Sultanahmet (the Old City) is one of the most visited sites in Istanbul. A tourist center combining the history, architecture, culture and art, Istanbul’s old city and historical zone, communications hub and an important sightseeing, entertainment & shopping area for the tourists for having a nice Istanbul old city walking tour. Here you’ll find a quick guide to explore Sultanahmet with top things to do and see plus insider advice.
It is the historical part and heart of Istanbul. It is the former heart of the Ottoman Empire and so named after the Ottoman Sultan Ahmed I. Istanbul is known as a city of seven hills, and Sultanahmet is the first hill of Istanbul.
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With the popular sights from the three empires, such as the Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the Hippodrome and the Basilica Cistern, Sultanahmet is a natural magnet to millions of tourists in Istanbul also with its variety of souvenirs and carpets, restaurants and cafe, hotels and guest houses. The relatively traffic free region makes it easy to explore around on foot and by tram.
Things to Do & See
Strolling around the Sultanahmet Square, enjoying the peaceful atmosphere in the company of the most popular landmarks, museums, mosques, churches, fountains and historical sites of Istanbul and having a rest at the variety of restaurants and cafes around, is one of the best things to do in Sultanahmet.
About all of the most visited historical sites in Istanbul, such as the Hippodrome, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Blue Mosque, Basilica Cistern, Istanbul Archaeology Museums and Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts are situated here and all can be explored by walking.
Sultanahmet square, also known as Hippodrome and surrounded by the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts, is a popular meeting point and very impressive tourist zone of Sultanahmet leading to all historical sites around Sultanahmet.
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The 4th century hippodrome from the Byzantium era, the Egyptian Obelisk, the Serpentine Column, the Colossus or Column of Costantine Porphyrgenitus, the German Fountain are the main sights in the square. Read more about Sultanahmet Square
The Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Mosque) is one of the most beautiful mosques and landmarks in both Istanbul and the world. It was built in the 17th century (1603-1617) with the order of Sultan Ahmet I.
Its name comes from the very beautiful blue interior “Iznik tiles”. It is a great sample of the Turkish and Islamic architecture and one of the most visited sights and mosques in Istanbul. Read more about Blue Mosque
Dating back to 325, Hagia Sophia is a former church and museum and declared as one of the world’s greatest architectural works and accepted as the 8th wonder of the world. Hagia Sophia is also one of the most visited landmarks and museums in Istanbul and in the world.
Serving as a museum since 1935, a decree on 10th of July 2020 to formally declare the Hagia Sophia as a mosque, after Turkey’s administrative court annulled a 1934-dated decision that paved the way for the use of Hagia Sophia as a museum. Read more about Hagia Sophia
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Topkapi Palace Museum
One of world’s richest museums, is a magnificent oriental palace and one of the world’s greatest architectural works. It was the residence of the Ottoman sultans as well as the administrative and educational center of the Empire. It houses the finest samples of seal, book binding, jewelry and box craftsmanship as well as inscriptions.
The former imperial kitchen houses the finest collection of Chinese porcelain in the world. The Sultans’ costumes also exhibited there. The Treasury has a breathtaking and excellent collection of jewels such as emeralds, rubies and diamonds adorn turban crests, swords, golden thrones embroidered with seed pearls.
And finally comes the famous Harem, the private part of the palace where the wives and concubines of the sultans were lived. Read more about Topkapi Palace Museum
Hagia Irene Museum
Dating back to 4th century, the Hagia Irene, formerly church, now a museum, also serves as a center cultural activities and exhibitions and it is situated inside the 1st court of the Topkapi Palace Museum.
It consists of three sections that include; the naos, narthex and atrium, while the standing atrium is the only surviving sample from the Byzantine period. Read more about Hagia Irene Museum
Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts
Located at the Ibrahim Pasha Palace, it is one of the most important buildings of 16th century Ottoman civil architecture. The museum displays very unique, more than over 40,000 items at the carpet, manuscript, wood, glass-metal-ceramic and ethnography sections. Read more about Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts
Istanbul Archaeology Museums
One of the richest archaeology museums in the world, Istanbul Archaeology Museums consist of three separate museums on the site that include the Archaeology Museum, the Museum of the Ancient Orient and the Tiled Pavilion.
Museums house over one million immense collection from various civilizations such as Assyrian, Hittite, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman civilizations that had deep effect throughout the history. Read more about Istanbul Archaeology Museums
One of the most impressive and mystical buildings in Istanbul, the cistern is a very quiet and peaceful place conveyed by the columns through impressive arches. The columns, including the legendary Medusa Heads, were compiled from the ancient structures and sculpted of several kinds of marbles. Read more about Basilica Cistern
Situated behind the Blue Mosque, the Arasta Bazaar is a lively and touristic place that you may variety of carpets, rugs, leather, craft and souvenir shops.
