The Old City of Istanbul (Turkish: Eski İstanbul, "Old Istanbul", also Tarihi Yarımada, "Historic Peninsula" and Suriçi, "Walled City") is the oldest part of the city, and the location of most of its historic sights.
Constantinople exclusively referred to this peninsula surrounded by water to its north, east, and south (the Golden Horn, the Bosphorus, and the Sea of Marmara, respectively) and by the old city walls to its west. The rest of what is today Istanbul were independent urban and rural communities, fields or even complete wilderness later absorbed by the city. This process is still going on as Istanbul grows with an increasing speed.
The construction of Yenikapı train and subway station, from 2004 to 2014, on the southern coast of the peninsula, revealed archeological finds that date the very first time of Istanbul's settlement back to about 8000 years ago, which makes the city one of the oldest still-inhabited spots of the world. However, tradition states that Byzantium was first settled by Greek colonists from Megara on the Greek mainland in 667 BC. According to this tradition, they and their leader Byzas consulted the Delphi oracle, who said they would create a great harbor city "across from the land of the blind". After much sailing, they arrived at the strategically superb peninsular site of the Seraglio Point (Sarayburnu) and encountered some fishermen who told them they lived in Chalcedon, a very less privileged site across the Bosphorus. ("They are the blind!", said Byzas to himself). This spot that the Megarans chose to found their new colony is now occupied by Gülhane Park and the Topkapı Palace. The urban area was greatly expanded by Constantine the Great for his Imperial capital, inaugurated on 330 AD: foundations of the Constantine walls were uncovered by the digs for Yenikapı station. Later on, Theodosius II extended the urban development even further out — the Theodosian Walls built during his reign in the 5th century have enclosed the entirety of the peninsula.
By the time of the Ottoman conquest, the peninsula was the last vestige of the Byzantine Empire, except a strip of land along the Black Sea up to the Bay of Burgas and arguably the far-away territories held by loosely associated entities in the Peloponnese in the west, Crimea in the north, and Trabzon in the east.
Once the starting point of the Hippie Trail, the Sultanahmet area has been the main tourist district of the city since the 1960s. As the Hippodrome of Constantinople, it was for long one of the main social centres in the city — a role it still seasonally plays during the evening feasts in Ramadan — and hence is a part of the old city with an exceptionally disproportionate number of historic sights. The name of the district derives from the Turkish name of the imposing Blue Mosque on one side of its main square, which in turn is named after the Ottoman sultan Ahmet I (r. 1603–1617), who had the mosque built, and is buried in a mausoleum on its grounds.
Parts of the peninsula has been in the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1985.
In an administrational reform in 2009, the area covered in this guide was declared the district of Fatih, after a quarter in the northwest of the peninsula and its central mosque (see the listing below). While you may see this naming in use in official material and e.g. the postal addresses, this guide sticks with the colloquial usage which applies the narrower definition, and Fatih refers to the said quarter only.
The peninsula is formed by a number of elongated plateaus, which gently descent to the valleys inbetween and rather more steeply to the coastlines. Some points of these plateaus are relatively higher than their surroundings, and these are known as the "seven hills of Constantinople/Istanbul", replicating the model of Rome, which also has seven hills in its ancient core. Obviously all of this is heavily built-up now, but the topography is still there.
The ancient Mese ("Middle Street") of Constantinople still forms a major thoroughfare. Its present-day names are Divan Yolu Caddesi ("the state council road", the Ottoman-era ceremonial route leading to the palace, and lined by numerous 16th–19th century Ottoman imperial tombs in various styles) between Sultanahmet (ancient Augustaion, the Ist hill) and Çemberlitaş (Forum Constantini, the Forum of Constantine, the IInd hill), Yeniçeriler Caddesi from Çemberlitaş to Beyazıt (Forum Tauri, the Forum of the Bull, or of Theodosius, the IIIrd hill), and Ordu Caddesi gradually sloping down west from Beyazıt through Laleli, where fragmented and unidentified antiquities from the Theodosian forum are displayed along the southern sidewalk, to Aksaray (Forum Bovis, the Forum of the Ox). The tram line runs along its entire course, and the section between Beyazıt and Sultanahmet is closed to motorized traffic.
East from Sultanahmet, the tram line curves around the contour of the peninsula, following Alemdar Caddesi and then Ebussuud Caddesi through Gülhane down to Sirkeci — Ankara Caddesi forms a helpful, more direct shortcut here for pedestrians and other traffic.
From Sirkeci and adjoining Eminönü (connected to Galata by the Galata Bridge), a major street follows the shoreline of the Golden Horn, successively named Ragıp Gümüşpala Caddesi, Abdülezelpaşa Caddesi, and Ayvansaray Caddesi towards northwest. Most of its length is served by the tram line .
At Aksaray, Ordu Cd connects to Atatürk Bulvarı, the central north-south boulevard in one of the valleys. Atatürk Blv runs from Yenikapı on the Marmara coast to the Unkapanı Bridge crossing the Golden Horn (beyond to Beyoğlu and Taksim Square). The metro line roughly follows the same direction underground, albeit some distance away to the east. West of Aksaray, Ordu Cd splits into two 1950s-built boulevards leading towards the city walls on either side of the Topkapı gate (the VIIth hill; a word of caution: this is nowhere near the identically named Topkapı Palace): Millet Caddesi, or officially Turgut Özal Bulvarı, is the southern one where the tram line continues along the central strip. The sites in the southwest are most easily accessed by diverging off west of Aksaray into Cerrahpaşa Caddesi. To the north, Vatan Caddesi, officially Adnan Menderes Bulvarı is the other modern boulevard — resembling more of an urban motorway for better and worse — and follows the valley of the ancient Lycus River, with the metro line underneath.
Vezneciler Caddesi branches off from Ordu Cd at Beyazıt, where a series of alleys leads north to Süleymaniye. Past the interchange with Atatürk Blv, the street is named Fevzipaşa Caddesi. Paralleling southerly Vatan Cd from that point on, Fevzipaşa Cd follows the ridge to Fatih (the IVth hill) and eventually to the Edirnekapı gate (the VIth hill) of the walls. At Fatih, a collection of streets leads down to the Golden Horn, through Istanbul's ultraconservative quarter (see the "stay safe" notice below) of Çarşamba (the Vth hill).
Finally, Kennedy Caddesi, built on land reclaimed from the sea in the late 1950s thus stranding the sea walls inland, roars its way from Sirkeci around the Seraglio Point and then along the Marmara coast, through Cankurtaran, Kumkapı (the location of the European portal of the Eurasia Tunnel, Avrasya Tüneli, linking under the Bosphorus with the Asian Side), Yenikapı, Cerrahpaşa, Samatya, and Yedikule towards the western suburbs. The tram line , under construction as of 2022 along the former right-of-way of a decommissioned railway, will more or less track the same route once opened to service.
Of course, there are innumerable secondary streets and a labyrinthine network of perhaps thousands of alleys connecting with these main roads and each other, but fear not: getting lost is one of the joys of strolling Old Istanbul, and the rough areas you may unknowingly stumble into are few and far between. If you feel really lost, head towards the first glimpse of the sea, and you will soon meet one of the above routes.
Being central, the Old City is easy to reach by public transport. See also Istanbul main page: note especially that Atatürk Airport closed in April 2019, and that Sirkeci railway station has closed - trains from Europe terminate at Halkali.
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The Marmaray cross-city line runs between Halkalı in the western suburbs, via several dozen stops including Sirkeci, under the Bosphorus to Kadıköy, then out east to Pendik and Gebze. Trains run 06:00-23:00 every 15 mins, fares are by distance but won't exceed 4TL. This is the quickest way to reach Asia side, and to connect with mainline trains east and west.
Metro lines from the western suburbs (including the main bus station at Esenler) and from north of the Golden Horn meet each other and Marmaray at Yenikapı, which is useful for a transfer to the tram line T1 (Aksaray station, 600 m apart) as well as to the nearby ferry port. On M2, the other useful stations are Vezneciler for the scattered sights around Süleymaniye and Fatih, and another chance to change to T1 (Laleli-Üniversite, 280 m), and Haliç station on the Golden Horn metro bridge, where you can change to the tram line T5 (Cibali, 750 m). On M1, Aksaray is the transfer station to T1 (Yusufpaşa, 250 m away) and Emniyet-Fatih provides a secondary approach to the Fatih area (some uphill walking).
The tram line is the most useful public transportation route, with stations close to most of the major sites. It runs the length of the peninsula, and links with Galata and further north, and the suburbs in the west. Within the old city, the most helpful stations are at Eminönü, Sirkeci, Gülhane, Sultanahmet, Beyazıt, and Aksaray. With a transfer at Kabataş from the funicular line down from Taksim, this line also offers one of the easiest approaches from that area. Trams can be very crowded, but services are frequent and journey times are short.
