Istanbul Walking Tours (Self-guided)

Istanbul Walking Tours

Introduction

Istanbul Walking Tours Classics : Taking this route is like going on a journey through centuries, where different eras, cultures, and religions left their marks on the city. The path also happens to cross through most of the famous seven Istanbul hills. Don’t worry—they are historic point markers and don’t really require much climbing.

Practical tip: the quickest way to reach the starting point of this tour is by taking the metro to Haliç station on the Golden Horn bridge, and interchange to a bus heading towards Balat (approx seven minutes). Estimated walking times are given below in brackets. They don’t include visits at the stops, which you can enjoy at your own pace.

Follow this route and you can visit all the must-sees on the historical peninsula in one day!

Start at 9am – Perispri Cafe in Fener is one of those places where time stands still. Serving traditional Turkish breakfast in a cozy ambience, it emanates warm feelings just like your favorite grandma’s place.

2 min – The Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarchate is located in the heart of the area formerly populated by non-Muslim minorities. The place maintains its symbolic significance within the Eastern Church, and serves as the residence of the patriarch, therefore all visits must be arranged in advance or led by a certified tour guide.

Istanbul Walking Tours

5 min – The newly renovated Bulgarian St Stephen Church is a quirky architectural gem made of prefabricated cast iron.

Istanbul Walking Tours : St Stephen Church

20 mins – Consider Chora Mosque a prelude to your Hagia Sophia visit , since comparisons between the two finest examples of Byzantine architecture are inevitable.

Istanbul Walking Tours : Chora Mosque , Naos Dormition of Virgin Mary

20 mins –Yavuz Sultan Selim Mosque, located on top of Istanbul’s fifth hill, remains outside of the typical touristic route, and provides a stunning view across the Golden Horn. On Wednesdays, nearby streets turn into a popular market selling everything from fresh produce to textiles.

Istanbul Walking Tours

20 mins – One of the few remaining structures from the Roman era, Valens Aqueduct, which connects the third and fourth historic hills of Istanbul, used to supply water to the Beyazıt Cistern.

5 mins –Vefa Bozacısı makes up for the lack of good coffee in the area, providing a quick break with a glass of boza in hand. This traditional winter drink made from fermented millet was supplied to the Ottoman palace by the very same place you’re sitting at.

Istanbul Walking Tours : Vefa Bozacısı

10 min –Süleymaniye Mosque is one of the most important religious landmarks in the city, featuring impressive stained glass windows inside, as well as a stunning view of Galata Tower from its gardens.

Istanbul Walking Tours : Süleymaniye Mosque

10 min –Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi shop has a long queue at any given time of the day. Even though this centuries-old family company turned into a nationwide brand a long time ago, getting your freshly roasted coffee from its original location is a must-do while there.

Istanbul Walking Tours : Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi

3 mins – Pandeli Restaurant at the Egyptian Bazaar is your half-way rest point on this tour. Think of it as time travel—the same interiors offer dishes almost identical to those that the founder of Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, used to enjoy.

Istanbul Walking Tours : Pandeli Restaurant

15 mins – If your schedule is limited to one day, a visit to the Istanbul Archaeology Museums should probably be saved for another time. Three separate collections take several hours to browse through, so if you decide to go it, make sure to manage your time wisely. However, the surrounding streets are also very picturesque and give a glimpse of the collections without having to pay the entrance fee.

Istanbul Walking Tours : Istanbul Archaeology Museums

5 min – Even though the history of the underground Basilica Cistern does not include mysteries and dramatic turns of events, its unique atmosphere makes a visit an absolute must.

2 min – Hagia Sophia Mosque has to be a part of any given tour of Istanbul—should you have time to see only one place in Istanbul, there’s no doubt it should be this one. The details of the building tell fascinating stories—to learn all of them, consider hiring a certified guide.

Istanbul Walking Tour (New City)

3 min –Topkapı Palace Museum is another several hours long stop. If you want to fully explore the palace, a separate half-day visit outside of this itinerary is recommended. For a general grasp of this splendid place, make sure to take a peek at the treasury, Baghdad Pavilion in the gardens, and the magnificent views of the city.

6 min – For centuries the largest mosque in Istanbul, Sultanahmet Mosque has the longest opening hours of all historic peninsula landmarks, so it is wise to save it for last. Make sure you’re appropriately dressed in order to enter.

5 min – For a relaxing break at the end of this busy day head to the Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul At Sultanahmet. The property’s secluded gardens will keep you away from the crowds, while authentic interiors ensure you know you’re in the heart of a historic area. Perfect for an afternoon tea.

Do you want a private guided trip ?

 

Byzantine Heritage Walking Tour

Being an imperial capital for over a millennium, Constantinople (present-day Istanbul) still contains numerous sites that testify to the greatness of the Eastern Roman Empire. This self-guided walking tour will take you through the most noteworthy of historical traces, giving you a glimpse of medieval Europe’s most prestigious and flourishing city – the “crown jewel” of Byzantium.

1Boukoleon Palace

Istanbul Walking Tours : Boukoleon Palace

Lying on the shore of the Marmara Sea in Istanbul, this was one of the city’s first Byzantine Palaces, most probably built by Roman Emperor Theodosius II in the 5th century. Originally called Hormisdas, it was later named the Boukoleon (or Bucoleon) from a statue of a bull and a lion that stood the small harbor in front of the palace.

The known and still visible parts were added during the time of Emperor Theophilos (829-842), who greatly expanded and renovated the structure, adding a 300m-long façade on top of the sea-facing walls. It would remain the main palace for the Byzantine court until the 11th century with the construction of the Palace of Blachernae by the Komnenos dynasty.

In the 1204 sacking of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade, Boukoleon was taken by Boniface of Montferrat who found in it treasures “beyond end or counting.” Among his prizes was also Empress Margaret, daughter of Bela III of Hungary, who took refuge at the palace and whom Boniface eventually married.

In 2018, it was announced by the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality that the palace would be restored by the Cultural and Natural Heritage Conservation Board, with plans to develop it into an open-air museum with “a timber walking trail for visitors, a museum, and a pool.” Until that time comes, the ruins are temporarily protected by fences.

2Walled Obelisk

The Walled Obelisk, also called the Constantine Obelisk or Masonry Obelisk

The Walled Obelisk, also called the Constantine Obelisk or Masonry Obelisk can be seen at the south end of the Hippodrome of Constantinople, (now Sultanahmet Square) – a popular spot in Istanbul, with the Egyptian Obelisk, the German Fountain, and the famous Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque also closeby.

Although its original construction date is unknown, the 32 m (105 ft)-high obelisk was reconstructed of roughly cut stones by Constantine VII in the 10th century. At that time, it was reportedly decorated with gilded bronze plaques that portrayed the victories of Basil I, the grandfather of Constantine VII, and had a sphere at its top. However, reportedly these gilded bronze plaques were stolen and melted down by Fourth Crusaders in 1204. The obelisk suffered further damage to its surface by young Janissaries (the Ottoman Sultan’s household troops), who liked to climb the structure to show off their prowess. Today, it is visited by tourists from far and wide.

3Serpent Column

To raise the image of his new capital, Constantine and his successors, especially Theodosius the Great, brought works of art from all over the empire to adorn it. The monuments were set up in the middle of the Hippodrome, the spina. Among these was the Tripod of Plataea, now known as the Serpent Column, cast to celebrate the victory of the Greeks over the Persians during the Persian Wars in the 5th century BC. Together with its original golden tripod and cauldron (both long missing), it constituted a trophy or offering reminding of a military victory, dedicated to Apollo.

