A Day in Old City Sultanahmet | Lady & her Sweet Escapes

Apr 11, 2016

A Day in Old City Sultanahmet

The Old City known as Sultanahmet is the heart of Istanbul. It is where major historical attractions are located, hence the archaeological park was inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage list. It is touristy, yet filled with so much history and culture. That's why we chose to stay in a boutique hotel in the area.

We spent four days in Sultanahmet. And each day we would stay for an hour or two relaxing, people-watching, and eating Turkish ice cream in Sultanahmet Square. Except for Day 1 when we devoted the whole day exploring its attractions above and under the ground. 

Istanbul Walking Tour

Here's our Istanbul's Old City DIY Walking Tour:   

10:00 AM - Topkapi Palace
Right after a good Turkish breakfast in the hotel, Ed and I ventured out to the streets of Sultanahmet. Our first stop is Topkapi Palace. To get there, we had two options: (1) Take the tram to Gulhane which is just a station away from Sultanahmet or (2) Follow the walking trail on our map. Since it is only less than 10 minutes by foot and since we ate a lot during breakfast, we followed the walking directions and burned some calories.

There was a long queue at the ticket counter when we arrived, hence we decided to purchase the Museum Pass Istanbul - a fast-track pass to twelve famous museums. It is valid for 120 hours and costs 85 TL. Since we intend to visit only four out of the twelve museums, it is not really a thrifty move, but rather a time-saver one. We don't want to waste our day in the queue area.

Istanbul Museum Pass
Istanbul Museum Pass

Topkapi Palace was a sprawling residence of the Sultans during the Ottoman Empire. At the end of their reign, it was turned into a museum with enthralling collections of weapons, porcelains, murals and jewelries. Aside from the exhibit halls, the courtyards with breathtaking views of the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn blew our mind away.

Topkapi Palace is open daily except Tuesdays. 
Visit Hours: 9:00 AM to 4:45 PM during Winter / 9:00 AM to 6:45 PM during Summer  / Timings may change during Holidays. Please visit Topkapi Palace's official website for more information.
Ticket Price: 40 TL per person (entrance to the Harem not included)

long queue at the entrance of Topkapi Palace
long queue at the entrance of Topkapi Palace
Topkapi Palace Courtyard
one of the Palace Courtyards
view of Bosphorus from Topkapi
taking in the beauty and the mystic of the Bosphorus 
view of Galata Tower from Topkapi
Hello from the other side, Galata Tower! ;)

11:00 AM -  The Harem in Topkapi Palace
When in Topkapi, never ever miss the harem! There is an additional fee for regular ticket holders. The Museum Pass includes this special area of the palace, hence Ed and I went in without any fuss. 

Harem literally means "private". It houses the Imperial Hall or the throne room, the apartments of the Queen Mother, and the baths of the Sultan, But what shocked us the most is that the Harem is also a private area for debauchery! Guess what? There is a designated courtyard for the concubines, not just two or three but three hundred!    

The Harem Ticket Price: 25 TL per person

private passage to the courtyards of the Harem
private passage to the courtyards of the Harem 
inside the Harem at Topkapi
Mirror Mirror
inside the Harem at Topkapi 2
opulence in every corner
Imperial hall of the Harem
the Imperial Hall

12:00 nn - Lunch at Sultanahmet Koftecisi
We had our lunch at a local favorite turned international sensation, Tarihi Sultanahmet Koftecisi Selim Usta. It is a small Turkish eatery serving the best izgara kofte or grilled meatballs in Istanbul, hence it is often crowded with local patrons and hungry tourists. 

We had a serving of the best-seller, followed by a bowl of rice pudding for dessert. It was a quick lunch we greatly enjoyed; quick in the sense that the service is super fast and that we had to leave as soon as we're done as there are more tourists walking in for lunch. 

Sultanahmet Koftecisi opening hours: 10:30 AM to 10:30 PM
Bill for Two: 40 TL

the famous Tarihi Sultanahmet Koftecisi
the famous Tarihi Sultanahmet Koftecisi
Izgara Kofte at Tarihi Sultanahmet Koftecisi
Izgara Kofte - The Bestseller!
rice pudding at Tarihi Sultanahmet Koftecisi
Rice Pudding - a traditional Turkish dessert

1:00 PM - Sultanahmet Square or The Hippodrome of Constantinople
Before heading inside the Blue Mosque, we stopped by the historical landmarks at Sultanahmet Square, known as the Hippodrome (a sporting and social center) in the old times. One of the notable structures in the area is The German Fountain. It is an opulent Neo-Byzantine fountain with a dome covered in golden mosaics, a gift of the German Emperor Wilhelm II to Sultan Abdulhamid II. 

A few steps away from the fountain is the Serpentine Column; what is left from the Plataean Tripod which was moved from Delphi to Constantinople. 

The German Fountain
The German Fountain
Serpentine Column
Serpentine Column

Our next touristy stop is at the foot of the Obelisk of Theodosius. It is an Egyptian Obelisk originally from a temple in Luxor, re-erected by Theodosius the Great in the middle of the Hippodrome. The obelisk stands in a pedestal with inscriptions and art sculptures that depict historical events,

Right next to the Egyptian Obelisk is the Walled Obelisk built of roughly cut stones by Constanine VII. It doesn't looks as remarkable as the former, but it was reportedly adorned with bronzed plaques.

Ahhh! We nearly drowned in history! So, before we went inside the Blue Mosque, we cleared our minds by feeding and chasing pigeons. 

Sultanahmet Square is an open area. No entrance fee. 