The other tram line, , runs north from Cibali along the Golden Horn to Fener, Balat, and Ayvansaray, eventually reaching Eyüp and Alibeyköy Cep Otogarı, the secondary intercity bus station on the outer beltway. Construction work to plug in the 1.5 km (0.93 mi)-gap between its southern terminus and the Eminönü station of T1 is ongoing as of Aug 2022.
The tram line is outside the district, but marginally useful: the stations near its southern terminus are just outside the city walls (including Topkapı, where it's possible to change to the T1 station of the same name). It diverges off at Edirnekapı towards the northwestern suburbs.
- Any bus to Eminönü or Beyazıt will pass within 10 mins walk of Sultanahmet.
- Buses bound for Kocamustafapaşa (#35 from Eminönü, #35A from Aksaray, #35C from Taksim) and Kazlıçeşme (#80 from Eminönü, #80T from Taksim) are the only reasonable public transport option for the sites in the southwest.
Ferries cross the Bosphorus from Kadıköy and Üsküdar to Eminönü. There are also smaller private boats plying on the same routes. Another option is to take the ferry from Üsküdar to Kabataş and take the tram.
If you are arriving in Istanbul by one of fast ferries from towns across on the southern and southeastern coast of Marmara, your likely point of entry to the city is Yenikapı on the southern shore of the peninsula.
Most of the sights in the old city are close enough to be negotiated on foot, as they are in or near Sultanahmet Square. For many others, just follow the tram tracks. However, between Eminönü/Sirkeci and Sultanahmet, it's quicker to shortcut along Ankara Cd as the tramline makes a roundabout loop through that part of the city.
The sidewalk along the street between Sirkeci, Gülhane, and Sultanahmet is not very wide and trams pass along fairly close to the sidewalk, so watch your step especially when you hear tram's bell.
Many of Istanbul’s historical gems, mostly consisting of Byzantine and Ottoman-built monuments are within the Old City. Most are located a short walk away from, if not immediately on the edges of, Sultanahmet Square. Some other sights are dispersed throughout the peninsula.
- 1 Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya), Ayasofya Meydanı ( Sultanahmet 300 m), ☏ , email@example.com. Dating from the 6th century, it was built as a basilica for the Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian I. A masterwork of Roman engineering, the huge 30-m diameter dome covers what was for over 1000 years the largest enclosed space in the world. The church was looted by the fourth Crusaders in 1204, and became a mosque in the 15th century when the Ottomans conquered the city. It was converted into a museum in 1935, and in 2020 was again proclaimed a mosque. Free, but if your appearance does not conform to the mosque dress code, they sell you what is basically an overpriced, paper-thin raincoat for 30 TL, non-refundable.
- 2 Topkapı Palace (Topkapı Sarayı), Babı Hümayun Cd ( Sultanahmet 650 m; any public transport heading for Topkapı will not take you anywhere near the palace but to the homonymous city gate at the opposite end of the district, which may be a trip in itself), ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. M W-Su 09:00-17:00 during winter; 09:00-19:00 during summer. The imperial enclave of the Ottoman emperors for four centuries. Contains exhibitions of fine craftmanship. Lavishly decorated, with four courts of increasing grandeur. In the second court of the entrance to the Harem (admission extra) and the State Treasury, housing a weaponry display. The third court has the Imperial Treasury. Islamic (including Prophet Mohammed's belongings) and Christian relics, rugs, china. The views from the Fourth Court over the Bosphorus are spectacular. Plan on spending several hours here and bring along water as the museum kiosk is overpriced. 100 TL, Harem 70 TL extra.
- 3 Hagia Irene (Aya İrini) (on the grounds of Topkapı Palace), email@example.com. The same working hours as Topkapı Palace. Hagia Irene, which you will notice to your left after entering the outer yard of Topkapı Palace, is one of few Byzantine-era cathedrals which was never converted to a mosque during the Ottoman period. It's also interesting that it features rare iconoclastic art — a huge cross mosaic in the apse, put in place during the restorations by Constantine V (r. 741–775), an iconoclast himself. The place is now accessible year-round, which is a novelty, but requires a different entry fee from Topkapı palace. 60 TL.
- 4 Soğukçeşme Street (Soğukçeşme Sokağı) ( Gülhane 220 m; between Hagia Sophia and Topkapı Palace). A car-free cobbled street going downhill just behind Hagia Sophia. It is lined by renovated (or rebuilt) multistorey wooden houses of vernacular Ottoman architecture, leaning against the outer wall of the Topkapı Palace grounds. Worth a stroll to see what the traditional streetscape of Istanbul was like before the concrete has prevailed. The square at the upper end of the street, before the entrance to the outer courtyard of Topkapı Palace, is embellished by the Fountain of Sultan Ahmed III, a 1728 stand-alone fountain in Ottoman rococo style, typical of the artsy "Tulip Period".
- 5 Sultanahmet Mosque (Blue Mosque), Meydan Sk 17 ( Sultanahmet 250 m), ☏ . May-Oct 09:00-21:00, Nov-Apr 09:00-19:00. With its six minarets and sweeping architecture the Sultanahmet or 'Blue' Mosque impresses from the outside. This is still a working mosque, entry is through the courtyard on the SW side which is back side of mosque. No shorts or bare shoulders (shawls are provided for free) and you will need to remove your footwear (bags are provided that you can place your shoes in). The mosque is closed during ritual prayer but mosque volunteers provide you with a free presentation about the Mosque and also about Islam during that period. The venue for this event is the mosque's conference hall. It is the building with "Free Event" sign that will be on your left while you are approaching the mosque from Hagia Sophia. They do not charge you anything. Free, donations welcome upon exit.
- 6 Hippodrome (At Meydanı) ( Sultanahmet 300 m; adjacent to the Blue Mosque). This was the centre of Roman and Byzantine Constantinople, and is a great place to begin one's tour and to watch people. The building no longer stands, but its outline shaping the modern city square that replaced it is discernible, and the Egyptian obelisk and the Serpent Column from the Delphi oracle, standing here since Theodosius' time in the fourth century, remain (although the snakes got their heads chopped off in the meantime; one of them is in exhibit in the Archaeological Museum). The four bronze horses that used to be on top of the Emperor's box in the Hippodrome were looted by the crusaders in 1204, and are now on the façade of St. Mark basilica in Venice. The run-down brick masonry which raised and supported the building against the natural slope at its seaward end can be seen below a 19th century high school building. At the other end is the German Fountain (Alman Çeşmesi), a 1901-built neo-Byzantine style fountain building. It was a gift by German kaiser Wilhelm II to Ottoman sultan Abdülhamit II, as a sign of gratitude for the latter's approval of the Berlin–Baghdad railway project.
- 7 Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art, Atmeydanı Sk 12 ( Sultanahmet 350 m), firstname.lastname@example.org. Daily 9:00 - 19:00 (summer), Tu-Su 9:00 - 17:00 (winter). Carpets, rugs, calligraphy, pottery. With the same ticket, you can visit also the Ethnographic Museum downstairs where you can learn about the lifestyle of the Turks and their ancestors. The museum is housed in the Palace of İbrahim Pasha (often known by his sobriquet Pargalı, "of Parga" after his birthplace), who was a childhood friend of Suleiman the Magnificent, later his grand vizier, and husband to his sister. Since its construction, the building has been the only one in Istanbul allowed to be denoted a "palace" despite being the residence of a non-dynastic individual. 50 TL.
- 8 Milion, Divanyolu Cd ( Sultanahmet 210 m; close to the entrance of the Basilica Cistern). This short, 4th century BCE marble pillar is the only remaining fragment of the tetrapylon monument which was the starting point of any distance measured within the Roman/Byzantine Empire (in a similar fashion with Rome's earlier Golden Milestone), so the spot was where all the roads led to (or, rather, started from), and was far more important in ancient travel than the pillar's battered and supposedly unremarkable current appearance suggests.
- 9 Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarnici), Yerebatan Cd 1/3 ( Sultanahmet 260 m). Daily 09:00-19:00. A giant underground cistern built by Justinian in 532 to provide water to the city in cases of siege. A boardwalk just above the water level winds between the 336 columns, most of which were re-used from other sites and are highly decorated. The massive underground space is worth a visit simply to marvel at the scale of building in ancient times. Lights, piped music, and contemporary art in permanent exhibition add to the eerie atmosphere. The Medusa stone heads are impressive. As it's a major tourist attraction, the crowds might take away some of the atmosphere. Foreigners 190 TL; discount for domestic visitors.
