Visiting Istanbul by Cruise Ship in a Day (Insider Short Stay Tips)

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.

Insider Advice: Kickstart your Istanbul adventure with the Istanbul E-Pass or Istanbul Tourist Pass. These passes provide free access to around 70+ top attractions, tours and essential local services in the city with around 70% savings.

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 2021), 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.

The Cruise Ship port Istanbul as of 2019, Topkapi Palace and Sultanahmet at the background

Istanbul Cruise Port (Galataport) 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 6 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 & Insider Advice

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 Highly Recommend These Fantastic Night-time Activities

General Map of Top Sights

Below you can see the top attractions and sights of the city from an aerial view, with top neighborhoods. You can have a general idea of how to get around.

click to enlarge the image

Cruise Ship Passenger Itinerary : 6 hours

You will only need to take a tram as for transportation, for our Istanbul cruise ship passenger tour itinerary. So get an IstanbulKart that you can have access all the public transportation network of Istanbul.

One ride is only 4,03 TL (about €0,4), and you can obtain this card (with 13 TL initial fee) at the ticket machines at any tram station near the Istanbul Cruise port.

If you’ll have an overnight stay, 1 day or plus 1 day layover, please check out our one day Istanbul itinerary or 3 day Istanbul itinerary, as well as Istanbul attractions opening hours & admissions.

Stop-1 -> Sultanahmet Square (1,5 hours)

Your cruise ship boarded at Galataport and you’re free to go now! You are just in the heart of Istanbul, no need for a shuttle or transfer for the city center.

Head up to Tophane tram stop on foot, take tram to Sultanahmet. After about 20 minutes, you are now by the Sultanahmet Square, one of the most tourist area of the city with loads of historic sights such as mosques, churches, museums, etc.

Sultanahmet Square

Once being a Byzantium hippodrome from the 4th century, the square itself hosts the famous historic places and sights that include; the Egyptian Obelisk, the Serpentine Column, the Colossus or the Column of Costantine Porphyrgenitus and the German Fountain.

Enjoy the sights and sounds here (about 1 hour) and make sure you visit at least one of these greatest sights of the city, by entering inside: Hagia Sophia Museum (1 hour), Topkapi Palace Museum (1,5 hours), Blue Mosque (45 minutes), Istanbul Archaeology Museums (1 hour), Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts (1 hour), and Basilica Cistern (45 minutes). We recommend Hagia Sophia.

For the other museums and sights, you don’t have enough time to explore them all, and even looking the other sights from the outside will be a unique experience in itself.

Before you head up to Hagia Sophia, you can have a rest for 15 minutes, and try Turkish coffee or any other drinks at the several good cafes around the Sultanahmet Square.

Stop-2 -> Hagia Sophia Museum (1 hour)

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.

This amazing landmark is situated just by the Sultanahmet Square. You should buy Hagia Sophia Fast Track Entry Ticket (plus guidance and audio app) to avoid the long queues as you have very limited time.

  1. Hagia Sophia Skip-the-Line Tickets (fastest option and cheapest price on net)
  2. Combo: Blue Mosque, Basilica Cistern & Hagia Sophia Tour (one of the best)
  3. Hagia Sophia Tour with Historian Guide (if you want a pro-guide with you)
  4. Combo Ticket & Tour (all in one - Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace & Basilica Cistern, our favorite, no need to look for else, trust us)
  5. Hagia Sophia: Guided Highlights Tour and In-App Audio Guide (great one)
  6. Hagia Sophia: Entry with Guided Tour (good one)

You’ll feel hungry after the Hagia Sophia tour. You can find loads of tourist cafes and restaurants along the Sultanahmet Square and along the tram road.

We’d recommend Historical 1920 Sultanahmet Koftecisi (Divan Yolu Str., No: 12) to taste the delicious grills meat balls and the sweet Semolinacake. Expect to spend about €8,00 a person for this menu.

Stop-3 -> Taksim & Istiklal Street (1,5 hours)

Take the tram from Sultanahmet to Kabatas (20 minutes – last stop), and there take the funicular (5 minutes) to reach Taksim.

You’are now in the famous Taksim Square. Take some photos along the square and start your walking tour along the Istiklal Street.

Istiklal Street is probably the most famous street and entertainment area in Istanbul. It is a long colorful pedestrian street full of all kind of shops, restaurants, cafes and street shows.

You can visit one of these sights by entering inside: Madame Tussauds Wax Museum (30 minutes), the amazing St. Anthony of Padua Church (30 minutes) and Pera Museum (30 minutes). We recommend St.Anthony of Padua Church.

