There’s nothing like a good map when you’re traveling to improve your travel experience. Many times a traveler can rely on a good guide, but the truth of the matter is even the best informed guide needs a road map from time to time. The map can be a gateway to a new world allowing travelers to independently choose where they want to be and how they want to get there. Without a good concept of the surrounding area one travels half blind to the many riches that any given location may hold. For this reason we’ve decided it’s time to put together a collection of our favorite maps, ancient and modern, to help inform and improve your visit to Turkey.
We’ll be beginning this Turkey Maps series with an article on tour maps of Istanbul, Turkey – by far the most complicated and frequented site for travel in Turkey. With these maps you can safely and quickly navigate the best sites in Istanbul’s Metropolitan Area.
Istanbul may be big but with a good map you can find a lot of special places in Istanbul – including clean bathrooms, so take that Erma Bombeck. We recognize that with the invention of smart phones and amazing map applications like Google Maps one is able to navigate with pinpoint precision via satellite, GPS and even cell tower triangulation, but even the best GPS system can’t tell you how best to navigate the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. So, let us begin with a map of the Grand Bazaar beautifully drawn and color coded for your enjoyment.
Grand Bazaar Map
The heaviest traffic into the Grand Bazaar comes through the Beyazit Gate heading North from the tram line that runs along the South side of the Bazaar and on about 1.5 kilometers to Sultanahmet Square and the Hagia Sophia. For a walking tour of the city I usually begin or finish my tours at the Grand Bazaar depending on whether my friends are window shoppers or serious shoppers. The serious shopper is not going to want to carry their items the rest of the day so for them I put off the Grand Bazaar until the end of the day. This map will help you enjoy all the Grand Bazaar has to offer. It will be crowded.
Public Ground Transit Map
Before you get to the shopping you may want to get in from the Airport so here’s a map of the public transport, something that’s cheap and easy to use for the do it yourself traveler. It is also convenient for those who just want to avoid long walks but would still like to have the freedom to amble along the historic streets of the Golden Horn visiting, Sultanahmet, Gulhane Park, the Archaeology Museum, Topkapi Palace, the Galata Bridge, Galata Tower, Taksim and Istiklal Street.
Coming into Attaturk International Airport you’ll find the entrance to the red line in the basement of the airport. Clear signs show the way down to the entrance of the Istanbul Rail system. For less than 5 Lira you can make it all the way to all the points of interest in Istanbul’s Golden Horn region. When I stay in Istanbul I stay either in the Sultanahmet region or the Beyazit region both on the the Dark Blue light rail line. So, I make a transfer at Mithatpasa from the red to the blue and ride to the Beyazit or Sultanahmet stops.
On the Blue Line
For your tour you’ll find the Grand Bazaar at Beyazit, Sultanahmet Mosque (the blue mosque), Hagia Sophia, Yerebatan Saray (underground cistern), Topkapı Palace and the ancient Hippodrome are all located at Sultanahmet. If you’re looking for a nice shaded walk in the park or a pleasant walk through history at the Archaeology museum then go one stop past Sultanahmet to Gulhane and get off just across the gated entrance to the park. The Archaeology museum is just up and inside the walls of the park entrance. The park walk can be a bit hilly but the walk to the Istanbul Archaeology Museum is a steep but short walk from the gate entrance.
Ferry’s can be boarded from several places if you’re heading over to Asia or up the Bosphorus you’ll want to get off at Sirkeci and walk to the shore line just to the East of the Galata Bridge and catch a vapur (ferry) towards Uskudar. If you want to take a nice ride up to a fun overlook of the Golden Horn you can et off one stop later at Eminonu and ride the ferry up towards Eyüp where you can walk or ride up the one stop cable car to the serene ancient cemetery and park.
You can get to Taksim Square and Istiklal walking street by way of the yellow and grey one stop cable car lines with connections at Karaköy and Kabataş. These significantly reduce wear and tear on your knees helping you get up the steep roads with ease.
Public Sea Transport of Istanbul
While I have not created these maps I have used many of them for my personal travel around Istanbul with great success. You can find these maps given freely from many different sources and likely your hotels will have even more in depth information regarding departure times. The purpose of this blog post is simply to create an all inclusive tool for you to bookmark and use while you walk around Istanbul.