North of Sultanahmet to EminönüEdit
- 10 The Museum of Archaeology (Arkeoloji Müzesi), Osman Hamdi Bey Yokuşu, Gülhane ( Gülhane 350 m; take the first right after entering Gülhane Park), ☏ , email@example.com. Tu-Su 9:00-19:00, and till 17:00 during winter. A must see! One of the best, including a great collection of Sumerian tablets, pieces of the wall of Babylon and Roman marble statues. It contains some very famous pieces of ancient art, such as the Alexander Sarcophagus, once believed to be the sarcophagus of Alexander the Great himself (but later found out to be not the case), very well preserved and highly adorned with bas-relief carvings of Alexander the Great; one of the Serpent Column's missing heads; a twin sister head of the Medusas inside the Basilica Cistern; and several red porphyry Imperial sarcophagi on the courtyard. 50 TL.
- 11 Gülhane Park (Gülhane Parkı) ( Gülhane 200 m; next door to the Museum of Archaeology). Adjacent to the palace grounds, the park was established as the outer royal gardens. Since the 1910s, it has been a public park, with lots of seasonal flowers (its name means "the house of roses"), including large patches of tulips in early April, and rows of mature plane trees casting their deep shadows — a great relief when the summer heat starts to overwhelm you. Look up the branches to spot a curious population of parakeets, which are said to have fled either the destruction wrought about by the First Gulf War of the 1990s in their native range in Iraq or a customs warehouse where they were taken to for further inspection in a case of illegal wildlife trade, and eventually adapted to the microclimate here. The high walls on the park's eastern side separates it from Topkapı Palace.
While there are still signs in the park for cafes overlooking the Bosphorus, as of October 2017, they are derelict and behind temporary barriers. It is still possible to check out the Column of the Goths (Gotlar Sütunu), a Roman-era, Corinthian-style marble pillar, with a Latin inscription on its pedestal (although illegible due to time-dependent deformation), just north of the palace wall. It was erected in honour of victory over the Goths by either Claudius II Gothicus (reigned 268-270) or Constantine the Great (r. 306-337). The column is likely the oldest Roman artefact still intact in the city and possibly pre-dates the foundation of Constantinople. Also nearby are the ruins of a Byzantine monastery.
The park has two gates, one downhill from Sultanahmet (on Alemdar Cd), and the other near the Seraglio Point, on Kennedy Cd along the coastline, south of Sirkeci. Free.
- 12 History of Science and Technology in Islam Museum (within Gülhane Park), firstname.lastname@example.org. 09:00 - 18:45 during summer, and till 16:45 during winter. Fascinating museum in a restored building that was the stables for Topkapı Palace. Contains mainly reconstructions of historical instruments and tools including instruments for astronomy, clocks, and pumps. Advances the view that Islamic science and technology preceded that of Europe. 14 TL.
- 13 Istanbul Railway Museum (TCDD Museum), Sirkeci Railway Station ( Sirkeci 130 m, Sirkeci 10 m; within the train station at ground level), ☏ , email@example.com. Tu-Su 10:00-17:00. This ever-popular gem of a museum combines in a single room many different and unusual artifacts covering both Ottoman and Modern Turkish railway history. Likely to appeal both to the dedicated rail fan and those with a more casual interest in the history of Turkey and the Ottoman Empire. The Orient Express used to depart from just opposite the museum. The station itself dates from late Ottoman times and is full of attractive architectural detail. Closed on certain national holidays. Free.
- 14 Rüstem Pasha Mosque (Rüstem Paşa Cami), Hasırcılar Cd 74-88 ( Eminönü 450 m; the mosque is on a terrace accessible from street level through staircases.). Built in 1564 by renowned architect Mimar Sinan for Rüstem Pasha, Grand Vizier of Suleiman the Magnificent, this small mosque is the archetype of Ottoman art. The interior walls are fully covered by beautiful Iznik pottery, then at its height of sophistication.
South of Sultanahmet to CankurtaranEdit
- 15 Great Palace Mosaics Museum (Büyük Saray Mozaikleri Müzesi), Arasta Çarşısı, Sultanahmet ( Sultanahmet 700 m; inside the Arasta Bazaar, just south of the Blue Mosque), ☏ , fax: , firstname.lastname@example.org. 9:00-19:00 (15 Apr-25 Oct); 9:00-17:00 (25 Oct-15 Apr). This museum hosts the pavement mosaics of the Byzantine-era Great Palace of Constantinople, which stretched from the Hippodrome to the coast of the Sea of Marmara. 30 TL.
- 16 Sokollu Mehmet Pasha Mosque (Sokollu Mehmet Paşa Camii), Suterazisi Sk ( Sultanahmet 650 m; on a sidestreet downhill from the Hippodrome). One of the three mosques in the city and its suburbs bearing this name, this mosque was built in 1571 by the imperial architect Sinan and commissioned by Sokollu Mehmet Pasha, the grand vizier and de facto ruler of the Ottoman Empire during part of its golden age at the 16th century. Rarely visited as it is dwarved by the other imperial mosques in the vicinity, it nonetheless has a fascinating set of blue İznik tiles covering its interior, and devout Muslim travellers will want to note that in three different locations of the mosque (none clearly signed, although protective covers will help locating them), what is said to be original pieces of the Black Stone (Hajar al-Aswad) of the Kaaba can be seen.
- 17 Little Hagia Sophia (Kücük Ayasofya Camii), Küçük Ayasofya Cd 78 ( Sultanahmet 850 m, Çatladıkapı 350 m; 5 min walk from the Hippodrome and the Blue Mosque by going roughly south and downhill). Formerly known as the Church of the Saints Sergius and Bacchus, this building was constructed around 530 AD (at about the same time as Hagia Sophia) and was transformed into a mosque following the Ottoman conquest. This building is beautifully decorated, with particularly enchanting marble details, and offers a much more intimate experience than the large mosques scattered throughout Fatih. Adjoining is a small madrasa with truly original craft shops.
West of Sultanahmet to BeyazıtEdit
- 18 Theodosius Cistern (Şerefiye Sarnici), Piyer Loti Cd ( Çemberlitaş 220 m). 09:00-18:00. Though smaller than Basilica cistern, Theodosius Cistern is your option of choice if you want to avoid the crowds, but still soak in the atmosphere of an underground cistern. The lighting of the columns is much better than in Basilica Cistern. Free.
- 19 Column of Constantine (Çemberlitaş sütunu; Burnt Stone), Yeniçeriler Cd ( Çemberlitaş 15 m). One of the most important examples of Roman art in Istanbul. The column is 35 m tall, but for long isn't topped by the original statue of Constantine posing as Apollo, nor the cross replaced it later. Centuries of dark-coloured rust emanating from the metal reinforcing hoops added during the Ottoman repairs over the length of the column gives its colloquial English name.
- 20 Nuruosmaniye Mosque (Nuruosmaniye Camii), Vezirhan Cd 33 ( Çemberlitaş 230 m; just east of the Covered Bazaar, two blocks north of the Column of Constantine/Çemberlitaş). Built in the 18th century, this is the earliest mosque built in Ottoman Baroque, and one of the primest examples of that style. Even if you are in a rush to tick off the main sights of Istanbul, when you are nearby — very likely, given the mosque's location inbetween several major attractions — drop by to take a peek inside, which is elegantly dominated by white and powdery colours, and, true to its name meaning "the light of the Ottomans," is drenched in natural light thanks to its lavish fenestration, in contrast to the far gloomier classical Ottoman mosques.
North of Beyazıt: Vezneciler and SüleymaniyeEdit
- 21 Kalenderhane Mosque (Kalenderhane Camii) ( Vezneciler 100 m, Laleli-Üniversite 450 m). A late 12th-century, red brick Byzantine monument on a domed Greek cross plan at the western end of the Valens Aqueduct, Kalenderhane was originally built as the Eastern Orthodox Theotokos Kyriotissa Church. During the Latin occupation of Constantinople by the Crusaders, it served as a Catholic church officiated by Franciscan friars, and after the Ottoman Turkish conquest, as a lodge for the Qalandari, who belonged to an unorthodox Sufi order. In the mid-18th century it was converted to a (mainstream) Islamic mosque, perhaps making it the only building in the world to have housed so many different denominations and orders consecutively. As with many Byzantine churches converted into mosques, its mosaics remain plastered over, although there is a faintly visible Marian icon at the entrance.
- 22 Süleymaniye Mosque (Süleymaniye Camii), Süleymaniye Mh. ( Vezneciler 750 m, Beyazıt 1 km, Eminönü 1.1 km uphill). On the top of a hill overlooking the Golden Horn, this is another mosque by Sinan, which he built in the 1550s and humbly described as his "journeyman work" (his masterpiece expressively is Selimiye, built about 20 years later and 250 km west in Edirne). Considering the resemblance with the earlier Fatih Mosque, it is very likely that the architect of that mosque, Atik Sinan, and Mimar Sinan knew each other or were even related, like father and son. Süleymaniye is a fine example of Ottoman architecture of the era, and inspired the architects of the later Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet). Comparing these two mosques, Süleymaniye is noted for its gloomier and more atmospheric feeling. Next to the courtyard are the tombs of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, who commissioned the mosque (and might or might not exclaimed at his namesake "Solomon, I have outdone thee", like Justinian reputedly did at the grand opening of Hagia Sophia), his Ukrainian spouse Roxelana (known as Hürrem Sultan in Turkish), and Sinan himself. Free.
