The symbol of Istanbul, first a church, then a mosque, and finally a museum open to the whole world, Hagia Sophia has been an indisputable world wonder since its original creation in 537 AD. Rebuilt and expanded many times throughout its 1500 year history, each time with new and improved features, every inch of Hagia Sophia has a myriad of stories to tell. Make sure to get a guided tour to fully appreciate this legendary landmark.
It takes a truly remarkable feat of art and architecture to be distinctive in the Historic Peninsula, but standing across the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque built in 1619 achieved a new height in architecture, being the inspiration for countless mosques, temples and palaces built all around the world even to this day. In typical Ottoman fashion, the mosque complex included a school, a hospice, a library and a commemorative tomb. Unlike Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque remains a temple for muslims but it’s always open for visitors of any creed.
The old residence of Ottoman sultans, the Topkapi Palace itself was built in the 15th century, but has been renovated and improved through ages. Today, similarly to the Hagia Sophia, the palace is converted into a museum open to all. The palace complex includes many other museums and landmarks such as the Museum of Archeology, former Byzantine church Hagia Irene Museum, Enderun Library, Imperial Treasury and of course, the Harem. With the Gülhane Park in the middle, the whole palace complex is unlike anything else in Europe.
Built in the 6th century, the Basilica Cistern is an ancient complex of water collection and filtration systems which stands to this day, despite centuries of use. Believed to have been originally constructed by Constantine himself, then expanded to meet the demand of nearby palaces, this underground cistern takes you to an ancient time of Istanbul.
One of the oldest closed market complexes in the world, and often regarded as the first shopping center in the world, the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul was recently named the most visited tourist attraction in the world, with an unbelievable 91 million visitors annually. It covers 61 streets, 4000 shops and has a huge variety of shops and services inside. Even simply browsing the thousands of different items on sale offers a unique experience.
During your visit to the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, stop by the historic Sultanahmet Köftecisi, a family run grilled meatball restaurant.