Istanbul Walking Tours : Serpent Column

Constantine ordered the Tripod to be moved from the Temple of Apollo at Delphi and set in the middle of the Hippodrome. While it appears that the golden cauldron was never brought to Constantinople, the serpent heads and top third of the column were destroyed in 1700; parts of the heads were recovered and are displayed at the Istanbul Archaeology Museum.

All that remains of the monument today is the base, located near the Walled Obelisk and the Egyptian Column in Sultanahmet Square, a popular tourist spot in Istanbul.

4Obelisk of Theodosius

Commissioned by Pharaoh Thutmose III in the 15th century BC, the Egyptian Obelisk has four faces with a single central column of inscription, celebrating the Pharaoh’s victory over the Mitanni which took place on the banks of the Euphrates in about 1450 BC. With the ascent of the Hittite Empire, Mitanni and Egypt eventually struck an alliance to protect their mutual interests from the threat of Hittite domination.

Istanbul Walking Tours : Obelisk of Theodosius

What you see is only the top third of the original obelisk built for the great temple of Karnak in Egypt, which the Romans had cut into pieces and shipped up the river Nile to Alexandria in 390 AD. This top section has survived nearly 3,500 years in astonishingly good condition., and it stands today where Emperor Theodosius placed it, on a marble pedestal, to commemorate his 20th anniversary on the throne of Constantinople. The reliefs on the pedestal show Theodosius as he offers a laurel wreath to the victor from the Kathisma (Imperial box) at the Hippodrome.

If you’re around the area, give this monument a look. Its towering figure inside a peaceful park is rather exciting, especially for history buffs.

5Theodosius Cistern

Istanbul Walking Tours : Theodosius cistern

One of many ancient cisterns of Constantinople that lie beneath the city of Istanbul, the Theodosius Cistern – built by Roman Emperor Theodosius II between 428 and 443 – was once part of the city’s 250-kilometers-long water-supply system. Like the Basilica and Binbirdirek cisterns, it is once again open to the public, having undergone an eight-year renovation.

Although a visit here doesn’t take long, it is worth seeing and hearing the history behind the place and how people used to store water in the olden days. A wonderful example of Roman ingenuity, the cistern is well lit and beautifully taken care of, with no waiting lines and free-of-charge acess. They also added sound effects which really make the whole experience much better, and there are even some artworks and historical handmade Turkish rugs on display. All in all, one of the most interesting and relaxing places in Istanbul!

Opening Hours: Daily: 9am–6pm

6Column of Constantine

The monumental Column of Constantine was constructed on the orders of the Roman emperor Constantine the Great in 330 AD to commemorate the declaration of Byzantium as the new capital city of the Roman Empire.

Located along the old Road to the Imperial Council between the Hippodrome of Constantinople (now Sultanahmet Square) and the Forum of Theodosius (now Beyazıt Square), the column was 50 meters tall on its erection and had the statue of Constantine (in the figure of Apollo) carrying an orb that allegedly contained a fragment of the True Cross. At the foot of the column was a sanctuary which contained even more relics, allegedly from the crosses of the two thieves who were crucified with Jesus Christ at Calvary, the baskets from the loaves and fishes miracle, an alabaster ointment jar belonging to Mary Magdalene and used by her for anointing the head and feet of Jesus, and a wooden statue of Pallas Athena from Troy.

A strong gale in 1106 AD felled the statue and three of the column’s upper cylinders. Some years later, Byzantine emperor Manuel I Komnenos (reigned 1143-1180) placed a cross on top in place of the original statue and added a commemorative inscription that read “Faithful Manuel invigorated this holy work of art, which has been damaged by time”. Bronze wreaths once covered the joints between the drums, but these were taken by the Latin Crusaders who plundered the city during the Fourth Crusade in 1204. The cross was removed by the Ottoman Turks after the fall of Constantinople in 1453.

Earthquakes and a fire in 1779 destroyed the neighborhood surrounding the column, leaving it with black scorch marks and earning it the name ‘Burnt Column’. It was then restored by Sultan Abdülhamid I, who had the present masonry base added. The column’s original platform is 2.5 meters (about 8 feet) below ground.

7Basilica Cistern

The Yerebatan Sarnıcı or the Basilica Cistern translates as “Cistern Sinking Into Ground” and is one of the many ancient cisterns that are present in the city of Istanbul. Located near the Hagia Sophia, on the peninsula of Sarayburnu, it was built in the 6th century AD by the Byzantine emperor Justinian the first. The name is derived from the Stoa Basilica upon which it was built. The Basilica was said to be built by Ilias and housed many structures and gardens. Historical texts state that over seven thousand slaves were involved in the construction of the Cistern.

The cistern used to provide a filtration system for the water for the Great Palace of Constantinople and surrounding buildings on the historic First Hill. After the Ottoman conquest, it continued to provide water to the Topkapi Palace and continues to do so in modern times. It has undergone many restorations, both by Ottoman emperors and the Roman emperors before them. Today, the cistern is open to visitors and houses many historical relics like the Medusa columns and triumphal arches. The former can be viewed in the cistern’s North West corner.

Istanbul Walking Tours : Basilica Cistern

Why You Should Visit: Great (spooky) atmosphere that makes for magnificent photos and the preservation of history is done remarkably. Right next to Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, and the Blue Mosque, so easy to fit it in along with the other attractions.

Tip:
Watch your step as some parts (near Medusa heads) can be extra slippery, and take a jacket especially if you get cold easily.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9am-5:30pm

8The Stone of Million

The Stone of Milion is all that remains of the 4th-century triumphal gate that served as the Byzantine zero-mile marker. Consciously emulating the Golden Milestone (Milliarium Aureum) in Rome’s Forum, it was considered as the origin of all the roads leading to the European cities of the Byzantine Empire, and on its base were inscribed the distances of all the main cities of the Empire from Constantinople.

The monument was actually much more complex than its Roman counterpart: a double triumphal arch surmounted by a dome, which was carried by four arches and crowned by the statues of Constantine and his mother Helena with a cross, looking towards the east, between them. A statue of the Tyche (presiding tutelary deity) of the City stood behind them.

Until the late 19th century, the zero meridian was considered to have passed through Istanbul, where there were Milion Stone once stood; therefore, many countries around the world set their clocks to Istanbul’s time. In fact, the maps were prepared based on this point and directions were found here. At the 1884 International Meridian Conference, however, the “common zero of longitude and standard of time reckoning throughout the world” was moved from Istanbul to Greenwich.

9Hagia Sophia

Istanbul Walking Tours : Hagia Sophia

This monumental structure in Istanbul was once an Orthodox patriarchal basilica, then a mosque, and now, finally, is a museum. It was built in the 4th century by Constantine the Great as a church, and has seen much changing in the ruling powers of the city ever since.  Many people mistake it as being dedicated to Saint Sofia, but the church, in fact, was originally dedicated to the second being of the Holy Trinity, and its full Greek name is the “Church of the Holy Wisdom of God”, with Sophia meaning “Wisdom”.  Before its takeover by the Ottoman Turks in 1435, the church housed many holy relics. It was converted into a mosque by Sultan Mehmed II, and remained a mosque for the next 500 years.
Located in the Sultanahmet neighborhood, Hagia Sophia is, without doubt, one of the best examples of Byzantine architecture and was declared a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1985. It features many distinctive decorations and is particularly famous for its fascinating mosaics.

Why You Should Visit:
Unique in being both a church and a mosque, with pertinent symbols omnipresent. Even if you are not familiar with Byzantine history, you will surely be impressed. The multi-domed enclosure is so mesmerizing that it’s hard to take one’s eyes off it!