- 23 Valens Aqueduct (Bozdoğan Kemeri) ( Vezneciler 600 m, İstanbul Büyükşehir Belediyesi 130 m; over Atatürk Blv). A double-storey Roman aqueduct built during the reign of Valens (r. 364-378) to provide the city with fresh water coming from the surrounding forests. It is 921-m long and spans the valley now traversed by Atatürk Blv. The aqueduct is one of the symbols of the city and for long it welcomed the travellers before the relocation of the airport in 2019.
- 24 Zeyrek Mosque (Zeyrek Camii, also Molla Zeyrek Camii), Sinanağa Mh İbadethane Sk, Zeyrek ( Vezneciler 1.3 km, Cibali 800 m, Unkapanı 350 m; west of Atatürk Blv and Unkapanı). In the namesake neighbourhood close to Fatih, the body of Zeyrek Mosque or the Monastery of Pantokrator is formed by joining two former churches and a chapel adjacent to each other. It represents the most typical example of the Byzantine middle period architecture and is, after Hagia Sophia, the second largest religious edifice built by the Byzantines still standing in Istanbul. A really picturesque place, so prepare your camera! It is in a somewhat rough neighbourhood, so better visited when there is still daylight. Free.
Northwest: Fatih to EdirnekapıEdit
- 25 Column of Marcian (Kıztaşı) ( Aksaray 550 m uphill, Vezneciler 950 m, İtfaiye 300 m, Fatih 300 m). A granite Roman honorific column erected in c. 450 by the city prefect in honour of Marcian the Roman emperor. Its Turkish name ("the maiden's stone") refers to the engravings of the genii, mythological guardian spirits, at its marble base. It adorns a small square just south of Fevzipaşa Cd.
- 26 Fatih Camii (Conqueror's Mosque), Ali Kuşcu Mh ( Emniyet Fatih 950 m uphill, Vezneciler 1.2 km, Fatih 150 m). The first monumental project in the Ottoman imperial architectural tradition, the Fatih Mosque complex was built in Istanbul between 1463-1470 by the Greek architect Atik Sinan, by the order of Sultan Mehmet II the Conqueror, on the site of the former Church of the Holy Apostles, which had served as Byzantine Imperial burial place for one thousand years and had been in poor condition since the Fourth Crusade. The original complex included a set of well-planned buildings constructed around the mosque. They include eight medrese, library, hospital, hospice, caravanserai, market, hamam, primary school and public kitchen (imaret) which served food to the poor. The original mosque was badly damaged in the 1509 earthquake, after that it was repaired, but was then damaged again by earthquakes in 1557 and 1754 and repaired yet again. It was then completely destroyed by an earthquake on 22 May 1766, when the main dome collapsed and the walls were irreparably damaged. The current mosque (designed on a completely different plan) was completed in 1771 under Sultan Mustafa III, by the architect Mimar Mehmet Tahir. Following the trend of the Eastern Roman/Byzantine emperors, whom he considered as his predecessors, Mehmet II's tomb is in the graveyard in the southeast side of the mosque, as is that of his wife, Gülbahar Hatun. Both were reconstructed after the earthquake. The türbe of the Conqueror is very baroque with a lavishly decorated interior.
- 27 Chora Mosque (Kariye Camii), Edirnekapı ( Edirnekapı 900 m, Edirnekapı 500 m; near the city walls), ☏ , fax: , email@example.com. 09:00-17:00 during winter, and till 19:00 during winter. Also known as the Church of St Saviour in Chora (chora translates "countryside" in Byzantine Greek, which refers to what the site of the church exactly was when it was built), this is a 1000-year-old Byzantine church, an example of a church somewhat out of the traditional centre, but is an absolute must see with precious mosaic frescoes and a captivating mood inside. The early church frescoes had been covered with plaster for nearly 500 years, as the building had been converted into a mosque, but were uncovered in the mid-20th century and have been partially restored. As of 2020, it was again proclaimed a mosque. An impressive section of the Theodosian walls is a short walk from here. Free.
Along the Golden Horn: Fener, Balat, and AyvansarayEdit
This was the traditionally non-Muslim inhabited part of Ottoman Istanbul.
- 28 Patriarchate of Constantinople (Fener Rum Patrikhanesi), Sadrazam Ali Paşa Cd, Fener ( Fener 400 m, Fener 350 m; between S. Ali Paşa Cd and İncebel Sk), ☏ , fax: , firstname.lastname@example.org. 08:30-16:00. Many view this as the centre of the world's Orthodox faith. The Patriarchate has been housed since 1586 in the Church of St George (Greek: Agíou Geōrgíou, Turkish: Aya Yorgi) in Fener (Phanar). The neighbourhood on the Golden Horn was the traditional Greek quarter of the city during the Ottoman period, and its prominent inhabitants, called Phanariotes, exerted great influence on the European possessions of the empire. Despite its religious importance, St George is an otherwise unremarkable and unimpressive building from the outside, though its lavishly decorated interior is worth a look. While you are around, don't forget to check out Phanar Greek College (Fener Rum Lisesi) next door, which has an imposing red brick tower which seems to appear straight out of medieval times.
- 29 Dimitrie Cantemir Museum (Dimitrie Cantemir Müzesi), Sancaktar Yokuşu 6 ( Fener 550 m, Fener 350 m). The residence in Fener neighbourhood of the Moldavian prince, Dimitrie Cantemir
- 30 Fethiye Mosque (Pammakaristos Church), Fethiye Cd, Çarşamba ( Balat 1 km, Draman 300 m), email@example.com. It was built as the Church of Theotokos Pammakaristos ("All-Blessed Mother of God"), between the 11th and the 12th centuries. After the fall of Constantinople, the seat of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate was moved from the Church of the Holy Apostles in 1456 to the Pammakaristos Church, which remained as the seat of the Patriarchate until the Ottoman Sultan Murad III converted the church into a mosque in 1591 and renamed it in honor of his fetih (conquest) of Georgia and Azerbaijan, hence the name Fethiye Camii. The parekklesion, besides being one of the most important examples of Constantinople's Palaiologan architecture, has the largest amount of Byzantine mosaics in Istanbul after the Hagia Sophia and Chora Mosque. The whole building was proclaimed a mosque, as of 2020. Free.
- 31 St Stephen Church (Sveti Stefan Kilisesi), Fener ( Balat 280 m, Fener 260 m; on the main avenue along the Golden Horn waterfront). A Bulgarian Orthodox church better known as Demir Kilise, i.e. "Iron Church", St Stephen is totally made of cast iron, a product of 19th-century experimentation with prefabricated iron churches. This building combining neo-Gothic and neo-Baroque influences, has a richly-ornamented exterior.
- 32 Ahrida Synagogue (Ohrid Synagogue) ( Balat 400 m). It was built by Macedonian Jews from the city of Ohrid around 550 years ago. The synagogue is located in Balat, once a thriving Jewish quarter in the city, which housed the first Jews who settled in Istanbul after the Spanish expulsion. Today, it’s a middle-class neighborhood and as you walk you can see the oldest Jewish houses with the Star of David.
- 33 Palace of the Porphyrogenitus (Tekfur Sarayı), Şişhane Cd, Ayvansaray ( Balat 850 m, Edirnekapı 650 m; near the Golden Horn end of the city walls). Tu-Su 09:00-17:00. The only fully intact Byzantine palace of the city, with typically Byzantine masonry of alternating marble and red brick rows, was an annex to the much greater Palace of Blachernae. It dates back to the late 13th century and is one of the few surviving examples of late Byzantine secular architecture in the world. It was used for various purposes for centuries during the Ottoman period, and later stood derelict for most of the 20th century. It underwent an extensive restoration in the 2010s and now serves as a museum. 24 TL (12 TL for Turkish citizens).
Southwest and the land wallsEdit
- 34 Old City Walls (Walls of Constantinople). The old city walls, which were built during the reign (408–450) of Byzantine emperor Theodosius II and enclose the entire western boundary of the peninsula from the Golden Horn to the coast of the Sea of Marmara, are mostly intact although partially rundown, suffering from battle damage of 1453 and insensitive restorations carried out in the early 1990s, and with occasional gaps blasted to carry the modern highways into the city. For a complete and detailed walking route along the walls, see "Theodosian Walls Walk" at the Istanbul article. Those unable or unwilling to do the entire route may check out easily accessible sections around Chora Church, the Pazartekke station of T1 tram line, or Yedikule Fortress.
