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Istanbul is an incredible city where east meets west and is home to a tremendous number of unique experiences.
Previously known as Constantinople, it became known as the “city of the world’s desire.” The area has been inhabited since 3000 BCE, and the city proper was founded properly by Greek settlers between 600 and 700 BCE. It later became the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire and Byzantium. Today, this Greek influence can still be felt.
As visiting Istanbul is so special, yet pretty complex for first and second timers, you need to prepare well for your visit as there’s a lot to see in this magical city. We know that planning a vacation can be overwhelming, and that’s what we’re here to help you by commencing with the classics of Istanbul.
This tour will take you around the old city’s most visited and epochal landmarks that everyone should see at least once in a lifetime.
Sultanahmet, (Old City) Istanbul
Enjoy Istanbul’s most iconic sights on a full-day guided tour on foot with pre-arranged and skip the line tickets to maximize your time visiting all these wonders.
The tour includes the fee of guiding and all the admissions of listed highlights. If you need a private transfer one way or both ways; please include the details, and we will update the final rate.
What would a visit to Istanbul be without a trip to the Hagia Sophia? This incredible building was once the seat of the Patriarch of Constantinople, making it one of the most important buildings to Greek Orthodox Christians.
Today, the Patriarch sits at St George’s Cathedral, and the Hagia Sophia is now a museum. The majesty of this building cannot be understated. When it was built in 537 AD, it was the largest building in the world. Its incredible dome is one of the most prized pieces of architecture in the world.
Yet the facade of the building is just the start. Step inside the Hagia Sophia, and it will take your breath away. The frescoes, vaulted ceilings, and stunning mihrab, from when the building was a mosque, are all incredible.
History is tangible in the Hagia Sophia and some of it is more hidden. For example, in the first-floor gallery, you can find runes that were carved by an unknown Norseman called Halvdan. These date to an era when the Byzantine Emperor employed Norsemen as his bodyguards, a unit called the Varangian Guard.
Majorly served for chariot races, Hippodrome of Constantinople also witnessed gladiatorial events, official and political ceremonies, celebrations, riots, and many others. With a capacity of approximately 100,000 of the audience, it was an active, free public area for more than 1700 years.
Brought from the across the Byzantine Empire, Egyptian Obelisk, Serpentine (Spiral) Column, The Column of Constantine Porphyrogenitus, and the Kaiser Wilhelm II Fountain are among the icons of the Hippodrome you will be enjoying.
The Blue Mosque is an Ottoman counterpart to the Byzantine majesty of the Hagia Sophia. Construction started on the mosque in 1609 and the building grew into a true sight to behold.
The mosque has five main domes, six minarets, and eight other domes. Yet, like the Hagia Sophia, it becomes even more impressive when you step inside.
Beautiful blue tiles decorate the interior, giving the mosque its name. A huge number of stained glass windows allow in natural light, with chandeliers decorated with ostrich eggs providing a source of artificial light.
The walls are decorated with the calligraphy of verses from the Quran, while the mosque’s carpets are donated by its worshippers.
The Mihrab, or altar, is a sight to behold too, carved from marble and visible from all over the mosque.
At the south-east of the mosque, you’ll find the royal kiosk, where the Ottoman Grand Vizier once held court.
If you are not a Muslim, you should time your visit to the Blue Mosque to avoid prayer times. Prayers are held five times a day, with mid-morning the best time for secular visitors to arrive.
You will also need to remove your shoes at the mosque’s entrance. Female visitors will be asked to cover their hair before they enter.
You should also remain quiet while inside and avoid flash photography: as we mentioned, the mosque is still a place of worship.
Not many cities can boast two incredible palaces, but no other cities are like Istanbul. Travel to the Fatih district of the city, and visit the gorgeous Topkapi Palace!
Built in 1465, just after the Ottoman conquest of Byzantium, this palace was once the main seat of the Ottoman sultans for the first 400 years of the empire. Today, it is a museum of Ottoman history containing courtyards, treasury, harems, armory, imperial halls, and royal chambers decorated with the exquisite Iznik tiles and jaw-dropping architecture.
Here, you will be thrilled to see all these unique items, including the Spoonmaker’s Diamond, one of the largest diamonds in the world.
Built by Justinian I in the 6th century, the Basilica Cistern is an enormous space of 9,800 square meters, surrounded by a total of 336 giant columns of 9 meters, some of which decorated with the Medusa heads.
In its golden ages, the cistern had a capacity of 100,000 tons of water transferred from the aqueducts near Belgrade Forests.
The Grand Bazaar was built in 1455 and is regarded as the world’s first shopping mall. Don’t go here expecting to find goods sold at the Mall of America, though! The world’s largest covered market is one of Istanbul’s main points of interest and stocks many exotic wares.
There are more than 4000 shops in the Bazaar, selling everything from carpets to plates to Turkish coffee sets. While today you can buy from the stalls online, we’d recommend a visit. It’s like nowhere else on Earth and an incredible place to go shopping for souvenirs. Beware of the classical scams and ask your guide when in doubt!
While our tours are solely customizable, we don’t recommend adding more places on top of the highlighted visits. However, if you have a private vehicle included in the tour cost and if you wish to skip Grand Bazaar and see the Spice Market instead, it is perfectly doable!