If you’re looking to immerse yourself in Istanbul’s rich history, culture, and architecture, then Sultanahmet, the Old City of Istanbul, is a must-visit destination. This area is located on the European side of Istanbul and is home to some of the city’s most iconic landmarks, including the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, and the Topkapı Palace Museum. In this guide, we’ve got you covered with everything you need to know about Sultanahmet, from the best things to do and see to the best places to eat, stay, and shop.
Magic of Sultanahmet: What Makes This Historic Neighborhood So Special?
Sultanahmet is the historical heart of Istanbul, boasting a wealth of cultural and architectural treasures from the Byzantine and Ottoman empires. It’s a place where ancient history and modern life coexist, where the past and present converge to create a unique and vibrant atmosphere.
With its winding streets, colorful bazaars, and stunning mosques and palaces, Sultanahmet offers visitors a sensory overload of sights, sounds, and smells that will leave you mesmerized.
Where is the Old City?
The Old City is located on the European side of Istanbul, on a peninsula surrounded by the Golden Horn and the Marmara Sea. It is easily accessible by public transportation, with buses, trams, and ferries all stopping nearby. Sultanahmet, nestled close to Eminönü, is part of Istanbul’s historic peninsula that also includes the nearby Beyazıt neighborhood. This area is renowned for its rich history and stunning architecture, offering a fascinating blend of ancient monuments and bustling markets. See the location >>
Map of Old City (Sultanahmet) of Istanbul
Sultanahmet is a relatively small area, covering just a few square kilometers, but it is packed with historic landmarks and attractions. Here is a map of the Old City of Istanbul, highlighting the key areas and attractions:
Which Places in Sultanahmet Are More Attractive to Tourists?
While all parts of Sultanahmet are worth exploring, the Sultanahmet Square area is perhaps the most attractive for tourists. This area is home to some of the city’s most iconic landmarks, including the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, and the Obelisk of Theodosius. It is also a bustling hub of activity, with street vendors, performers, and tourists all converging to create a lively and exciting atmosphere.
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Things to Do & See in Sultanahmet
Now that you know a bit more about Sultanahmet, let’s dive into some of the top things to do and see in this historic neighborhood. From ancient mosques and palaces to colorful bazaars and museums, there’s no shortage of sights and experiences to enjoy.
Make the Most of Sultanahmet with Istanbul E-Pass
To truly experience the wonders of Sultanahmet, consider getting an Istanbul E-Pass. This convenient city pass grants you access to a variety of attractions, guided tours, and experiences that will enrich your visit to the historic peninsula. With the E-Pass, you can explore top sites like Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, and Topkapi Palace with ease, and even enjoy some skip-the-line benefits.
By using the Istanbul E-Pass, not only will you save time and money, but you’ll also gain a deeper understanding of the city’s history and culture, ensuring a memorable and fulfilling trip to the heart of Istanbul’s Sultanahmet district.
The Hagia Sophia, also known as the Ayasofya, is one of Istanbul’s most iconic landmarks. This former church and mosque is now a museum, showcasing the stunning architecture and art of the Byzantine and Ottoman empires. Highlights include the soaring dome, intricate mosaics, and stunning views of the city from the upper galleries.
Sultanahmet Square with Obelisk of Theodosius (Egyptian Obelisk)
Sultanahmet Square is the heart of the neighborhood and home to the Obelisk of Theodosius, a towering ancient Egyptian monument. The square is surrounded by historic buildings, including the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, and the German Fountain. It’s a great place to relax and people-watch, with plenty of cafes and restaurants nearby.
Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii)
Also known as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, the Blue Mosque is one of Istanbul’s most famous landmarks. Its stunning blue tiles and impressive domes make it a must-see attraction. Visitors can explore the interior and admire the intricate calligraphy and tilework, or simply take in the beauty of the mosque from the outside.
Located just behind the Blue Mosque, the Arasta Bazaar is a colorful and lively marketplace selling everything from spices and textiles to souvenirs and jewelry. It’s a great place to wander and get lost among the stalls, bargaining with the friendly vendors and soaking up the local atmosphere. Read more…
Great Palace Mosaics Museum (Temporarily Closed)
The Great Palace Mosaics Museum is a hidden gem tucked away behind the Blue Mosque. It’s home to some of the most impressive Byzantine mosaics in the world, including scenes of emperors and religious figures. The museum is small but well worth a visit for anyone interested in history and art.