Great Palace Mosaics Museum
Also known as Istanbul Mosaics Museum, it is an impressive mosaics museum situated in the Arasta Bazaar within the Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Mosque) complex. The mosaics at the museum has themes from daily life, nature and mythology. Read more about Great Palace Mosaics Museum
Hurrem Sultan Hamam (Turkish Bath)
Located between the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque, the historical Hurrem Sultan Hamam (Turkish Bath) (1556-1557) was constructed by the Architect Sinan, with the wish of the Hurrem Sultan, the famous wife of Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent.
The operating Turkish bath (separate baths for men and women) offers hamam packages with various massage therapies and rituals. There is also an outdoor cafe and restaurant where you may have a rest during your Sultanahmet stroll.
Fountain of Sultan Ahmet III
Located in front of the Topkapi Palace Impreail Gate, it is a very beautiful baroque style fountain that was built in 1728.
Located in between the Sultanahmet Square and the Blue Mosque, the German Foutain, also known as “Fountain of Kaiser Wilhelm II”, is a very beautiful fountain with that has great architecture with columns and a beautiful dome.
Located in between the Sultanahmet and Eminonu, Gulhane Park (Rose Garden) is one of the most beautiful parks in Istanbul for both tourists and locals. The park covers a huge area. There are variety of very beautiful gardens, trees, pools and outdoor cafes with the impressive views of the Bosphorus.
There is also a Museum of the History of Science and Technology in Islam in the park, a unique one in the world that worth a see. Read more about Continue reading…
How to Best Explore the Sights
This is the best and one of the cheapest options that we recommend especially for first time visitors. When you book you’ll get an email confirmation with meeting details and there your name will be checked by the official guide’s list with your confirmation number.
Sultanahmet is live for 24 hrs. and this popular tourist zone of course offers wide range of dining opportunities from luxury restaurants to very famous quality restaurants and cafes where both tourists and locals go. You are able to find every kind of food & beverage, Turkish & world cuisine for your taste in Sultanahmet.
Most of the popular restaurants and cafes are gathered along the Sultanahmet Square and tram line, nearby the popular sights and landmarks and the tourist zone of Sultanahmet where all majority of the hotels are gathered.
The Historical 1920 Sultanahmet Koftecisi (Meatball), Marbella Terrace Cafe Restaurant, Terrace Restaurant & Cafe, and Roof Mezze 360 are the popular restaurants in Sultanahmet.
Where to Stay?
Sultanahmet is one of the best places to stay in Istanbul. Mostly preferred with the travelers that are a true enthusiast of history and want to see the city’s historic sites, such as the most visited museums, palaces, mosques, etc.
You’ll be in the heart of the ancient Constantinople. You can experience and feel the rich Byzantine heritage and the glory of the Imperial Capital here.
You check out our pick of best Sultanahmet hotels.
How to Get to There?
Getting to Sultanahmet is very easy as Sultanahmet is one of the most popular hubs for both tourists and locals in Istanbul. For intercity transportation, you may find many transportation options. It is possible to access Sultanahmet;
- From Kadikoy and Uskudar; by public ferries to Eminonu and taking the Bagcilar-Kabatas tram (T1 line) from the Eminonu stop to Sultanahmet.
- From Taksim, you may take the Bagcilar-Kabatas tram (T1 line) from the Kabatas stop or the other stops along the Galata Bridge. To get to tram stops; from the Taksim Square, you may take the Taksim-Kabatas funicular (F1 line), get to Kabatas tram stop and take the tram for Sultanahmet. And from the end of the Istiklal Avenue, on the Tunel Square, you may walk downwards or take the Tunel-Karakoy funicular (F2 line) to get to Karakoy tram stop and take the tram for Sultanahmet.
- Check the Istanbul Railway Network Map for the Tram stops and Istanbul Ferry Lines Map for ferries.
- Also note that the Sultanahmet Square and most of the connecting roads are closed for vehicle traffic except tram and tour buses. Getting to Sultanahmet by your private car is not recommended. You’ll need to leave your car far away.
From Istanbul Airports
For getting to Sultanahmet;
* from New Istanbul Airport (IST) (45 km. to Sultanahmet and takes about 100 mins.) – you may take Havaist Airport Shuttle for 18 TL per person, or take a taxi for minimum 130 TL or take a Private Shuttle which is the best of all and we recommend.
* from Sabiha Gokcen Airport (SAW) (45 km. to Sultanahmet and takes about 100 mins.) – you may take Havabus Airport Shuttle for 18 TL per person, or take a taxi for minimum 130 TL or take a Private Shuttle again which is the best of all and we recommend.
By Private Shuttle
We highly recommend Tranigo (a Turkish company operating since 1996, and partnered with renowned names like Hertz, Thrifty, Budget, and many reliable and efficient local suppliers) as we recently booked with them had a great trip to our hotel.
They offer fast, comfortable, safe and FIXED price service and have variety of different models of cars ranging from Micro for 3 passengers to Minibuses for 19 passengers and also offer child seats. They met us inside the airport, helped with our luggage, brought us in front of the hotel and there also helped us with our luggage. You may check and decide from below.
- Private Shuttle from Sabiha Gokcen Airport to Sultanahmet
- Private Shuttle from New Istanbul Airport to Sultanahmet