You came to Istanbul for a meeting, or a work appointment, or vacation, and you have only one free day. Where to go, what to see, in only one day in Istanbul?
Last September, I had a guest from London, UK. He came to Istanbul for shooting a short film, and he had only one free day. Fortunately, most of the fascinating sights of Istanbul are in the historic peninsula, which means they are close to each other and can be seen in one day.
First, we went to the historic peninsula by metro. The first place we visit was the Grand Bazaar. It is about 5-10 minutes’ walk from Vezneciler metro station.
Grand Bazaar is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world. It is known as “Kapalıçarşı”, meaning “Covered Bazaar” by locals. There are 61 covered streets and over 3,000 shops in this historical building. In 2014, it was listed No. 1 among the world’s most-visited tourist attractions with 91,250,000 annual visitors.
Probably one of the first shopping malls of the world, the construction of Grand Bazaar started during the winter of 1455/56, just two and a half years after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople, and it was completed in the winter of 1460/61.
It was not as crowded as it used to be when we go there. Maybe because it was September, or maybe because of Turkey’s tourist crisis in recent years. But it was a good thing for us, as we walked inside the building easily, which was not the case in its heydays because of the crowd.
Roman-era Hippodrome and Obelisk
The next place we visit was Roman-era Hippodrome to see the Obelisk of Theodosius. The famous Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii) was also really close there, but since we had a very limited time (we started our tour a bit late, in the noon), we didn’t go there to be able to spend more time in the Hagia Sophia. But if you have more time, it is a place really worth visiting, it is actually in the top five must-see places in Istanbul.
In the south end of the hippodrome, the magnificent Hagia Sophia (Turkish: Ayasofya) stands. The entrance fee is 40 Turkish Lira (around ten Euros/eleven US dollars, as of 2017), but if you have International Press Card you can enter free. The entrance is also free for the children under 12 (even if s/he isn’t a Turkish citizen), and the students and the teachers staying in Istanbul with the Erasmus programme.
You can also rent a guide, as we did, for around 80 Turkish lire (lira) for half an hour.
From the date of its construction in 537, the Hagia Sophia was used as a church for 916 years but, following the conquest of Istanbul by Fatih Sultan Mehmed in 1453, it was converted into a mosque. Then it was converted into a museum in 1935. As of 2021, it’s again a mosque now. Its name comes from Ἁγία Σοφία in Greek, meaning, “Holy Wisdom”; Latin: Sancta Sophia or Sancta Sapientia; Turkish: Ayasofya.
Our next stop was Basilica Cistern. It is known as Yerebatan Sarayı, “Sunken Palace” by the locals of Istanbul. Located in about a hundred meters in the southwest of Hagia Sophia, the Basilica Cistern is the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns that lie beneath the city of Constantinople. Justinianus I, the Byzantium Emperor (527-565), constructed it as a big underground water reservoir. Before being converted to a cistern, a great Basilica stood in its place, built between the 3rd and 4th centuries during the Early Roman Age as a commercial, legal and artistic center.
The entrance fee of Basilica Cistern is 20 Turkish lira (around 5 euro / 6 US dollars) for foreigners and 10 Turkish lire for Turkish citizens.
If you didn’t drink a beer in Istiklal avenue (Turkish: Istiklal Caddesi) in Beyoğlu, you didn’t visit Istanbul. It is a few kilometers from the historic peninsula, but you can easily go there using the tram and then the tunnel or the funicular. We chose the second one, first went to Kabataş by tram, then took the funicular to the Taksim square. We drank beer in a pub, then went home.
The Map of One Day in Istanbul
Here is the map of our tour below. I marked the places we paid a visit.