Is buying the Istanbul Tourist Pass something I should consider, people often ask me. Since I had never used it, I always found it hard to answer this question. Sure, I could do a few quick calculations, but that wouldn’t be fair. So, I decided to personally give the Istanbul Tourist Pass a thorough 3-day test. Let me explain what I’ve learned.
What is Istanbul Tourist Pass?
- Istanbul Tourist Pass obviously gives you access to (most of) the major sightseeing spots: Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Basilica Cistern, Grand Bazaar, Blue Mosque, etc. But there is a bonus: unlike the Museum Pass, you get to visit the top tourist attractions with an accredited guide!
- You can also enter other interesting attractions such as Madame Tussauds, Sealife Aquarium, Legoland, Pera Museum, Sakıp Sabancı Museum, as well as some new kids on the block like High Rope Tracks, Beşiktaş and Fenerbahçe Stadium Tours, etc. Families with kids may welcome the diversion.
- It also includes evening entertainment with a Whirling Dervishes ceremony at Hodjapasha Cultural Center and/or a Bosporus Cruise with dinner and entertainment, among which belly dancing and Turkish folklore dances.
- Mobile / carry-on Wi-Fi hotspot with unlimited internet access for multiple devices.
- Also included are 24-hour usage of the Hop On Hop Off bus, a discounted private airport shuttle to your hotel, several other Bosphorus tours to choose from, Princes’ Islands round boat trip, and Maiden’s Tower.
Ordering and Getting Started with Istanbul Tourist Pass
You can easily order the Istanbul Tourist Pass online: just choose the amount of days (3, 5 or 7) that you want to use the pass as well as the amount of people in your party (children get a significant discount), fill in your contact information and credit card details. After submitting your purchase, you get an email containing a link to your Istanbul Tourist Pass page.
The page consists of your pass number and information on how to make most of your pass. First of all, you’re invited to download their app, available for both iOS and Android. I advise you to do that since it makes using the pass much easier once in Istanbul. Secondly, and most importantly, you should reserve your seats and WiFi device.
That’s why it’s best to order your pass a few weeks before the start of your trip, certainly during high season. This way you’re sure that there are still enough spots available for your preferred dates while making reservations. I scheduled to watch the whirling dervishes on Tuesday evening and the Bosphorus dinner cruise the following day. Both reservations were confirmed by email by the respective venues within 24 hours of my reservation.
Up next was scheduling the airport pickup. I think this used to be free of charge, but with the move from Atatürk to the new Istanbul Airport it is now a discounted service for which you still need to pay € 20 extra. I chose not to take this offer and arrange my own transportation to the hotel, but that’s entirely up to you.
Last but not least was ordering the mobile Wi-Fi hotspot. First they want to know from what date onward you want to use the device. Then, you need to fill in the name and exact address of your hotel so they can make sure the device is waiting for you at the reception desk upon your arrival.
The third step on the Istanbul Tourist Pass page is to check the schedule of the guided tours. As I mentioned at the beginning, not only does the pass include the entrance fees to all the venues, it also offers guided tours to Hagia Sophia, Topkapı Palace, Basilica Cistern, Blue Mosque, Hagia Irene, Turkish & Islamic Arts Museum and the Grand Bazaar. I printed the page and started making my own itinerary.
My 3-day Itinerary
Day 1 (Tuesday)
09:00 Turkish & Islamic Arts museum (guide tour)
10:15 Hagia Sophia (guided tour)
12:00 Basilica Cistern (guided tour)
13:00 lunch at Sultanahmet Köftecisi
14:00 walk and photo shoot at Hippodrome and fountain
15:00 Blue Mosque (guided tour)
16:45 Grand Bazaar (guided tour)
18:15 Whirling Dervishes
20:00 dinner at Nevizade
Day 2 (Wednesday)
09:00 Dolmahbaçe Palace (not included)
10:30 Beşiktaş Stadium Tour
11:30 transport back to Sultanahmet (T1 tram) and lunch
13:00 Topkapı Palace (guided tour)
15:30 Hagia Irene (guided tour)
18:00 freshen up at hotel
19:30 hotel pickup for Bosphorus cruise
20:00 Bosphorus cruise with dinner an entertainment
Day 3 (Thursday)
09:00 Hop On-Hop Off bus
11:00 Madame Tussauds
14:00 Pera Museum
16:30 Galata Tower (not included)
My Experiences Using Istanbul Tourist Pass
The moment I checked in at the Witt Istanbul hotel, the always super friendly staff handed me the RentnConnect box. It contained the mobile Wi-Fi device (smaller than a pack of cigarettes), a power bank, a USB charger cable, and of course operating instructions. Setting up the fully charged device was super easy and I got my mobile phone connected within a minute.
Off to the main road in front of the Hagia Sophia. It is the first stop of the Hop On-Hop Off bus, and more importantly, the meeting point for my first guided tour. Except for the Topkapi Palace and Hagia Irene ones, it’s actually the starting point for most guided tours. You can’t miss, there is always a bus waiting there. I arrive at 08:45 and look for a person holding a flag with the Istanbul Tourist Pass logo. I don’t see the flag, but I ask a young man taking notes and reservation papers, and sure enough, he’s the guide. He asks for my Istanbul Tourist Pass number, and after showing it to him via the Istanbul Tourist Pass app on my mobile device, I’m registered.
At 9:00 sharp we leave for the Turkish & Islamic Arts museum, crossing the Hippodrome. The guide speaks English and briefly explains some points of interest at the Hippodrome before we enter the museum. He opens the gates by scanning his special guide pass for each and every one of us, and we’re all in.
