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Going to Istanbul for 3 days

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We are going to Istanbul in the fall and would like the name and contact of private tour guide, and alternatively a propsed itinerary for a first time visitor to this amazing city. We have one full day and 2 half days on either side of our arrival and departure. Many thanks in advance.

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    Well we did OK with a Rick Steves guidebook - you could at least get that from the library and see what you think - it may even have names of private guides. With the amount of time you have (not much really) hopefully you will stay in the Sultanahmet part of the city. My favorite sight was the Topkapi palace - plan to spend a good half day there. Aya Sophia and Blue Mosque are nearby. Rick will tell you what you can pre-purchase tickets to (skip the lines) - mosque is free but not open during prayers.

    We really enjoyed our 2 hr.? cruise on the Bosphorous - so I'd out that high on your list if the weather is good.

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    Thanks! We are definitely limited by our time there. We think we should see Blue Mosque, Haghia Sophia,Topkaki Palace, Basilica Cisterns, the Spice Market, Grand Bazaar, Galata Bridge, Bosphorus Boat Trip? Are we missing anything from this very abbreviated list due to time constraint... Istiklal Caddesi? Taksim Square? Please help us prioritiza this list for our first and short visit there. Thanks!!

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    I found Istanbul very easy to see on my own -- no need for a tour guide unless that is your preference. Just get a good guidebook or two. FWIW, I found the Rough Guide by far the most useful of the half-dozen guidebooks I used when planning my time in the area.

    With the time you have, I'm not sure you can do all the things you list. One thing you might consider is to take a boat along the Golden Horn rather than the Bosphorus boat trip, or just take a commuter ferry across the Bosphorus and back.

    Unfortunately, none of us can say what YOUR priorities should be! Istanbul is an incredible city, with a wealth of sites to savor. That means that the bad news is that you will need to be selective, and the good news is that you should have a wonderful time no matter what you choose.

    Enjoy!

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    >>> Blue Mosque, Haghia Sophia,Topkaki Palace, Basilica Cisterns, the Spice Market, Grand Bazaar, Galata Bridge, Bosphorus Boat Trip? Are we missing anything from this very abbreviated list due to time constraint... Istiklal Caddesi? Taksim Square?

    I have done Istanbul by myself as well as with guide. Frankly, I did not like doing with a guide. The visiting hours were convenient to the guide and did not consider the busy times.

    In my opinion, a big miss on your list is a Sulemaniye Mosque. It is a grand mosque near Grand Bazaar and gets a fraction of the Blue Mosque visitors. In order to visit mosques, you need to understand the call to prayer time hours. You will quickly realize the mid morning gives you the largest visit window. Each mosque has a sunrise call to prayer, then break, and allow visitors until the noon call to prayer. The prayer schedule, which changes daily, are posted at the entrance of major mosques. More important are the visitor hours. At Blue Mosque and Sulemaniye, they are posted. I could not find such hours online, but in May, it was 8:30am. They might change at different times of the year, but for some reason these visiting hours were hard to find online. I recommend if you are at a Hippodrome square, go into the Blue Mosque courtyard to find signs showing the current visiting hours as well as confirming the dress code. For Blue Mosque, you line up at the entrance, it was right side, away from the Aya Sofya side in May, before 8:30am. You will see long line forming before the visitor hour. If you are notdressed correctly, you will be provided a blue cloth to wrap your leg and head for women.

    Aya Sofya, Topkapi, and Basilica cistern get insanely crowded. I would recommend hitting the Basilica cistern at opening. The tranquility of the place and the eerie background music adds to the mood when quiet. Topkapi will involve long ticket queue if you don't already have a ticket or not using a museum card. The Harem at Topkapi requires a separate admission. Aya Sofya accommodates large crowd well, so it you have to visiting during the busy time, Aya Sofya is ok. Understand the closed days.

    Spice Market and Grand Bazaar have opening hours. Spice Market can get insanely busy in the evening. However, market feels dead if too few people are around.

    Galata Bridge is open all the time. Bosphorus Boat Trip: I didn't care for a cruise kind. I liked an early morning ferry boat to the Asian side and come back using Marmaray under Bosphorus train.
    Istiklal Caddesi is a shopping street and Taksim Square is just a large open square.

