Sultanahmet is the historical heart of the ancient Constantinople, as well as the top tourist zone in Istanbul. Set on the eastern tip of the district of Fatih, this UNESCO-protected area occupies most of the peninsula south of the Golden Horn and is home to Istanbul’s most famous historic and cultural tourist attractions. If you’re looking for a more authentic and historical Istanbul experience, be sure to visit Sultanahmet! Here we explore top things to do, see, places to eat, drink and stay in Sultanahmet with local expert help.
Exploring Sultanahmet – What to Do & See?
Sultanahmet is home to some of the city’s most popular historical sights, palaces, museums, mosques, churches, such as the famous Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Spice Market, Grand Bazaar, Topkapi Palace, the Basilica Cistern and many cultural attractions as well as lovely streetscapes.
Sultanahmet Square – Hippodrome of Constantinople
Sultanahmet Square, also known as Hippodrome, is one of the most popular tourist zones and historical places in Istanbul. Initially, it was a circus that served as the sporting and social hub of Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire.
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Sultanahmet Square is surrounded by the world famous sights of Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque, Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts and the Blue Mosque. It should be on the top of your list of places to visit in Istanbul.
Hagia Sophia, 8th wonder of the world
Hagia Sophia, also known as the Church of the Holy Wisdom or the Church of the Divine Wisdom, is an ancient Byzantine church in Istanbul and one of the world’s great greatest architectural works, as well as accepted as the 8th wonder of the world.
Being converted into a mosque by Fatih Sultan Mehmet after Istanbul’s conquest in 1453, it was than converted to a museum in 1935 and finally in 2020 it was declared as a mosque.
Topkapi Palace, one of world’s richest museums
Topkapi Palace is the Ottoman Empire’s true essence. Fatih Sultan Mehmet, fresh from his conquest of Constantinople, constructed Topkapı Saray as his primary house between 1460 and 1478.
Topkapi Palace is the world’s biggest and oldest surviving Palace and the repository of numerous artifacts. Among them is one of the world’s largest diamonds, the most precious Islamic relics, a map with the earliest portrayal of America, high-quality Chinese porcelain, rare Islamic gilded miniatures, and calligraphy examples from numerous Muslim Asian empires. The artifacts are a sight to behold.
Istanbul Archaeology Museums
Istanbul Archaeology Museums is considered to be among the top 10 historical museums in the world. The museums consists of three main museums that include; the Archaeology Museum, the Museum of the Ancient Orient and the Tiled Pavilion. And so general name is called “museums”.
You can see different historical artifacts from many parts of the world, as well as royal sarcophagi discovered near Sidon, Lebanon. Important artifacts belonging to the from the pre-Islamic Arabian Peninsula, Mesopotamia, Egypt and Anatolia are exhibited in the Museum of the Ancient Orient. Tiles collected from various regions of Anatolia are exhibited in the Tiled Kiosk.
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A city as old as Istanbul has many layers of history, and the Basilica Cistern, the greatest of the underground cisterns, is located under the surface. The cistern is located between the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. The atmospheric reservoir was built in the sixth century for the Byzantine emperor Justinian and is reinforced by 336 columns, many of which have been reused from other ruins throughout the years.
The Medusa-head column bases and the carp that swim silently in the poorly lighted waters are popular subjects for photographers. The best time for you to visit is anytime the queue appears to be short, particularly on a hot summer day—it is always cooler beneath.
Sultanahmet Blue Mosque
The Sultanahmet Blue Mosque is an Ottoman-era historical majestic mosque in Istanbul. It was built between 1609 and 1616 during the reign of Ahmed I. Ahmed’s tomb, a madrasah, and a hospice are all located on its Külliye. It is a functioning mosque that also attracts a large number of tourists.
The mosque’s interior walls are adorned with hand-painted blue tiles, and at night, the mosque is bathed in blue as lights frame the mosque’s five main domes, six minarets, and eight secondary domes. It is a unique structure that has brought a new perspective to mosque culture which showcases one of the most successful examples of Turkish-Islamic architecture.
The Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts
The Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts is the first museum where Turkish and Islamic art works are exhibited collectively and regularly. The museum is situated in the palace erected by Suleiman the Magnificent’s Grand Vizier, Ibrahim Pasha (c.1493–1536), along the western part of Sultanahmet Square.
The museum has a collection of about 40,000 relics spanning from the 7th century to the present and exhibitions of fine art, crafts, carpets, manuscripts and calligraphy, wooden works, stonework, glass, metal and ethnography sections.
Little Hagia Sophia (Kucuk Ayasofya) Mosque
The Little Hagia Sophia Mosque is significant because it is one of Istanbul’s earliest places of worship, dating back to the Roman era. The structure is shaped like an almost square asymmetric rectangle.
The main dome, which encompasses the top of the columns arranged in an octagon in the rectangular construction, is supported by four half arches and four half domes, which increase the internal area of the structure. This semi-dome form, which was employed for the first time, gave greater breadth in the interior, and the transfer of weight from the massive domes to the semi-domes on the side allowed for more giant main domes. You may feel it is more significant than it actually is once you’re inside.
The district of Fatih contains Istanbul’s historic area and extends beyond it to roughly match the walled city of Constantinople. Most of the attractions in Outer Fatih can be found near the walls and include the Palace of the Porphyrogenitus, the Church of the Holy Saviour, the Panorama 1453 History Museum and the Dungeons Museum.
Fatih has an abundance of mid-range and budget hotels and is well connected to other neighborhoods in Istanbul. It is crossed by the Marmaray suburban line, which connects with metro lines M1 and M2 and several ferry lines at Yenikapi Station. Furthermore, Tram route T1 runs through the middle of the district and T4 offers a few stops along the Theodosian wall area.
Hotels in Sultanahmet are within walking distance to the top sights and attractions of the region, along with many cafes, restaurants and tourist shops.
Getting to and around
Sultanahmet is very well-covered by Istanbul’s public transport system. Metro lines 1 and 2, as well as the Marmaray commuter train, converge at the centrally-located Yenikapi Station.
Tramline T1 also crosses most of the neighborhood, connecting it to Galata and the west. There are also several ferry stations all over the peninsula offering boat connections across the Golden Horn, the Bosphorus Strait and beyond.