You’ll notice that you can catch a ferry from Kabatas at the end of the dark blue rail line that will take you out to the Princess Islands some of the quaintest and most picturesque of the islands around Istanbul. The red line on the map above leaving from 7 heads South to the islands on a daily basis. Here’s are time tables for the boats leaving from Eminonu and Kabatas. Hopefully the timetables will not have changed much these timetables were updated in 2012 but may be subject to minor changes. As you see the frequency of these ferry boat departures is frequent enough you should be able to catch a return ride with relative ease.
The Golden Horn Maps
You’ll find that the largest number of maps drawn and illustrated for the Istanbul region are set and centered around the sites located on the Golden Horn. This is partially because of the wealth of sites available to tour on the Golden Horn and partially because of it’s relative age with regards to the rest of the city. Before you get to the Golden Horn you might like to compare the sites from the 1500’s with the sites from today so here’s an ancient map from the web for those of you interested in what the region looked like a mere 500 years ago.
As you can see the city has changed and expanded significantly over the past 500 years. For this reason a map of the city will include more than the palace and the Hagia Sophia but will include tens if not hundreds of giant mosque locations in the city with rich histories tied to many of the Sultans who ruled in Istanbul.
This map may look a bit old but it has a great all inclusive listing of everything I’ve had the time to visit in the center of Istanbul. I have made trips out to the Asian side and Şile but those trips were exclusive from a traditional Istanbul tour. To join them one would have to be traveling by land the long way.
What I like most about this map is that it somehow has the ability to include both Dolmabahce – where Ataturk spent his final days and a National Monument to all things Ataturk – while it still fits a bit of the Western wall of old Constantinople and points out the best stops for all these interesting sites. This simple map is one of my favorites.
Hagia Sophia Building Map
This is a floor plan put out by Planetware.com, if you want to buy a physical copy or a hi-def copy for your trip they provide better quality versions but you’ll find this map sufficient for most travel needs. The “Entrance” is technically where all tourists exit since the Turkish Tourism Authority has everyone buy their tickets to left of the “Entrance” and enter through the Exonarthex. There are two stories to the building the darker walls represent the upper level and main supports. The stairs leading up are to the left as you enter through Narthex and are quite slick. Be careful.
Istanbul Archaeology Museum Map
These maps represent the three buildings disconnected but in the same complex. The Ancient Orient will be the first building on the left as you enter the complex and there you will find all the Hittite, Egyptian, Babylonian and Persian pieces including my favorite peace the Kadesh Treaty clay tablet. The next portion is by far the largest housing the Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine pieces. The last and smallest building faces the main building and looks like a mosque. Inside you will see some beautiful Ottoman style work and pieces of pottery. The restroom is located outside at the far part of the complex connected to but not directly accessible from the main building.
Topkapi Palace Map
The Topkapi Palace, the seat of the Ottoman Sultanate and a storehouse of wealth, this is a pleasant place to walk through groomed gardens and see how the royalty of Turkey once lived. The carriages armory and and jewels are impressive. The event reminded me of my visits to the Hermitage or Kremlin in Russia, the Tower of London, and the Padmanabhapuram Palace in Trivandrum India (those just happen to be the places I’ve been recently. If you like walking through palaces with store houses of wealth and power on display then this is the place for you. You’ll enter through the main gates near Sultanahmet square at the bottom of this map (no 1) and walk through either to the left or right enjoying the separate displays. There is a separate entrance fee for the Harem.
This map’s key is all in Turkish but words like Harem should be fairly self-explanatory upon entrance to the Museum grounds you can pick up a map in your language of choice. English is available.
There are many other maps out there for your use but these ones should get you through some of the more complicated sites in Istanbul. I did not include a map of the Blue Mosque simply because the site is very self explanatory. The one thing you’ll want to know is that entrance for visitors to the site who are not going for prayer is from the back side of the building. To reach that point you’ll want to walk through the main courtyard and exit through the westernmost gate and essentially enter the building from the back door. You enter the door furthest from the Hagia Sophia and exit through the door leading you back out towards the Hagia Sophia.
I have several map files of the Chora Church that give a clear picture of this fairly simple site that I’m including with this final portion.
I hope these map files are useful for you in your travel. I would just bookmark the page to my phone and use the maps for use around town if I were traveling around Istanbul. Let me know if there are any other maps you’d like to see attached to this article.