning mosaics   Massive and captivating  

Very few steps    Somewhat Wheelchair Accessible

Photos of Hagia Sophia by CruisePortAtlas

Hagia Sophia seen from the Sea of MarmaraTopkapi Palace

Port to Topkapi Palace - 3 KM, 8 minutes
Link to Full-Page Google Map

The Topkapi Palace is built at the end of the peninsula that was the first location of settlement in this strategic region. When the Ottomans took control of the area, the ruling Sultans selected this elevated spot for their palaces. There are 5 courtyards within the huge compound that and is more a collection of buildings than a singular palace. The first and fifth courtyards are now a park that surrounds the palace itself. The 2nd courtyard was the public area of the palace with the parade grounds, the Imperial Council chambers, and the entrance to the Harem. The third and forth courtyards were the Sultan's personal quarters, with private and ceremonial rooms, the Imperial Treasury (now the main Museum), and beautiful gardens. The entire palace is a stunning display of Islamic decorative arts in a wide variety of styles and influences. The museum contains incredible treasures, many jewel-encrusted from the entire Ottoman era. The palace should not be missed.

World Heritage Site   Islamic secular and religious architectures   Seat of Power for the Sultans for 500 years   Visually exciting and striking   Ornate decorations and representational miniatures  

    Some Wheelchair Accessibility

Photo of Topkapi Palace by CruisePortAtlas

Inside the Grand BazaarThe Grand Bazaar

Port to Grand Bazaar - 3 KM, 10 minutes
Link to Full-Page Google Map

The Grand Bazaar is one of the great shopping experiences you will have anywhere. It is also the oldest indoor shopping mall anywhere. The original bazaar was built in the mid-15th century and expanded to massive size about 50 years later. Istanbul has for centuries been one of the most important commercial cities on the planet because of its crossroads location. In the Grand Bazaar you will mainly find items that tourists are interested in buying, but the variety is still impressive: textiles, rugs, jewelry, food, antiques, collectibles and an endless variety of local crafts. Most of the items are locally made. Pricing is usually a matter of negotiation and the original asking price is often much higher than the going rate. In some areas of the Bazaar hawkers will try to get your attention. If you aren't interested, either ignore the hawker or firmly say no. In the area around the Bazaar you will find more variety, lower prices, and more items for the local population. Even if you are not buying, the Bazaar and the surrounding area are a feast for your eyes. There are also several Turkish Baths in the area.

A feast for the eyes   Most children will have a great time        

Cobbled and Brick streets    Wheelchair Accessibily Possible but difficult

Photo of Grand Bazaar by CruisePortAtlas

Blue Mosque from the Sea of Marmara

The Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque) and Suleymaniye Mosque

Port to the Blue Mosque - 3-4 KM, 12 minutes
Port to Suleymaniye Mosque - 4 KM, 10 minutes
Link to Full-Page Google Map

These two mosques were built during the early (classical) era of the Ottoman Empire by two of the Great Sultans. Suleyman the Magnificent built the first under the direction of architect Sinan, considered the most influential of that time. Sinan used the Hagia Sophia as his primary inspiration for the domes and layout of the building, creating a massive central dome surrounded by supporting half domes. The interior is dominated by red tiles. It was completed in 1558. As with many major mosques I,t has a ceremonial courtyard and 4 minarets.

Blue Mosque InteriorThe Blue Mosque was built by Ahmet I about 60 years later and is very similar in design, having been built by one of Sinan's pupils. It, like the Suleymaniye, has a white/gray exterior. It gets its name from the blue tiles (right) that dominate its interior. The Blue Mosque is rare in that it has 6 minarets, 4 surrounding the mosque itself and the other two at the corners of the adjacent courtyard.

These two mosques have stunning exterior features with geometrical patterns typical of Islamic design. The interiors include many stained glass windows, giving the buildings a lightness that belies their size. Each has limited interior furnishings, as the faithful kneel on rugs. There are two major features inside each mosque: the pulpit (minbar) from which the imam preaches to the congregation and the mijrab, a space cut into the wall which indicates the direction of Mecca.

World Heritage Site   Islamic design of the Classic period  

Easy Walking    Some Wheelchair Accessibility

Photo of Blue Mosque by CruisePortAtlas

Rumelia Fortress from the BosphorusOther Istanbul Attractions

Port to the Dolmabahce Palace - 3 KM, 6 minutes
Port to Rumeli Fortress - 11 KM, 20 minutes
Port to Taksim Square - 2.5 KM, 8 minutes, 20 minute walk
Link to Full-Page Google Map

The attractions listed above are part of one of the most fascinating and beautiful World Heritage Sites anywhere. And for the first time visitor with limited time, these sites and the Old City that surrounds them are not to be missed. However, if you have traveled to Istanbul or have a more extended stay planned, there are a number of other interesting sites worth your time.

The Dolmabahce Palace and Mosque, a short drive to the northeast of the cruise terminals, was the primary residence of the last Sultans and where Ataturk lived during his last years. It is now an impressive museum that is only available to be viewed with a guide. It is filled with gold and crystal, in contrast to the tiles and marble of the Topkapi Palace.

The Maiden's Tower is an islet in the middle of the Bosphorus that has stood there since at least the Golden Age of the Greeks. Many legends are told regarding its origin and history. One thing is certain - on clear days you will have a great view of the European and Asian sides of the city. And you can eat a nice lunch at the cafe there.

The Rumeli Fortress (above right) was built by Ahmed the Conqueror prior to taking the city of Constantinople in 1453 and was built to protect the Turks from incursions from the Black Sea by Genovese colonists. It is now an open air museum.

Taksim is the modern tourist center for hotels of many price ranges, exciting clubs, and more international shopping. Protests during the Summer of 2013 by local residents and a government crackdown have tarnished the appeal of Taksim Square. While those events are not current, it is probably best to avoid the area for now.

Not for everyone, a Hammam (Turkish Bath) experience is something I would not miss. There are several excellent and historic hammams in the old city.

In addition, there are museums, churches, synagogues, and entertainment venues including places to see the Whirling Dervishes that make Istanbul one of the most exciting and vibrant cities you are likely to ever visit.

A major influence on European fortress architecture   Bosphorus views   Massive and captivating  

Very few steps   

Photo of Rumelia Fortress by CruisePortAtlas

Interests Key:

Art Architecture Beach Children Wild Animals Local Cuisine Flora Gardens-Parks Geology

Diving UNESCO Views Wine Dance Music Shopping History Hiking

Walking & Wheelchair Accessibility:

No Walking Easy Walking Normal Walking Difficult Walking Accessible Limited Not Accessible