10Great Palace Mosaics Museum

The Museum of Great Palace Mosaics is a bi-level gallery within the Blue Mosque compound, beneath the Arasta Bazaar. It hosts one of the most beautiful pavement mosaics in the world unearthed at the site of the Byzantine-era Great Palace of Constantinople. If the mosaics of Hagia Sophia and Kariye Museum (Chora Church) left you jaw-dropped with admiration, then you should visit this place for certain.

While not as grand as the former two sites, the mosaics here are truly impressive, originated circa 450-550 AD. 40,000 pieces of limestone, earthenware and colored stones once formed part of a large (1,872 square meter) peristyle courtyard within Constantine the Great’s Palatium Magnum (Great Palace) during the East Roman period, largely predating the Ottoman’s Blue Mosque.

In the 7th and 8th century, when painting was forbidden, the ground mosaics were covered with huge marble panels and forgotten. During the Ottoman era, due possible danger from the sea, the palaces were moved to the Golden Horn region and a residential district was established over the mosaics area (with no idea they were there). It wasn’t until 1921 that the excavation works started after a big fire hit the area and the hidden mosaics showed up. Diggings continued throughout 1935-1951 led by archaeologists from St Andrews University, Scotland.

The mosaics lie largely where they were found, featuring over 150 human and animal figures, depicting daily life, mythological gods, animals in a fight and hunting scenes, and are rightfully considered one of Istanbul’s greatest finds of the 20th century. The site was declared a museum in 1997. The museum is open daily: 9:00-19:00 (15 Apr-25 Oct); 9:00-17:00 (25 Oct-15 Apr). Ticket counters close 30 minutes before the museum closing time. Purchase of the Museum Pass – a 72 hour museum access card – will grant you free access.

Bosphorus Coast Walking Tour

One of the planet’s most praised stretches of water, the Bosphorus is a source of great pride for Istanbulites and of admiration for travelers. The 30-km strait dividing Europe and Asia and connecting the Marmara with the Black Sea is one of the city’s highlights, having been for all ages the subject of legend and art. This self-guided walk will take you along the coast so that you can enjoy the beautiful views and admire the city’s architecture. Along the way are ancient fortresses, intriguing mosques and Imperial palaces, intermingled with small fishing villages and old wooden ‘yalis’ (waterside villas), each with a tale of their own.

Duration : 3 Hours Distance : 5.9 km

1Galata Tower

One of the city’s most distinctive sights, this great fortification dating back to 1348 was erected by the mercantile Genoese Italians as a vantage point over the city walls and was subsequently used as a fire lookout tower until as recently as the 1960s. At nine stories and 67 meters in height, it is one of the best places to put Istanbul’s defining landmarks in a cityscape perspective: all major sights are within easy view and you can walk around the outside platform for a full 360-degree look – provided, of course, the weather is right.

Istanbul Walking Tours : Galata District with the iconic tower

The walk to the tower, which is situated on high ground, can be strenuous for some; don’t be afraid of the tower climb, however, as you’ll ride in a very modern elevator. While you’re there, you can have a drink from the cafe upstairs and prolong your time just a bit more. The lively area around the tower is home to some interesting restaurants, bars and cafés, and you can also take a leisurely walk up Galip Dede Caddesi with its abundant musical instrument shops.

2Kilic Ali Pasha Külliyesi

Consisting of a mosque, a madrassah (Islamic school), a hammam (Turkish bath), a türbe (tomb), and a fountain, this vast complex was designed and built between 1580-87 by celebrated architect Mimar Sinan, who at the time was in his nineties.

The complex is named after Italian-born Kılıç Ali Pasha (Ali the Sword), who, after being pressed into service as a galley-rower in the mid-16th century, rose through the ranks of the Ottoman navy to become Grand Admiral of the Ottoman Empire. Like other Grand Admirals, he built his mosque complex in the area of the Ottoman naval docks and arsenal known as Tophane-i Amire, the surviving 15th-century portion of which is right across the street. The mosque itself was designed as – quite obviously, despite some slight differences – almost a scaled-down replica of the Ayasofya (Hagia Sofia). It’s a wonderful place to visit; much less crowded, yet as impressive as other famous mosques – so if you have limited time and want to see one of Istanbul’s houses of worship, then this would be a good choice.

A 21st-century update on the Turkish bath, the Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı (8am–11pm) is housed in a very clean historic building, with nice staff that speaks fairly good English and is very accommodating. The scrub and wash down is completely relaxing and the massage afterward is a great way to finish the experience. As in other hammams, gender-segregation applies (i.e. men are not allowed before 4pm), but regardless of gender, think about making a reservation through their website.

3Tophane-I Amire Culture and Art Center

Although architecturally this fine structure resembles a mosque, it has nothing to do with religion, having been originally commissioned by Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror to manufacture artillery equipment for the Ottoman army – cannons and cannonballs, more specifically. As time went by, it became a center of the arms industry and trade in the Empire, and for a period in the 1900s, was used as an educational center. In 1958 it became the home of the Military Museum, and in 1992, it was turned over to the Mimar Sinan University of Fine Arts.

Following restoration, the very historic building now hosts important contemporary art exhibitions in three different exhibition halls, which you can easily visit free of charge. While exploring the building’s architecture, you may be reminded of some of Mimar Sinan’s mosques whose domes are interrupted by rows of windows. Symmetrical, well balanced, harmonious and elegant, the structure itself is a real masterpiece.

4 Dolmabahce Mosque

The Dolmabahçe Mosque is one of Istanbul’s more modern, opened in 1855. This gives it the benefit of modern industrial building techniques compared with older, traditional mosques. One result is that it is unusually high, with slender minarets and enormous windows letting natural light flood in. A mixture of Baroque and Empire styles, the architecture seems to have been heavily influenced by the British who dominated the area during the period.

In many ways, like the equally elegant modern mosque at Ortaköy, built around the same time, the Dolmabahce Mosque is best enjoyed from the outside, where it lends great character to the Bosphorus. On the inside, you will find artful and dignified interior decoration, mostly in beige and other complementary colors.

5Dolmabahce Clock Tower

Right across the Treasury Gate of the Dolmabahçe Palace stands a beautiful four-sided clocktower built by Sultan Abdul Hamid II shortly after the palace was completed. The Sultan built clocktowers in many cities for his citizens but as the bells chimed every hour and reminded people of churches, they initially resented them. Their perception changed only upon realizing how helpful these clocks were in organizing their lives.

The tower itself is four floors high. Each story has a different size, embellishment and design, resulting in an interestingly Ottoman Neo-Baroque. Looking closely, you will notice eastern numerals on the faces of the clock and the tughra (calligraphic monogram) of the Sultan on two sides. The Ottomans had a fascination with clocks and here, too, the Sultan got a top-quality French clock installed by the court clock master, Johann Mayer.

Tip: There is a café in the Clock Tower, and toilets near both entrances. Access inside is only granted if you pay the Palace ticket. 
Opening Hours:  Daily: 8am–11:30pm

6 Dolmabahce Palace

The Ottoman sultans shifted from Topkapi Palace to the newly built Dolmabahce in the 1850s. Designed by the renowned Armenian architect Garabet Balyan, it is the largest and most extravagant of all the palaces on the Bosphorus – especially the Ceremonial Hall with its famous Bohemian crystal chandelier glowing with 750 lamps, gifted by Queen Victoria.

Sultan Abdülmecid and his family clearly wanted a residence comparable to those of his contemporary European monarchs. On this note, it is quite evident that not only were European luxury goods desirable from an aesthetic viewpoint, but also from a symbolic one. The palace not only makes use of European goods but also of European technology to indicate that the Ottoman Empire has not been outdistanced by Europe.

