“Short break in Istanbul.”
“It seems to me that while other cities are mortal, this one will remain as long as there are men on earth”
Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Kora Church, Grand Bazaar, Turkish Bath, Cruise on the Bosphorus, Suliemani Mosque,
Fly from London Heathrow to Ataturk Airport Istanbul.
Remember you have to buy a visa when you arrive at the airport. Follow the signs for VISA as you enter the terminal.
The cost is USD$20 per person. All major currencies accepted so Euro and Sterling can also be used at the equivalent exchange rates.
On arrival at the airport you will be met by a car and driver and driven to the Sultan Ahmed area of Istanbul.
There are many rooftop restaurants near the Sultan Ahmet and this evening I would recommend you ate at one of these. The Blue House and the Seven Hills are two I remember as commanding wonderful views with reasonable Turkish cuisine. As an alternative I would recommend the Terrace at Hamdi where I ate on my last visit. This is a short distance from the Hotel. The view from the terrace is outstanding.
10.00 Guided visit the Topkapi Palace this morning with private guide. This is the Ottoman palace and you should set aside most of the morning for this visit. You will get an extra ticket for the Harem which is a must. Do pace yourselves so as not to miss out on the treasury and if possible the Turkish painted miniatures which are worth seeing as well. The other as aspect of the visit which is fascinating is how the arcane rituals of ottoman government fitted into the complex of buildings.
This morning you must see the marvellous church of the Holy Wisdom or Hagia Sophia built by Byzantine Emperor Justinian to replace an earlier building which had been destroyed in the famous Nike riots of 532 AD. The Church is still extraordinarily impressive even after 1500 years numerous fires, sacks conversion into a mosque for 400 years and with a large scaffold for restoration. It is the closest one can get to understanding the magnificence of ancient Byzantium. Some of the mosaic decoration remains upstairs in the gallery and at both the entrance and the exit vestibules.
Incredibly the church was built in only five years dedicated by Justinian on December 26th537. According to legend upon entering the church for the first time Justinian proclaimed “Oh Solomon I have Surpassed Thee”. Opposite Hagia Sophia is the famous Byzantine cistern known as the Yerebetan Saraiye. A must visit.
A walk up to the Suliemani Mosque would be an excellent thing to do today. You can walk through the Grand Bazaar which is a maze but following a map you can take a good route to the Suliemani. If you fancy shopping in the bazaar I normally take everyone to the Fez café in the middle of the bazaar and use that as a meeting point.
The Suliemani is generally regarded as the greatest Mosque in the city. There is an excellent café in the old caravanserai next to the mosque. The tombs of Suleiman the Magnificent his wife Roxalana and the great architect Sinan are nearby.
I would recommend a visit to see the Archaeological Museum which contains the Alexander Sarcophagi, some of the most wonderful Greek Hellenistic sculpture I have ever seen. There are plenty of Hittite and Babylonian things in the museum as well.
I think you should have lunch at Pandellis on one of your days in Istanbul. It is located at the Golden Horn end of the Egyptian or Spice bazaar. Please try the sea bass in paper box. It sounds weird, but it is my favourite fish dish. It is the speciality of the restaurant. If you arrive a little early you will get one of the tables looking out on the Golden Horn.
If it is nice weather this afternoon take a cruise on the Bosphorus. There are many located on the dock of Eminonu near Pandellis, by the Galata Bridge. They will cruise up to the second bridge across the Bosphorus and turn around. The whole trip takes about 1-2 hours.
You may like to go for a Turkish bath after the cruise and I would recommend one near the hotel known as the Cağaloğlu Hamami. I always go for the second to top treatment as the masseuses expect a tip and will give the full works, wash and massage, in anticipation.
For a dinner suggestion tonight I would suggest you go back over the Golden Horn towards the Taksim and eat at a Greek restaurant called Imoz.
Take a taxi up to the Theodosian Land Walls and visit the magnificent Kora Church, or Kariye Camii in Turkish. The latter contains some wonderful frescoes and mosaics a late flowering of Byzantine art. It is important to remember that they are contemporary with Giotto in Florence. Continue to the part of the land walls you can climb for some excellent views of the city. Notice Sinan’s famous mosque of the Two Hundred Windows.
After that I recommend you continue to Eyup which is the Islamic holy place in the city. This is very local and the only tourists who tend to go here are Islamic pilgrims.
This afternoon you may like to go shopping in the bazaars or alternatively visit the Hippodrome and the Blue Mosque which are both very near the hotel. The church of St Sergius and Bacchus which is a little Byzantine masterpiece.
For dinner this evening I would recommend either one of the many fish restaurants on the shore of the Marmara at Kumkapi. There are loads of restaurants here and I don’t think I could pick out one so go up and down the street and see which one you like the look of.
Another kebab restaurant of repute is Develi at Samatya which is near Kumkapi.
Morning visit the Galata Tower over the Golden Horn you may like to see the Dolmabache Palace but for me it is an exercise in ostentatious vulgarity. The tower however commands wonderful views.
After lunch, drive back to Ataturk Airport to catch flight back to London Heathrow. The taxi should take about 30 minutes.