Either I conquer Istanbul or Istanbul conquers me. – Fatih Sultan Mehmet. Journey in the footsteps of the city’s most famous ruler and conquer Istanbul in just a day. This is the ultimate all-in-one introduction to the sites everyone must see in Istanbul, with a locals-know twist. Visit Turkey’s iconic historic spots such as the jaw-dropping Hagia Sofia, the beautiful Blue Mosque, and the pretty, tree-lined ancient Hippodrome, and learn how Istanbul has stood strong through the centuries. Eat a tasty Turkish lunch with locals at a hidden café, then listen to stories of how generations of sultans lived at the grand Topkapi Palace, overlooking the gorgeous Bosphorus Strait. Finish it all off with a backstreet tour and some good-natured haggling with local artisans in the Grand Bazaar.
Can you “conquer” Istanbul in just one day? We’re certainly going to try! Take a journey from Byzantium to Constantinople to Sultan Mehmet Fatih’s city of Islam on this historical tour that stops at some of the most iconic sites in Turkey while also showing you the city’s exciting present.
Start your Istanbul tour with a dose of awe at Justinian the Great’s Hagia Sophia. This masterpiece of Byzantine architecture stands tall and proud in downtown Istanbul, holding within its walls more than 1,500 years of Turkish history. This mind-bogglingly beautiful site is also somewhat of a chameleon — it has lived its long life as a church, a mosque, and now as a museum. It’s also a movie star: anyone who’s seen From Russia with Love will feel a bit like James Bond when they step inside.
You’ll then head just across the street to the jewel in the Istanbul crown. Sultan Ahmet I’s Blue Mosque is one of the most striking sights in Istanbul, with its iconic blue-tiled walls (the tiles number in the tens of thousands!), 260 windows, and six minarets. Don’t forget to ask your guide the significance of those six spires.
Next, your Istanbul city tour will take you to the ancient Hippodrome. Today, this charming promenade is a popular meeting point for Istanbulites, but it is also an integral part of Turkish history. Chariot races once took place along this strip, which was also home to the notorious Nika riots — a dramatic political protest in 532 AD that led to the massacre of tens of thousands of people.
Need a break? We’ll step back to the present and join the locals as we lunch in a hidden café. You’ll enjoy friendly conversation with members of the community and learn about daily life in Istanbul.
Once you’re filled with Turkish cuisine, Topkapi Palace awaits. This opulent complex overlooking the Bosphorus is a true Istanbul treasure, with many colourful stories about the rich sultans who lived there between 1453 and 1839.
Lastly, you’ll seek out treasures of a different kind in Istanbul’s famed Grand Bazaar, which offers up 3,000 shops to explore along 61 streets. Meet a few of the local characters, perfect your haggling skills, have a true Turkish coffee, and shop till you drop.
Note that the Grand Bazaar is closed on Sundays, so if you choose a Sunday departure, you’ll explore the nearby vibrant Spice Market, filled with delectable and colourful Turkish spices, treats, coffees, and teas.