Guided tours are broadly divided into two sections: the public and the private (known as the Selamlik and the Harem, respectively), access to which is given by separate tickets. Interiors are fairly well-preserved and many of the personal belongings of the Sultans and their families on display. Unfortunately, photography is not allowed inside. Outside, there is a small, but attractive garden around the buildings, with magnificent magnolias, little water-lily ponds, and excellent views over the Bosphorus. Operation hours:  9am–4pm (Monday is closed)

7Ciragan Palace

This former Ottoman palace located on the European shore of the Bosporus, between Beşiktaş and Ortaköy in Istanbul, was commissioned by Sultan Abdülâziz between 1863-67, during a period in which all Ottoman sultans built their own palaces rather than using those of their ancestors; Çırağan is the last example of this tradition. The inner walls and the roof were made of wood, the outer walls of colorful marble. A very high garden wall protects the palace from the outer world, and a beautiful marble bridge connects it to the Yıldız Palace on the hill behind.

During the Second Constitutional Monarchy, Sultan Mehmet V Reşat allowed the parliament to hold their meetings here. Only two months after, on January 19, 1910, a great fire destroyed the building, leaving only the outer walls intact. Called “Şeref Stadı”, for many years it served as a football stadium for the club Beşiktaş J.K.

Istanbul Walking Tours : Ciragan Palace is now a 5* hotel Kempinski

In 1989, the ruins were bought by a Japanese corporation, which restored the palace and added a modern hotel complex next to it. Today, it serves as luxury suites for the 5-star Kempinski hotel along with two of the city’s best restaurants. The Sultan’s Suite, billed at US$35,419 per night, was ranked #14 on World’s 15 most expensive hotel suites compiled by in 2012.

 
 
 

8Ortakoy Mosque

Ideally perched on the waters of the Bosphorus Strait, the “Grand Imperial Mosque” (Buyuk Mecidiye Camii) is actually rather “pint-sized” as compared to other mosques, but has been built with huge windows to illuminate its understated elegance. Now simply referred to as the Ortaköy Mosque, it was built in 1854 by Sultan Abdülmecid, who employed the talents of the same accomplished team of architects behind the Dolmabahçe Palace and many other buildings in and around Istanbul. The architecture is quite unique – a skillful blend of Ottoman and European Neo-Baroque influences, breaking away from the traditional Ottoman multi-domed style.

The landscape is breathtaking and surrounded by countless waterfront cafés, restaurants and clubs. Just in front of the mosque, a viewing platform offers views of the Bosphorus Bridge – the first to connect Asia to Europe; an enchanting place to smoke a hookah, play tavla (backgammon) and just enjoy the view and the incessant maritime traffic.

Galata Quarter Walk

In the Ottoman era, Beyoğlu (then known as Pera) was, along with Galata, the European Quarter of Istanbul. Home to embassies and trading centers, as well as fine 19th-century, Parisian-style apartment houses, the area was much-loved by the city’s non-Islamic minorities, with names of Greek and Armenian architects still adorning the fronts of some of Istiklal Avenue’s grander buildings.

Growth was encouraged by the opening of the Orient Express line from Paris to Aleppo, bringing tourists to the area and resulting in the construction of many grand hotels. Beyoğlu continued to prosper into the early 20th century, but has seen more than its share of ups-and-downs ever since: by the 1980s, it had fallen into ill repute. The pivotal turning-point only came in 1990, when Istiklal Avenue was pedestrianized and saw elegant clothing stores, smart cafes and art cinemas springing up like mushrooms once again. In sum, what you see in Beyoğlu today represents both continuity and a major urban renaissance.

Duration : 2 Hours Distance : 2.5 km

1Taksim Square

Istanbul Walking Tours : Taksim

Every great city has a central square, and Istanbul does not disappoint. Aptly named ‘Taksim’ (meaning “division” or “distribution”) for the place where the main water lines once met, this square has a little bit of everything and is worth a trip to witness people and their interactions.

The Istiklal pedestrian shopping street begins here, and there are dozens of places to eat; rather unfortunately, many of these are American restaurants, but there’s no shortage of options for kebab, baklava, boiled and grilled corn, hot yummy chestnuts, local breads or ice creams. With a few hundred shops at walking distance, the opportunities are seemingly unlimited, and the area is also good to get around the city as it has a metro station, a bus stop, a tram line, and taxi stands all around it.

While in the square, you’ll see many Turks circling the Monument to the Republic and taking photos from all directions: mostly they are paying respect to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the father of the Republic, depicted in his double aspect: soldier and statesman. 
At dusk, there are lots of groups who sing and dance, changing the atmosphere completely.

2 Istiklal Caddesi

Istanbul Walking Tours : Old trams

This is the modern, most organic facet of Istanbul: full of life, restaurants, consulate buildings, bookstores, music stores and art galleries: a nice mix of everything. One could also say that it’s the city’s most Westernized part and clearly very fashion-forward in a distinctly European way. Traveled by millions of people and vibrant every hour of the day, it comes to life especially at night with street vendors, live music, cafes, bars, pastry shops… you name it – it’s probably there.

Perhaps the main feature of Istiklal is the nostalgic red tram – the only vehicle permitted – that links the Taksim and Tünel squares; while it doesn’t take you far – just up and down the street – it is a must-try experience to feel the impact of so many pedestrians around you: different people from all over the globe, diversity in all its glory!

Aside from shopping opportunities, look out for historic cinemas (like Atlas, Beyoglu), historical passages (Hazzopulo, Suriye and Çiçek), churches (the ancient St. Mary Draperis, the impressive Venetian Gothic gatehouse of the Church of St. Antoine), consulate buildings, and innovative art galleries (check out SALT Beyoğlu, ARTER, and the Mısır Apartments), as well as excellent examples of 19th-century Neo-Classical and Art Nouveau architecture to admire.

Lots of small interesting alleyways lead off the main street, so do not hesitate to take little excursions – you can find a bevy of food (including the Turkish variety of tapas), drink, coffees, trinkets, souvenirs… at generally better prices. Climb up and down the stairs, have a view of the colorful taverns and terraces around, or get dramatic and attend the so many live show music of Turkish singers.

3 Cicek Pasaji

About halfway along Istiklal Caddesi, the famous modern avenue that starts from Taksim Square and leads to the edge of Galata, there are numerous “passages”, or arcades – part covered and part free in the sun – abounding with shops and restaurants. The most famous of these, the Çiçek Pasajı, dates to 1876 and bears a particular history. At one time, in fact, it was one of the swankiest places in the city: built in direct imitation of Parisian models, it housed a shopping arcade and apartments. Following the Russian Revolution of 1917, many impoverished noble Russian women, including a Baroness, found themselves selling flowers here. By the 1940s the building was mostly occupied by flower shops, hence the present Turkish name: “Flower Passage”.

Istanbul Walking Tours : Cicek Pasaji

Recently renovated, the place may have lost some of its past charms, but can still offer an experience you won’t find anywhere else in Europe. It’s a unique place to take a stroll, especially to admire the glass roof or the old signs and to poke around inside the many shops and “meyhanes” (taverns) serving seafood and traditional “raki”, the local anise-based firewater (beginners are advised to dilute it with a copious amount of water if they plan to rise from the table unassisted).

A great way to mix with locals, the passage allows for outside seating even on cold and rainy days. At night, it is lit up with colorful lights and live musicians tableside.

4Grand Hotel de Londres Bar

Decorated in grand 1920s style and with a stunning view of the Golden Horn and the Old City, the rooftop bar of this ages-old hotel is still one of the best of Istanbul, where locals and expats come for a cool beer or typical Turkish tea in a relaxed, unpretentious atmosphere.

