Where To Start Digging
On any first visit to Istanbul there are a few musts not to miss. These are the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, Tokapi Palace, Basilica Cisterns, Dolmabahce Palace and the Grand Bazaar.Yes, they are tourist magnets with throngs and lines and groups huddling in a variety of languages but the upshot is the same. The spots are significantly historic, the beauty and preservation magnificent, and they undeniably contribute to the mosaic of what is Istanbul, no matter what the purpose for visiting.
For cost-efficiency, start with the Istanbul Museum Pass and simply follow the map. The pass costs TRY85 (around $30) and allows easy access to twelve of Istanbul’s most popular museums, without having to endure the long queues. Purchase the pass through the concierge desk at international hotels. It is valid for 120 hours starting with your first museum visit and offers ancillary discounts at smaller private museums as well as shops around the city.Visit museumpassistanbuldistributor.com.
Tokapi is notable if only for the immensity of it. In its heyday (1465–1856) the castle residence held some 5000 inhabitants attended by 8000 staff, and contrary to the 1964 caper film starring Melina Mercouri and Peter Ustinov, the jewels are still there – in particular, the Spoonmaker’s Diamond that carries with it a legacy of history and intrigue.
Be prepared to spend time at the palace, a good half day to wander through courtyards, museums of all manner of sacred relics, elaborate digs where concubines spent their time or kitchens where cooks prepared meals for a city each day. Don’t miss the relic of Mohammed’s footprint, easily as big as an elephant’s; also, a walking staff believed to be Moses’.