Istanbul is a world-class city and a photographer’s dream with many Instagramable sights. Taking photos there during ‘Golden Hour’ is an easy way to boost the quality of your photos. It occurs twice daily, usually an hour after sunrise and an hour before sunset. The light is soft making skin glow in portraits and providing sunbeams and golden light on buildings. Be sure to check sunrise and sunset times for when you’re going to plan out your schedule. Due to the geography of the city, not every location is good for both Golden Hours.
The Sultanahmet Square is the heart of historic Istanbul, located between the Hagia Sofia Museum and the Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Mosque). The Square is oriented northeast-southwest so the sun is not directly behind these iconic landmarks. However, it does light up both the Hagia Sofia in the morning and the Blue Mosque in the evening. Of course, since this spot is very popular, sunrise is the best time to visit when the crowds will be much smaller.
After taking some sunrise shots, stop at the terrace at the Seven Hills Restaurant after 7:30 am for even more great views. It’s empty in the morning and they’re very accommodating so you can get the best seat and take many photos. Get a traditional Turkish breakfast and you have everything you need for a perfect morning.
The Topkapi Palace Museum complex is one of the top places to see in Istanbul. Atop a hill overlooking the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus, it’s a great location for either Golden Hour. Depending on the time of year you can even get lucky enough to have the light come through it.
Year round the Palace opens at 9 am, so in the winter you can do morning Golden Hour. The Museum complex is closed on Tuesdays.
In the summer season (April-October) the last entry into the Palace is 6 pm, but it doesn’t actually close until 6:45 pm. This means that you get 45 minutes basically crowd-free (most tourists think they have to leave at 6 pm). In winter it’s the same, but two hours earlier at 4 pm (until 4:45 pm). I went in September when sunset is around 7 pm to get this gorgeous lighting.
Entrance to Topkapi Palace costs 60 TL. It is included in the Museum Pass which I highly recommend getting if you’re going to spend more than three days in Istanbul. It allows you to skip the line and visit many other museums around the city. Whether you purchase the Pass or not, save time by entering Topkapi via Gulhane Park instead of the more popular Imperial Entrance behind the Hagia Sofia.
The Galata Bridge goes over the Golden Horn roughly north-south. Because it’s over water the Bridge is good for both Golden Hours. You can walk across it on either the upper part or the lower part. On the upper part, many fishermen cast out lines over the side. The lower part is full of restaurants and shops. From the upper part you can see both sunrise and sunset, but from the lower parts, you need to be sure you’re on the correct side for the time of day. It’s a great location to get Golden Hour shots of Galata Tower and Topkapi Palace.
You’ve probably seen the Insta-famous Ortaköy Mosque in this district of the same name. It sticks out into the Bosphorus toward the east which means it’s perfect for sunrise. The neighborhood is a bit swanky and doesn’t wake up that early. If you take photos and wander until about 8 am you’ll be able to enjoy breakfast.
I had no luck with weather for sunrise, but I took a late afternoon Bosphorus cruise and got this sunset shot of the mosque. A late cruise is also a great way to get sunset photos of Galata Tower and Topkapi. Cruises are about two hours, so take a cruise 1-2 hours before sunset if possible.
For a quiet Golden Hour in Istanbul find a place overlooking the Marmara Sea. The area south of the Blue Mosque is a good one to start. Despite being near the major sights, this area is quite quiet compared to the rest of the Sultanahmet area. From here the city slopes down over the Marmara to the south, making it one of the best places for sunset.
I personally enjoyed the Kadirga area near the Sokollu Mehmet Pasha Mosque (which you should visit if you like Iznik tiles). There are many rooftop restaurants in the area, grab some food or a drink and enjoy Golden Hour!
Across the Golden Horn from the old city is the Beyoğlu district. I highly recommend staying in this area as it’s cheaper and more residential than the old city. Some well reviewed options include Tomtom Suites, Pera Palace Hotel, and Vault Karakoy. The eastern part of the district is on a hill rising up from the water, and at the top is the Taksim neighborhood.
I recommend heading there around midday and walking down the hill as Golden Hour approaches. In order to get up to Taksim take the tram to Kabatas and then take the funicular up. It goes back and forth between Kabatas and Taksim about every five minutes.
From Taksim, you can walk down the hill along Istiklal shopping street or ride the picturesque tram. These will take you to the Galata neighborhood filled with rooftop restaurants and cute shops. Galata Tower itself lights up beautifully during Golden Hour. If you’re not afraid of lines you can go up the tower. Get there about an hour before Golden Hour (about two hours before sunset) and see the sunset from the top of the tower. You can also have a fancy dinner up there.
If you prefer not to wait in line, head down the street toward Sishane Park. Nearby you’ll see a small platform park with romantic seating to watch the sunset over the city. This spot has no name on Google so you’ll have to do a little exploring. But that’s part of the fun!
Alternatively, in Beyoğlu you can go from Taksim down into the trendy Cihangir neighborhood. This is a favorite area of locals because it’s quiet and free from crowds. In Cihangir you can find small shops, parks, and colorful street art. For Golden Hour bring a picnic to Sanatkarlar Parkı (Craftsmen Park). From this quiet park, you can get views of the Bosphorus, Golden Horn, and the old city.
I personally think Istanbul is one of the best cities in the world so even if the weather and time aren’t on your side, you’ll still have a wonderful time at all these locations. Going at Golden Hour will help enhance the experience. I’ve been to the city three times and every time I’ve been surprised by new things, so I’m sure I missed some places and would love to know more for next time! If you haven’t been to Istanbul, what are you waiting for?!
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