Egyptian Obelisk in Istanbul
Egyptian Obelisk
the pedestal of the obelisk
the pedestal of the obelisk
Walled Obelisk in Istanbul
Walled Obelisk

1:30 PM - The Blue Mosque
The Blue Mosque needs no introduction, but allow me to share some facts (that I bet you already know). Sultanahmet Mosque is popularly dubbed as the Blue Mosque because of the 20,000 blue Iznik tiles on the interior walls. It uniquely has six minarets, one huge dome and eight small domes billowing upward. Indeed, it is Istanbul's crown jewel inside and out. 

The historical mosque welcomes non-worshipers for free, except during Prayer Time. Ed and I walked in after midday prayer. We took off our shoes and placed them in a plastic bag given at the entrance. Just like other mosques we have been to, there is a strict dress code to follow. Sleeveless shirts and shorts for both ladies and gents are not allowed. Ladies must cover their hair, so I placed my winter scarf on my head. Head coverings are also provided at the entrance to those who have none. Inside the mosque, visitors should speak quietly and take photos without flash. 

When visiting the Blue Mosque, simply obey the rules and enjoy every second! 

The Blue Mosque closes for 90 minutes during the five prayer times. No entrance fee. 

The Blue Mosque from afar
The Blue Mosque from afar. One of the six minarets is under restoration.
Blue Mosque entrance
entrance to the courtyard of the mosque - Bewildering, isn't it?
Istanbul's crown jewel under the blue Autumn sky
Istanbul's crown jewel under the blue Autumn sky
Lady inside Blue Mosque Istanbul
hair covered, modestly dressed
interiors of Blue Mosque Istanbul
Simply marvelous! 

2:30 PM - Turkish Coffee at Dervish Cafe
En route to our next destination, we stumbled on to an outdoor cafe with a stunning view of the Blue Mosque. It was the right time to cross out wish #12 in my 20 before 2020 list. 

Bill for Two: 26 TL

Turk Kahvesi
Turk Kahvesi! 
Turkish coffee and Lokum
a little cup of strong coffee and a lokum
Turkish Baklava in Istanbul
Turkish coffee is best with Baklava!

3:00 PM - Hagia Sophia
Endearingly called by many as the 8th Wonder of the World, Hagia Sophia is a prominent landmark that has endured changes and has witnessed important historical events. It was constructed as a Greek Orthodox Basilica, then converted into a Roman Catholic Cathedral, and later on turned into a Imperial Mosque.

The Hagia Sophia is now a museum, richly adorned with intricate mosaics depicting Jesus, the Virgin Mary, the Saints, and the Emperors. Entrance Fee is included in the Museum Pass that we purchased earlier. Since we were deeply intrigued by its glorious past, we rented an Audio Guide at the entrance and explored at our own pace. 

Hagia Sophia is open daily except Mondays. 
Visit Hours: 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM during Winter / 9:00 AM to 7:00 PM during Summer  / Timings may change during Holidays. Please visit Hagia Sophia's official website for more information.
Ticket Price: 30 TL per person / Audio Guide: 20 TL

the stunningly beautiful Hagia Sophia
the stunningly beautiful Hagia Sophia
audio guide at Hagia Sophia
trying to figure how the audio guide works
Cats in Istanbul
History and Cats - Yes, those two perfectly go along in Turkey!
inside Hagia Sophia
inside Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia restoration
half of  Hagia Sophia was under restoration during our visit
Christianity and Islam in Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia is now a museum that honors both Christianity and Islam 
Deesis Mosaic inside Hagia Sophia
Deesis Mosaic - the most popular Byzantine Mosaic inside Hagia Sophia
Blue Mosque from the window of Hagia Sophia
When at the second level of Hagia Sophia, look through the window and spot its awesome neighbor - The Blue Mosque.

4:30 PM - Basilica Cistern
We saved Basilica Cistern for last as it is an underground attraction. Unlike all the other spots we have been to, we don't really need sunshine to appreciate it. So, even if we visit at sundown, Basilica Cistern would still look good on photos. :)  

The Basilica Cistern is the largest Byzantine underground chamber which was built to store and supply water for the city. It is a marvelous reservoir that was turned into one of Istanbul's must-see attractions. A walkway was built in between gigantic columns leading to two Medusa Head sculptures, one is placed sideways, one is upside down. 

Entrance Fee is 20 TL per person, sadly not included in the Museum Pass. 

Basilica Cistern reservoir beneath Stoa Basilica
Basilica Cistern - reservoir beneath Stoa Basilica
a Medusa Head in the middle of a wish pool
a Medusa Head in the middle of a wish pool
Medusa upside down in Basilica Cistern
Medusa upside down

Also inside the Basilica Cistern is a photo booth where tourists can dress up in Ottoman costume. It's kitschy, but it's a good keepsake. So, this happened...

Turkish costume photo in Istanbul
We were Ottoman Royals for a few minutes! :)
Photo: 20 TL

Istanbul's Old City Walking Tour Tips: 
* Don't forget your map and your camera! 
* Take note of the visiting hours.
* If you want to save time, purchase Istanbul Museum Pass for fast-track access. 
* Not staying in Sultanahmet? Take the T1 tram. Alight in Gulhane tram stop if you want to start your DIY tour in Topkapi Palace, or in Sultanahmet tram stop if you opt to visit Blue Mosque first.
* Wear your most comfortable shoes. The attractions are near each other, but it's a whole day of walking! Do your feet a favor. 

Love this? Watch our Istanbul Travel Video.

0 Blogger Comments