Hurrem Sultan Hamam
If you’re looking for a unique and luxurious experience, the Hurrem Sultan Hamam is the place to go. This historic Turkish bath was built in the 16th century and recently restored to its former glory. Visitors can enjoy a traditional Turkish bath, massage, or other spa treatments in a beautiful and relaxing setting.
Topkapı Palace Museum
The Topkapı Palace Museum is a massive complex of buildings, courtyards, and gardens that was once the home of the Ottoman sultans. Today, it’s a museum showcasing the opulent lifestyle and culture of the empire. Visitors can explore the palace’s many rooms and exhibits, including the famous Harem. Read more…
The Basilica Cistern is a fascinating underground chamber that once supplied water to the city. Today, it’s a popular tourist attraction and a great place to escape the heat on a hot day. The cistern is home to hundreds of columns and two impressive Medusa heads, adding to the eerie atmosphere.
Gülhane Park is a peaceful oasis in the middle of Sultanahmet. It’s a great place to take a break from sightseeing and relax among the trees and flowers. The park is home to a number of historic buildings, including the Museum of the History of Science and Technology in Islam.
The Stone of Million
The Stone of Million, located near the entrance of the Basilica Cistern in Istanbul, is an ancient Roman milestone that dates back to the 4th century AD. It was originally used to measure the distance to Constantinople, which was the capital of the Roman Empire at the time.
The Stone of Million is made of marble and stands at a height of 1.5 meters. It is inscribed with the words “MILLIARIA” and “XXIV,” which indicate that it is the 24th milestone on the road to Constantinople.
Fountain of Ahmed III
The Fountain of Ahmed III, also known as the Fountain of Ahmet III, is an exquisite display of Ottoman architecture located in the heart of Istanbul, Turkey. Situated in front of the Topkapı Palace Museum, the fountain is a popular attraction for both locals and tourists alike.
The fountain was built during the Ottoman Empire’s reign and has been a part of Istanbul’s history for centuries. The intricate tilework and masonry of the fountain are truly remarkable, and the attention to detail and beauty of the structure is a testament to the skill and artistry of the Ottoman craftsmen who built it.
This historic street is a must-visit destination for anyone who loves to stroll and take in the local architecture and atmosphere. As you walk along the cobblestone streets, you will be transported back in time, to an era when Istanbul was the center of the Ottoman Empire.
The houses along the street are a testament to the exquisite architecture of the time, with intricate carvings and beautiful tile work. The cafes that line the street are the perfect place to stop and rest, while enjoying a cup of traditional Turkish coffee or tea.
Located just behind the Topkapı Palace Museum, the Hagia Irene is another impressive Byzantine-era church that’s now used as a concert hall. The church was originally built by Emperor Constantine in the 4th century AD, and was the first church to be built in Constantinople.
It was destroyed and rebuilt several times over the centuries, with the current church dating back to the 8th century. Visitors can admire the stunning architecture of the building, including the intricate mosaics and the impressive dome. The acoustics in the church are also noteworthy, as it is a popular venue for classical music concerts.
The German Fountain is a beautiful landmark located in Sultanahmet Square. It was gifted to the Ottoman Empire by Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany in the late 19th century and is adorned with ornate carvings and intricate details.
Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts
The Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts is housed in the former palace of Ibrahim Pasha, the grand vizier of Suleiman the Magnificent. It’s a great place to learn about the history and culture of Turkey, with exhibits showcasing Islamic calligraphy, ceramics, textiles, and more.
Istanbul City Walls
The Istanbul City Walls are an impressive series of fortifications that were built to protect the ancient city from invading forces. The walls were constructed over a period of more than a thousand years, with various emperors and rulers adding their own unique touches to the structure.
Although the walls were originally built to provide defense, they eventually became more of a symbol of the city’s strength and resilience.
Istanbul Archeology Museum
The Istanbul Archeology Museum is home to an impressive collection of artifacts from ancient civilizations, including the Greeks, Romans, and Ottomans. Highlights include the Alexander Sarcophagus, the statue of the Sphinx, and the Tiled Kiosk.
Visit Çarşamba (Wednesday) Market
If you happen to be in Sultanahmet on a Wednesday, be sure to check out the Çarşamba market. This bustling bazaar is a great place to shop for souvenirs, clothing, and household items, and to experience the local culture.