You’ll finish off Istiklal Street heading Tunel Square (end of the Istiklal Street) and walking downhill from the Galip Dede ramp until you reach the Galata Tower.

You’ll find and enjoy variety of lovely craft, souvenir and music shops as well as a couple of art galleries along the Galip Dede ramp.

Stop-4 -> Galata Tower (1 hour)

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 city that 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. You’ll find amazing views of the Historical Peninsula, Golden Horn and Bosphorus on top that encompasses Istanbul. Take photos, as much as you can.

You can spend here about 30 to 45 minutes.

From the Galata Tower, you can stroll along the sweet narrow streets with variety of shops, take photos, and walk another 15 minutes along the coast to get back to the cruise port.

After Dinner & Night-time Activities

If you have an overnight stay, or have enough time for the evening activities, you can;

* Have a snack or drink in one of the rooftop restaurants and cafes in Galata and Karakoy neighborhood, along with the beautiful views of Bosphorus.

* Finish the night in one of the taverns, bars or restaurants at the Nevizade or Asmalimescit, along Istiklal Street in Taksim with a Turkish cuisine.

* Or spend the night in one of the music clubs, bars or pubs in the Galata or Taksim neighborhood.

* Or if you want something exciting, unique and special with lively shows, such as Turkish classical music, belly dancing, whirling dervishes, or folkloric shows, than we highly recommend the below programs:

Keep in mind that should be around Galata or Karakoy as to access the port on foot in about 15-20 minutes.

How to get from the 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 check the Istanbul Railway Network Map for the Tram stops and Istanbul Ferry Lines Map for ferries.

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 SultanahmetGalata 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?

Attraction Discount Cards

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 Welcome Card, Istanbul E-Pass, Istanbul Tourist Pass, and Istanbul Museum Pass are unlikely to save you enough money to justify the investment unless you have more than 1 day in Istanbul.

Anyways these cards and passes will generate very good savings to you in comparison to when you buy the attraction tickets at ticket window on location. They also will provide fast track entry.

Top Discount Cards and Combo Tickets

Istanbul Welcome Card Premium

Valid for 7 days, free delivery to your hotel and includes; Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace fast track entry tickets with 30 minutes guidance and Audio Guide App in 10 languages, Istanbulkart with 10 Rides, Bosphours Cruise (1,5 hours), Digital Guide Book and City Map.

Buy Istanbul Welcome Card Premium

Our website visitors will get 5% extra discount.

Istanbul Welcome Card Deluxe

Valid for 7 days, free delivery to your hotel and includes; fast track entry tickets to 12 Museums (Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Harem, Chora Museum, Fethiye (Pammakristos) Museum, Galata Mevlevi Lodge Museum, Great Palace Mosaics Museum, Hagia Irene, Istanbul Archaeological Museums, Museum of Turkish & Islamic Arts Museum, Rumeli Fortress, Museum of Science and Technology in Islam, Bonus: Basilica Cistern), Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace and Basilica Cistern guided tour, Istanbulkart with 20 Rides, Bosphorus Cruise (1,5 hours), Digital Guide Book and City Map.

Buy Istanbul Welcome Card Deluxe

Our website visitors will get 5% extra discount.

Combo Tickets for Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace & Basilica Cistern

Valid for 3 days, digital pass, no need a printed ticket, guidance service with certified guides.

Buy Combo Tickets

Our website visitors will get 5% extra discount.

Online City Pass – Istanbul Tourist Pass

Istanbul Tourist Pass is a digital travel discount card that provides entrance and transportation tickets to many of Istanbul’s top tourist attractions along with several guided museum tours with skip-the-line access in a simple, useful, convenient and fun way.

Rather than paying for each item individually, the pass allows you to choose from 75+ things to do in Istanbul so you can pack as much into your stay as possible for a single set price. You’ll get valuable discounts of up to 75%.

After you purchase the pass, it will be delivered to mobile phone and will be ready to use at upon arrival.

There are four types of Istanbul Tourist Pass (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7 or 10-Day).

Buy Your Istanbul Tourist Pass Online Now

Wanna learn more about Istanbul Tourist Pass?

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.

You can check the Istanbul Railway Network Map for the Tram stops and Istanbul Ferry Lines Map for ferries.

Best Tours for Cruise Ship Visitors

We highly recommend the below great value for money Istanbul tours for cruise ship passengers. You’ll get the best deals with quality service for sure. You won’t be late to your ship and avoid possible tourist traps.

Here we only suggest the proven ways and top rated ones with travelers’ comments. You can feel free to book one of the below top selling tours designed for cruise ship visitors.

Free cancellation up to 24 hours before activity starts

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