- 35 Koca Mustafa Pasha Mosque, Sümbül Efendi Mh ( Çapa Şehremini 1.6 km, Kocamustafapaşa 240 m). Built as a monastery dedicated to Saint Andrew the Apostole, at the beginning of the 5th century, by order of Princess Arcadia, sister of Emperor Theodosius II. Later, Saint Andrew of Crete, a martyr of the fight against Byzantine Iconoclasm, was killed on 20 November 766 in the Forum Bovis because of his opposition to the iconoclastic policies of Emperor Constantine V (r. 741–775), and buried in this church. Due to his popularity after the final triumph of Orthodoxy, the dedication of the church changed from Saint Andrew the Apostle to him. During the second half of the 9th century, Emperor Basil I (r. 867–886) wholly rebuilt the church, which possibly had been damaged during the iconoclastic fights. After the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople the monastery, known by the Turks as Kızlar Kilisesi ("women's church"), continued to be inhabited for a while. Between 1486 and 1491, Grand Vizier Koca Mustafa Pasha, executed in 1512, converted the church into a mosque. A folkloric tradition related to a chain hung to a cypress tree in the courtyard. The cypress is since long dead but still stands - together with the chain - inside a small round building in the yard of the mosque. The chain was swung between two people who were affirming contradictory statements, and the chain was said to hit the one who was telling the truth
- 36 Monastery of St John Studion (Studion Manastırı, İmrahor Camii), Mühendis Ali Sk 1, Yedikule ( Kazlıçeşme 1.2 km, İmrahor 190 m, Narlıkapı 300 m). The largest Byzantine monastery complex within the city is also one of the oldest Byzantine monuments, having built in 463. For a time during the Ottoman period it served as the İmrahor Camii ("mosque of the equerry"), but sustained heavy damage in the subsequent fires and earthquakes. Since the 2010s, there are plans to restore it to re-open as a mosque, but as of 2022, it is still in ruins — a picturesque shell — and you may find the gate locked.
- 37 Yedikule Fortress (Yedikule Hisarı) ( Kazlıçeşme 650 m, Yedikule 130 m). This fortress in the very southwest of the walled city was the Roman and Byzantine Porta Aurea ("Golden Gate"), the main ceremonial entrance into the capital, crossed in particular during the triumphal entry of an emperor on the occasion of military victories. During the Ottoman era, the gate was bricked up (perhaps in response to a myth involving Constantine XI, the last Roman emperor, disappearing into the marbles of the gate and awaiting his triumphal return to reclaim the city — he is believed to have died during the Ottoman conquest, but his body was never recovered) and the adjoining walls were expanded into its present shape (the Turkish name, which translates "the Fortress of Seven Towers", is merely an apt description). In the later years of the Ottoman period, it served as a state prison for high-level detainees like ambassadors or pashas, and was the site of the only regicide in Ottoman history, the execution of Osman II by the Janissaries in 1622.
- Walk Along the Golden Horn Poke around forgotten corners just over this hauntingly beautiful inlet from the Bosphorus. You make some thrilling - and chilling - "finds" on cobbled streets as you trace its narrow alleyways and ancient squares. The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate housing a column which is believed to have been used for the binding and flogging of criminals in Jerusalem is here. The magnificent Neo-Gothic, Neo Baroque - well literally hand-made doll house - St. Stephens Church is on the western shores. The cascading domes and four slender minarets of the Imperial Suleymaniye Mosque dominating the skyline. One of Istanbul’s surviving mediaeval synagogues, and trendiest houses in town that are now enjoying their second or even third type of use. Highlight is the famous Chora the Byzantine marvel of mosaics and frescoes.
Most of Istanbul's historical Turkish baths, known as hamam and quite an inevitable part of any Istanbul experience, are located in Old City around Sultanahmet.
- 1 Hürrem Sultan Hamamı, Aya Sofya Meydanı ( Sultanahmet 400 m; across the street from Hagia Sophia), ☏ . Daily 07:00-23:59. The Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Hamam was designed and built by Mimar Sinan, the chief Ottoman architect. It was built at the request of Hürrem Sultan (Roxelana), the wife of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent in the 16th century (1556-1557 AD). It was built where the ancient public baths of Zeuxippus (100-200 AD) used to stand, between the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia. The area is also particularly significant as the site where the Temple of Zeus once stood. Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Hamam consists of the baths, a restaurant and a café, all located in the gardens of the hamam. 35 min: €85, 50 min: €105, 70 min: €120, 90 min: €170.
- 2 Çemberlitaş Hamamı, Vezirhan Cd 8, Çemberlitaş ( Çemberlitaş 30 m), ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. The Cemberlitas Bath is on Cemberlitas Square in the midst of some of Istanbul's greatest monuments. It was also built by architect Sinan in 1584. It has 2 sections, female and male. 70 TL for self-service, 115 TL for Turkish massage, 190 TL for Turkish massage and oil massage).
- 3 Cağaloğlu Hamamı ( Sultanahmet 400 m), ☏ , email@example.com. The Cağaloğlu hamam was constructed in 1741 and is the last hamam to be built after a long period during the Ottoman Empire. It is three blocks from the Hagia Sophia. It has separated sections. Popular and normally visited by tourists. You can get a "service" which mean one of the staff helps you get scrubbing, and the most expensive option contain scrubbing and massage. The payment is done before, but if choose not to take massage, don’t be surprise if one of the staff will secretly offer you one, letting you decide how much to add to his tip. It should be said that the atmosphere is very touristic, and everything has a price. Once you are done, they give you a souvenir; a pair of underwear and a comb. Fron self-service €30 to full €180. Credit cards not accepted.
- 4 Süleymaniye Hamamı, Mimar Sinan Cd 20 ( Vezneciler 750 m, Beyazıt-Kapalıçarşı 900 m), ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Sultan Suleyman had this hamam built by the famous architect Sinan in 1550. Sinan used this hamam for washing as did the Sultan once. It's a bit touristy, though it could be worse, and the Suleymaniye hamam is the only mixed hamam in Istanbul. However, no singles (male or female) are allowed, families or couples only. There are no different sections for each sex, thus the families may comfortably enjoy this hamam together. Hamam also has two way free shuttle services for the hotel guests if the booking comes through their reception. €40. Credit cards not accepted.
- 5 Tarihi Şifa Hamamı, Şifa Hamamı Sk 12, Sultanahmet ( Sultanahmet 600 m; on an alley downhill from the Hippodrome), ☏ . Established 1777, this is one of the cheaper options. It is entirely marble throughout and the fittings might well be the originals. It has a mixed main section and a separate female section for the scrubbing. Enjoy a good scrub and clean, a massage and an apple tea which is all included in the general service. The staff's English is limited. 80 TL for a scrub and massage, 120 TL for scrub, massage, and an oil massage.
You can buy tourist-kitsch souvenirs all around the city. A magnet with coloured picture of Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia will cost 2 TL each. Haggling over the price is the norm when shopping. Shopkeepers usually let you offer a price lower than the retail price; once a price agreeable to both is met, then the sale can be finalized.
- 1 Grand Bazaar (Kapalı Çarşı). M-Sa 09:00-19:00. Istanbul's grand old bazaar with an estimated 4,400 shops lined along covered walkways. It is said to be the world's oldest shopping mall, covers several blocks and features a labyrinth of side streets to keep you lost for the better part of a day. The shops are organized around their wares, e.g. the silver jewellers are clustered together, the carpet shops are clustered elsewhere and the shoe shops are bunched together somewhere else. Parts of it now are modernized and rather touristy—most locals don't shop here—and you are likely to pay up to twice as much as elsewhere. However, with the vast selection you will find what you're looking for and it is one of Istanbul's character pieces.
- [formerly dead link] Can Antik, Cadircilar Caddesi Lutfullah Sokak no 34/36, Beyazit (in the Grand Bazaar), ☏ . You will find Ottoman and other antique metalware here - copper bowls, jugs, pots Ottoman silver, furniture jewellery and big collection antique textile dating back to Ottoman era.
- Chalabi, 6 Sandal Bedesten Sokak, ☏ . Grand Bazaars’ oldest family-run antiques dealer offers Ottoman silver, furniture and jewellery from old Ottoman families, and other oriental treasures.
- Deli Kızın Yeri, 82 Halıcılar Çarşısı, ☏ . Deli Kızın Yeri (The Crazy Lady's Place) was founded by The Crazy Lady herself, an American who has retired in Turkey, who specializes in creating flat, useful, packable items using traditional Turkish motifs, handicrafts and fabrics. Items produced by local artists suiting the flavour of the shop comprise the rest of their inventory. The selection of items changes constantly, but generally includes items such as placemats, tablecloths, purses, doorstops, plastic bag holders, napkin rings, tea cozies, Turkish Delight-flavoured teddy bears and dolls, luggage tags, aprons, pillows, and limited edition clothing.
