Istanbul with Kids: Aya Sofya, Blue Mosque, Topkapı Palace, and the Grand Bazaar

Our third day in Istanbul, my husband was able to join us. So we hit the main tourist sites that most first time visitors must cross off their list! Our AirBnB was very close to these, so we had less walking than the day before! We started at the Hippodrome, which is outside and includes several tall obelisks. Our favorite was the Obelisk of Theodosius, which was from Tutmoses III of 18th Dynasty of Egypt around 1450 BC. It’s our favorite because it come from the Temple of Amun-Re in Karnak, Egypt, which we have been to as well!

From there, we entered the Blue Mosque, built in 1616. It has 6 minarets and is famous for its blue tile interior. It is under renovation (as of August 2021) and so there wasn’t actually much we could see. They have a few parts of the wall uncovered for viewers and you could see a bit of the structure. But most of the glamour and blue of the inside was covered up. It wasn’t out of the way though, so it was ok. You do need to be dressed respectfully and be fairly covered for both the Blue Mosque and the Aya Sofya (Hagia Sofia). Adults (male and female) in pants, women with head coverings. No sleeveless, and I think they wanted women in longer sleeves (mine were 3/4 length and fine). Kids don’t have rules, though once girls hit puberty that starts to change. They do have places to check out coverings if needed, but we preferred just to be dressed appropriately. It was HOT in masks and head coverings!

The Aya Sofya is very near the Blue Mosque. We really lucked out when visiting because about 30 minutes after our arrival, they shooed everyone out for a full day of filming! It was crowded inside. The Aya Sofya has been a number of things over the years, including a church (built 6th century by Byzantine emperor Justinian I, though several structures existed there before it), mosque (1453 by Mehmed II), museum (1935 by President Ataturk), and mosque again (2020 by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan). This article talks about those conversions in depth, and this article gives a more general overview.

Next up was Topkapı Palace. The entrance is the back right of the Aya Sofya, near this fountain to Sultan Ahmed III from 1728. This place also gets crowded and there are several ticket options. If you have the MuseKart, you’ll need to buy tickets for the Harem and for the Aya İrini (Hagia Irene). But the tickets for Aya İrini are near that building, and can’t be bought with the other ticket. If you want to go there, buy your ticket early as the line gets quite long. We didn’t go in, but my in-laws did (their larger combo ticket gave them entry) and they said it was interesting, but not worth a long line as it is a quick stop. There was no line when we arrived, so we should have bought then!

We had a long line to get our tickets for the regular entry, but when we exited, the line was 4x as long! Go early! Once we entered, there are a number of different buildings to see. We started with the Harem building and then wandered the others. Topkapı is 15th century Ottoman and was occupied for 400 years. It is ornate with a lot to see and a lot of walking. Many buildings spread across several levels of ground (the ground slopes, so it’s on large terraces). There is a restaurant (closed Tuesdays), but it was crowded and we didn’t go. It had beautiful views though! Bathrooms were again hard to find, so we ended up using public ones in front of the Aya Sofya once we left. Have coins ready!

The Basilica Cistern is another top stopping spot, but it is closed for renovations, so we didn’t go. Not sure how long those will take, so worth checking. Right by it is the Stone of Million, is “Pillar once part of a 4th-century monument used to measure distances to Byzantine Empire cities.” Hard to see with the renovations, but my math-loving MIL liked seeing it!

It was time for lunch by this point! We ate at Incili Mozaik, which was between the Aya Sofya and the Grand Bazaar. One block off the main road, so peaceful and shady. It was good food and a nice resting spot!

By the time we got to the Grand Bazaar, DS5 was exhausted and worn out from sightseeing. He is a trooper, but there is only so many sites he wants to see in one day and this was the third day of it! We did a lap of the Grand Bazaar and he did NOT want to do any more! My inlaws split off to shop at their pace, and I ended up taking DS home while DH and DD continued shopping and exploring. DS and I left the bazaar just as a huge rain shower hit! We got wet and it kept pouring, so we ducked under an awning. It just happened to be the awning for an ice cream shop! So we got ice cream and ate pressed up against the counter until it stopped.

The Grand Bazaar is very touristy and commercial and not as appealing to me as the Egyptian Spice Bazaar, Ulus in Ankara, or Khan el Khalili in Cairo. We did, however, get a cool painting down on a piece of tree. It hangs on our wall and makes me smile.

At this point our plans for the day disintegrated. We had been trying to arrange a boat outing and it kept falling through. So then the kids were doubly upset that we weren’t going to go boating. August was busier than we anticipated and the idea that we could just “go down to the harbor and get a boat” as I’d been told turned out to not be the case. DH and his folks ended up going out for dinner and a drink as they were leaving the next day and the kids got tablet time! (We did end up doing a boat the next day without my inlaws).

Not as much walking that day, as sites were close. About 3.5 miles worth, plus whatever we did inside buildings.

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