With a history that dates back to around 660BC, Istanbul has served as the capital of four different empires, including the Roman Empire (330-395AD), the Byzantine Empire (395-1204AD and 1261-1453AD), the Latin Empire (1204-1261AD) and the Ottoman Empire (1453-1922). Although Ankara is now the capital of the modern Republic of Turkey, Istanbul remains the country’s cultural heart, home to magnificent mosques and elaborate palaces that draw visitors from near and far. During Roman and Byzantine times, the city was an important centre for Christianity, with stunning churches still visible today, and it was not until the Ottomans captured the city in 1453 that it became an Islamic stronghold.
Spend a day exploring the rich architecture of Istanbul and uncovering its fascinating history on this Istanbul Old City Tour. Visit churches, mosques, markets and museums to learn about the successive conquerors and how they left their mark on this city that now straddles Europe and Asia.
Built in 537AD as a Greek Orthodox Basilica, the Hagia Sophia was, at the time, the largest church in the world. “Hagia” translates as “Divine”, while “Sophia” means “Wisdom”, and it is hard not to be impressed by the elaborate architecture and interior details of this magnificent structure. After being converted into a mosque during the Ottoman Empire, the Hagia Sophia’s beautiful interior is now open to visitors as a museum so they too can enjoy its frescoes and mosaics.
Officially named the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, the Blue Mosque remains one of Istanbul’s most famous landmarks and is renowned for it’s blue Iznik tiles which adorn the interior and six towering minarets. It was built in the early 17th century by Ahmed I, and although it is still in use as a mosque today, non-Muslims are welcome to visit outside of prayer times to appreciate its glorious architecture and design.
HIPPODROME and OBELISKS
The area in front of the Blue Mosque is known as Sultan Ahmet Square today, but during Greek times it was the Hippodrome of Constantinople where horse races and sporting events were held. A few fragments of the original hippodrome remain, together with the Obelisk of Theodosius (an Ancient Egyptian obelisk which was re-erected in the 4th century), the Serpentine Column (which celebrates the Greek victory over the Persians during the 5th century Persian Wars), and the neo-Byzantine German Fountain, built in honour of Wilhelm II’s visit to the city in the late 19th century.
THE GRAND BAZAAR
One of the world’s largest and oldest undercover markets is Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar. With everything from Turkish home wares to exotic spices, it remains one of the most-visited tourist attractions in the world today. Wander through its 61 streets to discover its more than 4000 shops, seeking out unique souvenirs and feasting on authentic Turkish cuisine at a local restaurant.
Serving as the main residence of Ottoman Sultans for around 400 years, the Topkapı Palace is home to courtyards and numerous buildings that reflect its long-established history, stretching all the way back to the mid-15th century. Wander through its Imperial Treasury, view sacred Islamic relics and Ottoman treasures and discover why this UNESCO World Heritage listed site is one of Istanbul’s most impressive museums.
THE RUSTEM PASHA MOSQUE
Built following Rüstem Pasha’s death in July 1561, this beautiful mosque in the Strawmat Weaver’s Market was designed by Ottoman royal architect, Mimar Sinan. It is renowned for its beautiful Iznik tiles in both floral and geometric designs which cover much of the interior, a reflection of Rüstem Pasha’s desire for artistic refinement, rather than grandiose size.
On Mondays the Hagia Sophia is closed and will be replaced with a visit to the Basilica Cistern.
On Tuesdays the Topkapi Palace is closed and will be replaced with a visit to the Chora Museum.
On Sundays the Grand Bazaar is closed and will be replaced with a visit to the Basilica Cistern.
Available days: Everyday
Available from: Old City | Taksim Area
Price includes: Transport | Insurance | Guided Service | Entry Fees | Lunch
Duration: Full Day 8 Hours
Pick up time: Old City 09:00 | Taksim Area 08:30
Drop off time: Approximately 17:00