    If you visit this many places, an Istanbulkart transit card is worth getting. It gives you substantial savings over buying one ticket at a time. This is a preloaded card is shareable between multiple people, I think 5. The first one touches the proximity sensor at a turn style, gives the card to the person in back while going through the turnstyle. The card vending machines are inconveniently located. I got one at airport metro station. The machine to buy a card and refill are different. The one that sells the card took 5,10,20 bills. The card is 10 Lira. The machine give changes in coins. 6 Lira for the card and it give you 4 Lira credit. Then walk over to the refill machine. It takes up to 50 Lira bill. Neither take credit card. Shops near major transit stops are supposed to sell cards if you don't want to deal with machines. I initially loaded with enough credit to cover 80% of the projected usage, then recomputed the remaining after two days and added more credit. Bus/tram/ferry/metro/lightrail/Marmaray train/Funicular to Istiklal all use the same Istanbulkart and same trip cost. You can even pay for the public toilet with the card. Transfer between any transit, even the same kind, is not free but at reduced cost provided you transfer within the expected window.

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    I agree with the Sulamanye Mosque. Definitely. And I will add the Chora Museum - although that is not conveniently located. Aside from Istiklal Cadessi all of the others mentioned are a pretty easy walk from one another.

    If you can get a guide who can bypass the long lines to get you into these venues, that will be worthwhile.

    Beware the guys standing around - especially Blue Mosque. They are persistent in trying to get you to hire them as guides.

    I think both the main area of the Sultanamet - and Istiklal - are very fun in the evening. Lots of people and lights and food and fun.

    Aya Sophia is fabulous.

    You stand in line for Blue Mosque, Aya Sophia, Cistern. So go early to those - and they are all together. Easy to walk into both markets at any time. No line. Just crowds, but that is part of the point.

    Sulamanye is behind the Spice Market.

    If you are there on a weekend you will see - and perhaps partake of - the fish sandwiches being sold near the Galata Bridge...which is very easy to walk across.

    I personally found the public transportation to Taksim Square to be confusing the first time.

    And I found the Bosphorus Cruise very interesting because we passed so may palaces along the way. But it is also the one thing that is easy to miss.

    Princes Island - but probably you won't have time.

    Also - go to the rooftop of some hotel for great views.

    To me Istanbul is like San Francisco times 20.

    I absolutely love it!

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    It can get confusing, but please don't confuse the LITTLE Sophia, sometimes called the Aya Sophia, with the main Hagia Sophia -- despite lots of different spellings, these are very different places! I considered the Hagia Sophia among the highlights of my time in Istanbul, and spent MANY hours there. The Aya Sophia was nice, and IMO, worth the hour or so that it took me to get there and see it, but I would not have tried to fit it into a 3-day itinerary unless it just happened to be next to my hotel. JMO. If it helps, the MAIN Hagia Sophia is the one across from the Blue Mosque. The little one, the Aya Sophia, is down the hill near the shore.

    I also agree that the Süleymaniye Mosque is well worth a visit, but have trouble seeing how it could be reasonably smooshed into an already overfull itinerary. If the OP is to visit an additional mosque, the Rüstem Pasha Mosque is one I would recommend -- it is near the Spice Market and it is both small and exquisite. IMO.

    "If you can get a guide who can bypass the long lines to get you into these venues, that will be worthwhile."

    A museum pass that lets you bypass the lines might be even more worthwhile, and should be MUCH less expensive. :-)

    As noted in my trip report, I wasn't enamored of İstiklâl Caddesi - it was too loud and too crowded for my tastes. BUT I'm sure it depends on the night and season and one's personal preferences. Since it is accessible after almost everything else closes, I'm not sure you have a lot to lose by walking it and seeing what you think, particularly because there are some pleasant restaurants in the area.

    I agree that the Chora is glorious, but don't see how the OP would fit it in. And of course there are a ton of other gems. But with the OP's time frame, I think it makes sense to figure out a plan that is most likely to encompass the things the OP most wants to see. JMO.

    Hope that helps!

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