Largely devoid of tourists, the lounge bar serves drinks and meals at affordable prices, from 4pm to late at night for those who missed dinner time. Allow yourself a couple of hours between 7 and 9pm, and you will get to see all the colors and faces of Istanbul against the backdrop of the Bosphorus.

The building itself is a city landmark and has served as an elegant city hotel since the 1800s for European (and mostly British) travelers. Examine the old artwork on the walls as you walk up or down the stairs and appreciate historical Istanbul without getting too nostalgic.

Tip:
If you’re visiting when the weather is still chilly, check out the main hall and have a coffee in the lobby bar, taking your time to feel the graciously faded elegance.

5Pera Museum

A century ago, three of Istanbul’s grand hotels were catering to passengers arriving on the Orient Express: the Pera Palace, the Grand Hotel de Londres and the Bristol. While the first two still survive as hotels, the latter has been privately acquired and reborn in 2005 as Pera Museum with a compelling mix of culturally significant Turkish works, contemporary international exhibitions, and ancient weights and measures.

The museum covers five floors, two of which host outstanding permanent displays of antiquities, Anatolian and Oriental art. The second floor has a small, but impressive collection of paintings, including the iconic $3.5 million “Tortoise Trainer” by Osman Hamdi Bey, who has five other pieces on display here. The top three floors are given over to temporary shows, having previously featured work from Joan Miró and Andy Warhol; to find out what you can see right now, be sure to check the website.

On the whole, the floor plan is quite neat, with a clean and understandable layout; the staff is friendly and doesn’t hover about while you are viewing. There is a good coffee shop on the ground floor, in addition to a gift shop full of costly but stylish souvenirs. Among other things, the museum arranges educational events aimed at making children aware of art and encouraging creative expression, while Pera Film appropriately features experimental cinema, animation, documentaries, etc.

A visit here won’t break the bank, but they kindly offer free entry during extended hours (6pm to 10pm) on Friday evenings.

Opening Hours: Tue-Sat: 10am–7pm; Sun: 12–6pm
Long Fridays: 6–10pm (open and free admission)

6Istanbul Modern

Spotlighting artists who have been left out of the modern art conversation in a wonderfully curated, thought-provoking way, the Istanbul Modern gives visitors a taste of the “new city”, breaking from the centuries-old mosques, churches and architecture elsewhere found.

The museum was opened in a former maritime warehouse on the Sea of Marmara and features exhibition spaces on both floors. The top floor hosts the permanent collection, rooms for education programs, a shop, and a café, while the lower one is used for temporary exhibitions, Istanbul Modern Cinema, and the library.

While from the outside the building is not anything special, inside it has a light and airy space with magnificent views of the city. While the entry price is on the steeper side by local standards, the extra investment is well worth it. There nice little café – a must for any museum worth its salt – has more (than) reasonable prices, so it all balances out. Audio guides – good to have if you’re interested in hearing directly from the artists – are available in English and Turkish, with a duration of ~45 minutes.

Why You Should Visit:
To get a new perspective on Turkish culture; a must for anyone interested in art and the question of identity and expression.

Tip:
The gift shop has a great selection of souvenirs, including some interesting jewelry.

Opening Hours:
Tue, Wed, Fri-Sat: 10am–6pm; Thu: 10am–8pm; Sun: 11am–6pm

 
 
 

7Galip Dede Caddesi

Istanbul Walking Tours

This narrow, rather steep cobble-stoned street in the Tunel district is a real mecca for musicians and lovers of musical culture! Dotted with a myriad of shops selling instruments of all shapes, for all tastes and budgets, it’s arguably the best place to find unique gifts for melophiles and collectors – just make sure to discuss your needs with a shop owner before making a purchase. Meys are on sale for ~30TL, a basic Baglama starts at 100TL, and prices for the famous Turkish cymbals and ouds aren’t too steep, either.

The best time to visit here is on the weekdays, early in the afternoon, when the street are not very crowded. In a row, among the narrow sidewalks, there are also lots of other alternative shops, selling craft and artistic creations. The atmosphere is colorful and cheerful. Further along, the wonderfully smelling Home Spa store sells reasonably-priced organic soaps and oils, in addition to colorful bathrobes and other bathroom accessories.

8Galata Mevlevi Museum

This former tekke (Whirling Dervish lodge) is both a museum and one of the few Istanbul venues to see an authentic Whirling Dervish performance. To get the most out of the experience, one should strongly consider visiting the museum before witnessing the performance, which takes place on Sundays at 5pm. Alternatively, one can freely wander around the beautiful, peaceful grounds, which features a small cemetery where former tekke members are interred.

The first thing to say about the Sema (Whirling Dervish) ceremony is that despite many of the audience being tourists, it is not some kind of tourist show thrown together purely for entertainment. The performance forms an integral part of a religious service, which one has to experience in its entirety to be able to put the whirling component into context and understand its significance. The ceremony builds from a near-silent, motionless beginning through several precise stages – each with its own importance and meaning – to the rhythmic movement that is known as whirling. Everything in the ceremony is laden with symbolism and is about transition, a representation of our journey through life and the desire to gain a meaningful understanding of our own existence.

Handout brochure explain the basics, seats are provided, and the whole thing takes around 50 minutes (be aware that this is an abbreviated version of the “real” ceremony that would take up to 3 hours). Come early if you want a full view seat – though standing and watching is also acceptable.

Tip:
Tickets for the museum are sold at a kiosk inside the grounds (walk in from the street, pass an information office on the right, keep going and you will see the kiosk on your right), while tickets for the Dervish ceremony are sold at a small table on the sidewalk in front of the main entrance to the museum, beginning from noon on Sunday.

Opening Hours:
Tue-Sun: 9am–4:30pm

9 Neve Shalom Synagogue

While this little gem could easily be overlooked, it is well worth visiting if you’re interested in a centuries-old Jewish presence in a centuries-old Ottoman culture. Only a few minutes walk from the heart of modern Istanbul, Istiklal Cd., it houses the only Jewish museum in Turkey, having still preserved the unfortunate bullet holes and bomb blast damage from three separate terrorist attacks (1986, 1992, 2003) – albeit these are sealed up with heavy-duty steel to obscure them from the public.

Apart from showing how the Turkish Jewish Community was established and how open and accommodating previous Turkish rulers and governments were to Jewish people, the museum also provides good insights into traditional Jewish life and the contribution Jews have made to Turkish society over the decades and centuries.

The synagogue itself doesn’t look that charming (and isn’t really noticeable) from the outside, but once you enter the building you will notice its striking stained glass windows (imported from the UK and especially designed by the Academy of Art) and the stunning eight-ton chandelier that hangs from the dome – a loan from the Buenos Aires Jewish community that has also sustained brutal attacks over the years.

Tip:
No need for advance appointments, but to get in (Sun-Fri) one must surrender one’s passport and go through security screening as part of security measures.

10Galata Tower

One of the city’s most distinctive sights, this great fortification dating back to 1348 was erected by the mercantile Genoese Italians as a vantage point over the city walls and was subsequently used as a fire lookout tower until as recently as the 1960s. At nine stories and 67 meters in height, it is one of the best places to put Istanbul’s defining landmarks in a cityscape perspective: all major sights are within easy view and you can walk around the outside platform for a full 360-degree look – provided, of course, the weather is right.

Istanbul Walking Tours : Galata Tower

The walk to the tower, which is situated on high ground, can be strenuous for some; don’t be afraid of the tower climb, however, as you’ll ride in a very modern elevator. While you’re there, you can have a drink from the cafe upstairs and prolong your time just a bit more. The lively area around the tower is home to some interesting restaurants, bars and cafés, and you can also take a leisurely walk up Galip Dede Caddesi with its abundant musical instrument shops.