- Derviş, 33-35 Keseciler Sokak, ☏ . Turko-Californian spa shop with raw silk and cotton clothing made to last a long time.
- Polisajci Brothers Antique Show, 37-39 Yaglikcilar Sokak, ☏ . You will find Ottoman and other antique metal ware - copper bowls, jugs, pots and the like - once used in hammams and kitchens.
- 2 Egyptian Bazaar / Spice Market (Mısır Çarşısı) (in Eminönü). This is also a covered bazaar, but a lot smaller than the Grand Bazaar, and as its name implies, houses herbalist and spice shops. It is very touristy. Good for taking some nice pictures, but shopping should be only be done elsewhere, prices are up to twice as high as in the rest of the city.
- Rugs and kilims
- Chalcedony, Ayasofya Caferiye Sk 2, ☏ . One stop shop for raw rocks, smooth stones and finished jewellery of the pale-blue. They also sell chalcedony, a semi-precious gemstone named after the nearby ancient town of Chalcedon (modern Kadıköy across the Bosphorus).
- 3 HorHor, Kırma Tulumba Sk 13. Antique market with more than 200 stores and workshops. Very relaxed atmosphere. You will be able to walk around and study the selection undisturbed. The items are mainly Arabic, European, and Turkish.
- 4 Historia, Vatan Cd (Adnan Menderes Blv) 2 ( Aksaray 300 m, İskenderpaşa 30 m), ☏ , fax: , email@example.com. Historia is the only shopping mall in the Old City (and will likely stay that way, as large-scale development is restricted in most of the area), and is the place to go if you are looking into something more modern and less touristy than in the Covered Bazaar. Usual selections of garment, electronics, and furniture stores, a large supermarket, as well as a bowling alley, fast food joints, and a movie theatre. You may also want to check out Fenari İsa Mosque next door, just across the alley at the side of the mall. This is a small, red-brick Byzantine church from the early period. A fire damaged it in 1918, and it was derelict for decades afterwards until it was renovated in the 1970s and has since served as a mosque.
- 5 Laleli is the main centre of textile wholesale business, with many stores specializing in leather.
- 6 Tahtakale, Mercan, and Mahmutpaşa, extending from Eminönü uphill to Beyazıt, form the main commercial area for the local clientele. Always busy and crowded, thousands of shops often within centuries-old buildings lining its streets join to create an open-air bazaar atmosphere, where anything from electronics to ornamental plants are in offer. If you can't find what you are looking for here, it's doubtful you can anywhere else.
Restaurants in the eastern part of the Fatih area (Sultanahmet) are mainly targeted at tourists, and charge much higher prices than those in places such as Galata. The quality of most restaurants aimed at tourists varies, so it's well worth looking for online reviews or following the recommendations of a good guidebook when making your selection (this also reduces your exposure to the aggressive touts employed by many of the restaurants). If one wants not to spend much money, it is worth to spend 10 minutes and leave Sultanahmet neighbourhood to the north or west and have much cheaper - and probably nicer - meal.
For budget meals it is advisable to avoid the restaurants along the tram line and to the West and South from the Blue Mosque. For really budget places, where locals eat, one should go to the Gedik Paşa street and look in the side streets. But if you search some normal prices, it easy to find some place on Peykhane street.
- 1 Beydagi Restaurant, Klod Farer Cad. No.27/B (Go to the Hippodrome, walk west past the museum of Islamic Art and the Oriental Cafe and take the street to the right, you will reach an older small mosque and the restaurant is across the street), ☏ . The staff is friendly and the food is great. Offers e.g. Chicken Shish or Chicken Crepe.
- 2 Karadeniz Aile Pide ve Kebap Salonu, Divanyolu Cad. Hacı Tahsinbey Sok. Sultanahmet (about five meters down a side street just a bit west from the Sultanahmet tram stop), ☏ . Their specialty is pide, and at this they excel. The other dishes are also good though. Prices are ordinary for a quality pide place. Friendly staff.
- 3 Meşhur Pideci Orhan Usta, Sururi, Yeşil Direk Han, Macuncu Sk. 5A. Small family restaurant, warm welcome. The pitas are nice and delicious, recommendation for the cubed pita.
- 4 Pak Pide Pizza Salonu, Mercan, Paşa Cami Sk. No:27. Friendly owners, very tasty traditional pide, prepared quickly and authentic in the wood-fired stone oven. Great flavors. Amazing, relaxed local spot for delicious konya.
- 5 Full-screen Galata Bridge Fish Sandwiches, Galata Bridge (lower level). "Balik ekmek"! That's what you listen out for when you're heading down to the lower level of the Bridge on the Eminonu side. Once a raucous tradition for the local fishermen to sell their 'fish in bread' straight of the side of the boat—occupational health and safety policy banned the popular trade, though you can still find the delicious morsels here! Wash it down with a fresh pickle juice.
- 6 Ali Usta Çig Köfte, Hobyar, Muhzirbaşı Sk. No:6. Best, inexpensive and most entertaining Çig Köfte in Istanbul.
- 7 Doy-Doy Restaurant, Sifa Hamamı Sokak No: 13, Sultanahmet, ☏ . 9:00 - 22:00. An unassuming cafe spread out over three floors and a roof terrace with views over the Marmara Sea and the Blue Mosque. Serves a menu of simple kebabs, chicken and lamb stews, and pide baked in a wood-burning oven. A variety of mezes are also available. Lunch specials include bean or lentil soup. Soups, meatless pizzas, veggie kebabs and salad are great options for vegetarians. Service varies.
- 8 Palatium Cafe & Restaurant, Kutlugün Sok. 33 (Opposite Four Seasons Hotel), ☏ . Daily 11:00-23:45. Decent food and ice cold beer. Lounge in the comfy bean-bag chairs, and backgammon and Nargileh are available. The restaurant looks down into the foundations of a Roman-era palace.
- 9 Cafe Amedros, Hoca Rüstem Sok 7, ☏ . Daily 09:00-00:00. Good Ottoman cuisine and a small international & vegetarian selection. The street here is plagued by aggressive touts, but they drift away once you've sat down and one of them has earned his baksheesh.
- 10 Rumeli Cafe, Ticarethane Sokak No:8 (near Divanyolu Caddesi, about one block from the Basilica Cistern), ☏ . On a relatively quiet street but close to all the attractions of Sultanamet. Serves mostly traditional Ottoman and Turkish dishes, with lots of lamb on the menu. Staff are friendly and there are tables indoors and on the sidewalk. Sometimes overcharge.
Admit it, you might want a break from Turkish - especially if you've been touring away from the city, where alternatives are rare.
- 11 Korecan, Cankurtaran, No: 10. Korean
- 12 Virginia Angus Steakhouse, Mercan, Uzun Çarşı Cd. No:2.
- 13 Burgerillas, Rüstem Paşa Mahallesi asmaaltı cad, Büyükbaş Sk. no 3/c.
- Konyalı 1897 Lokantası (inside Topkapı Palace), ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. 09:00-18:00,. Established in the year 1969 inside Topkapı Palace Museum. Ottoman - Turkish cuisine.
- Four Seasons Hotel, Topkapı Sarayı Müzesi İçi Bab-I Hümayun Avlusu Tarihi Karakol Binası, 34122 Fatih/İstanbul (see Sleep listing), ☏ , email@example.com. Lunch 12:00-15:00, Sat brunch from 11:00. Seasons Restaurant does lunch for non-residents, but what it's famous for is its sumptuous (and pricey) Saturday brunch.
- 14 Asitane, Dervişali Mahallesi Kariye Cami Sokak No:6 34240 Fatih (200 m east of jcn of Edirnekapi & Fezvi Pasa). Th-Tu 12:00-22:30. Not easy to find, this up-market place specialises in "Ottoman Palace" cuisine, which tends to mean sweet-and-savoury with lamb.
- There's a cluster of fish restaurants beneath the Galata Bridge over to Kadikoy. Their open-air decks have great views of the Old City, with the water traffic bustling past as if you were on a liner in harbour. The sea reflects the view and so do the prices. These places are happy for you just to sit and drink without eating.
Bars: Sultanahmet doesn't really do freestanding bars, they're usually part of a restaurant or hotel. Some options are: Galata Star on the bridge, Wagon Bar and Red River Pub adjacent off Hüdavendigar Cad, Beni Afet on Atmeydani Cad, Just Bar on Akbiyik Cad, Pierre Loti off Divan Yolu Cad, and Room Bar off Ataturk Blvd.
2 Samatya in the southwest was also a fishermen quarter. It is the other area renowned for its taverns, additionally featuring kebabs in their menus.
Cafés and dessert restaurants are numerous. They include:
- Cagaloglu Hamami Café, Prof. K.I. Gurkan Caddesi, Cagaloglu. Within a former hammam, dating 1741, where you can listen to live traditional Turkish music. Cash only, open W-M 12:00-22:00.
