The great city of Istanbul, at the crossroads between Europe and Asia, has been drawing visitors for nearly two thousand years. This rich heritage together with its agreeable climate make it a wonderful destination for a short visit at any time of year.
Arrive Istanbul Airport. Meet your local guide and transfer to the Blue House Hotel. After check- in, walk over to Sultan Ahmet Square. This is the former site of the great Hippodrome of Constantinople, the centre of the city’s social life in the 5th and 6th centuries, although little remains of it now. The square is dominated by the great Blue Mosque, built by Sultan Ahmet I, with its nine domes and six minarets. Don’t miss the ornate interior featuring thousands of handmade blue tiles. Walk back to the hotel and enjoy a drink on the terrace watching the pink glow of the sunset on the domes of the Blue Mosque.
Start with a visit today to the Topkapi Palace, residence of the Sultans of the Ottoman Empire for over four hundred years. There’s a lot to see in this vast sprawling palace with its courtyards, pavilions, gardens, audience chambers, private apartments, harem and imperial treasury. Next is the Hagia Sophia. Built in the 6th century it was for nearly a thousand years one of the great cathedral churches of Christendom, before it was turned into a mosque after the Turkish conquest of the city in 1453. Spend a few moments under its magnificent dome viewing the Koranic inscriptions and the Christian mosaics. Then a short visit to the extraordinary subterranean world of the Basilica Cistern. This huge underground reservoir, with its roof supported by 336 columns thirty feet high, was once a crucial part of the city’s water supply. If there’s any free time this afternoon, try a Turkish bath at nearby Hürrem Sultan Hamami.
No trip to Istanbul is complete without going to the immense covered market known as the Grand Bazaar. Haggle for beautiful hand painted ceramics, intricately woven carpets, and gold and silver jewellery with designs you won’t find anywhere else in the world. Or just enjoy the banter of the shopkeepers and a glass of mint tea. This afternoon walk the Galata Bridge across the Golden Horn and take the Tünel. This remarkable underground funicular railway has been taking passengers 200 feet up the hill since 1875. Spend some time enjoying the bustle of the shops and cafes in the lively district of Beyoglu before arriving at the Whirling Dervish lodge for an unforgettable performance of the unique religious ritual in which the Dervishes spin around continually in an act of prayer and meditation.
Walk down to the ferry port at Eminönu, pausing to refresh your senses with a quick visit to the Spice Bazaar. Catch the ferry up the Bosporus. A 90-minute ride shows off the city skyline and brings you to Kanlica on the Asian side of the water. Here you can take a leisurely lunch in one of the area’s many great fish restaurants, while gazing out across the Bosporus. Transfer to Istanbul Airport for the flight home.