The court of the Ottoman Empire
Sultans, concubines, and courtiers all lived in the beautiful Topkapi Palace in the 15th and 19th centuries when it was the court of the Ottoman Empire. The palace was first built in 1453 by Mehmed the Conqueror; a visit to this grand palace, the jewel-filled treasury and stunning harem gives guests a glimpse into grand lives. Go straight to the Harem as that closes earlier and gets crowded quickly. Have a wander around the four courtyards with the treasury in the third courtyard. Be sure to allocate a large chunk of time to visit the Topkapi as it’s easy to spend half a day wandering from room to room.
Opening hours: April-October, Wed-Mon 9am-6pm; November-April, Wed-Mon 9am-4pm
Watch out for: the beautiful views of Istanbul from the harem
Sultanahmet, Faith, Istanbul, Turkey, +90 212 512 0480
Grand historical mosque
One of the most visited and prominent museums in the world, the Hagia Sophia is rich with history, art and architecture. The Hagia Sophia was a church for 916 years before the conquest of Istanbul, by Sultan Mehmed, when it was converted into a mosque. In 1935, this historical building was converted into a museum for thousands of international visitors. Try your luck in the wishing column, a column with a hole in the middle where people make wishes by rotating their thumb in a complete clockwise tour inside the hole. According to legend, the column is blessed with healing powers.
Opening Hours: April-October, daily 9am-7pm; November-April, daily 9am-5pm
Watch out for: the wishing column
Ayasofya Square, Sultanahmet, Faith, Istanbul, Turkey, +90 212 522 1750
Stunning water reservoir
Located just near the Hagia Sofia is one of the most magical buildings in all of Istanbul. The Basilica Cistern is a large underground water reservoir, which has a storage capacity of 100,000 tons of water. The cistern holds 336 columns with two of them shaped with Medusa heads. As legend has it, Medusa is one of the gorgons of Greek mythology and was used to protect this great building. At the Basilica Cistern, you have an opportunity to dress up as a Sultan and a Turkish princess and have your photo taken against this mystical, stunning backdrop.
Opening hours: April-October, daily 9am-6:30pm; November-April, daily 9am-5:30pm
Watch out for: the Medusa heads on the opposite end of the entrance and exit
Yerebatan Cad. Alemdar Mah., Sultanahmet, Faith, Istanbul, Turkey, +90 212 512 1580
Istanbul Archaeology Museum
Three museums in one
The Istanbul Archaeology Museum is a group of three museums located in the Gülhane Park near the Topkapi Palace. It consists of the archaeological museum, the museum of the ancient Orient and the museum of Islamic art. It holds over one million objects from around the world that represent early civilisations. The museum was built in the 19th century as an attempt to modernize the Ottoman Empire by westernizing the city. Be sure to set aside a couple of hours for the museum as there is lots to learn about and lots to read.
Opening hours: April-October, daily 9am-6pm; November-April, daily 9am-4pm
Watch out for: the large amount of artefacts
Osman Hamdi Bey Yokusu, Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Turkey, +90 212 520 7740
The largest palace in Turkey
The Dolmabahçe Palace was built by Sultan Abdulmecid in 1856 and is divided into three parts: the imperial harem, the state apartments and the ceremonial hall. Facing the Bosphorus, this beautiful palace was built mainly for the anchorage of the Ottoman fleet. The imperial garden and the various small summer palaces ultimately turned this area into a palace complex. There is obvious Western influences in the style and decoration of the palace. Full of stunning chandeliers and fountains, this is one sight worth checking out.
Opening hours: Tues-Wed, Fri-Sun 9am-4pm
Watch out for: the huge ticket queues; book ahead if possible
TBMM Genel Sekreterliği, Dolmabahçe Sarayi, Beşiktaş, Istanbul, Turkey, +90 212 236 9000