*Take the bus to Müze or Itfaiye, or take the tram to Aksaray and walk north along Atatürk Bulvarı. Free.
*From the Kadıköy ferry terminal, head west along the shore. The balloon should be on top of a white building that resembles an anemone. 20TL, students 15TL. h Open daily summer 8am-1am; winter 9am-midnight. www.baloncafe.com
*Take bus 15C from Üsküdar’s ferry terminal to its terminus at Ferah Mahallesi. Go uphill on Cesme Sok. and take the 2nd left to stay on Cesme Sok. Keep straight until it becomes Girgin Sok. and follow till the end, then turn right onto Kural Sok. Take a left on Televizyon Sok. and walk to the end. i Skip the paid public toilets at the entrance and head for the free ones behind Sosyal Tesisleri. Free.
*The mosque is right by the sea, to the east of the Ortaköy ferry terminal. Free. Open daily 4am-midnight.
*Metro: Tünel. Walk up İstiklal until you reach a silver statue resembling a sea urchin (opposite Nuri Ziya Sok.). Turn left into the passage, and at the end turn left. The museum is on the left. 10TL, students 5TL. Students free on W. Audio tours 4TL. Open Tu-Sa 10am-7pm, Su noon-6pm. www.peramuzesi.org.tr
*From Taksim station, walk down Sıraselviler Cad. as it becomes Defterdar Yokuşu. Turn left onto Kasatura Sok. (a block after the Firüzağa Mosque), then right onto Tüfekçi Salih Sok. Go down the road, down the steps, and the park is below. Also known as Cihangir Park, even though that name also refers to a different place, without the view. Free. Open 24hr.
Bulgarian St. Stephen Church
*Bus or ferry to Fener. The church is located in the park between Fener and Balat ferry jetties. If you’re arriving by ferry at Fener, turn right and walk along the shore until you see the church across the road to the left. Free. Open daily 8am-5pm.
*Metro: Sultanahmet. Walk down Caferiye Sok. away from Hotel Sultanahmet; it’s the orange-colored building with minarets on the left. Arrive early on weekday mornings for the shortest lines. 25 TL. Audio tour 15 TL. ~ Open in summer Tu-Su 9am-7pm; in winter 9am-5pm. Last entry 1hr. before close. Last entry to upper gallery 15min. before close.
Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Mosque)
*Metro: Sultanahmet. Walk down Atmeydani Cad., away from the park. The mosque is the big gray building with 6 minarets on the left. Mosque etiquette applies; head coverings, skirts, and scarves distributed at the entrance. Free. ~ Open to non-worshipping visitors M-Th 8:30am-12:15pm, 2-4:45pm, and 5:45-6:30pm; F after 2:30pm; Sa-Su 8:30am-12:15pm, 2-4:45pm, and 5:45-6:30pm.
Puppy-guarding its perch on the tip of the European peninsula, Topkapı served as the official residence for Ottoman sultans (and all their women—except the daughters who were locked up on tiny nothing-islands to preserve their flowers) for almost 400 years. The views are luxurious, the buildings overwhelmingly crafted, and the treasures outrageous. Once you get through the sweaty trial
that is the ticket office, you’re mostly left unsupervised in a huge, crowded, sprawling park and on your own to explore with very few signs or directions. You’ll need to spend at least a few hours exploring to do justice to this giant of a palace complex.
*Metro: Sultanahmet or Gülhane. Enter the grounds down the hill from behind Hagia Sophia. 25 TL.
Entrance to the Harem 15 TL (separate ticket office inside). Audio tour 15 TL. Under 12 free. ~
Open Apr 15-Oct 1 9am-7pm; Oct 1-Apr 15 9am-5pm. Last entry 1hr. before close. Hagia Irene only
open to groups of 30+ by request.
*Metro: Sultanahmet. The entrance is across the street from Hagia Sophia, near the Million Stone. 10 TL. Audio tour 5 TL. ~ Open daily 9am-6:30pm.
Istanbul Archaeology Museums
*Metro: Sultanahmet. From the metro, follow the signs down the tram line, downhill past the Hagia Sophia. It’s in the first courtyard of Topkapı Palace. From Topkapı’s main entrance behind Hagia Sophia, turn left and go downhill. 10 TL, under 12 free. Audio tour 10 TL. ~ Open Tu-Su 9am-7pm. Ticket office open Tu-Su 9am-6pm. Last entry 1hr. before close.
*The park’s walls separate it from the Topkapı Palace grounds, and the park itself has 3 gates: 1
near Sultanahmet, on the tram line past the Hagia Sophia toward Sirkeci, where you can also enter
Topkapı Palace and the Istanbul Archaeology Museum; 1 right in front of the Sirkeci tram stop; and
the last 1 on the avenue lying on the coastline in the north, close to Eminönü. Free entry. ~ Open
*Metro: Beyazit. Walk north to the gate of Istanbul University, turn right, and follow its walls all the way up. Alternatively, [Eminönü. Exit the Spice Bazaar on Sabuncuhanı Sok., turn left onto Vasit Çinar Cad., and continue up the hill. ~ Mosque open daily 9am-7pm, closed during prayer times.
