Are you touring Europe on a cruise ship and your next stop is one of World’s most magical city of Istanbul? You can be sure that you are at the right city on the cruise ship route as Istanbul can be considered as one of the most vibrant cities in Europe and the World.
Discovering Istanbul during a cruise would be an unforgettable experience for the cruise-ship visitors. Istanbul offers all kind of attractions for all ages and has all you need including lively bars, pubs, historical sites, architecture, landscapes, tourist offerings as well as one of the best shopping and entertainment destinations in the world.
Here, you can find a detailed itinerary things to do in Istanbul for cruise-ship visitors, information and advice on getting from Istanbul Cruise Port to city’s popular tourist zones such as Sultanahmet, Galata and Taksim, must see sights and attractions, ideas for saving money and tips for getting around Istanbul.
You can also use our guide if you are in Istanbul for a short stay, even you are not a cruise-ship visitor.
Where is the Istanbul’s Cruise Ship Port?
The Cruise Port of Istanbul, the Galataport, is located in the shores of the Karakoy and Galata neighborhood, in the heart of the city. But as the reconstruction of Istanbul’s new Galataport still continues (estimated year of the completion is in May2020), the Cruise Ships currently anchor to the opposite of Galata, on the Sarayburnu coast, located on the skirts of Sultanahmet and Topkapi Palace.
And you are lucky that you are very close, within walking distance to all popular sights and sounds of the historic center of the city.
Temporary Sarayburnu Cruise Port Map
What to do in Istanbul from a Cruise Ship for a Day?
If you’re visiting Istanbul by cruise ship, we can say that you’ll have about 8 to 12 hours to explore the city. To help you plan your cruise layover in Istanbul, we put together a quick guide on what to in Istanbul for a day below. You can choose the tours below regarding your stopover time. If you will have 12 hours layover, than you can explore the city’s all the best attractions for sure with our guide below.
And if you will have 24 to 72 hours Istanbul stay, than you are very lucky that you can explore all of the city’s sights and sounds very effectively.
A Brief Info
If you have only one day or less to spend in Istanbul, the best way to get the most out of the city is to visit the famous Sultanahmet neighborhood and see the couple of Istanbul’s must-see sights there. Sultanahmet will sure give you the ultimate Istanbul experience in a nutshell.
We also recommend you to visit the Galata and Taksim neighborhoods, the modern part of the city.
We also highly recommend you to buy Istanbul Tourist Pass during your stay in Istanbul, because you’ll get a really good discount for all the popular attractions and sights of the city, as well as you’ll get skip-the-line-tickets for the best museums and save your time from the very long queues. The below attractions will be FREE with Istanbul Tourist Pass. You’ll find information about how to buy Istanbul Tourist Pass at the end of our article.
1. Visit Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace Museum
Duration: 2 hours and 30 minutes (both museums)
Access on your own: by walking (20 mins from Sarayburnu, Cruise Port) or Tram from Sirkeci to Sultanahmet (5-10 mins)
Dating back to 325, Hagia Sophia is a former church and mosque and declared as one of the world’s greatest architectural works and accepted as the 8th wonder of the world. Hagia Sophia is also one of the most visited landmarks and museums in Istanbul and in the world.
Topkapi Palace Museum is one of world’s richest museums, is a magnificent oriental palace and one of the world’s greatest architectural works. It was the residence of the Ottoman sultans as well as the administrative and educational center of the Empire. It houses the finest samples of seal, book binding, jewelry and box craftsmanship as well as inscriptions.
We highly recommend you to visit and see both museums at once. It would take about 2 hours and 30 minutes. And you should get Skip-the-line-tickets to save yourself from long queues.
If you do this visit, please note the Istanbul Tourist Pass offers a 20% discount with redemption instructions in the e-mail you will receive upon your purchase of the pass. Also note that if you won’t have Istanbul Tourist Pass, you’ll need to wait at the ticket queues located in front of both museums and this might reach up to 1 hour of wait per museum.
