Istanbul Tours
Walking Route 2: Old City Essentials

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 “Istanbul Tours, Walking Routes” in a way that suits your needs.

You can be your own tour guides and create your own private Istanbul walks after you read my suggestions for you.

This is one of the best Iroutes that will give you the feeling of Old Istanbul.

Walking Tour 2: Old City Essentials

Start: Turkish & Islamic Arts Museum, Sultanahmet

Finish: Haseki Sultan Hamam, Sultanahmet

Best time: Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

Worst time: Saturday will be over crowded.
Sunday will be over-deserted.
Monday is the closing day for the Turkish & Islamic Arts Museum and Mosaic Museum.

This is an itinerary that introduces you to the most important cultural highlights of Istanbul.

It starts with the authentic Turkish & Islamic Arts Museum and going further afield to explore Byzantine and Ottoman treasures including the Hippodrom, Great Palace mosaics and other essential cultural elements 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 see 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.

Don't rush, soak the atmosphere of the city..

Relax and Istanbul reveal itself to you then.

Explore places at your own pace..

Ready? Let's walk!

What will you see?

1. Turkish & Islamic Arts Museum (Türk ve İslam Sanatları Müzesi)

2. Rectorate Building

3. Sunken Fountains

4. Hippodrome (Hipodrom)

5. Colossus Column

6. Serpent Column (Burmali sutun)

7. Egyptian Obelisk (Dikilitas)

8. Carpet and Kilim Museum (Halı ve Kilim Müzesi)

9. Arasta Bazaar

10. Mosaic Museum (Mozaik Müzesi)

1. Turkish & Islamic Arts Museum:

The Museum of Turkish & Islamic Arts has an extensive collection of carpets and manuscripts dating from the 8th century to 19th century.

The collection includes notable examples of Islamic calligraphy, tiles and rugs as well as ethnographic displays on various cultures in Turkey.

Besides these, it exhibits a wide range of stone, wooden and ceramic artworks, covering centuries of production techniques and lifestyles.

The building that hosts the museum is the “Ibrahim Pasha Palace”. Ibrahim Pasha Palace is a fine example of 16th century architecture and dates back to 1524. This building is a must-see in your Istanbul Tours, if you want to feel the "Old City". The palace and its courtyard will make you feel like you are travelling in time.

Ibrahim Pasha was a close friend of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent and became his brother-in-law and after that, the Grand Vizier. Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent gave the palace to Ibrahim Pasha as a present, in 1526.

This building has been home to numerous weddings, ceremonies and festivities. And it was a very "in" place of its time. Watching the ceremonies and celebrations that took place at the Horse Square which is right in front of the palace (former Hippodrome), was a very popular cultural event.

Where exactly?:

You can see it facing to the Sultanahmet Square. There is a coffe house inside the building where you can sit down, have a Turkish coffee and witness the exquisite athmosphere of a palace.

Opening hours: 09:00 – 17:00 (closed on Mondays)

Entrance fee: for the Palace: 20 TL, for the Harem: 10 TL

Tel: 0212 518 18 05

Adress: At Meydanı (Sultanahmet Square), Sultanahmet

2. Rectorate Building:

This beautiful building was designed by the famous Italian architect Raimondo d’Aronco, in the 19th century as the School of Fine Arts. It is now the rectorate building of Marmara University.

You will encounter lots of styles and types of buildings on your Istanbul Tours. This building is an exquisite example of 19th century. It reflects the transition period between the "Classic" and "Modern" styles with its eclectic style.

Unfortunately, it is not possible to see the interior design of this building but even seeing only the elegant roof eaves is a delight.

And of course Raimono d'Aronco was a very talented architect who could blend in classic elements of Ottoman architecture with elements of Art-Nouveau and Art-Deco Styles. You will see a couple of his works on these Istanbul Tours.

Where exactly?: You can see it at the west end of the Sultanahmet Square.

3. Sunken Fountains:

These fountains were commissioned for Sultan Süleyman, the Magnificent by Sinan, the Architect in 16th century.

You will recognize that a lot of fountains will take place in our Istanbul Tours. That is because fountains held an important place in daily life in Ottoman Empire and water is sacred for Muslim belief.

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Where exactly?: You can see it at the North-west of the Sultanahmet Square, near the Turkish & Islamic Arts Musuem (Türk ve İslam Sanatları Müzesi)

4. Hippodrome:

The Hippodrome was built during the reign of Septimus Severus in the 2nd century (A.C.) and enlarged to its latest size by Constantine the Great in the 4th (A.C.) century.

It was located where the Sultanahmet Square stands now(next to Sultanahmet Mosque). The Hippodrome was 480 meters long by 117 meters wide and had a seating capacity estimated at 80.000 people .

This area was the centre of the social life in Byzantium and Constantinople for 1000 years and the same for Istanbul in Ottoman times for 400 years. Today it still is a center for social events and an indispensable part of an Istanbul Tour.

For more information about the Hippodrome, please click here.

Where exactly?: You can see the retaining wall of Sphendon, the series of massive vaults, at the southern end of the Hippodrome, where the land begins to slope down to the sea.

You can see the three obelisks in Spina of the Hippodrom, in Sultanahmet Square.

5. Colossus Column:

Colossus Column is a roughly built pillar of stone which is 32 meters high. It dates back to the reign of the Constantine the Great.

There is a Greek inscription on its base recording that the pillar was restores and sheathed in bronze by Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus in the 10th century.

