Istanbul tours are probably the most fulfilling cultural tours in Turkey that you will encounter.
You have a lot of walking route options when it comes to discovering Istanbul by walking. You can start with “half day tours” and continue with “1 day tours”. Or you can combine my “Walking Tour” routes in a way that suits your needs.
You can be your own tour guides and create your own private Istanbul tours after you read my suggestions for you.
Here is the first Walking Tour that covers all the essentials of an Old City Tour;
This is an itinerary that introduces you to the most important cultural highlights of Istanbul.
It starts with the grand Topkapi Palace of the Ottoman Empire and goes further afield to explore Byzantine and Ottoman treasures including Hagia Sophia, Basilica Cistern and other cultural landmarks of the Old City.
You will explore the Imperial Quarter of Byzantium, Constantinople and Istanbul. You will witness the opulent past of the Old City.
I tried to explain each interesting, historic building that you will encounter on the road. You don’t have to get in each and every one of them. I just wanted to inform you about the historical back-ground of the “Imperial Quarter of the Old City” and the buildings around it.
If you are interested even slightly, in the exotic world of the Ottoman Empire Era, Topkapi Palace is the right place for you to start your Istanbul Tours.
Topkapi Palace gives you an insight of the Ottoman Empire with its superb treasury, interesting labyrinth of harem parts, exquisite courtyards and highly ornamented pavilions.
You need at least half a day to explore the palace properly, if not 1 or even 2 days.
If you are really in a hurry and have a limited time, then choose only these parts:
You can buy your tickets just before you reach the gate, next to the Executioner's Fountain.
It will save you time to be there before the doors open because usually bus-loads of people arrive at 9:30 – 10:00. Otherwise your precious minutes will be lost in the ticket queue.
Click here for information about the parts of the Topkapi Palace.
The famous Konyali Restaurant with its excellent Turkish Cuisine dishes, is at the basement of the Mecidiye Pavillon in the Fourth Courtyard, for you to gain your energy back and see the wonderful views of the Bosphorus and the Sea of Marmara. This feast can be the highlight of your Istanbul Tours.
The Fountain of Sultan Ahmed III (Turkish: III. Ahmet Çeşmesi) was built in 1728, by Sultan Ahmed III, during the “Tulip Period”.
It is located in the place of a former Byzantine fountain known as “Perayton”.
The architectural and decorative features of the structure reflect a synthesis of traditional Ottoman and Western styles. It can be categorized as “Turkish Rococco”.
The fountain has five small domes on it. It is decorated with carvings, reliefs with foliate and floral designs.
There are four drinking fountains on the four facades. There is one “sebil” on each corner from which an attendant served cups of water or sherbet, free of charge, behind the grilled windows.
There are large calligraphic plates bordered with colored tiles above drinking fountains. Each plate bears the parts of a 14-stanza poem, dedicated to water and its donor Sultan Ahmed III.
This fountain was a popular meeting place of its time and has stunning decorative elements. It is a must see on this Old City Tour. And it is a delightful experience of Istanbul Tours, to see all four facades and elegant decorations on it.
Continue your Istanbul Tour with an authentic Ottoman alley. Take the right of the main gate of the Topkapı Palace while you are leaving the palace. You will find yourself in a cobbled 19th-century Ottoman side street with a picturesque view of old style Ottoman houses.
Sogukçesme Street is the narrow street between the Topkapi Palace walls and Hagia Sophia Museum walls.
The street contains 12 houses and a Roman cistern. These houses represent Ottoman civil architecture and were rebuilt during 1980s, serving as a hotel now. The cistern was converted into a restaurant.
No Istanbul Tour is complete without seeing famous and marvellous Hagia Sophia. The Haghia Sophia was the greatest church in Christian world for almost a thousand years. It is considered to be one of the architectural wonders of the world. Hagia Sophia represented Byzantine Rome during Roman Empire period and it was the cathedral of the emperor.
The Hagia Sophia Church that we know was built in AD 532-537 by the Emperor Justinian on the foundations of a previous church.
The source of its great fame is the marvelous dome that crowns the cathedral. The dome was the largest dome ever constructed at the time of construction and remained that way until the construction of St Peter's Cathedral in Rome in 1626.
The church became a major center for the Eastern Orthodox faith quickly and stayed as a center for nearly a millennium.
When Constantinople was conquered by Fatih Sultan Mehmet, the Conqueror, it was converted to a mosque. Today it serves as a museum open to people of all faiths.
Looking at this magnificent monument from the outside is not enough. Please get inside to see the light-infused interior, gorgeous massive dome and gold-bright mosaics depicting biblical scenes and feel the spaciousness for yourself.
One can only understand and appreciate this top-point of Roman architecture by discovering it fully.
For more information about Hagia Sophia Museum, please click here.
This small building is a medrese (teological school, read as: mad-ra-sah) built by Sinan, the Architect in 1560, for Cafer Ağa (Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent's chief black eunuch.