If you don’t want to go by Tourist Pass, you can also buy stand alone Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace Museums Skip-the-line-Tickets from below.
2. Take the Hop-on Hop-off Istanbul City Sightseeing Bus Tour
Duration: 3 hours
Access on your own: by walking (20 mins from Sarayburnu, Cruise Port) or Tram from Sirkeci to Sultanahmet (5-10 mins)
BigBus Istanbul tour is a cheap way to discover and explore the popular zones of Istanbul which you just couldn’t walk to and see in one day. It drives through the popular sights along the interesting and different districts and neighborhoods of Istanbul and offers informative pre-recorded commentary that is available in 8 languages.
You’ll able to see popular sights such as such as the Golden Horn, Galata Tower, Dolmabahçe Palace, Bosphorus Bridge, Beşiktas FC’s Vodafone Arena Stadium, Taksim Square, Hard Rock Cafe, Suleymaniye Mosque, Egyptian Spice Bazaar and many more. And the most fantastic of all, you’ll get to cross the Bosphorus bridge connecting Europe to Asia.
If you like, you can get off at any of the designated stops (which means hop-off) and than explore the area and sights on foot at your leisure, and then you can catch the next bus (buses arrive the stops in every 30 mins/60 mins.) from any stop when you’re ready (which means hop-on) to move on and visit the other sights on the route.
You can start the BigBus Istanbul tour after your Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace museums visit. The BigBus tour’s starting point is Sultanahmet Square, just across the Hagia Sophia.
Typical tour would take about 3 hours.
If you take this tour, please note the typical BigBus ticket costs around $35 USD, but Istanbul Tourist Pass offers this tour FREE with redemption instructions in the e-mail you will receive upon your purchase of the pass.
If you don’t want to go by Tourist Pass, you can also buy stand alone BigBus Tickets from below.
Alternative to BigBus Istanbul City Sightseeing Tour
If you don’t want to take BigBus, or if you have a longer stopover in Istanbul, you can continue exploring the other popular sights around Sultanahmet, also before taking the BigBus.
Explore Sultanahmet Sqaure (within walking distance or 10 mins tram ride)
We recommend you to visit we recommend you to visit and Sultanahmet Square (Hippodrome), Blue Mosque, Basilica Cistern, Istanbul Archaeology Museums and Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts, that all are situated in Sultanahmet and can be explored by walking.
Grand Bazaar (within 15 mins tram ride)
You can also take the Bagcilar-Kabatas tram (T1 line)’s “Sultanahmet” stop, and take the tram to Beyazit (5 mins from Sultanahmet) or walk about 20 minutes to Beyazit, to see the Istanbul’s famous Grand Bazaar and make some shopping.
The Grand Bazaar (Kapali Carsi) is without a doubt is the most popular tourist spot. It is a shopping adventure that you won’t want to miss. A series of covered streets feature over 4,000 merchants all selling their products and wares. You can find anything here from boots and slippers to gold and silver jewelry.
After your Sultanahmet visit, you can take the Bagcilar-Kabatas tram (T1 line) to visit the Taksim neighborhood next. You can drop-off from the tram’s last stop (Kabatas) and take the 5 mins funicular ride from Kabatas to Taksim Square.
Fener & Balat Neighborhoods (within 10 mins taxi or bus ride)
You can also alternatively visit the former Greek neighborhood Fener and nearby the old Jewish quarter Balat, situated on the southern shore of Golden Horn, that all have very rich historical heritage. Fener and Balat is located about 5-10 mins bus ride from Sirkeci or Eminonu.
Fener houses the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Bulgarian Church of St. Stephen, which is one of few prefabricated cast iron churches in the world. The Greek Patriarchate is still mother-church for Greek Orthodox Christianity worldwide. Both Fener and Balat is popular with its touristic cafes, restaurants and antiques shops.