- 3 Sarayburnu Aile Çay Bahçesi (Exit Gulhane Park below the Gothic Pillar, cross busy Kennedy Cad. Turn left and take the ugly road down and right to Sarayburnu point). Tu-Su 24 hrs, M 07:30-00:00. Ugly surrounds but this open-air cafe has fantastic views. Tea, coffee and many flavours of hubble bubble.
- 4 Lale Restaurant, Divan Yolu Cd 6, Sultanahmet ( Sultanahmet 140 m), ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. A traditional Turkish cuisine restaurant which was a popular hangout, of legendary proportions, for the hippies during those days of love. They especially devoured the desserts on offer, perhaps to satisfy the crave for sweety things their daily habits inflicted, and knew the place as the Pudding Shop. It was where the groups that would travel together into Asia spontaneously met and were set, guitars were strummed in the tiny backyard, and the letters for those behind on the trip were left hanging on the walls. However, this is all past now: you go there only for a quick bite or for nostalgic reasons.
- 5 Anadolu Nargile (Çorlulu Ali Paşa Medresesi), Yeniçeriler Cd 32, Beyazıt ( Beyazıt-Kapalıçarşı 100 m). Housed in the courtyard of a former madrassah built to a Baroque-influenced design in the 18th century and with a traditional decor, this is likely the hookah cafe with the most genuinely Ottoman ambience of the city.
- 6 Vefa Bozacısı, Vefa Cd 66, Vefa ( Vezneciler 500 m, Şehzadebaşı 350 m, Vefa 500 m), ☏ . This 1876-establishment specializes in boza, a thick, fermented grain drink with a sweetish tart taste. Once a favourite of the Ottomans, it is still popular in the Balkans and Central Asia. Don't expect getting inebriated even if you gulp down barrels of it — boza is more akin to liquefied bread than beer and has a negligible alcohol content.
Water: the Ottoman Drinking Fountain is at the corner of Şeyhülislam Hayri Efendi Cad and Bankacilir Sk. It's probably okay to drink; it's definitely okay for rinsing face and hands when you're sticky with baklava from the cafes.
Accommodation in the peninsula is mostly around Sultanahmet. Budget hotels and hostels are clustered in Cankurtaran, the neighbourhood just south of Sultanahmet Square towards the coastal strip of Kennedy Cd.
Istanbul has a large community of CouchSurfing.com users who will let you stay at their home free. In return you take your host out for a meal, and spend time sharing your culture with them.
- Serenity Hotel Istanbul, Kucukayasofya Mahallesi Kasap Osman Sokak No:27 Sultanahmet (200 m from Blue Mosque), ☏ , fax: , email@example.com. 3 star, rooms include air-con, TV, laundry, free wireless connection and internet. B&B double from €50.
- Blue Tuana Hotel (Formerly Big Orange Hotel), Akbıyık Değirmen Street No: 3 Sultanahmet, ☏ , fax: . Small 3-star with wi-fi in the lobby, free internet in the rooms, air-con. No curfew, 24 hour check in. B&B double from €35.
- Olimpiyat Hotel, Ebusuud Caddesi Erdogan Sokak no: 6 (Just next to Topkapi Palace), ☏ , fax: , firstname.lastname@example.org. 3 star, rooms include air-con, TV and minibar, laundry, free wireless connection and internet. B&B doubles from €60.
- Star Holiday Hotel, Divanyolu Street No:10 Sultanahmet (right in front of the Blue Mosque), ☏ , fax: , email@example.com. 3 star, rooms include air-con, TV and minibar. Breakfast terrace overlooks Sultanahmet. B&B double from €50.
- Deniz Houses Hotel, Küçük Ayasofya Caddesi No:14 Sultanahmet, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Rooms with own bathroom, wireless internet access, cable TV, possibly sea view with balcony, minibar, free breakfast, 24-hr reception, air-conditioning, terrace, laundry service. B&B double €40.
- Istanbul Holiday Hotel, Küçük Ayasofya Caddesi No:28 Sultanahmet, ☏ , fax: , email@example.com. Rooms with en suite bathroom, satellite TV, and internet access. Doubles from €40.
- Dongyang Hotel, Alemdar Cad. Tramway Yolu Üzeri No: 7 Sultanahmet, ☏ , fax: , firstname.lastname@example.org. Rooms with en suite bathroom, satellite TV, and internet access. Korean spoken. Dorm €15, doubles from €40.
- Stone Hotel Istanbul, Binbirdirek Mah.Sehit Mehmet pasa yokusu Sk.No 34 Sultanahmet, ☏ , fax: , email@example.com. Rooms with en-suite bathroom, satellite TV, and internet access. Highly variable on cleanliness. B&B doubles from €45.
- Hotel Alp Guesthouse, Cankurtaran Mh., Adliye Sk. No:4, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. All the rooms have en-suite bathroom, TV, wired/wireless free internet connection, mini-bar, safe box. B&B double €40.
- Grand Anka Hotel, Molla Gürani Mahallesi, Molla Gürani Cd. No:46, ☏ , fax: , email@example.com. 3/4-star with modern rooms. B&B doubles from €50.
- Tulip Guesthouse, Akbiyik cad. Terbiyik Sokak No:15/2, Sultanahmet, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Very friendly and helpful staff, two guys both university educated, intelligent, well acknowledged about Turkish history and Middle East politics, always eager to let you know about Istanbul's cultural events and highlights. Kitchen has a great view to Marmara with free coffee and Turkish tea. Dorm beds €10, en suite rooms from €45.
- Avrasya Hostel, Cankurtaran Mh., Seyit Hasan Sk. No:12, Sultanahmet (Next to Blue Mosque), ☏ . Check-in: 11AM, check-out: 10-11AM. Six and eight bed dorms, street-level tables, rooftop restaurant and lounge area with amazing views and mediocre food, basement bar/cafeteria/patio. Free wfi and free internet in the lobby. Staff are very helpful and friendly. Downstairs rooms may be noisy; the upstairs rooms share a single (working) shower (which doesn't get hot) in an unventilated restroom. No real common room. Dorms from €20.
- Eski Konak Hotel, Cankurtaran Mahallesi Akbiyik Cad. No:44, Sultanahmet (100 m from Sultanahmet Mosque), ☏ , email@example.com. New 9-room hotel with friendly multilingual staff. B&B doubles from €40.
- Bahaus, Bayramfirin Sokak No:11, Sultanahmet, ☏ , fax: . Friendly staff with lots of useful objective information to share. Free internet. Dorm €15-20 ppn with breakfast.
- Yeni Otel, Hocapaşa mah.Nöbethane Cad.Dervişler Sok. No:12 Sirkeci (100 m from Sirkeci station). Shared basic bathrooms, hot water. Manager is friendly but has little English. B&B doubles from €25.
- Hotel Nomade, Divanyolu Caddesi, Ticarethane Sokak 15, Sultanahmet, ☏ , fax: , firstname.lastname@example.org. Rooms with en suite bathrooms and air-con. B&B double €70.
- Tulip House, Katip Sinan Cami Sok. No:28 (close to Blue Mosque, Sultanahmet tram stop), ☏ . Mid-range hotel with Wi-Fi, clean rooms, bathrooms, etc. Try to rent a room on the sea side with balcony. Helpful knowledgeable staff. B&B doubles from €45.
- Sarnıç Hotel, Küçük Ayasofya Mahallesi, Küçük Ayasofya Caddesi, Fatih, ☏ . Boutique hotel, wi-fi in the lobby, free internet in the rooms, air-con. B&B double from €70.
- Hotel Armagrandi Spina, Utangac Sok. 19, 34400 Sultanahmet, ☏ , email@example.com. Renovated boutique hotel, smaller rooms great for couples. Elevator, no frills minibar, free Wi-Fi, helpful staff. B&B doubles from €70.
- Armada Hotel, Ahirkapi Sok. 24, 34122 Cankurtaran. Semi-modern hotel. Free wireless. Air-con, fridge. Own bathroom. Restaurant at the top of the building with a nice view of the sea and the Blue Mosque. B&B doubles from €70.
- Sultanhan Hotel, Piyerloti Caddesi No:15/17 Sultanhamet, ☏ , fax: , firstname.lastname@example.org. Five-floor hotel with 40 guest rooms, all with Ottoman-style décor with patterned fabrics and chestnut furnishings. All are equipped with internet connections, satellite television and minibars. B&B doubles 120€.
- Blue House Hotel, Dalbasti Sokak No:14, Sultanahmet, ☏ , fax: , email@example.com. Very central 3-star. B&B doubles from €80.
- Empress Zoe, Adliye Sokak No:10 (Near Akbiyik Caddesi, Sultanahmet), ☏ , fax: , firstname.lastname@example.org. Boutique hotel in a quiet street just off Sultanahmet, with spartan but elegant rooms decorated in Turkish style and beautiful views over the Hagia Sophia from the rooftop terrace. All mod cons including bathroom, air-con, safe. B&B doubles from €90.
