The hop-on hop-off Istanbul Guide

How to explore Turkey's most beautiful city in a day or two... 

 

Hop on hop off Istanbul, sightseeing bus tour

Turkey’s largest city sits at the point where the continents of Europe and Asia meet, separated by the Bosphorus Strait. You’ll find Istanbul an exciting city, full of mosques and medieval palaces, whose spires and domes dominate the skyline. In Istanbul, the ancient and the modern live together harmoniously –on the busy streets, donkey carts vie for their place in traffic alongside modern cars and trucks, and the dress code covers everything from traditional clothing that has been worn for centuries to high fashion that has just stepped off the catwalk.

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Istanbul’s Asian side is full of sprawling Western-style suburbs, while its European side comprises the old part of the city, an Oriental maze of streets filled with opulent palaces, mosques and crowded bazaars. This is where the 15th Century Topkapi Palace is located, with the Hagia Sophia just outside its walls, a building that is one of the finest existing examples of Byzantine architecture. Old Istanbul is also home to the majestic Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet) with renowned blue tiles, as well as the bustling, colourful Grand Bazaar, or Kapali Carsisi in Turkish.

 

This unique city is full of surprises around every corner, and one of the best ways to discover its varied sights is on a comprehensive Hop On, Hop Off City Sightseeing bus tour. This way, you can hop off the bus to explore some of Istanbul’s wonders, and then hop on again when you wish to travel to your next destination.

 

You can personalise your sightseeing so that you can see as much, or as little, of Istanbul’s unique sights. The choice is yours.

 

How much does it cost?

At the time of writing, a 24-hour ticket costs US$ 26.5 for an adult and US$ 19.5 for a child (5-15), or a senior. A family ticket goes for US$ 85.50 and is valid for up to a maximum of 2 adults and 3 children.

 

To orientate yourself in the city, you can also take the entire 90-minute tour in one go, and then hop on and off the next time, to visit the sights you have chosen. 

 

Departure times 

First bus leaves Taksim Square at 10am, and the last one at 6pm/6:30pm (depends on season).  During the summer (1st April – 31st October) buses depart at intervals of 45 minutes, while during the winter there is a bus every one hour.

  

 

Places to see and things to do along the route 

 

1. The bus tour begins at Taksim Square, located in the centre of the modern part of Istanbul. There are a number of buildings worth exploring around the square, including the Taksim Republic Art Gallery, the modern Ataturk Cultural Centre, which is the city’s performing arts centre, and is also called the Opera House, and the Monument of the Republic (Cumhuriyet Anıtı), which was erected in 1928 to commemorate the country’s revolutionary heroes. On Taksim Square you’ll also find the Japanese and German consulates and Istanbul Technical University, a historic university that has been in existence for more than 200 years.

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Istanbul's Sultanahmet Camii (Blue Mosque)

2. Give yourself a few hours to explore some of the famous sights within walking distance of your first hop off point, Sultanahmet Centre, in Istanbul’s old walled city. This charming area has been listed as a World Heritage Site because of all the historic buildings here, including the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed), which were built by Sultan Ahmed (Ahmet), after whom the area is named. This quaint area is also where you can shop till you drop in the Grand Bazaar, or Kapali Carsi, an immense market full of so many different items, all crammed into over 60 covered alleyways and streets. If you have enough time, why not dedicate a morning or even a whole day so that you can bargain for jewellery, lanterns, carpets, ceramics and lots more.

 

Another must-see located in this part of the city is the magnificent Topkapi Palace, which overlooks the Bosphorous Strait as it has for more than 4 centuries. Built in the Ottoman style, this opulent palace complex was once the home of sultans, and there’s lots to see to in its many courtyards, imperial halls, royal chambers, apartments, bath houses, harems and armory.

 

Right behind the palace is the majestic Hagia Sofia, one of the world’s most beautiful buildings, erected by Emperor Justinian in 532AD. Originally a church, it then became a Mosque under the Ottomans and you will be able to see its magnificent golden mosaics and decorations, which were once plastered over. The exquisite interior is a must-see, as is the interior of the Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii), located nearby. This famous mosque was built in the early 17th Century on the site of Constantinople’s Grand Palace, and boasts a magnificent blue-tiled walls and a dome with six pointed minarets.

 

Other noteworthy sites around this area include the fabulous Istanbul Archaeology Museum and its neighboring counterpart, the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art, which is also known as the "Tiled Kiosk Museum", after the building it occupies…

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3. The next stop is at the Maritim Chamber of Commerce – from here you can hop off to explore a number of fascinating sights, including the impressive Süleymaniye Mosque, which was built in the 16th Century by Suleyman, the most powerful Ottoman emperor of all time. There are 4 Imperial mosques in the city, but this one is the grandest. There’s lots to explore here, including lush gardens and a three-sided courtyard, four minarets, each with its own balcony, and a fascinating interior. You’ll notice that there is little decoration inside, but the beautiful stained glass windows and four massive columns make up for this.