The bronze parts were melted by the Latin Crusaders in 1204 to coin money.

Where exactly?: You can see it at the Sultanahmet Square which was the Spina of the Hippodrome during Eastern Roman Empire period.
It is the first Obelisk at the Rectorate Building side of Sultanahmet Square.

6. Serpent Column:

Serpent Column (also known as Serpentine Column, Delphi Tripod or the Palataean Tripod), was brought to Constantinople by Constantine the Great, in 324 A.C., from its original place in Apollo Temple in Delphi.

It is an ancient Greek sacrificial tripod.

The Serpent Column takes its name from the tree snakes that encircled it. The two of the snake heads are lost and one of them is now on display in the Istan bul Archeology Museum.

Where exactly: At the Sultanahmet Square which was the spina of the Hippodrome during Eastern Roman Empire period. It is the obelisk in the middle.

7. Egyptian Obelisk

The Egyptian Obelisk (also known as Theodosius Column) was brought from Egypt to Constantinople in 390 A.D. by Emperor Theodosius.

It is placed at the center of the Hippodrome, in the Spina. (Spina is the part that defines the racing area. It is in the middle of the racetrack to indicate the turning point to the racers.)

The Obelisk was the sign of the conquest of the East. It indicated that the Roman Empire has taken on the world hegemony, those days.

The Obelisk is based on a square pedestal. There are reliefs on this pedestal depicting how the column was erected and Theodosius and the Imperial family watching the races in the Hippodrome.

There are Egyptian hieroglyphic pictograms on all four sides of the column, depicting the sacrificial scenes which the Pharaoh Thuthmose III made for the God Amon-Ra.

The total height of the monument is nearly 26 m., including the marble base.

If nothing else does, the Obelisk reflects what Istanbul meant. It was the showcase of the empires to declare the world that they actually "conquered" the rest of the world. That is why you should see this huge, carved stone during one of your Istanbul Tours.

Where exactly?:

You can see it at the Sultanahmet Square which was the Spina of the Hippodrome during Eastern Roman Empire period. It is the first Obelisk at the Hagia Sophia side of Sultanahmet Square.

Lunch Break, Option 1:
Sultan Pub

Sultan Pub is a must when you are in Sultanahmet. It is a nice cafe and restaurant at the center of Sultanahmet, serving for more than 25 years..They serve a variety of Turkish cuisine dishes and desserts as well as burgers with beer. This is a great place both for the food and the service and of course location is unrivaled. It is the best place for a quick break on your Istanbul Tours.

It offers outdoor and indoor dining. There is an open-air patio upstairs, as well as in front of the pub. It is a pleasant experience to have a drink at the patio, especially if it is sunny.

Have a drink here if you are not hungry. If you are a coffee fan, I guess the best filter coffee you can find around Sultanahmet is here.

Price: Average-High

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8. Carpet and Kilim Museum:

This museum has a remarkable collection of carpets, including several made for the Sultan’s use.

The building that houses the collection is is a part of the Sultanahmet Mosque Complex.

It is the “Imperial Pavillion” (Hünkar Kasrı) of Sultanahmet Mosque which is a richly decorated suite used by the Sultan for religious services, with an internal passageway leading to the royal lodge within the mosque.

Where exactly?:

In the Imperial Pavillion (Hünkar Kasrı) of the Sultan Ahmed Mosque Complex, by taking the ramp at the North-east corner of the mosque.

Opening hours:

Opening hours:

Entrance fee:

9. Arasta Bazaar:

This is a cute street lined up with shops.

These kind of bazaars were built to raise income for the complexes that they were built in.

This bazaar is a part of Sultan Ahmed Mosque Complex and the rents of the shops were collected by a foundation for the maintenance expenses of this complex.

Today it serves as a touristic shopping alley. And it is a nice place to buy authentic gifts as a nice memoirs of your Istanbul Tours.

Where exactly?:

 Behind the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue Mosque)

10. Mosaic Museum:

Mosaic Museum is a section of the Arasta Bazaar, which was built on the ruins of the Great Palace of Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire.

Mosaic Museum has a large collection of Byzantine mosaics in a very good shape. The mosaics at the display, feature scenes of human figures, animal figures, landscapes, hunting and daily life in Byzantium.

This is the first place to come to if you are interested in mosaics, Byzantine Period or both. It is the best stop for this route on your Istanbul tours to see the Byzantine arts.

The most important mosaic that the museum displays is the mosaic pavement of one of the peristyle courtyards of the Great Palace, dating to the 4th - 6th centuries.

Besides the marvelous mosaics, you can see some columns, capitals and other architectural fragments of the Great Palace discovered during the excavations too.

Where exactly?:

Behind Sultanahmet Mosque, next to the Arasta Bazaar.

Entrance fee: 8 TL

Opening hours: 09:00 – 16:30, except Mondays.

Address: Arasta Çarsisi, Kabasakal Caddesi, Sultanahmet

Tel: 0212 518 12 05

Lunch Break, Option 2:
Meşale Tea Garden

Meşale Tea Garden with its excellent location in the middle of the Old City, leaned its back to centuries old trees is a good option to have a break on your Istanbul Tours. You will be grateful to the shadow that these huge trees cast, especially if it is a sunny day.

You can have snacks, sandwiches, a nice cup of tea and more.

Price: Low-Average

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And I hope you are not tired yet!

There are lots of "Istanbul Tours" options I have created for you...

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"Istanbul Tours, Walking Route 3: Old City Back Streets"

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