- Ibrahim Pasha, Terzihane Sok. No. 5, Adliye Yani, Sultanahmet (Just west of Sultanahmet Mosque), ☏ , fax: , email@example.com. Boutique hotel, rooms have all mod-cons, including Wi-Fi. Rooftop terrace looks over old city sights. Staff are attentive, courteous and helpful. B&B doubles from €125.
- Dersaadet Hotel, Kapiağasi Sokak No:5, Sultanahmet (Just south of Sultanahmet Mosque, off Kennedy Cd), ☏ , fax: , firstname.lastname@example.org. Boutique hotel with rooms decorated in 19th century Ottoman-style and come with air-con, TV, mini-bar and safe. High-speed internet & Wi-Fi in the lobby. The rooftop terrace looks out over the Sea of Marmara and part of the Blue Mosque. B&B doubles from €80.
- Hotel Niles, Dibekli Cami Sokak No:19, Beyazit (Close to Grand Bazaar), ☏ , fax: , email@example.com. Rooms come with air-con, TV, mini-bar and Wi-Fi, and there is high-speed internet in the lobby. B&B doubles from €75.
- Hotel Inter Istanbul, Mithatpasa Cad. Buyuk Haydar Efendi Sok. No: 29 Beyazit (By Beyazit tram stop), ☏ , fax: , firstname.lastname@example.org. Modern-style rooms, comfy beds, TV with English programs and news, wifi in rooms and free PC use at the lobby, helpful efficient staff. B&B doubles from €70.
- Erguvan Hotel, Aksakal Cad. No:3 Sultanahmet (South of Sultanahmet Mosque, off Kennedy Cd), ☏ , email@example.com. Rooms with air-con, satellite TV. B&B doubles from €80.
- Hotel Med Cezir, Tevkifhane Sok. No: 6 Sultanahmet (Next to Sultanahmet Park), ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. 10-roomed hotel with comfortable and well appointed guest rooms with or without a private bathroom. Offering exceptional views of the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, the terrace bar is the perfect place for a drink in the evening. B&B doubles from €35.
- 1 Garden House Istanbul (Rose Garden Suites), Şht. Mehmet Paşa Sk 12 (Tram T1 to Çemberlitaş or Sultanahmet), ☏ , fax: , email@example.com. Mid-range hotel,plus exclusive 'Rose Garden Suites'. The hotel has nicely furnished, if somewhat small rooms. The main draw is the courtyard which has been turned into a nice garden and the rooftop terrace. The on-site restaurant offers a 20% discount for guests. B&B doubles from €80.
- Hotel Tashkonak, Kucuk Ayasofya Cad. Tomurcuk Sokak 5 Sultanahmet. (off Kennedy Cd), ☏ , fax: , firstname.lastname@example.org. Small 3-star hotel, small rooms but friendly staff and great views of the Sea of Marmara. Free wi-fi, TV with English channels. B&B doubles €60.
- Hotel Sultan Hill, Tavukhane sok. No:17-19-21 Sultanahmet (Just behind Sultanahmet Mosque), ☏ , email@example.com. Restored to resemble the original 18th century Ottoman house previously on the site. There are 17 rooms, a traditional courtyard and a roof terrace bar. All rooms have air-con, mini-bar, TV, wi-fi and a safe. Panoramic view from the terrace. B&B double €80.
- Esans Hotel, Cankurtaran Mh., Ishakpasa Cd.Yenisarachane Sk.No:4, 34122 (300 south of Topkapi), ☏ , fax: , firstname.lastname@example.org. 3-star family-run hotel on a quiet street 3 minutes walk from Agia Sofya. Rooms are decorated in Ottoman-style with air-con, TV, mini-bar and safe, Wi-Fi in the lobby. in room. The rooftop terrace looks out over the Sea of Marmara and Princes Islands. B&B doubles €100.
- Yigitalp, Gençtürk Cad. Çukur Çeşme Sok. No: 38 Şehzadebaşi, ☏ , email@example.com. Rooms with en-suite bathrooms, air-con, satellite TV, and free internet access. B&B doubles from €60.
- 2 Hotel Sultania, Ebusuud Cd/Mehmet Murat Sk 4 (200 m south of Sirkeci station), ☏ , fax: . Check-in: 12:00, check-out: 12:00. Boutique hotel with 42 unique rooms, each dedicated to a wife of the sultan. Double from €110.
- 3 Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at Sultanahmet, Tevkifhane Sk 1, Sultanahmet, ☏ , fax: . A converted prison built in 1918 near Sultanahmet mosque. Offers stunning views of the Haghia Sophia, but no pool. Doubles from €360.
- Celal Aga Mansion Hotel, Balabanağa Mh, Şehzadebaşı Cd 5/7, Şehzadebaşı (Next to Vezneciler metro), ☏ , fax: . 87 rooms; with spa, pool and free wireless internet. Doubles from €350.
- Doubletree by Hilton Hotel Istanbul - Sirkeci (formerly Hotel Prince), Nöbethane Cd Kargılı Sk 5, Sirkeci (100 m from Sirkeci station), ☏ , fax: , firstname.lastname@example.org. 4-star hotel offering 127 modernly decorated rooms for business and leisure travellers. Doubles from 120€.
- Sirkeci Mansion Hotel, Taya Hatun Sk 5, Sirkeci (200 m south of Sirkeci station), ☏ , fax: . A charming hotel which offers rooms with air-con, satellite TV, free wireless internet connection. B&B doubles 130€.
Post offices are numerous across the district. The 1 Istanbul Main Post Office (Büyük Postane), in Sirkeci, is a sight in itself. Once the headquarters of the Ottoman ministry of post and telegraph, it's a grand building from the early 20th century in the first national style (also known as Turkish neoclassical), and hosts a postal museum.
Don't expect the odd post box you may spot in the streets or at the entrances of the museums to be emptied frequently or even at all. Take your postage to the offices instead.
All of Sultanahmet Park (between Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque) is a wifi hotspot free of charge.
There are also a couple of internet cafes along the tram line between Sultanahmet and Gülhane.
The focal point of the peninsula for travellers, Sultanahmet Square, is safe and policed during day and night, so by staying within the realms of common sense, you shouldn't encounter problems there. However, there are some issues to keep in mind for the rest of the old city:
- The dilapidated, though picturesque, neighbourhoods around Süleymaniye, Zeyrek, the banks of the Golden Horn west of Atatürk Boulevard (i.e., parts of the neighbourhoods of Balat, Fener, Ayvansaray), and along the Marmara coast (especially Kumkapı west to Yenikapı and around Samatya) are home to the impoverished recent immigrants to the city. While this doesn't automatically translate to these neighbourhoods being dangerous, it is best to avoid them (especially narrow back lanes) during the evening and night. The main tourist sites in these neighbourhoods, such as Süleymaniye Mosque or the taverns at Kumkapı, and the main streets leading to them are perfectly safe, though.
- Too skimpy clothing (which might be defined differently by the locals than you do) will likely attract unwanted attention and perhaps reaction from the ultraconservative inhabitants of Çarşamba, a neighbourhood between Fatih and the Golden Horn.
- Taking a close look into the details of the city walls (both land and sea) near the gates, major sights or along the major roads that cross them is okay, but elsewhere keep a respectable distance while enjoying their view. Although rare, stabbings and even murders of those who ventured too far into the lonely sections of the walls aren't unheard of.
- Scams involving extremely overpriced drinks are common at nightclubs around Aksaray, which are best avoided completely. These are quite dangerous with the possible involvement of organized crime. See the "stay safe" section of the main Istanbul article for more details on this.
- Around Aksaray and Laleli, there are a number of illegal brothels which are not controlled by health authorities in any way. If you choose to engage in such activity, keep in mind that the (usually Eastern European and Central Asian) women you will encounter are more often than not involuntarily forced into prostitution to "pay off" the cost of their trip to Istanbul (where they were hoping to get decent jobs) and had their passports seized by their "boss". 24-hr national hotline phone # 157, with operators speaking in English, Russian, and Romanian in addition to Turkish is where you can report such incidents to bring the victims to safety.
- In Eminönü's crowded underground passages (and in the rest of Eminönü, in general), be extremely wary of pickpockets, especially when climbing up and down the stairs.
Istanbul Police Department has a "tourism police" office with multilingual staff in Sultanahmet, just across the street from Hagia Sophia, where you can report passport loss or any other problems.
- Star Laundry, Yeni Akbıyık Cad. 18, Sultanahmet, ☏ . Laundry service. 4 TL/kg.
|Routes through Sultanahmet-Old City|
|END (Halkalı) ← Western Suburbs ←||W E||→ Asian Side → Gebze|