Egyptian Spice Bazaar (within walking distance)
And we also recommend you to visit the famous Egyptian Spice Bazaar, located in the Eminonu Square, within walking distance from the Sarayburnu Cruise Port.
Egyptian Spice Bazaar consists of a series of covered streets featuring 100 shops and two restaurants along the gates. The nickname “Spice” was given for the majority of the shops’ selling herbs and spices. You are able to find about every kind of herbs and spices at the market, and as well as ingredients for cooking, Turkish delight and Turkish coffee.
Eat famous Fish Sandwich via the Boats along the Eminonu coast (within walking distance or 10 mins tram ride)
Fish sandwich, called as “Balik Ekmek” in Turkish, is a very famous and delicious street food served from the fishing boats, made of grilled white fish, raw onions, and salad stuffed in a half loaf of white bread. It is a classic for both locals and tourists when they have a break in Eminonu shore, on the Golden Horn side.
3. Hop-off in Taksim and walk around Istiklal Street
Duration: 1 hour and 30 minutes (inc. lunch)
Access on your own: by Tram from Sirkeci to Kabatas (20 mins) and Funicular from Kabatas to Taksim (5-10 mins)
You can hop-off from the BigBus in Taksim and explore the Taksim neighborhood by walking. Taksim, with its iconic Taksim Square, is the main attraction spot for every tourist and the area is always vibrant with its cheerful tourists taking selfies before the monument or the historic tram.
From Taksim, you can continue down to world famous Istiklal Street, see around, and have a lunch in a cafe or restaurant there, and than continue walking down from the end of Istiklal Street to famous Galata Tower (it would be 10-15 minutes walk) to enjoy the city’s famous landmark and 360 degrees panoramic views.
Istiklal Street is the busiest street in Istanbul and also center of arts and culture. It runs all the way from the Taksim, northern end, and ends at the Tunel Square, southern end, which leads to Galipdede Street and than to famous Galata Mevlevihanesi (Dervish Lodge) with its historic gate and if you go further downhill, to famous Galata Tower. See more on our Istiklal Street page.
You can spend about 1 hour and 30 minutes in Taksim.
4. Enjoy the city views from Galata Tower
Duration: 30-45 minutes
Access on your own: by Tram from Sirkeci to Karakoy (10 mins) and by 5 mins walking from Karakoy
Galata Tower, topped with a distinctive witch’s-hat roof, is one of the most impressive and popular landmarks in Istanbul. Dating back to 14th century, the tower is an old Genoese tower overlooking the beautiful Istanbul and has a massive cone shaped structure that was built at approximately 38 meters above the sea level and rises to a height of 72 meters above its base.
Galata Tower serves as a popular tourist sight, that its observatory deck has a 360 degrees view of Istanbul. There are two elevators in the entrance that takes you to the top. There is an amazing view of the Historical Peninsula, Golden Horn and Bosphorus from the tower that encompasses Istanbul.
You can spend here about 30 to 45 minutes.
There is also a cafe and restaurant (Galata Tower Restaurant) on top that visitors may have Turkish breakfast and meals in the company of excellent views, and a souvenir shop in the entrance of the tower.
From Galata Tower, you can walk about 5 mins to Bagcilar-Kabatas tram (T1 line)’s “Karakoy” stop, and take the tram to Sirkeci, which is very close to your Cruise Ship’s anchor place.
5. Experience the Whirling Dervishes Show
Duration: 1 hour
Access on your own: by 5-10 mins walking from the Cruise Port in Sarayburnu
If you have more stopover, you can take a fantastic show, the Whirling Dervishes Show at the Hodjapasha Culture Center, located very close to your Cruise Ship in Sirkeci.
Whirling Dervishes Show is one of the most visited attractions in Istanbul with the tourists. It is because that this ceremony is a very unusual event for the tourists and when they hear about it, majority of them try to catch this one hour show and witness the miracle of the whirling dervishes.