Mosques Walking Tour

Once a citadel of Christianity, for over half a millennium now Istanbul (former Constantinople) has been a major center of Islam, replete with mosques – both, originally-built and converted from Christian churches – dotting the city scape. Whether religious or not, you may wish to explore the local mosques out of purely historical or architectural interest. In case you do, this self-guided walk will take you to some of the most prominent mosques of Istanbul.

Duration: 2 Hours Distance : 5.6 km

1 Blue Mosque

One of the most frequently visited and famous tourist spots in Istanbul, the Sultan Ahmed Mosque – popularly known as the “Blue Mosque” due to the blue tiles that adorn the walls of its interior – was built between 1609 and 1616 during the reign of Ahmed the First. It contains a tomb of the Sultan, a madrassah (religious school) and also a hospice. Despite being a very famous tourist attraction, it still functions as a mosque, and a call for prayer (azaan) still draws the faithful to its gates from far and wide. Usually accessible 24 hours a day, the mosque is not open for tourists during prayer time (which is approximately half an hour) five times a day, unless they are there to pray.

Istanbul Walking Tours :  Blue Mosque

Built near the Hagia Sophia and surrounded by a popular tourist district, visitors to the mosque can enjoy several museums, cafes, restaurants and parks in the nearby vicinity. The mosque itself was originally built on the site of the ancient Byzantine Imperial Palace and Hippodrome and took nearly seven years to complete. This masterpiece of Ottoman architecture boasts many examples of Islamic Art and calligraphy that adorn its walls from the inside.

Why You Should Visit:
Compared to other mosques in Istanbul, this one is significantly easier to access because of its free admission and central location.
Timings are strict, a dress code is enforced and the queues are long, but the sense of tranquility that you get inside (even with crowds around) is worth it all.

Tip:
Go early to avoid queues and if you need to wait, look at the details rather than focus on the line. The details in Islamic architecture/design are what sets it apart.
Close by, there are places to eat and drink if you need sustenance after or before visiting.
You could also simply walk around it as much as you are allowed, and snap some pics.

2Rustem Pasha Mosque

Built during 1561-63 and located in Eminonu, Istanbul, this is an Imperial Ottoman mosque of great significance. It was designed by the famed Imperial Architect Mimar Sinan for the Grand Vizier Damat Rüstem Pasha, husband of Princess Mihrimah, daughter of the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman “the Magnificent”.

The mosque has a large number of Iznik tiles (decorated ceramic tiles) that make it distinct from others. They are set in many floral and geometric patterns that cover not only the interior but are also found on the columns and porch outside. No other mosque in Istanbul makes use of such tiles in such a manner. The tiles used to decorate Rüstem Pasha are of the characteristic tomato-red color, which denotes the early Iznik period.

The mosque was built overlooking a vast complex of shops whose rent used to financially support the mosque complex. The main dome of the mosque rests on four semi-domes and the design of the building is that of an octagon inscribed in a rectangle. Galleries are present to the north and south of the main room, and these are supported by marble columns and pillars.

Why You Should Visit:
Stunning mosque demonstrating some of the greatest Ottoman architecture and tile work of the classic period.
Tricky entrance on a 2nd floor, through a small gate and a short stair, but once you make it to the front you get fascinated.

Tip:
Entry is free, but as expected – shoes off before entering and head scarves for the women.
The mosque is right beside the Spice Market, so it’s very easy to visit the two spots in one morning/afternoon.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am-6pm

3Suleymaniye Mosque

Built for Suleiman “The Magnificent” by the famous imperial architect Mimar Sinan in 1557, the Süleymaniye Mosque is modeled in part on the Hagia Sofia, and in part on a Byzantine basilica, in order to reflect the grandeur of the city’s past architectural monuments.

Istanbul Walking Tours : Suleymaniye Mosque

In 1660, the Süleymaniye Mosque was ravaged by fire and was restored by Mehmet IV. Unfortunately, that restoration work had changed the mosque into a baroque-style structure and ruined the original architecture. The mosque has undergone many restorations ever since. Today it is one of the most popular tourist sites in Istanbul.

The mosque complex consists of a caravanserai, an imaret (public kitchen), a madrassa (Islamic school), a hospital and a hammam (Turkish bath). The public kitchen was constructed to serve food to the poor. The gardens behind the mosque consist of Turbe (tombs) of the great Sultan Suleiman, his wife Roxelana, his mother Dilasub Saliham, his daughter Mihrimah and his sister Asiye. The tombs are fashioned on the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. The mosque is distinct from others as it contains the tomb of the great architect Sinan, designed by the occupant himself.

Why You Should Visit:
Great picturesque neighborhood, fewer tourists, sensational views of the city and quite a peaceful and solemn overall experience.

Tip:
To really enjoy the views, go down and find some restaurants on the rooftops of the buildings close to the mosque.
If you have trouble walking up and down, consider renting a (reliable) taxi cab or plan your ascent/descent accordingly.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am-6pm

4Bayezid II Mosque

The Bayezid Mosque is an Ottoman imperial mosque located near the ruins of the Forum of Theodosius in Bayezid Square in Istanbul. Commissioned by the Ottoman Sultan Bayezid II, it was one of the largest mosque complexes erected after the conquest of Istanbul.

The complex consists of a madrassah (Islamic school), imaret (public kitchen), shops and a hammam (Turkish bath). The shops and the kitchen were designed by famous imperial architect Mimar Sinan, and the rental proceeds from them were used to support the mosque. Presently, the kitchen premises accommodate the State Library of Istanbul.

The interior of the mosque has been fashioned after the Hagia Sophia, but on a much smaller scale. The architectural style is classic Ottoman and, unlike the Fatih Mosque – repeatedly damaged by earthquakes, the Bayezid Mosque has never undergone any major renovations, except for minor repairs to the dome and minarets done in 1573-74 following an earthquake, and also to the minarets – after a fire – in 1767.

Behind the mosque, there is a garden holding the tombs of Sultan Bayezid II, his daughter Selcuk Hatun, and Grand Vizier Koca Mustafa Resid Pasha.

5Bodrum Mosque

Formally known as “The Church of the Monastery of Myrelaion” or “The Place of Myrrah”, the Bodrum Mosque in Istanbul used to be a cross-in-square style church. The word “bodrum” translates from Turkish as “basement” and probably refers to the crypt that is still present underneath the building. In 1500, the site was made into a mosque by Ottoman Grand Vizier, Mesih Pasa.

The mosque was damaged by fire twice, in 1784 and 1911, and was also abandoned for some time, until the 1960s when the Istanbul Archaeology Museum undertook restoration works largely replacing most of the original elements with new masonry, thus causing the mosque to lose much of its historic appearance. A cistern, also restored during the 1990s, has been converted into an underground shopping mall.

The wooden portico once present inside has been demolished in the course of many renovation attempts. None of the original mosaics and marble revetments, that used to decorate the building, remain today and the mosque itself now stands surrounded with apartment blocks. Still, regardless of all these changes, the preserved crypt and the interior, dating back to the Byzantine period, are well worth a look.

6 Sehzade Mosque

The Şehzade Cammi, or Prince Mosque in Turkish, is an Ottoman Imperial mosque found in the Fatih district of Istanbul. Sultan Suleiman I commissioned the mosque in memory of his son, Prince Mehmet, who died of small pox at the age of 21; hence the name.

