Istanbul is a sprawling and fascinating city that represents the cultures of many empires in its fascinating Old City, including Roman, Byzantine and Egyptian influences. This is particularly so in the Sultanahmet district of the city where Roman remains can be seen alongside Egyptian obelisks, while the Byzantine Hagia Sophia church stands tall with its dome from the 6th century and iconic Christian mosaics inside. The Blue Mosque with its six minarets represents the Arab identity in the city, while the incredible Topkapi Palace is available for exploring, along with several interesting museums. Read more about them in the following guide to Sultanahmet.
Things to do / highlights
When visiting Istanbul in Turkey, a visit to the Sultanahmet district, with its Sultanahmet Square and many architectural wonders is a must. This was formerly the capital of the Byzantine and Ottoman empires and hosts a number of wonderful and emblematic buildings to visit.
Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque
These two iconic monumental buildings have more than 1,000 years of history separating them, while they stand 500 m (1,640 ft) from each other in the center of Sultanahmet. While it is interesting to visit both in the daytime, make sure you spend time in the square at night to see their beauty enhanced by lighting. The Hagia Sophia (which translates to Church of the Holy Wisdom) was constructed in 527 AD on the orders `of Emperor Justinian of the Byzantine Empire. With its soaring central dome and interior with its intricate gold mosaics, this well-preserved marvel is a must to visit.
Take a stroll over the green, fountain-adorned square to the Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Camil) which was deliberately built here in emulation of the older building. With its beautiful dome, the mosque gets its name from the 20,000 odd, mostly blue Iznik tiles that decorate its interior.
Topkapi Palace was the court of the Ottoman Empire between the 15th and 19th centuries. A visit today reveals opulent pavilions, a spacious harem, and a jewel-filled treasury, reflecting the palace’s notorious past. Make sure to visit the Topkapi Museum in the palace. The first stage of the palace was built by Mehmet the Conqueror, shortly after 1453 and it was his home until he died in 1481. A number of subsequent sultans lived here until the 19th century beyond which they moved into their own European-styled palaces on the shores of the Bosphorus Sea.
What to eat
There are a number of restaurants in Sultanahmet, with the top choices listed here.
Hanzade Terrace Restaurant
This restaurant can be found at Emin Sinan Mahallesi, Istanbul. Diners can enjoy beautiful views over the city and Bosphorus Sea from the restaurant’s rooftop terrace, where they can dine on authentic Turkish cuisine. The restaurant boasts that all dishes are prepared with the freshest, locally sourced ingredients.
Fuego Cafe & Restaurant
The modern Fuego Cafe & Restaurant serves favorite Turkish dishes, including kebabs, salads and fruity shisha. There is also a late-night bar on the premises.
Turk Art Terrace Restaurant
This restaurant is particularly popular for breakfast and late-night dining. It can be found at Cankurtaran and serves authentic old Ottoman, Turkish and fresh seafood dishes on a terrace overlooking a spectacular view of the Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Bosphorus Sea, Prince Islands, and the Marmara Sea. Lunch and dinner are available and the menu includes cold starters and hot appetizers, seafood dishes, Turkish cuisine, steaks, salads, and a kids’ menu.
Things to buy
The Grand Bazaar is located in Sultanahmet in Istanbul and is one of the oldest and largest covered markets in the world. The market has more than 4,000 shops in the 61 covered streets. The market has many clothing, handicraft, jewelry, shoes, leather-wear, antiques, drapery and souvenir items on sale, as well as a restaurant.
ISMEK Sanat Sokağı
Located at Sultanahmet Mah the shopping mall is a two-minute walk from the Blue Mosque. The cultural bazaar offers souvenirs and books about Istanbul, as well as Ismek production workshops where jewelry, painting, stained glass, calligraphy, ceramics, porcelain, wood painting, embroider and needle lace are produced and sold.
Istanblue Gift Shop
Located at Sultan Ahmet, a one-minute walk from Sultanahmet Square, the gift shop sells typical souvenirs and gifts, including jewelry, handcrafts, tilework and more.
It can get pretty hot in Istanbul and for the most part, shorts and t-shirts are fine. However, should you choose to visit the Blue Mosque, it is important to dress correctly. Wear smart casual summer dresses with sleeves, or a top with sleeves accompanied by a knee-length skirt, or straight-cut jeans or pants. Inside the mosque, women should cover their heads with a scarf.
Sultanahmet and Istanbul as a whole are not considered dangerous areas to visit. However, like most cities, there is petty crime and it is always recommended to hang on to your purse, especially when visiting the Grand Bazaar and other markets.
Most of the Sultanahmet area is wheelchair-friendly, but some buildings may give problems. Visitors must bear in mind that Istanbul has been inhabited for more than 2,500 years and many of the buildings and streets were built prior to any building codes relating to disabled access. Most of the major attractions, like the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, are moderately accessible in a wheelchair.
How to get there
Sultanahmet is accessible on foot, by car, and by public transport. Head on over to Google Maps to get the lay of the land and directions from your current position in Istanbul. The following are directions from central Istanbul.
The quickest way to walk to Sultanahmet from the center of Istanbul is via Cumhuriyet Cd hour, a 1 hour 16 minutes’ walk to cover 6 km (3.7 mi).
The fastest route to drive from the city center to Sultanahmet* is via Meclis-i Mebusan Cd, and it takes 26 minutes to drive the 7.4 km 4.6 mi).
There are several parking garages to choose from when visiting Sultanahmet, with the most convenient being the Sultanahmet Selim Parking Property. This is located at Sultan Ahmet, Torun Sk. No:21, Fatih, İstanbul, an easy, two-minute walk from the Blue Mosque.
By public transport
Buses run regularly to the Sultanahmet area from Pangalti, with bus numbers 26 and 26A. Alternate buses include numbers 46C, 54E, 66, 70FE and 74A.
Address: Sultanahmet, Fiyah, Istambul, Turkey
Department of Tourism: How to Istanbul
Blue Mosque and Sultanahmet Tour
Duration: 45 minutes
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