The show takes place every day (Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday in winter) and usually starts at 19:00, and we recommend you to be there around 18:15 to catch the pre-show offerings. And the show ends about 20:00
If you take this show, please note the typical Whirling Dervishes Show ticket costs around $25, but Istanbul Tourist Pass offers this tour FREE and includes admission + pre-show offerings (drinks), with redemption instructions in the e-mail you will receive upon your purchase of the pass.
If you don’t want to go by Tourist Pass, you can also buy stand alone Whirling Dervishes Show from below. Note that as this Whirling Dervishes Performance is very popular among the majority of the tourists, you should buy your tickets at least 2 or 3 days before the show.
Book Dervish Dancing Tickets online as many dates are selling out quickly
Hodjapasha ticket €20 — Orient Express ticket €12 — Bosphorus Sema Diner Cruise €40
6. Finish your day with a Dinner Cruise with entertainment on the Bosphorus
Duration: 3 hours
Access on your own: by 10-15 mins walking to Eminonu Ferry Port from Cruise Port in Sarayburnu
If you have more stopover, you can take a Bosphorus dinner cruise and enjoy the Istanbul’s night scene on a luxury cruise, with specialties from the Turkish cuisine, unlimited drinks, belly dancer, traditional shows and a DJ performance at the end of the night.
If you take this tour, please note the typical Bosphorus Dinner Cruise ticket costs around €60 to €80, but Istanbul Tourist Pass offers this tour FREE with redemption instructions in the e-mail you will receive upon your purchase of the pass.
If you don’t want to go by Tourist Pass, you can also buy stand alone Bosphorus Dinner Tickets from below.
What about a guided city highlights tour of Istanbul?
For the ones who don’t want to worry about planning about their days with limited time, the itineraries and schedules, and let someone else take care of all the logistics and guide you the city’s all sights and sounds, we highly recommend you the guided city highlights tour.
Of course you’ll be offered variety of shore excursions by your cruise ship, however we believe you may find the below tours more cheaper and would worth to check out as well.
Those private guide city tours also offer drop-off & pick-up from the cruise ship and are either private or small-group tours. And they are all very competitively priced, and guarantee an on-time return to your cruise ship.
How to get from Istanbul’s Cruise Port to the City Center?
You are lucky that Istanbul’s current temporary Cruise port is located in the heart of the city, very close, within walking distance to all popular sights and sounds of the historic center of the city. The best way to get to the Istanbul major tourist zones, which are Sultanahmet, Galata and Taksim, is to take the Bagcilar-Kabatas tram (T1 line) or taking public buses.
You can also catch a taxi, but this will definitely be the most expensive way, although you will feel comfortable in getting back your cruise on time.
You can buy Private Guided Istanbul’s Highlights Tour to save yourself from the hassle of all those arrangements.
How to Get Around Istanbul?
You may find variety of options for getting around Istanbul. We can say that, from your Cruise port, the popular sights and sounds of the city can be accessed by walking or via short tram ride.
The three busiest areas for tourists, that include Sultanahmet, Galata and Taksim, are easy to get around on foot. Istanbul offers a huge network of public transportation that include; buses and railways such as metro, tram systems and Marmaray. You may read more on our Getting Around Istanbul and Public Transportation page.
How to Save Money in Istanbul?
There are variety of sightseeing discount passes and cards for Istanbul, which is one of the best ways to save money during your stay in Istanbul. However, most of the Istanbul travel passes and cards are not very well-suited for a very short visit from a cruise ship, such as popular travel passes and cards like Istanbul Tourist Pass, Istanbul Welcome Card and Istanbul Museums Pass are unlikely to save you enough money to justify the investment unless you have more than 1 day in Istanbul. But anyways these cards and passes will generate very good savings to you in comparison to when you but the attraction tickets by yourself stand alone.