The routine is the same at every room. He briefly explains what is exhibited and the story behind it, then we’re free to study the exhibits in more detail, before we move on to the next room. All in all, the tour took about 45 minutes, after which the guide told us we were free to go back and forth and spend as much time as we needed to make most of the museum. As my next tour was only 30 minutes later, I only stayed 15 more minutes.
Again at the meeting point, the same procedure unfolds. The previous guide was there as well as a new one holding the flag with the Istanbul Tourist Pass logo his time. While the first tour only consisted of seven people, for the Hagia Sophia guided tour we were a party of 35 or so. Hence the two guides, to split up the groups. I joined the group of guide Livan.
The two groups again left on schedule, at 10:15 sharp. By then, there was a huge queue in front of the Hagia Sophia with people waiting to buy an entrance ticket. Being with a guide, we thankfully could skip the line and went straight in.
As you can imagine, this hasn’t been my first visit to the Hagia Sophia. I’ve been here many times, read a lot and wrote about it. But the added value of visiting a museum with an accredited guide like Livan takes your experience to the next level. It’s so much better than doing it on your own, guide book in hand.
And this goes for every guided tour I took during these three days. Guide Livan took the time to explain the most interesting facts as well as some nice legends. Not too short as if he’s in a hurry, not too long to bore you. Just enough to keep your attention and convey the most important interesting historical facts.
Activities Which Required Reservations
First up was the Whirling Dervishes ceremony. In the confirmation mail it said that I was expected at the venue no later than 18:30. At half past seven sharp I climbed the steps to the first floor of the Hodjapasha cultural center and announced my presence at the welcome desk. Since I had made reservations, my name was on the list, no hassle. They handed me a ticket with my seat number written on it and a nice introductory booklet on Mevlana. I won’t go into detail about the ceremony itself since I already have a whole post on that in the sightseeing section.
The following day I had reservations for a Bosphorus cruise with dinner and entertainment. I was expected to be ready by 19:30 for the hotel pickup. They mentioned in the confirmation mail that the pickup window was 30 minutes, but already 10 minutes later the driver arrived. Since it was difficult to park in front of the hotel, he summoned me to follow him to the corner of the street where his shuttle bus was.
A few minutes later we arrived at the Kabataş docks to board the ship. Upon entering the lower deck, they crossed my name off the reservation list and escorted me to my seat. Most people come as a couple or party of more, hence are seated together, but since I was single I joined a party of joyful Pakistani men living in Ireland. Unless you’re a party of 10, chances are that you will share a table with people from all four corners of the world.
I was barely seated when a waiter stopped to take my order. The starters (Turkish mezes) were fixed, but for the main course people could choose between fish, chicken or Turkish meatballs (köfte). They served the starters immediately, while guests were still coming aboard. The ship has a lower (covered on all sides) and upper deck (roof only) and has room for about 350 people I guess.
The sun was setting by the time we left the dock. We sailed pretty close by nicely lit Dolmabahçe Palace and Ortaköy. In the mean while the main dish was served after which the entertainment started: Turkish folk dances, a demonstration (not a ceremony) of whirling dervishes, and of course, way over halfway the trip and after dessert, the belly dancer. In the meanwhile, on the back of the upper deck you could have pictures taken in Ottoman style dresses and enjoy water pipe, while the DJ took over and got the party going.
It was about half past eleven by the time we docked. Back ashore our driver was waiting for us and brought us back to the hotel. The food wasn’t five star, but certainly above average. The same goes for the shows, but then again, the Bosphorus by night will always steal the show. All in all, a nice experience, certainly if you’re a group of people.
On the second day, when I wanted to take the Beşiktaş Stadium Tour, there was a problem with the Istanbul Tourist Pass app. So I sent them a WhatsApp message (you get their special WhatsApp phone number) to ask what I should do once I arrive at the stadium and have to show my pass number. The help desk started working at 10:00 sharp, as advertised, and immediately sent out a message that I could call them once I arrive at the ticket booth. Which I did and after a small chat between the ticket sales rep and the help desk, I got my entrance ticket. The same for all the other activities, getting in with the pass is just a breeze.
Is Istanbul Tourist Pass Worth It?
Istanbul Tourist Pass takes care of a lot of things for you. In short, it resembles some kind of digital concierge: it reminds you to book certain venues, tells you when you can visit an array of tourist attractions, provides mobile Internet, gives you directions to all these places, and in case you have more questions, you can get assistance via phone or WhatsApp.
Istanbul Tourist Pass currently costs € 95 for a two day pass, € 115 for three days, € 135 for five and € 145 for 7 days. Children (between 5 and 12) pay only € 45.
Let’s take my three day itinerary as an example. If you want to do all that I did, including having a Wi-Fi hotspot that connects multiple devices, then it’s a no-brainer. The regular price (excluding the ones not included with the pass) would be over € 210 for 3 days, instead of € 115.
Without the hop on-hop off bus the regular price is still more than € 165. Without the need for Internet on the road, the price drops to € 140, but still more than Tourist Istanbul Pass.
On the other hand, if you only want to go to the museums (without a guide), take a regular (short) Bosphorus cruise, book the whirling dervishes (online) yourself, and forfeit all the other activities and benefits, than Istanbul Tourist Pass is not for you.
The choice is of course yours, yet if you plan(ned) to do half or more of what Istanbul Tourist Pass has to offer, then buying the Istanbul Tourist Pass is good value for money.