The Dolmabahce Palace is a large and impressive building in a beautiful position. It is hard to describe it as being tasteful, but this is totally over-the-top Ottoman bling. It looks a bit like the sultan asked Ali G to do the interior decor. The state apartments have the famous crystal staircase and one of the world's largest chandeliers -impressive even if kept switched off. The harem apartments contain the rooms used by Ataturk for the last four years of his life, and so are iconic for the Turkish people. That is the good part.
A place with so much going for it has been organised in such a way that I repeatedly apologised to my wife for suggesting that we go there. There are certainly enough members of officialdom to do the organising. An army of besuited ones, very dapper and looking terribly self-important are forever walking past the endless lines of plebs whose only claim to have a quick look is their payment of the rather high ticket price. The only reason that I disagree with the reviewer who said to go in low season is that we did and the queues were still ridiculous.
We joined the first queue - for security - great, only ten minutes. Then we got through and saw the ticket queue - 45 minutes later we were privileged to part with our money. Still, we had queued for less than an hour in total. Then we saw the enormous queue for the state apartments, so we went to the harem apartments and joined the queue there. After another 45 minutes we were allowed to join the 30 minute tour. We then decided we had better get in line for the state apartments if we were to see them before the palace closed - after all we had only arrived at noon for something that should be a couple of hours! The queue took another one and a quarter hours, then we joined the 45 minute tour. Add walking time and the same again to take pictures in the grounds and our one and a half hour experience took up five hours.
Even after an hour in the last queue, my wife said "shall we just give up and go?" Perhaps our mistake was not to do that earlier.
As there is no shelter from the sun whilst queuing, I would not suggest doing this in the summer!
Tip - use the toilet before joining each queue.
Add our hour wasted hours to those of all the other people stuck in the preposterous queues, and just think what could be achieved with that time! The organisation is meticulous once you realise that it is for the convenience of the officials running the palace. It simply wastes huge amounts of other people's time, time to which they seem to attach no value at all. This is not a good attitude towards people.
The tours are in Turkish or English. The bigger demand that day was for English. However, those wanting Turkish had to wait in the same queues until splitting right at the end. An even bigger waste of time. Having said that, you might as well opt for whichever tour has the shortest queue. The main functions of the guides were to keep people from wandering by themselves and stop them taking pictures. The harem tour was more informative - we now know more about circumcision as a result. The state apartments tour less so - the crystal staircase was not even mentioned - "This is an exhibition hall, it contains royal things" was the only comment for the room signed ""Exhibition Room II" (we never saw no. I) and had a display of posh stuff in a palace - we could have worked out that the object we were looking at was a big chandelier. But they did manage to stop people taking pictures.
Somehow they did it so much better at Topkapi, and I cannot believe the visitor numbers are fewer.
After our visit we took the funicular to Taksim Square and visited another palace - Simit Saray. OK, it's a cafe with saray=palace in the name. In contrast the queue was short at a busy time of day, we felt valued, the tea and cakes were really nice and we enjoyed it.
This visit to the Dolmabahce Palace was the one thing we regretted doing during a whole week in Istanbul. Everything else was either very good or excellent. This could have been.
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.