The building was completed in 1548, and was the first major project of the imperial architect Mimar Sinan. It is also largely regarded by historians as the first masterpiece of Ottoman architecture created by Mimar Sinan, who went on to create many more mosques and monuments throughout the empire after that.

Other than the mosque, the Sehzade complex contains two madrassah (Islamic schools), kitchens that used to serve food to the poor, and a caravansary. The tomb of the prince himself is also located within the compound. The mosque and its courtyard are separated from the rest of the complex by a wall. The courtyard is bordered by 5 bays domed on each side. Adorning the place are white and pink marble arches. In the center of the courtyard there is an ablution fountain, a later donation by Sultan Murat IV. As to the mosque’s interior, it is rather simple and does not have any galleries.

7Fatih Mosque

The Fatih Camii (“Conqueror’s Mosque”) is one of the largest examples of Turkish-Islamic architecture in Istanbul and was built over the original site of the Church of the Holy Apostles.

Constructed during 1462-1470 by Sultan Fatih Mehmet (Mehmet the Conqueror), the Fatih Mosque is rather distinct in structure. It consists of a hospital, a caravansary, kitchens, a marketplace and several hammams (Turkish baths). The mosque also houses a madrassah (Islamic school) which can accommodate over 1000 students.

The Sultan wanted to make a spectacular structure and when architect Atik Sinan was unable to create a mosque higher than the Avasofya (Hagia Sophia), the Sultan ordered both his hands cut off. Located atop the highest hill in Istanbul, the Fatih Mosque consists of a tall central dome, and semi-domes on all four sides.

An earthquake devastated the complex in 1771, upon which it went under major restoration by Mustafa III. From the original compound, only the inner courtyard, the madrassah (Islamic school) and the mihrab (prayer direction niche) have survived. The mosque’s interior has many depictions of Islamic Art. Outside the mihrab wall, the tombs of Sultan Mehmet II and his wife are found.

Why You Should Visit:
Maybe the best mosque to observe the culture & architecture of conservative Turks (you won’t see many non-Muslim tourists). Surrounded by numerous shops selling spices, sweets etc. (on Wednesdays there’s a big open market, too).

Tip: Make sure to take your shoes off and wear long trousers/skirts (ladies should bring a scarf).

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9am-6pm (closed at prayer times)

Asian Side and Bosphorus Walking Tour

Istanbul, Turkey’s wealthiest and biggest city is split by the Bosphorus in two parts: European and Asian. On this self-guided walk you can experience the Eastern side and feel the spirit of the Orient – whether by admiring the beauty of the waterway or the historic buildings that line its shores.

Duration: 2 Hours Distance : 4.6 km

1Maiden's Tower

In the middle of the Bosphorus, ships passing at every moment, looking out onto two continents and thousands of years of human history, this little stone tower – an icon of Istanbul – is a quick 2-minute boat ride from the shore. Since the times of Ancient Greece, it has served as a fort, a crypt, a tower for commercial observation, a tax collection center, a lighthouse, a quarantine hospital, and even made a cameo in the James Bond film, “The World Is Not Enough”. At twenty-five centuries old, some would call this an aging maiden, but it’s still an attractive one.

Istanbul Walking Tours : Maiden Tower

The lighthouse is still in working order, but on the first floor, a restaurant is operating, and on the top, up six flights of stairs, is a coffee shop providing sweeping views over the Bosphorus Strait. You can get a hot or cold drink, take lots of photos, and enjoy the atmosphere – and, of course, you’ll have an opportunity to visit a little museum.

Apparently, the tower has a heroic-cum-romantic story linked to it, and even today people use it to propose their loved ones for marriage, expecting their bond to last as long as the lighthouse. Those planning a romantic dinner date here should make reservations well in advance, however, especially if they want a table next to the window.

2Semsi Pasha Mosque

Built in 1580 by famous Imperial Architect, Mimar Sinan, the single-domed Şemsi Pasha Mosque is a masterpiece of Ottoman design. Although rather small in size compared to other of Sinan’s creations, it is one of the most attractive constructions in the city, its scenic waterfront setting making it a popular spot for visitors. For those who love architecture, the transition between seashore, pier, and the qibla wall is seamless and fantastic.

The tomb of the Grand Vizier for whom the mosque was constructed, Şemsi Pasha, is located on the grounds, in a private cemetery adjacent to a pretty garden. Furthermore, the precinct is enclosed by an L-shaped madrasa where people come to study and research, and a seawall with grill-windows to the north, giving the impression that one is in a picture gallery looking at framed Bosphorus seascapes.

Interestingly enough, Şemsi Pasha specifically asked for a place where birds will not fly, and consequently the mosque – located at the intersection of winds coming from the north and south – has earned a reputation of being “bird-free”. Due to the shape of the minaret, it is also known as “the Asparagus Mosque” among locals.

Open 24 hours a day, except during prayer times.

3Mihrimah Sultan Mosque

The Mihrimah Sultan Mosque is one of the most beautiful sites in Üsküdar and indeed in wider Istanbul, its proximity to the iskele (pier) lending it the nickname of ‘Iskele Mosque’. Since it was built on a raised platform, the grounds provide a great vantage point from which to observe the pier area as a whole, complete with all its hustle and bustle.

The mosque itself is the first of two built by Mihrimah Sultan, the most favored daughter of Suleiman the Magnificent and the wife of Grand Vizier Rüstem Pasha. Built between 1546-48, it was designed by the great architect Mimar Sinan, whose blend of Ottoman and Byzantine architecture can be seen in the slender minarets, as well as the arrangement of the dome and semi-domes. The colorful cut glass windows inside convey a sense of happiness and femininity.

In the absence of space for a full courtyard, Sinan added a roof to cover the ablution fountain, giving the construction yet another element of individuality. As a place of worship, the mosque is served well by its location, which supplies a healthy amount of passing commuters in addition to the local population.

4Fethi Pasha Korusu (City Park)

After decades of neglect, this park was recently renovated by Istanbul’s municipal government and is currently one of the most beautiful and pleasant public parks in the Turkish capital. Located on one of the hills that descend from the Asian side of the city to the Bosphorus Strait, in the district of Üsküdar, the site honors Fethi Ahmet Pasha, one of the governors of the Ottoman Empire during the 19th century.

Those looking for a green escape from the humdrum of city life, where they could have a picnic or eat at affordable prices – either in a self-service cafe or a restaurant – will find this park a perfect fit. Due to being situated in a lesser-known area, the place is not so crowded, and the walkways use the space to good advantage, making it feel larger than it really is.

The climb from the shore of the Bosphorus takes about half an hour walking, as the trail makes many detours to counter the steep slope of the hill; however, at the journey’s end, you will be rewarded with some lovely views of the strait.

5 Bosphorus Bridge (Asian Side)

The modern and scenic Bosphorus Bridge links Asia and Europe across the Bosphorus Strait – one of the world’s most important, strategic waterways – since its official opening in 1973, marking the 50th anniversary of the Republic of Turkey. Over 1,500 meters in length, it was at the time the 4th-longest suspension bridge in the world and cost over $200 million to build. Traffic has become so dense and communications between Asia and Europe so important, however, that the cost was recovered in less than 10 years.

Before this symbolically and economically important “First Bridge” – as it is also known – was built and designed by British civil engineers, everyone depended on ferry boats to go to the Asian side of the city. Today, around 180,000 vehicles pass daily in both directions, with almost 85% being cars. The only way for visitors to cross the bridge on foot is by participating in the ‘fun run’ held in October of each year.

In 2007, a computerized LED lighting system was installed to illuminate the bridge at night, now being used to create a colorful light show each evening. To get the best views, get on one of the various cruises that operate on the Bosphorous, allowing ample photo opportunities.

