Layover in Istanbul – Hippodrome, Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia

On our way home from our Egypt trip, we had a 21 hour layover in Istanbul. We wanted to make the most of it.

What to do with a 21 hour Layover in Istanbul

Getting to Sultanahmet from the airport

Sultanahmet is the part of Istanbul with most of the famous sites.

We took the Metro M1a in the direction of Yenikapi and got off at the Zeytinburnu stop. We then took the tram T1 tram in the direction of Kabataş and got off at the Sultanahmet stop right in the heart of the old town. From this stop you are walking distance to Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque and the Hippodrome. The entire trip cost only 4 turkish lira (less than $1 USD). In early 2020, $1 USD is almost 6 Turkish lira.

It was already after 2:00 so we dropped our bags the the Hotel Sultan Hill, around the corner from the Blue Mosque. For only $46 USD, including breakfast, we thought it was a great location. Knowing our time was very limited, we wanted to stay as close to the Sultanahmet area as possible.

A little sightseeing

We turned left out of our hotel and walked to the end of the street and within a minute we were walking in the Hippodrome.

istanbul Hippodrome Egyptian obelisks
Istanbul’s Hippodrome with Egyptian obelisks

On the right as you walk through the Hippodrome is the Blue Mosque (you can see the minarets on the right side of the picture above). Entrance to this and all mosques is free. Be sure to be respectful of other cultures and respect their customs (like taking your shoes off before going inside).

Blue Mosque Istanbul
Blue Mosque, Istanbul

Across the Hippodrome from the Blue Mosque is Hagia Sophia. Hagia Sophia is now a museum with an entrance fee of 72 Turkish lira. Since we had limited time, we only admired it from the outside.

Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia

As you pass to the right of Hagia Sophia look for a narrow alley on the left which is the entrance to some royal tombs. Entrance is free and you can see them all in about 10 minutes.

One of the Sultan tombs at Hagia Sophia

Around the back side of Hagia Sophia is Topkapi Palace. We were able to walk the grounds (which is free), but we did not go inside any of the palace, again due to our limited time. Entrance to the palace is 72 lira, and an additional 42 lira if you want to go into the Harem.

Entrance to Topkapi Palace Layover in Istanbul
Entrance to Topkapi Palace, Istanbul

Less than 10 minutes walk in the opposite direction is the Grand Bazaar, one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, with over 4,000 shops.

Grand Bazaar, Istanbul


With limited time, I wanted quick and cheap food and stopped at this shop.

only 5 lira

Delicious, cheap and quick!

If you need some bread, look for this guy. Yes, hands free.

Night Walk

I went back out after dinner to get some night shots before heading to sleep.

Hagia Sophia
Blue Mosque
Blue Mosque

End of Layover in Istanbul – Back to Airport

We had to leave early the next morning and just reversed directions on public transport. We took the Tram T1 the opposite direction out of town, and transferred to the M1a Metro at Zeytinburnu.

2018 Travel Year in Review

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