You will encounter quite a number of "madrasah" (theological school) buildings during your Istanbul Tours. Madrasahs vary on size and style while the function remains the same; Theological education.
Today, this small and cute madrasah serves as the “Applied Turkish Handicrafts Center” that runs workshops and exhibitions of traditional Ottoman arts such as, calligraphy, miniature painting, ebru (traditional Turkish marbling), tile work, glass work and carpet weaving.
Caferaga Madrasah has a very nice courtyard that serves Turkish cuisine dishes, snacks like hamburger, sandwiches etc...
It is a very nice option for a peaceful lunch in the open air. It serves breakfast and lunch everyday. Even if you are not hungry, stop here for a drink.
Price: Low - Average
I can hear you asking; “Why on earth should I go underground while there is a lot to see up here?” Just get in, you will not regret…
Basilica Cistern is a famous element in Istanbul Tours and righteously deserves that fame. It is an astonishing experience to see how our ancestors dealt with lack of water and what they have built to solve this significant problem.
Basilica Cistern was built by Emperor Justinian, in the 6th century to meet the needs of the Palace. This cistern was the largest underground cistern in Constantinople.
Its dimensions are 139 m. by 64.6 m. and its height is 12 m. There are 336 columns, most with Corinthian capitals and masonry arches supporting the roof.
Two of the columns are mounted on ancient classical pedestals in the form of Medusa heads. One of them is upside down and the other is on its side. You can see them at the North-western corner of the cistern.
Platforms and a lighting system are added to the cistern which makes it easy to explore and gives the place a dramatic effect. And there is a nice cafe inside.
What we call “Milion” today (known as “Miliarium Aureum” or the “Golden Milestone”) is a marble stela which was a part of the original Milion.
The original Milion seems to have been a “Tetrapylon” which is a monumental gateway with four arched openings, one on each side. Only one of the four pillars has survived to our day.
Milion was indicating the “Point Zero” of the known universe, during the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire period. It marked the reference point from which distances from Byzantium were measured along the “Via Egnatia”. All measurements of distance were made according to this indicating stone.
When you first see the Milion, you might feel that "What does this small piece of marble mean anyway?". You might feel that it is not a big deal to see on your Istanbul Tours. But remember, it was a very important gateway and it had a very important role at the big events like; going out on a campaign, celebrating a victory or other important events.
You might need a little imagination to see how big the Milion was at that time and hear the sounds of people who are celebrating the victory of their emperors. Just try to feel and see it. It is worth doing to get in the feeling of an Istanbul Tour.
The famous "Sultanahmet Köftecisi" is on the Yeniçeriler Street (Divan Yolu, Imperial Road). Their special is meatball dish (Köfte = meatball). You can have a delicious meal here and continue with full of energy. Don't forget to try the "Irmik Helvası" desert.
These ruins are important examples of the early 7th century church typology. Unfortunately only a few basement construction elements survived today.
This small mosque was commissioned by Firuz Ağa in 1491. He was responsible for the economic issues of the gpvernment, during the reign of Sultan Bayezıd II.
It is one of the early mosques built in Istanbul efter the conquest. It is a "Bursa" style mosque.
Firuz Ağa Mosque has a small minaret, beautiful wooden gates and a small courtyard. It is 13,5 m to 13,5 m. in size and has a central dome that covers the main interior area.
This fountain was made in Germany, assembled in Istanbul in 1901, as commemorate of the visit of the Wilhelm II to Istanbul in 1898.
This fountain is a nice example of the Neo-Byzantine style. Its dome is rising above 8 marble columns and the interior of the dome is decorated with gold mosaics.
You definitely will see it on an Istanbul Tour, without trying so hard. Because it is right in the middle of the Sultanahmet Square.
This complex, widely known by its mosque, is a landmark in the marvellous skyline of Istanbul. It was commissioned by Sedefkar Mehmed Ağa, the architect, for Sultan Ahmed I., between 1609 and 1616.
It is known as “Blue Mosque” by foreign travellers due to its turqouise and cobalt tile decoration of its interior walls. It is hard to encounter an Istanbul Tour suggestion that excludes this magnificent work of art. Because no Istanbul Tour is complete without seeing Sultanahmet Mosque (or Blue Mosque, as it is widely known).
Blue Mosque is Istanbul’s only mosque with six minarets and is one of the most significant mosques in İstanbul.
It has a splendid exterior with the cascade of domes, semidomes and the six minarets.
For more information about the Blue Mosque, please click here.
I hope you liked the "Istanbul Tours, Walking Route 1: Old City Classics Route".
This is one of the best Istanbul Tours that will give you the feeling of Old Istanbul.
And I hope you are not tired yet! There are lots of Istanbul Tour options I have created for you...
Now let's head to:
"Istanbul Tours, Walking Route 2: Old City Essentials"