Turkey is located strategically between Asia and Europe. Even though Turkey is an Islamic country, liberalism is also practiced here. This beautiful piece of heaven offers plenty of historical and archeological sites for its visitors. The most popular city in Turkey is Istanbul and it is the central growth of economic, cultural as well as a very historical city. Anyone who has visited Istanbul would definitely give you an idea of spending as much time as possible. But, what if time is not on your side? What if you only have a day-long layover in Istanbul and with that, you would love to see what Istanbul can offer within the short period of 24 hours? In this article, we will give you useful information on where to go, if you only have a day to explore Istanbul. Sultanahmet or also known as the Old Town is the right spot to get a glimpse of what Turkey has to offer in general. Why? Simply because it offers a clear and unparalleled perspective into Turkey’s bygone era and at the same time it serves as a microcosm of Islam, Christianity, Greek, the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire and the Ottoman Empire. This particular place will show you all the influences of so many forces that have shaped the world!
1) Hagia Sofia (Aya Sofya)
This museum portrays a great architectural elegance and is a vital monument for both Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. Originally constructed in the 4th century by Constantine the Great, Aya Sofia has served as the center point for Christianity (a church), a stronghold of Islam (a mosque) and, in present time, playing a role as a unique museum.
**Tourist Tip: If you don’t know much about Istanbul, Christianity, Islam, etc. hiring a guide (you can find them in front of the entrance) for a short 30-minute tour is highly recommended.
2) Basilica Cistern
It is located just behind Hagia Sofia museum and it was constructed by Emperor Justinian. The cistern provided a water filtration system of over 9,000 square meters in area for the Great Palace of Constantinople and, later, for Topkapi Palace (when the city was conquered by the Ottomans). In 1987, after cleaning and restoring the Basilica Cistern, the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality opened it to the public. After descending into the underground water facility via a flight of stairs, visitors can wander on the concrete pathways, adoring the subdued lighting and the cool temperatures.
**Tourist Tip: Be sure to walk all the way to the far left-hand corner of the cistern, to view two of the infamous Medusa heads. Both heads are casually used as column bases; one positioned upside down, the other tilted to the side. Both their positioning as their origin remain a mystery up till now, although rumor has it that they were recycled from an antique building of the late Roman period.
3) Blue Mosque
Located just across from the Hagia Sofia museum, the Blue Mosque or also called as Sultanahmet Camii in Turkish is still in use for its original purpose. Though you can’t enter during times of prayer, the mosque is open to visitors at all other hours of the day. It is a historical mosque in Istanbul. Why is it called the Blue Mosque? This is due to the blue tiles surrounding the walls of interior design. This mosque was built between 1609 and 1616 years, during the rule of Ahmed I. Just like many other mosques, it also comprises a tomb of the founder, a madrasa and a hospice. Aside from still being used as a mosque, the Sultan Ahmed Mosque has also become a famous tourist attraction in Istanbul.
**Tourist tip: The best way to see great architecture of the Blue Mosque is to approach it from the Hippodrome, which is at the West side of the mosque. Kindly ignore and avoid some people who offer you to enter the mosque without queuing up. Mostly, they will try to sell you something and bring you to some shopping places.
- Topkapi Palace
The Topkapi Palace is the biggest and one of the most popular sites to visit in Istanbul. It is the official palace of Ottoman royalty during the reign of the Ottoman Empire in Constantinople. Topkapi Palace also houses some of Mohammad’s most important possessions, including his cloak and sword. Construction of the Palace began in 1459 and was home to over 4,000 people at its peak occupation.
**Tourist Tip: Queues can be lengthy, certainly if cruise-ships entered the Istanbul’s harbor. Thus, be ready to buy your tickets ahead of time. The entrance fee is TL 20 (TL 1 = RM 1.42). Tickets can only be attained from the ticket windows situated in the First Courtyard of the Topkapi Palace museum.
- Arasta Bazaar
You have read it right! Arasta Bazaar, not Grand Bazaar! The Arasta Bazaar is an open market place where you can buy souvenirs at a more reasonable price. Visitors can see many interesting stuffs, from rugs, carpets, Turkish tiles, apparel and many more. An arasta is a series of shops built below or near a mosque. Now, Arasta Bazaar is among Istanbul’s most popular tourist markets. Get your bargaining skill ready and bring back the best souvenirs from Turkey back home!
**Tourist Tip: At its northeastern end by Mimar Mehmet Ağa Caddesi, there are several open-air cafes, snack stands and restaurants, one of which has highly-amplified Turkish music which operates until approximately 1:00 in the morning. So, don’t forget to grab that Turkish coffee and stay refreshed while strolling around the scenic city!
As you get your way around these 5 places in a short period of 24 hours or even less, you can perform your prayers in the Blue Mosque and for food, plenty of Halal food options are available in the surrounding area of the Sultanahmet Mosque including a number of Halal restaurants too. Visitors may also try out a few of the most well-known Halal restaurants in Istanbul such as the Hayat Cafe, Asitane, Mozaik Café, Hamdi Restaurant, 360Istanbul Restaurant, and Istanbul Modern.