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The Spice Bazaar, ("Egyptian Bazaar") in Istanbul

Nearby is the bustling Spice Bazaar (Turkish: Mısır Çarşısı, or "Egyptian Bazaar"), where you can pick up some delicacies other than spices, too, including Turkish delight, dried fruit, figs and honeycomb, souvenirs and olive oil soap.

 

4. At your next stop you can hop off the bus and visit the lovely Dolmabahçe Palace, which is surrounded by lush gardens. The palace is divided into two sections – the Selamlik, or Ceremonial Suites, and the Harem and Concubine’s Quarters. Enjoy a guided tour of the palace and the harem. When you enter through the ornate clock tower, don’t forget to look at the clock – like every timepieces in the palace complex, it has stopped at 9.05am, the time when Ataturk died in 1938. In the harem with its magnificent painted ceilings you’ll see the small bedroom where Ataturk stayed just before he died.

 

5. The next place where you can hop off is at the Golden Horn, the area at the mouth of an inlet called the Halic, which meets the Bosphorus. The Golden Horn is just to the north of the famous Galata Bridge, an iron bridge built in 1909, and then replaced in 1992. The bridge is full of busy traffic and street vendors, and underneath it you’ll find a selection of restaurants and cafes. From the bridge you can see the Medieval Galata Tower whose conical steeple and gold finial dominate the skyline. The tower is set in a paved public square where people sit and play backgammon or drink tea and chat. The tower has a café and balcony from where you have a panoramic view over “new” Istanbul.

 

Nearby is the 19th Century Pera Palace Hotel, an affluent hotel built for the passengers of the luxury train, The Orient Express when they passed through. You can explore this hotel, which has been restored to its former glory.  And ight next to it is the privately owned Pera Museum, which is well worth visiting, especially if you are an art lover…

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6. The next hop off point is at the residence of the Orthodox Patriarchate, the ceremonial head of the Orthodox Church. Today, the Patriarchate’s official title remains the Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome and Ecumenical Partriarch. The building is heavily fortified and inside the compound is the Church of St George, built in 1720, home to the ornate patriarchal throne that dates all the way back to Byzantine times.

 

The view from the alfresco terrace of Pierre Loti Cafe

7. You’ll find some interesting sights to explore at your next hop off point, the Pierre Loti Café, which is located below the famous Eyüp Sultan Mosque. The Café is named after a French naval officer called Julien Viaud, who came here to drink coffee and enjoy the view. He was actually an author who wrote under the pseudonym Pierre Loti. You can sample good coffee and enjoy the same gorgeous view that Viaud loved here, at the café.

 

To get to the mosque complex, you can either walk down the hill or take the cable car. The Eyüp Sultan Mosque is famous for being the location of the tomb of a friend of the Prophet called Ayoub al-Ansari. The mosque was built on the site of the tomb in the 15th Century, and another mosque then replaced the original in 1766. The tomb is located in a courtyard next to the mosque and boasts some beautiful silver, gold and crystal chandeliers.

8. Edirnekapı is the next place to hop off, to visit the Chora Church. Currently occupied by a fairly nice museum, it was built way back in 527AD, and used to be located outside the original city that was built by Constantine the Great, but was soon part of the city as it grew so fast. Since then the church has been rebuilt a number of times. It’s been used and as a mosque, a church and now it’s a museum containing some exquisite mosaics and frescoes that date back to the early14th Century.

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Wait! Make the most of your visit to Istanbul with our range of exciting activities and day-trips! Click here to see them all...

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9. The last stop where you can hop off is at Yenikapi/Kumkapi. Yenikapi is known for excavations that have been going on since 2004 when part of the port dating back to the Byzantine era was discovered, as well as a number of shipwrecks. Kumkapi is located right on the Marmara Sea; it’s famous for a selection of excellent seafood restaurants as well as the colourful fish market, where people go to buy fresh fish daily. There are a number of Armenian churches in the area that you can explore – these were built during the Ottoman period.

 

And here is something that is well worth knowing about: Taking a hop-on, hop-off bus tour is one the best ways to explore any large city, as it saves you lots of precious holiday time and takes you EXACTLY to those places you really want to visit... (Not to mention the great views you can enjoy from the open top...). We have dozens of free "Hop on hop off guides" that cover quite a few cities across the world, including SingaporeHong KongSydney,  MelbourneAucklandShanghai  and many other destinations..... Simply click here to see them in a webpage format (with embeded videos), or here, to view and download them as eBooks (PDF format).

 

Traveling to Turkey? Hop on to our hotels price comparison service NOW and find the best rates for your accommodation in Istanbul and elsewhere in Turkey