Istanbul Museum Pass: is it worth it?

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Istanbul is chock full of museums and historical sites, and in an effort to see as many of the most important ones as possible, I immediately bought the Museum Pass that’s advertised all over the city. Here’s my breakdown.

What is it?
The pass is an RFID-chipped card that’s good for three days (72 hours from first use) and allows access to 8 major sites, all located fairly close to each other within the Sultanahmet area. It costs 85 Turkish Lira and gets you into the following:

Hagia Sophia (reg 25TL)
Hagia Irene (20TL)
Topkapi Palace Museum (25TL)
Topkapi Palace Harem (15TL)
Istanbul Archaeological Museums (10TL)
Great Palace Mosaic Museum (8TL)
Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts (10TL)
Museum for the History of Science & Technology in Islam (5TL)

The Pros:
For those of you who are not mathematically inclined, the total admission for all of these would normally come to 118TL, so if you’re planning on going to all of the listed sites you’ll save 33TL.

However, more than the monetary savings, the pass also allows you to skip the ticket lines and go straight to the entrance. This can be a huge timesaver at the most popular sites like Hagia Sophia, where the line often stretches halfway across Sultanhamet Park. We just waved our cards at the guard near the gate and he ushered us through the turnstile. For me, not waiting in line for upwards of an hour is worth buying the pass.

The Cons:
You can only use the pass at each attraction once. This was kind of a bummer for me, because I would have loved to go back to Topkapi Palace for a second day (it’s huge and I missed a couple areas the first time around), but I didn’t want to buy a separate ticket.

Also, the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts is currently being renovated and is closed to the public. Of course no one told me this when I purchased my pass and I only found out once I arrived at the museum to find it covered in scaffolding. That was a major disappointment, as I was really looking forward to that one.

Think about what days you will be using the pass. Many of the museums are closed on Mondays and a couple are closed on Tuesdays, so if those fall within your three-day timeframe make sure you’ve planned out which days you can access each museum.

Additionally, some of the attractions are pretty large and you’ll have to stick to a schedule if you want to see them all in three days. Topkapi Palace on its own could occupy a full day, and I missed a lot of the Archaeological Museum because it was simply so big and I wanted to move on to something else. Still, it’s totally doable to visit all of them in that timeframe — I got to all of them except for the art museum, which I would have managed to fit in if it hadn’t been closed. I was definitely packing more attractions into each day than I normally would though, and that was a bit tiring.

Tips:
Buy the pass at one of the less popular museums. I got it at the Mosaic Museum and there was absolutely no line. There’s no point in waiting in the hour-long ticket line at Hagia Sophia to buy the pass if once you’ve acquired it elsewhere you can just skip that line!

Also, don’t lose it. I met a couple of brothers who had lost one of their passes the day they bought it, after visiting a single attraction, and though they spent several hours talking to various officials they couldn’t get a refund or replacement pass. So hold on to that thing.

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