Istanbul Tourist Pass
In our cruiser guide for Istanbul, we are recommending you to pick up a Istanbul Tourist Pass , as this comprehensive sightseeing pass will grant you; skip-the-line admission to Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace museums; a hop-on hop-off city bus tour and Bosphorus Strait boat tour plus an evening performance of Whirling Dervishes Show, and many more.
This will save you from all the hassle of purchasing individual tickets for the popular sights and attractions of Istanbul due to your lack of time.
When you buy the Istanbul Tourist Pass; you’ll also get 3 days of unlimited internet connection (requires reservation in advance) and guiding over WhatsApp (Weekdays: 10:00 am – 6:00 pm| Weekends: 11:00 am – 5:00 pm).
You may buy your Istanbul Tourist Pass from below with the cheapest price and satisfaction guaranteed. Valid 3 to 7 days (from first activation), Skip the line, Printed or mobile voucher accepted, Instant confirmation, Wheelchair accessible, Easy cancellation, Cancel up to 24 hours in advance for a full refund.
Istanbul Welcome Card
Offers guided tours and fast track entry to 12 Istanbul museums including Hagia Sophia Museum, Topkapi Palace Museum and Harem, Chora Museum, Fethiye Museum, Galata Mevlevi House, Hagia Irene Museum, Istanbul Archaeological Museums, Istanbul Mosaic Museum, Museum for the History of Science and Technology in Islam, Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts, and the Rumeli Hisar Museum with professional guides. Plus; a cruise on the Bosphorus and card loaded with 10 tickets for public transport.
Istanbul 5-Day Guided Museum Pass
Offers guided tours and fast track entry to 5 Istanbul museums including Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Basilica Cistern, Hagia Irene and Turkish & Islamic Arts Museum. And many pluses.
- 5-Day Guided Museum Pass by Get Your Guide from € 50
- 5-Day Museum Pass and Bosphorus Tour by Get Your Guide from € 56
- Viator’s 5 Days Museum Pass and Bosphorus Boat Tour from € 59
- Museum Pass, Bosphorus Boat Tour and Big Bus Ticket from € 109
- Guided Museum Pass: Skip-the-line Tickets with Guided Tours from € 50
- Istanbul Combo: Museum Pass,Whirling Dervishes Show and Bosphorus Boat Tour from € 69
Make Bargains when you make Shopping
We recommend you to bargain when you make shopping in any of the tourist and souvenir shops. You can be sure that you’ll get a good discount when you make bargains. In addition, some establishments such as local shops, boutiques offer good discounts when you pay in cash as they won’t want to pay a percentage to the credit card company.
Also, especially to take the advantage of good discounts on shopping, we recommend you to carry cash TRY. We don’t know would you be able have TRY cash from your cruise ship, but you should know that you can get Turkish Liras from the ATMS or Banks near your cruise port. And we recommend you to carry small notes such as 5,10,20, 50 TRY.
You may read our Turkish Money page for more information on where to obtain it to how to spend it and familiarize yourself with Turkish currency.
Use Public Transport Card when getting around the city
We recommend you to use public transport card when getting around the city. The whole public transportation system can easily be accessed with a single transportation card, which is Istanbulkart.
And note that you can get around all the popular cruise port nearby sights and attractions of Istanbul via Trams.
Summary of All
* Your cruise ship will be anchored on the Sarayburnu Port of Istanbul, that will be within the walking distance or a short tram ride to the nearby popular sights and sounds of Istanbul. You’ll have limited time on your Istanbul stay, so it is better to visit and see the must-see places and attractions of Istanbul that we mention above.
* We recommend you to visit Sultanahmet, Galata and Taksim and see Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace Museums (in Sultanahmet), Galata Tower (in Galata), Taksim Sqaure and Istiklal Street (in Taksim) for sure.
* We recommend you to buy Istanbul Tourist Pass to take the advantage of big discounts on city highlights or buy Private Guided Istanbul’s Highlights Tour to save yourself from all the hassle of purchasing individual tickets and arranging your return to your cruise on time.