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Where to Stay in Old City: Best Hotels
Sultanahmet is home to a wide variety of hotels, ranging from budget-friendly options to luxurious five-star properties. Some of the top-rated hotels in the area include:
This stunning hotel is housed in a beautifully restored neoclassical building and offers luxurious rooms and suites, a rooftop terrace with stunning views of the city, and an on-site restaurant serving Turkish and international cuisine.
This boutique hotel offers comfortable rooms with traditional Ottoman-style decor, a rooftop terrace with panoramic views, and a Turkish bath and sauna.
This luxurious 5 star-hotel boasts rooms and suites adorned with traditional Ottoman-style decor, offering a lavish and opulent atmosphere. Guests can take in breathtaking views of the city from the rooftop terrace and indulge in a variety of spa services including Turkish baths and massages.
Find More Hotels in Sultanahmet
Where to Eat and Drink in Old City: Best Restaurants
Sultanahmet is home to many fantastic restaurants and cafes, serving up traditional Turkish cuisine and international dishes. Some of the top-rated restaurants in the area include:
This famous dessert shop is known for its delicious Turkish sweets, including baklava, Turkish delight, and pistachio rolls.
Deraliye Ottoman Cuisine
This elegant restaurant offers a menu of traditional Ottoman dishes, including lamb shanks, stuffed eggplant, and grilled fish.
Tarihi Sultanahmet Köftecisi
This popular restaurant is known for its köfte, or Turkish meatballs, which are made with a special blend of spices and served with tomato sauce and bread.
Matbah Ottoman Palace Cuisine
This restaurant is housed in a historic Ottoman building and serves up a menu of traditional palace cuisine, including lamb stew, stuffed grape leaves, and rice pudding.
How to Get to Sultanahmet from Other Popular Places in Istanbul
Sultanahmet is located in the heart of Istanbul’s Old City and is easily accessible by public transportation. The nearest metro station is Sultanahmet, which is served by the Marmaray and T1 tram lines.
Here are some of the best ways to get to Sultanahmet from other places in Istanbul:
From Taksim Square: To reach Sultanahmet from Taksim, visitors can take the Funicular Karakoy and walk through Galata Bridge to Sultanahmet.
From Galata Tower: To get to Sultanahmet from Galata Tower, visitors can take the T1 tram from Karaköy station and get off at the Sultanahmet stop.
From Kadıköy: To reach Sultanahmet from Kadıköy, visitors can take the ferry from Kadıköy to Eminönü and then take the T1 tram to Sultanahmet or walk.
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Best Souvenir Shops in Sultanahmet
If you’re looking to take home a piece of Istanbul’s rich history, Sultanahmet is the perfect place to shop for souvenirs. Here are a few of our favorite shops in the neighborhood:
This iconic covered market is one of the world’s oldest and largest bazaars, with over 4,000 shops selling everything from Turkish carpets and ceramics to jewelry and spices. Read more…
Located near the Blue Mosque, this bazaar is a great place to shop for traditional Turkish crafts and souvenirs, such as kilim rugs, Turkish delight, and tea sets. Read more…
This shop specializes in handmade Ottoman-style ceramics, including bowls, plates, and tiles. Visitors can also watch the artisans at work in the shop’s on-site pottery studio.
This shop sells a variety of traditional Turkish amulets and charms, including the “evil eye” nazar boncuk, believed to protect against harm and bring good luck.
A La Turca
This shop offers a range of Turkish handicrafts, including hand-painted ceramics, Ottoman-style lamps, and handmade jewelry.
Whether you’re looking for a unique gift or a memento of your trip to Istanbul, these shops are sure to have something that catches your eye.
Sultanahmet is a must-visit destination for anyone interested in Istanbul’s rich history and culture. From ancient mosques and palaces to colorful bazaars and museums, there’s something for everyone in this vibrant neighborhood. Whether you’re exploring the stunning architecture of the Hagia Sophia, strolling through the picturesque Soğukçeşme Street, or savoring traditional Ottoman cuisine at Matbah Ottoman Palace Cuisine, you’re sure to have an unforgettable experience in Sultanahmet. So don’t hesitate to add this fascinating neighborhood to your Istanbul itinerary – you won’t regret it!