6Beylerbeyi Palace

With so many amazing sights to visit in Istanbul, the Beylerbeyi Palace is nearly unknown to many self-guiding tourists. It is, however, a good way to spend some time and should definitely be included in a trip to the Asian side of the city. In the 19th century, this summer residence and guesthouse of the Ottoman sultans was much admired by contemporary visitors from Europe, and you’ll either be charmed or perplexed by the fantastic detailing in the Oriental Rococo style.

Istanbul Walking Tours : Beylerbeyi Palace
Rooms decorated in Ottoman style are in a minority, most being highly influenced by French and English tastes of the period. The Bohemian-style chandeliers and other lighting fixtures (all designed for candles) are especially noteworthy, but there are all sorts of details to savor, from the hand-decorated doorknobs down to the beautiful reed matting on the floor. Another important fact (for history buffs, at least) is that Sultan Abdülaziz, after being deposed, lived the last few remaining years of his life here. An accomplished designer, he has not wasted any time, with many of his touches seen and felt throughout the palace.

Note that no individual entries are allowed, but the system in place is actually quite neat: everyone enters together after putting a deposit on a free audio guide and, basically, everyone goes at their own pace since the audio guide automatically plays for whatever room one is standing in front of. Another benefit lies in the lack of crowds, and visitors can have a relaxing breakfast/lunch at the cafe beside the duck pond.

Istanbul City Walls Walking Tour

One of the most elaborate fortification systems of ancient times, the Walls of Constantinople were built by Constantine the Great to protect the city against attacks by both land and sea, ever since he established it as the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. From these older Constantinian Walls only the old Golden Gate did still exist in the late Byzantine Era when, in the reign of Emperor Theodosios II, a new series of Land Walls were built. Apart from Constantinople’s remarkable geographical location, these incredible fortifications were what saved the Byzantines time after time as foreign armies crashed, in vain, against them.

The Theodosian Walls are now in various stages of preservation – some are almost intact, some are crumbling, and some are undergoing restoration – but all provide a vital link to the past of this great city. Free to wander around, they are best explored during daylight hours.

Duration : 2 Hours Distance : 5.2 km

1Golden Gate

A number of gates provided access to Constantinople, among which the Golden Gate on the 7th Hill – also called the Gate of Saturninus, the Xerolophos Gate, and İsakapı (“Gate of Jesus”) – was the most important one. Many emperors and commanders made a triumphant entry through it, including Emperor Heraclius in 628, known for recovering the True Cross and riding into the city on a chariot drawn by four elephants. As such, the gate could not be of normal size, nor of ordinary decoration; it had to be monumental and gold-covered, with numerous statues and reliefs increasing its splendor.

The gate survived until the Ottoman Era and was partly destroyed by an earthquake only in 1509. Today, remains of the fort are still visible, and the gate’s entrance can be seen from the Yedikule Cemetery.

2Xylokerkos Gate / Gate of Belgrade

The Xylokerkos Gate lies between towers 22 and 23. Its name derives from the fact that it led to a wooden circus (amphitheater) outside the walls. The gate complex is approximately 12 m wide and almost 20 m high.

According to a story related by Niketas Choniates, in 1189 the gate was walled off by Emperor Isaac II Angelos because, according to a prophecy, it was this gate that Western Emperor Frederick Barbarossa would enter the city through. It was re-opened in 1346, earning the name of Belgrade Gate, as many prisoners brought from Belgrade had settled in the area after the conquest of Serbia by Ottoman Sultan Suleiman I. It then closed again before the siege of 1453 and remained closed until 1886, leading to its early Ottoman name, Kapalı Kapı (“Closed Gate”).

Tip:
Climb the stairs on the right and left sides of the gate to get a different panorama of Istanbul via the defense towers

3Gate of Spring / Pege Gate

The Gate of the Spring or Pēgē Gate was named after a popular monastery outside the Walls, the Zōodochos Pēgē (“Life-giving Spring”) in the modern suburb of Balıklı. It lies between the heptagonal towers 35 and 36, which were extensively rebuilt in later Byzantine times: its southern tower bears an inscription dated to 1439 commemorating repairs carried out under John VIII Palaiologos. In addition, in 1998 a subterranean basement with 4th/5th-century reliefs and tombs was discovered underneath the gate.

It was through this gate that, on 25 July 1261, the forces of the Empire of Nicaea, under General Alexios Strategopoulos, unexpectedly entered and retook the city, which had been the seat of the Latin Empire since its capture by the Fourth Crusade in 1204. Having learned from some independent local farmers that the entire Latin garrison, as well as the Venetian fleet, were absent conducting a raid against the Nicaean island of Daphnousia, Strategopoulos and his men attacked the walls from the inside, surprised the guards and opened the gate, giving the Nicaean force entry into the city. The Latins were taken completely unaware, and after a short struggle, the Nicaeans gained control of the land walls. Thanks to the timely arrival of the returning Venetian fleet, many of the Latins managed to evacuate to the Latin-held parts of Greece, but the city was lost for good. The recapture of Constantinople signaled the restoration of the Byzantine Empire, and on 15 August, Emperor Michael VIII entered the city in triumph and was crowned at the Hagia Sophia.

4Gate of Rhesios

The best-preserved and one of the most intriguing gates of the Theodosian Walls, substantially retaining its original, 5th-century appearance, is the Gate of Rhesios named according to the 10th-century Suda lexicon after an ancient general of Greek Byzantium. In early modern texts it also referred to as the Gate of Rhegion (allegedly after the suburb of Rhegion, today’s Küçükçekmece), or as the Gate of Rhousios, after the hippodrome faction of the Reds which was supposed to have taken part in its repair.

The gate stands out for the exceptionally large number of inscriptions preserved on its tower (at least six have been recorded), of which the most frequently cited is: “The Fortune of Constantine, Our God-Protected Despot, Triumphs…”

5Gate of St. Romanus

Originally named after a nearby church, this gate nowadays bears the name Topkapi or the “Cannon Gate”, after the great Ottoman cannon, the 18-ton “Basilic”, that was placed opposite it during the 1453 siege of Constantinople. With a gatehouse of 26.5 m, it is the second-largest gate after the Golden Gate.

6 Fifth Military Gate

The Fifth Military Gate lies immediately to the north of the Lycus stream, between towers 77 and 78, and is named after the quarter of the Pempton (“the Fifth”) around the Lycus. Heavily damaged, with extensive late Byzantine or Ottoman repairs evident, it is also called Hücum Kapısı (“Assault Gate”) in Turkish, because here the decisive Turkish breakthrough was achieved on the morning of 29 May 1453.

Some earlier scholars identify this gate as the one mentioned in the texts on the final siege and fall of Constantinople. If this theory is correct, the last Byzantine emperor, Constantine XI, died in the vicinity of this gate during the final Ottoman assault. Support to this theory comes from the fact that the particular gate is located at a far weaker section of the walls than the “Cannon Gate”, and the most desperate fighting naturally took place here.

Although the gate itself is absent, visitors can actually stand in the place where the Theodosian Wall was firstly breached in over a millennium.

7Gate of Charisius

Second only to the Golden Gate in importance, the Gate of Charisius (or the Adrianople Gate) located at the highest of the city’s seven hills is the place where the defense of the city was mounted by the last Byzantine Emperor, and where the first Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Mehmed the Conqueror, made his triumphal entrance into Constantinople.

The conquest bestowed immense glory and prestige on the country. There is some historical evidence that 10 years after the conquest of Constantinople, Mehmed II visited the site of Troy and boasted that he had avenged the Trojans by conquering the Greeks (Byzantines).

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