* Take the bus to Fatih. The mosque is behind the tall walls near the bus stop. Mosque etiquette applies. Free. ~ Open daily dawn to dusk, closed for prayer times. Tomb open daily 8:30am-5pm.
Millet Manuscript Library
*From Fatih bus stop, head south down Fevzi Paşa Cad. and turn right onto Feyzullah Efendi Sok. The museum is on the left after you enter the complex. No photography allowed. You will need to leave your passport and bag at the entry office and fill out a form stating (any) university affiliation. Free. ~ Open M-F 8:30am-4pm.
Eyüp Sultan Mosque
*Bus or ferry to Eyüp. Cross the road and head inland, toward the visible minaret of Eyüp Mosque. You’ll have to pass through a long bazaar street and continue past a fountain. Standard mosque etiquette applies. Free. ~ Mosque open daily 5am-11pm. Tomb open daily 9:30am-4:30pm.
*Bus to Edirnekapı. As you get off the bus, turn left, then take the nearest right turn and walk 3 blocks. Just before you reach the city walls, turn right and walk 2 blocks down the slope until you see the museum. 15 TL, under 12 free. ~ Open in summer M-Tu 9am-6pm, Th-Su 9am-6pm. Last entrance 6pm, church closes at 7pm. Open in winter daily 9am-5pm.
Istanbul Museum of Modern Art
the place to get a taste (or a filling meal for the soul) of the city’s contemporary
scene. The upper floor houses a permanent collection called “Past and Future,”
a chronological record of Turkish contemporary art, from its Western-educated
beginnings to the colorful flowering of its own national and individual aesthetic.
Don’t miss Alaettin Aksoy’s Gardens of My Childhood (2002, oil on canvas),
a gorgeous, “puckish” painting trembling with glowing fragments, leaves, and
spots of light (as if there were a million fairies mooning you from all over the
surface). Between the first and lower levels is the “Stairway to Hell” staircase,
and nearby is the “False Ceiling” installation next to the library (a canopy of
books suspended from wires above, forming an artificial ceiling that envelopes
you with that wonderful “book smell” when you walk through it). The lower
level hosts temporary exhibits by local and international artists, as well as
photography and architecture projects, all curated with minimalist cool. Mini
dissertations, piece descriptions, and artist biographies accompany each work,
making this huge space a joy to both look at and learn from.
* From Metro: Tophane, walk toward Kabataş. After passing the Nusretiye Mosque, turn right and follow the red, square signs. 15 TL; groups (10+) 12 TL; students and over 65 8 TL; under 12, museum
members, and handicapped visitors free. Th free for Turkish residents. ~ Open Tu-W 10am-6pm, Th
10am-8pm, F-Su 10am-6pm. Check the website for film screenings and special events.
Sakıp Sabancı Museum
*Take a bus going along the Bosphorus (22, 25E, and 22RE work), and get off at Çınaraltı. The museum is directly to the left. 15 TL, students and teachers 8 TL, under 14 and over 60 and W free. ~ Open W 10am-8pm, Th-Su 10am-6pm. Last tickets sold 45min. before close. Museum closed during 1st days of Ramadan.
*Metro: Kabataş. The palace is a short walk northeast, parallel to the shore past the Dolmabahçe Mosque. From Beşiktaş, walk 7min. toward Kabataş down Dolmabahçe Cad. 45min. guided tours in Turkish or English start about every 15min. Separate tour for the Harem 25min. No photos. Selamlıik and Harem 40 TL; Selamlık only 30 TL; Harem only 20 TL. Students with ISIC card 5 TL. Under 6 free. Tours mandatory, no individual visits. Museum card does not apply. May also visit Great Palace Collections Museum and Yildiz Şale with palace ticket. ~ Open Tu-W 9am-4pm, F-Su 9am-4pm. Office may close earlier if they reach their daily quota of visitors.
Istanbul Toy Museum
*Take the Haydarpaşa-Gebze suburban train from Haydarpaşa Train Station to Göztepe (10min.). After you leave the station, cross and walk down the street on the right side of the train tracks. After the street turns right, take the nearest left turn and continue straight. There are giant giraffe statues in front of the museum. 10 TL, students 7 TL. ~ Open Tu-F 9:30am-6pm, Sa-Su 9:30am-7pm.
St. Paul's Cathedral
The upper levels of the cathedral are open to the hearty and hale. This means you’ll be climbing enough stairs to practically ascend to heaven yourself. Two hundred and fifty-one steps up is the acoustically marvelous Whispering Gallery, where you can hear someone whisper to you from 32m opposite. For 119 steps more you can visit the outdoor Stone Gallery, then another climb will take you to the pinnacle Golden Gallery, which provides exquisite views of the city (although smokers and otherwise respiratorily-challenged visitors can zoom through the same views on the free video tour).