On our Sunday in Istanbul back in November, we hit all new-to-us sites! We started off with a quiet Sunday morning walk through the old part of Istanbul to the Archaeological Museum Complex. Note: despite appearances on the map, the museum complex is NOT accessible from Gülhane Park. We spent a lot of time wandering the park to find the entrance. Instead, enter from just outside the very southern tip of the park, or from Topkapi Palace.
The museum complex has 3 museums-the large archaeological museum, and then 2 smaller ones: The Tiled Pavilion Museum and the Museum of the Ancient Orient. The archaeological one unfortunately was mostly closed. There were some exhibits on the first floor, but all the upper levels were closed. The Tiled Pavilion Museum was very pretty and we liked the Museum of the Ancient Orient. There was also an outdoor cafe with a bit of food and drink options, though not much. If you have a ton of time in Istanbul, or are doing round 2 of a visit like us, it’s worth going. But I wouldn’t put it in a first-time visit itinerary unless perhaps you’re sure all the floors are open.
Gülhane Park was our next stop. The kids wanted to play on the playground. It’s a nice shaded park with tons of trees and walking paths. It has also pay-to-use bathrooms.
We next headed to Cafer Ağa Madrasa as I’d read that it had Turkish artisans doing crafts. Perhaps we were in the off season, or too early, or it’s not happening for Covid. But there was very little to see, which was disappointing.
It was time for lunch, so we headed to Dubb Indian Restaurant. They have street seating, and then several levels of floors. If you’re willing to go up about 4 flights of narrow stairs, you’ll have a great view of the city and the historic sites. It was worth the climb! We enjoyed a nice break and a good meal.
From there we headed to Arasta Bazaar, which is a street of pedestrian shopping behind the Blue Mosque. Lots of tourist shops. There is also a Jennifer’s Hamam shop, which is worth stopping in for Turkish cotton products. This is the smaller of their two shops. For large quantity shopping, ask about their warehouse, just a couple blocks away. We bought a beautiful painting in bazaar.
Next up was the Museum of Great Palace Mosaics (Kültür ve Turizm Bakanlığı Büyük Saray Mozaikleri Müzesi). Enter it from Toran Sk. It features mosaics from the Byzantine-period and the Great Palace of Constantinople. It has a number of walkways that let you get close or over the various mosaics that are in the walls and the floors. It was really cool. The exit pops you back out in the Arasta Bazaar.
Our last tourist stop of the day was the Theodosius Cistern (Şerefiye Sarnıcı). The much more famous Basilica Cistern is closed for renovations, so we were glad to discover this one. It is over 1,600 years old. It is believed to have been built during the reign of Theodosius II. There are timed entries and they don’t allow ticket purchasing until a certain amount of time before entry. Shows are on the hour and they allow entry about 15 minutes before the show starts. Ticket sales I think start on about the half hour? There is an outside waiting area in a patio-type space. I’m fairly certain that they had separate prices for foreigners and locals and we got the local price with our kimliks. It is a private place, so Musekarts don’t work.
Once inside (and down a lot of stairs-there is an elevator for those who need it), we spread out along a large wooden platform that went around the columns. Then they did a sound and light show inside. It was pretty cool. It does get dark, which scared DS a little bit.
From here, we headed back to the apartment for a break. On the way, we stopped for grilled corn from a street vendor–DD’s new favorite winter food. Yum! DH was headed on a work trip and left that evening. The kids and I headed out to find a place for dinner and wandered the streets of Karaköy. There was a lot of night life and cafes and restaurants! We ended up eating at Un Pó. It had a good mix of items-DS had pizza, DD had spaghetti bolognese, and I had a Turkish tortellini. They also had wine 🙂 We sat on the street and watched the crowds. We aren’t often out at night, so the kids like being out when we are sightseeing and seeing it dark 🙂